Many, many thanks to Melissa Glover who gives us some hard-won advice on patching a very young toddler. To follow her chronicle of “the patch”, check out her blog http://thegloverfamilyblog.blogspot.com/
I have a friend who runs marathons. She trains by completing 5, 10 or even 15 miles a day. While I have complete respect & admiration for her, I also know that my “training” blows hers out of the water. See, I have to keep an eye patch on a toddler. For 10 hours a day. A toddler. An eye patch. 10 hours. Sure makes a 15 mile run seem like sitting on the couch. But, I am here to tell you while there is no t-shirt & medal at the finish line, what seems impossible is actually…possible!
Our condensed story: At 8 months old my son saw an optometrist through the infanstsee program, which provides free visits for 6-12 months olds (www.infantsee.org). My aunt told me about it and since it was a free visit, we decided to go. Much to our shock (worry, anxiety, tears), he was diagnosed with a pediatric cataract! At 11 months, he started wearing an eye patch (2 hours a day). At 12 months his patch time was increased to 4 hours a day. At 13 months, we were at 6 hours. At 14 months he had cataract removal surgery & the patch time increased to 10 hours! With the addition of glasses at 15 months, it is safe to say the last 6 months have been a whirlwind. And by “whirlwind” I obviously mean “I am desperate for normal to return!”
If your toddler is starting patching, be prepared. It’s hard. I am saying this not to scare you but to make you realize you are not alone. While we have only been patching 6 months, we have definitely figured out some ways that make our lives much more routine. I will not say “easier” because no variation of the word, “easy” should ever be included in the same thought with “eye patch”. Unless it is something like, “It is easy for me to hate the eye patch.”
When we first started patching, I was desperate for information. My son is my first baby & just when I started to get the hang of the whole mommy thing, BAM-an eye patch, glasses & surgery. What on earth? My frantic attempts at scouring the internet led me to discover that there is not a lot of info on toddlers and eye patches. Most of what I could find dealt with older kids & included words like reason, explain, bribe and charts. Since my son couldn’t even walk yet I knew I was dealing with a slightly different clientele. But, after much trial & error (and 6 months) we have made it routine, which is far from perfect but better than survival mode!
GETTING the patch on
- PATCHES: We tried Nexcare & Opticlude before my sister discovered krafty patches which quickly took over as our favorites. Because you are going to go through A LOT of them, it’s best to just order in bulk. What I love about these patches is they come in a variety of colors, they don’t irritate his skin as much as the others, they stay on pretty well & they can actually be reused if you can get it before your kid crumbles it up. Depending on the size of your kid’s face, you might have to trim the inside a bit.
- GLASSES: We use Miraflex glasses, which are 1 piece of malleable plastic. Perfect, perfect for a toddler. My son is fearless, active, a climber and into everything! I cannot imagine how many pairs of glasses or trips to the eye doctor we would have made by now if he didn’t have plastic frames. Numerous times a day (especially in the car), he will take them off and they don’t break at all because they are plastic!
- OTHER: Use Milk of Magnesia to create a barrier between the skin & the patch. We keep some in a travel size bottle because I made a mess every time I tried to dip the Qtip in the real bottle. Also, stock up on some kind of lens cleaner. Wal-Mart, Sams, etc. sells lens cleaner wipes for very cheap & we keep those stashed everywhere. Toddlers are sticky, dirty and touchy. The lenses will be so gross despite your best efforts. Anytime he takes them off, I clean them very quickly & then put them right back on. I try to keep them clean because he already is at a disadvantage with only having access to one eye!
The key to patch success is getting on the patch on while he is still disoriented in the morning. Don’t turn on any lights, TV, etc. until it is on. Give him his bottle/sippy cup & put a little milk of magnesia around the eye, let it dry for a few seconds & put the patch on! It has to be on before he is awake so he is used to it. Also, because young toddlers don’t understand, “close your eyes” yet, if his eye is open you will hear eyelashes all day as he blinks.
KEEPING the patch on
- So, once it’s on you only have 9 hours and 59 minutes to keep it on! This sounds like a nightmare & it will be at first. The key to keeping it on is thinking one step past normal toddler. All toddlers are active, independent & stubborn. As it is, you have to choose your battles so an eye patch definitely increases the intensity. Remind yourself that this is not a battle you can choose. You have to fight it. There is no option. So, you have to figure out how to make it happen! The key is A LOT of distraction. Whatever they are interested in, have it ready. Sing songs, look for trucks, read books….There is NO time away from your kid for awhile. The first few months my son was either holding my hand or sitting in my lap. He loves the vacuum so we just vacuumed a couple of times a day. You have to keep them distracted to they don’t remember it’s there! It will not be easy. Deal with it. Sounds harsh, but once you give in it will be easy to give in next time.
- When it is time for it to come off (naptime, bath time), try to teach him that only Mommy or Daddy can remove it. He will still try to remove it, but it does help. Always take it off from the inside to the outside because the outside skin is less sensitive.
- Don’t call it “patch”! It will consume your conversation with everyone you know and every time he hears that word, his little hand will shoot straight up to pull at it. We call our son’s patch the “cougar”. I have no idea why but it works. Once he figures that one out, we will switch to a new word.
- This will almost push you over the edge. In the beginning, we tried filling in the patching chart to keep up with the hours but it quickly turned into a chronicle of how many times I cried that day, and I knew that was not a reliable outlet.
- Get frustrated. Get over it. It’s unfair for your baby & for you. But, what is beyond fair, lucky even, is that you found out about the situation and are fixing it! He will react how you do, so don’t freak out when he takes it off. Take it from him and put it back on. Repeat. Repeat. Keep doing this until you win. The victory might only last 5 minutes until he removes it again, so start over. Your child’s vision is in your hands & you don’t want to explain to him one day that he can’t see because you let a 1 year old call the shots.
- Embrace it. Some people don’t make their child wear the patch in public because it is uncomfortable & prompts stares. This is where it is actually easier the younger they are because their feelings won’t get hurt. My husband has taught me that humor can cure anything. He once chronicled a detailed narrative involving an out of control parrot when asked about the patch.
- Remember, there is not much that is more challenging than keeping an eye patch on a toddler. But, you CAN do it! And, one day it will all be worth it when your kid looks at you with BOTH eyes to tell you he loves you!