Broken Bones and Recovery I

As I cast about for internet help, I realize that little has been blogged that addresses multiple bone breaks of the ankle and foot. I intend on sharing my story here.

I broke the tibia and fibula, quite cleanly. My foot was at an odd angle to my leg when I was found on the ground, where I had missed one step of two between our kitchen and sun-room. The ankle was apparently displaced as well, a sorry fact that was immediately corrected in the emergency room, with much additional agony. The ankle was the obvious injury. As the ER team messed with me, I finally pointed out the severe pain in my foot. It was finally determined that I had broken 4 metatarsal as well.

At the ER, I was equipped with a bracing cast until I could see the orthopedic doctor several days later. I was sent home with prescriptions for painkillers and for instructions to put no weight on the leg at all. Let me say that I didn’t have issue with the latter directive. Two days later I had my appointment with the doctor who arranged for my surgery a day later. The surgery involved adding a screw on the inner side of the ankle and a plate with 8 screws on the outer side. I had a temporary cast that was split to allow for swelling. More than anything, I wanted ice. Ice over a cast might seem pointless, but I still insisted on it.

A week later, a permanent cast replaced the split one. The bones were all properly aligned, now I just needed to wait. Time does heal this type of wound. The time since my fall has been marked with keeping a schedule of pain pills, icing, keeping the leg elevated as much as possible, finding help getting to and from doctor’s appointments and work, and even to job interviews. I scrambled to rearrange my life the best way I could.

I am an adjunct professor; the online class was quite easy to continue. The face-to-face class involved a family member always driving me (one hour each way), manhandling the wheelchair, getting my technology set up, and whatever else I needed. I managed to keep it going. I had been sitting for a Down syndrome baby. That ended. My daughter kindly took over the task. I had been watching my elderly parents once a week, that also ended. Two of my adult children have been living at home. THANK GOD! Their help and assistance was the great saving grace of this experience. My husband is wonderful but is/was still recovering from an automobile accident a few months earlier. (Between the two of us, we have broken 13 bones in a period of four months!)

For me, mobility is achieved via a wheelchair. I am older and less steady under normal circumstances. I had purchased a chair for my elderly parents; since they were refusing to use it, I borrowed it back, indefinitely. I also use crutches to get from house to car. Also, the walker helps me to navigate the pesky stairs inside the house and to get out to our patio so I can regain sanity now and again. At first I thought that teaching classes during the initial phase of healing would be too difficult. In the end, the time spent on class preparation, grading, and responding to student emails was crucial in helping the time pass. My focus could be off of the pain.

I am now at week 10. The cast has been off for a bit over a week. I cannot walk. I marvel, not in a good way, at my ability to do so much damage by falling off a single step. I have ups and downs that correspond with my feeling proactive or throwing a pity party. What I have managed to do during this time impresses me. But the reality of the timeline for healing is mental torture. Today, I had to make peace that the healing from here on out will involve more pain. Swelling and redness are going to continue. I need to proceed now with rehabilitating the muscles, pain or not. Every day I wait, I have more work to do going forward.

The good news, I don’t need to worry about 10,000 steps. I need to start that first step and add on incrementally. It is the beginning of summer, the weather is good. Walking outside will be the goal. My cane hangs where I can see it as inspiration. I want to be able to walk the short distance from bedroom to bathroom, navigate the two stairs to the garage, stand and cook dinner- no crutches, no walker. I have worked out ways to function without my legs, but it is time to do the hard work.

During this time, I have gained a perspective. Other folks with injuries must learn to cope with them permanently. Everything you do on a daily basis needs to be in reach. For those in a wheelchair, shopping would be frustrating. I have a grab tool, but everything you need to assist must be carried. The wheelchair is the way to be independent. Crutches require both hands at all times. I personally run the risk of re-injuring myself with crutches. Accessibility is a concern in public places. For the job interviews, you must alert the person who is interviewing that you will have special needs. Does that affect whether I get hired? I believe it was in one instance. How far is the restroom? Are there ramps? Elevators? Do doors open automatically? How much of a trip from parking lot to the building? Is there a hill? Does your teaching podium adjust to a seated person? Once you have people adjust for you, you then need to gently remind them for the next time, and the next…In public, able people are mostly more than willing to help, except for those who are not. What a wake-up call! The good news, the offers for help outnumber the callous instances of indifference.

I am going to heal. Part II of the blog will take me through the work of returning to mobility. I write to attend to the mental torture side of the process. Please write and tell me your story. What helped? What didn’t? I want to know your story too.

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