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July 16, 2008

Mothering Splinters

KcThere are a couple of mistakes that my husband and I have made regarding our daughter that make me cringe. Things that appeared to be good ideas at the time, but only in retrospect blossomed into full blown parenting blunders. Probably the worst was last Halloween when we took our then 2 1/2 year old on the Halloween train ride at Wheaton Regional Park, having no idea that it would involve men wearing masks running around with fake chainsaws. And, now, we have another to add to that notorious list: our first attempt at removing splinters.

Both being doctors, when we discovered that our 3-year old had a few splinters in the palm of her right hand, our initial instinct was for focused rapid removal. We remembered learning about foreign body reactions involving inflammation, swelling, and infections when foreign bodies were trapped where they didn't belong. No sweat, I thought. This is just like performing minor surgery. I'll just grab my pointy-ended powder blue Tweezerman's and pluck them out!

At first, Jolie was fully cooperative. She sat down willingly next to me in the kitchen, and I held her hand steady as I attempted to pull out the three splinters. Two of them (small ones) dislodged quickly and without much fuss. It was going pretty smoothly and Jolie was mildly entertained by seeing the small fragments being deposited onto the tissue on the table. There was an occasional "Ow!" from her when the pointy tweezer tips touched her palm, but she seemed to be holding up fairly well.

The last splinter, though, was a long one. This one provoked more "Ow!"s and pretty soon she was trying to jerk her hand away, causing more "Ow!"s. I managed to get half of that sucker out, but the other half, the more embedded half, was still there.

By this time, my husband had come to help. He tried to hold her steady while I continued to try and remove the last piece, but she kept flinching and pulling her hand away. She started crying even before I touched her, but we really felt that if we could just hold her steady, we could quickly pull out the piece. It would have to come out at some point. Better quickly, now, right?

Jolie wasn't holding still, though, and was sobbing that she wanted to lie down. When my husband tried to brace her so she couldn't move, she started screaming hysterically - in a way I have never heard before. An absolutely frightening cry, her words coming out in scary spurts. We had been telling her to try and be brave, that we had to get it out so she wouldn't get sick, but I suddenly thought - she's 3. Is she even capable of being brave about this?

I thought, I can't do this anymore.

We stopped our attempts and I picked up the phone to call my husband's mother- also a doctor, but more importantly, a much more experienced mother.

I explained the situation and she, in a very nice, non-judgmental way, advised us to just let Jolie play in warm soapy water for 20-30 minutes. Wooden splinters often came out themselves this way, or, after staying inside the skin for some time, that foreign body reaction would sometimes push it out too. She added, very nicely, that trying to go digging for the splinter in a young child would often not be first choice.

Um. Noted. Also? Perhaps the slant-edged tweezers next time.

Wow. I really wish I knew this before.

I'm left haunted with those sobs from my daughter, those sobs that could have been prevented entirely if we just stopped to call someone or even Googled "splinter removal young child" before launching into our aggressive splinter eradication program. We'll never be making that mistake again, but did we have to make it the first time?

KC also writes at her personal blog, Where's My Cape?, and the group blog, Mothers in Medicine.

This is an original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

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