Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Broken Ankle and Recovery
Photo: Out to lunch at Tequilas Bar and Grill after getting my crutches and Carolina Blue cast.
I went for a walk on our driveway and rural road on Saturday, June 25th in the late afternoon. I have been diligent about walking every day for exercise for years. Since retiring two years ago, I've been walking on the treadmill at the gym, at the mall or downtown. If I was staying home all day and the weather was nice, I'd go out and walk near the house. My husband Mike has told me over and over it's dangerous on our driveway and to be careful. I pooh-poohed him, thinking I was in good shape and would be fine. However, that day I didn't remember to pay attention on the hill coming in from the state road onto our property. Going down the hill, I slipped on some loose gravel, my legs shot out from under me, and down I went.
I landed on my derriere, rather softly, and was relieved that I didn't feel any back pain. I'd had low back pain on the right side following a car accident about a year and a half ago and it took months of tender loving care, yoga and sitting with pillows to get that healed. After I'd landed sitting, my brain seemed to go into slow motion, and I watched my feet and legs in front of me continue to slide downhill, watched my feet bend up and my toes move toward me, and then heard and felt a big POP in my right foot. OW! That hurt.
I thought it must be sprained, and sat a few minutes to steel myself against the pain. I stood, grit my teeth and hobbled back home ... about 1/10th of a mile, partly level and partly up a steep hill that's our driveway. I googled sprained ankle, read about torn ligaments which I thought might be what happened, and followed suggestions of elevating my leg and putting a bag of ice on it. It hurt a lot and I watched it swell all evening. Mike said we'll need to go to urgent care tomorrow and get that x-rayed.
It ached all night, and we headed to urgent care on Sunday afternoon. I was very surprised when the PA told me after the x-rays that I had a broken bone! It has a most impressive name, the lateral malleolus of the fibula. The good news was that it was a clean break with nothing out of place, so there was no need for surgery. They wrapped my lower leg in gauze and a compression bandage which alleviated the pain. They told me no weight bearing on it, gave me crutches, and away we went. They told me to see an orthopedic doctor, so I got an appointment on Tuesday with the sports medicine practice next to urgent care. They did more x-rays and I got a fiberglass cast in the color of my choice (Carolina Blue!) and was told come back in two weeks.
Cast and Crutches So began my first experience with a cast and crutches. Not fun! Crutches make all kinds of muscles in the body SORE plus they are dangerous for older people. One night as I was getting ready for bed and going from the bathroom into the bedroom, I somehow put the left crutch down a little too far over, away from me, and it caught in the bedroom carpet. I stumbled, scaring Mike and me a lot. He grabbed me to keep me from hitting the floor but not before I landed hard on my right heel for a second, which HURT. I was worried, thinking I'd done some damage but thankfully at the next appointment x-rays showed that nothing had moved and all was well. When I told the PA about it, he said, "That's what the cast is for!"
Walker (Rolling Cart with Seat) Since I usually get up earlier than Mike, I wondered how could I carry coffee and food from the kitchen to the couch while using crutches? I googled and discovered a few ideas plus figured out some on my own. I could pour the coffee into a thermos with a lid and stick it in my sweat pants pocket. I could put oatmeal or scrambled eggs and a spoon or fork in a lightweight plastic container with a lid and carry that in a plastic bag with 2 fingers and the other 3 on one of the crutches. Pretty cool! However, after a few days of crutches and realizing the safety issues, Mike borrowed a rolling walker with a seat and brought it home for me.
What a difference! I can bend my right knee and rest my leg up on the seat, and wheel around just using my left foot to push off for each step. He told me I still had to be careful with it because it could flip over (he worked at a retirement home for several years, and said many times he had to pick people up off the floor after they'd flipped their walkers) but it has made life much easier and safer than the crutches since it has 4 wheels for balance and is more stable. At first he kept reminding me to put the brakes on each time I stopped, to avoid it rolling away and causing me to fall, till I finally learned to do that. My bent leg takes up about half of the seat so I can use the other part to transport food, drinks etc. and am especially grateful for the walker during the night, since it's hard to get up in the middle of the night for a bathroom visit, when you're sleepy and disoriented, and have to use crutches.
Managing Steps Thankfully we live in a ranch house all on one floor, but we do have 6 steps outside from the front porch to the ground. I read advice online about how to go up and down the steps with a cast, by sitting on each step and pushing with the good leg and hands. One day I got my shorts dirty after it had rained, so Mike started laying a bath towel down for me to sit on, and I pulled it along under me on each step, and that allowed me to stay clean.
Getting Out I have stayed home most days to rest and heal (I am thankful to be retired and not have to deal with going to work) but I get out some. Mike has taken me out for doctor appointments, out to eat about once a week because it lifts my spirits to get out a little bit, and to church each Sunday (except for the Sunday when we went to urgent care). I am very happy that I have been able to continue playing piano for my choir by using my left foot for the sustain pedal, so that I can feel like I'm still doing something useful and being of service. It has done me a world of good to be able to see my friends at church once a week, and they've been very helpful with carrying my music and purse, and walking along with me to make sure I get around safely.
Caregiver Mike has been absolutely wonderful, helping me in a million ways, making meals, waiting on me, helping me with my baths and getting dressed, grocery shopping, doing the laundry, driving me around etc. I am lucky to have such a good caregiver. My stepson Johnathan has been helpful too with anything I ask.
Staying Positive The first week or two, I was kind of in a state of shock. I couldn't believe this had happened to me. I went through a bit of despondency at having to deal with all of the changes in my life ... having to admit that I am not in my 20s anymore and need to be very careful where I walk, having to deal with discomfort, a cast, crutches and walker, having to depend on Mike so much (and feeling guilty for not listening to him and now inconveniencing him), not being able to drive and get out any time I please, not being able to go to yoga classes and see my friends there, etc. but I keep telling myself "It could be worse. I could have broken more than one bone or could have needed surgery." Also, I keep reminding myself, IT'S JUST TEMPORARY. I will heal in time.
I am perfectly comfortable at home. Mike makes sure I have plenty of good food and everything I need. While sitting a lot more than usual with my leg elevated to help it heal, I've had to figure out ways to pass the time with enjoyable things like watching my favorite tv shows, reading books on my Kindle, checking my favorite websites, playing games online and phone calls. I've asked my friends to pray for me, and every day, every week, I feel a little better and have more energy, and have slowly gotten back to things that take more energy like making crafts, blogging, making pancakes, etc.
From Cast to Boot When you don't use your leg to walk on, the muscles atrophy so my cast started to get loose and not very comfortable the last few days that I had it. At almost 5 weeks, I went back for another appointment and the doctor said the x-rays looked good so we could get rid of the cast. They gave me an air cast boot and said I could do full weight bearing on my right foot with the boot. The doctor said it would take 2 or 3 days to transition from using the walker to being able to walk with the boot.
I was afraid of bearing full weight again (would the new bone growth hold?) and afraid of falling, so I took my time. I used the walker for a day or two with the boot, then leaned on the walls or held on to furniture, and soon I could walk with just the boot. The boot is clunky and gets a bit uncomfortable after several hours, but how wonderful to be able to walk again, and not have to go up and down the stairs on my derriere! The sports medicine nurse gave me stretching exercises to do each day, so I take off the boot mid-afternoon and do the exercises plus some yoga. Now that I can walk, I have gotten back to making my own meals, getting my own clothes out of the closet, and doing a few more things for myself. I can take the boot off at night which is way more comfortable than having a cast in bed, and I use the walker for nightly bathroom trips.
Baths We have a bathtub with a shower in it, and there's been no way that I could climb over the side of the tub during this time. When I had the cast I couldn't get it wet, so Mike got me a special plastic bag that slid over the leg and cast, with an elastic band around the top to keep water off the cast. He also got a shower head with a hose and hand held sprayer so that when I'm sitting, I can have plenty of water pressure to rinse my hair and body off. He also got a bench that's designed so part of the bench sits outside the tub and part of the bench sits inside the tub...a most wonderful invention! I sit on the outer part, gently swing my legs over the side of the tub, then slide over to the part of the bench inside the tub. We've gotten on a schedule of two shower/baths a week and I wash up at the sink in between. I am so grateful for the equipment to do this! It feels so good to have a nice warm shower and get my hair washed and everything clean!
Sharing Stories I have talked to friends who have had broken leg or foot bones and strangers have come up to me at restaurants to tell me their stories, with various kinds of surgeries and complications that have taken much longer to heal than mine. One friend had to have her leg non weight bearing for 12 weeks, and then got a blood clot from having her leg immobile for so long. Another friend had to be in a wheelchair for three months. Another fractured her knee cap and bruised bones which took over two years to heal. A man at Cracker Barrel told me he had to wear a boot for 8 months after surgery. I am very thankful that I've gotten along so well. And I've promised Mike I will not walk on our driveway any more.
Looking Forward I go back in a week and a half to see the doctor, and he said it would be my last visit. I know it will take time and patience, but I can't wait to walk normally, drive again and return to yoga classes! And most exciting, we have a new granddaughter to meet, as soon as I feel up to traveling!
A good resource: I found this blog to be very helpful. Scroll down on her page to start with part 1.