Saturday, January 5, 2013

Apple #617: Showering with a Cast

As you may already know, I broke a bone in my hand last week.  I've had a cast on my hand & forearm since New Year's Day.

My hand, casted.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

At first, I was daunted by all the things that would be a lot more difficult thanks to not being able to use my right hand.  But I've discovered that I can pretty much do everything that comes up; it just takes longer. The results might be a little messier, but the job gets done.

So I thought I'd share a few tips, for anybody else who might find themselves having to rely almost entirely on their non-dominant hand.

First, Why Keep the Cast Dry
If I didn't have to worry about getting the thing wet, I might use my clunky club stump to support things or brace them while I use my left hand for the detail work.  So why can't you get a cast wet, anyway?
  •  In short, because water softens plaster.
  • The nurse in the ER (his name was Brian) told me that casts are made with the same kind of plaster used to build houses.
  • Specifically, it's plaster of Paris.  It's cheap, it sets quickly, and it's easy to use.
  • Actually, first, Brian wrapped my arm with a cotton bandage.  It's really soft and comfortable.  Imagine taking a bunch of cotton balls and making a piece of cloth out of it.  That's what's against my skin.
  • Next, he applied the plaster.  But it wasn't like he painted it on.  He unrolled a whole bunch of plaster-impregnated gauze in hot water, which made the plaster gooey and sticky.

Bandage coated with plaster, ready to be moistened and used to make casts.
(Photo from Supplies Central)

  • He pressed the layers of wet plaster bandage into shape around my hand and arm, smoothed it, and tamped it down, all while avoiding the sore place on my hand.
  • Finally, he wrapped the whole thing in another bandage that has a long strip of Velcro at the end.
  • So the outer cloth provides some protection, but if the plaster got wet again, it would soften up and fail to fulfill its purpose in keeping my hand immobile while the bone heals.
  • One kind of interesting thing: as it hardened it got warm, almost hot.  Brian told me that would happen.
Now that we know why I can't get the cast wet, here's how I've been avoiding that.

Washing Dishes

(Photo from Life less hurried)

I don't have a dishwasher, so washing dishes by hand becomes more of a problem.

  • First, I've been using the lazy-person's dishwashing method, which goes like this:
  1. Rinse dishes
  2. Fill sink with very hot water and dish soap
  3. Add dirty dishes
  4. Let soak a good long time, at least until the water's cold
  5. With hot water, rinse the dishes again and wipe off anything that might be lingering
  6. Let air dry
  • The slight difference here is that I'm doing all of this with one hand.  That's not much of an issue except for during step 5.  I put the bowl or glass or plate in the empty side of the sink and kind of work a dish cloth around the dish until I'm satisfied.
  • The silverware and pot lids don't look as shiny as usual, but hey, they're clean and my cast did not get wet.
  • Then of course there's the strategy of not getting dishes dirty in the first place.  I've been using paper plates and the occasional plastic fork (This isn't exactly earth-friendly, but it sure does help.)

Making Food

Pre-sliced cheese: the hand-in-a-cast's best friend.
(Photo from Sargento)

  • Since wielding a knife doesn't really work, or would be dangerous, I've gotten pre-cut things from the grocery store: sliced cheese, diced onions, salad-in-a-bag, etc. 
  • I have scoffed at this prepared stuff, but that was when I had both hands available.  Now I'm very grateful that somebody else cut up the watermelon for me.
  • I've also chosen things that I could heat up with a minimum of manual input.  Pre-shaped hamburger patties, sausages, cheese.
  • The naturally hand-held food items are also much-appreciated.  I'm thinking mainly of apples.  But peaches, apricots, cherries--all sorts of fruit fall in this category.  Then there are the hand-held snack foods like hot dogs, roasted & shelled peanuts, potato chips, etc.
  • I'm very proud to say that I cracked 5 eggs with my left hand.  Then I made scrambled eggs. Go, Lefty!
  • Finally, there's always the option of microwavable meals (I can only take so many of those, though, before I start to feel as alert as cardboard), or delivery: pizza, Chinese, sub sandwich, etc.


This was the activity I was looking forward to the least.  The doctor and a couple nurses in the ER gave me different tips for how to avoid getting the cast wet.  The doctor told me to put my arm in a garbage bag and tape it shut.  But the idea of pulling tape from a roll, putting it down to cut it with the scissors, and then wrap it around my arm, all without getting it stuck to itself or the wrong things just seemed like a recipe for major frustration.

So I came up with a different plan.

  • Wrap one sheet of Saran Wrap around the arm part of the cast.  Make sure the plastic covers everything from about the thumb down to the end of the cast, with a little extra extending beyond the end
  • Pull & press the plastic wrap snugly to minimize gaps.

Plastic wrap draped around the cast, before getting wrapped snugly.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • In case the press n seal nature of plastic wrap doesn't stay stuck, add rubber bands.  The kind they put around broccoli at the grocery store work especially well.
  • Tuck the end of the plastic wrap into the end of the "sleeve" of the cast.  Again, make sure there aren't any gaps.

The first of several rubber bands securing the plastic wrap.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Next, drape another sheet of plastic wrap over the hand & fingers.  Use a generous amount to leave room for your thumb, which will want to move around a lot.

You can see the rubber bands I've added, and now I'm draping the 2nd piece of plastic over the fingers.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Finally, make sure the plastic over the fingers covers any last gaps.
  • Secure with another rubber band or two.

Here's the finished result.  Note the extra wiggle room for the thumb.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Totally worked!  When I get out of the shower, I tamp dry the plastic just to make sure that doesn't get anything wet.  When I take off the plastic, everything under it is dry, not even damp.

I'm still encountering things where I have to figure out how to do them with just one hand & a thumb (like tying shoelaces), but as I also continue to discover, it's all doable. I just have to get a little more creative and a little more patient.

my own trial & error
Elsa Chung, Nursing Management of Patient with Casting, July 5, 2009
Supplies Central, Plaster Bandages
Voluntary Simplicity, Washing Dishes Made Easy


  1. Looking for ideas for keeping the cast dry... I love the idea of using plastic wrap and will give it a try. THANKS!!

  2. The plastic wrap totally worked. Good luck!


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