As I started my day today, I swung my bare feet to the floor, stood up and walked towards the bathroom. That’s right, I said, I walked towards the bathroom in my bare feet. That simple occurrence, which we do all day long, placing one foot in front of the other, is something I will never take for granted again.
On December 1st, 2011, I broke my ankle (see http://actvra.in/p8h). I was lucky because I had neatly snapped the bone and I didn’t need surgery to put it back together. All I needed was to keep my foot immobile so the bone could heal on its own. It’s amazing what our body can do all by itself. Anyway, I was one of the lucky people, but I didn’t feel so lucky. There were doctor visits, and x-rays, and dealing with a splint, cast, crutches, and being stuck in the house, and not being able to work, and more. There were things the doctors/assistants told me and things they didn’t. I’m sharing my journey, as it happened to me. If you are in a similar situation, you may or may not experience the same issues I did, but it’s good to know what to really expect.
The day of the incident: I was in the small area of woods behind my house when the accident happened, only about 20 or 30 feet from my back door. I heard the snap, and I fell down on the front of my body. SMASH! Funny thing is, important things really do seem to happen in slow motion! It probably only took a second of time between the time I broke my bone and the time I landed on the ground. In that time, I remember thinking, “Oh $hit, I think I just really messed up my leg,”, and I thought, “Oh, no, Halo [our Siberian Husky] is still attached to me”, and I remember thinking “I wonder if I can stand back up” and next thing I knew, I hit the ground. I lay there for a short while, perhaps 15-30 seconds, just feeling. I felt the wind knocked out of me. I felt the ache in my leg. I heard our dog panting. I tried to stand up, but it was too painful, so I butt-scooted my way back to the house and up the stairs and inside. I put my leg up and put ice on it and stayed like that until it was evident this wasn't a little sprain and I needed to get checked out. I went to the hospital where they X-rayed me, realized I had indeed broken my bone (the fibula) and they put a temporary splint on me, with instructions to go see the orthopedic doctor that they recommended.
Week One: During the first week, I had to get used to using crutches and maneuvering around my home. I also had to get my splint replaced on day five with a cast.
So here’s how the first week went:
First, the splint was intended to keep the bone from moving, but it wasn’t snug on my leg, so there was some movement. The first time I had to go somewhere in a vehicle, I put the heel of my broken foot on the floorboard, with my leg extended. That was a mistake. Every time the vehicle hit any kind of bumpiness in the road, the splint shifted just slightly and the still broken ankle hurt. So I learned to keep my foot totally off the floor at the beginning. I would either place my foot in the way I just described, but hold it slightly above the floor anytime the road got bumpy. Or I could cross it over my good foot, which muffled the vibrations somewhat. Or I could put it on a pillow, which helped slightly. So remember, in the beginning, it’s easy to jar your foot, which is not going to be very comfortable.
Second, I had to learn to use crutches (see http://actvra.in/pdV for more information). This isn’t really as easy, or as difficult, as you might think. But I fell when I was going to the car after the hospital, and I fell twice more in the first week. Crutch use is definitely a skill that needs to be learned. First, the crutches have got to be at the right length for you, and second, you have to give yourself some time to strengthen your muscles. I’m 5’4”, but I found the best setting for me was at the 5’5” mark. Experimentation is required – don’t just use what is set when you get the crutches. Make sure they are really working for you. Then, learn how to use them! I put the crutches under my arms, so they were an inch or so below my armpit so there wouldn’t be any chafing. The crutches were angled slightly away from my body at the bottoms, and I would keep my good leg flat on the ground, then would move the crutches a step forward. Then I would move my good leg a step forward while keeping my bad leg angled off the ground. This meant both arms were holding the weight of my entire body and had to become stronger, and it meant my good leg was also holding the weight of my entire body, and it meant my “bad” leg had to constantly be bent so my broken ankle would not touch the ground. Since the cast was somewhat heavy, the muscles in my “bad” leg also had to be strengthened. Needless to say, the first week I did a lot of sitting because I was somewhat shaky when moving around.
Third, I had to get the splint replaced by a cast. This wasn’t really difficult, but was definitely uncomfortable. First, the splint was removed and my foot was exposed to the air. It felt great, even though it had only been five days that my leg was encased. My foot was bruised and swollen. As I sat there on the doctor’s table with my broken, swollen ankle exposed, I realized how much it was throbbing and I really wanted the cast on so I wouldn’t accidentally hit it on something or turn it somehow.
The physician’s assistant (PA) came in to put on the cast. Today’s casts are made out of fiberglass, and come in many different colors. I was able to pick from red, blue, yellow and assorted other colors, but I chose black.
First, the PA put cotton-like material on my leg, from about 4 inches under my knee to the middle of the arch on my foot. Then he took the fiberglass, which looks like a roll of material, and he wet it. Then he rolled it around my foot first, then the ankle, then my leg until the area was completely covered. What is important to realize if you’re going to be having this done is that the fiberglass must be tight so your foot won’t move while it’s healing. This means the PA pushed the sides of the fiberglass into my ankle so the area around my ankle would be tight. Well, my ankle was broken and swollen so that was a bit painful. Also, my foot had to be bent at a right angle when they put the cast on, so the muscles would allow me to stand when the cast eventually came off. This too was a bit uncomfortable, since the PA kept pushing the ball of my foot up towards my body. OUCH. Anyway, it only took 15 or so minutes for the cast to be on and dry, and I was able to pick up my crutches and hobble out. But be ready for some discomfort during this process (take some pain relievers with you).
At this appointment, I was told that between 2-4 weeks after the first cast was put on, I may be able to put on a boot which would allow more movement of my foot. I left with an appointment in 2 weeks for a follow-up and hope this process wouldn't take very long.
Fourth, I had to figure out how to take a shower and do other normal things while using crutches and a cast. I did not have this all figured out by the end of the first week, so in my next edition, I’ll share how it’s possible to take a shower without getting your cast wet, how to get coffee from point A to point, how the cast/boot process went, how to work while disabled, and more.