On June 3, 2017 I had an accident that had profound effects on my lifestyle. This blog recounts my road to recovery.
One would think that the surgery and trauma of a severe compound fracture would be the source of greatest pain.. While no picnic and I wouldn’t recommend it, the actual trauma of the injury and subsequent injury, pales in comparison to the post surgery recovery. The trauma of the event releases massive endorphins in your system and the body’s natural survival instincts take over. The greater challenge is the post operation recovery.
It is during post operative recovery that your body begins the physical adjustments of your new reality. Your mental and psychological fortitude will also be tested.
My severe compound ankle injury took place Sat, June 3, 2017 around 12:30PM at my mother’s house in Foxfire, North Carolina. I had surgery that day and was released from hospital Monday June 5,2017. I was flown home to Seattle/Vancouver BC on Friday June 9, 2017. It was great to see my wife Karen and our two dogs and to be sleeping in my own bed.
Let the recovery begin.. Let me start getting on with life.. Whoa. Whoa. Not so fast… We are creatures of habit. We have daily routines and those routines involve many, many, many activities we take for granted. These are very mundane, but necessary tasks. Once we injure any part of ourselves, we very quickly discover how necessary and vital these ‘mundane’ tasks are. Very simple things like, moving from one place to the other (ie from bed to chair, chair to chair, just getting to the washroom). Dressing, bathing, etc is now a major daily event and accomplishment. Sleeping is an accomplishment.
I had severely fractured my right ankle. Every bone in the ankle had been shattered. Funny, if it had been my left ankle, the consequences would not have been as severe. Shattering my right ankle meant I’ve lost all my independence and much mobility as I can’t drive or get around without assistance. Losing independence is like losing one of your senses or a limb. You become completely dependent on others for most basic needs.
Ok, I understood the reasoning and need to not have any weight on my right foot/ankle to allow time for the surgery to heal and the bones to properly heal. What I didn’t understand was how the loss of independence, the loneliness of being restricted largely to your home and the impacts on your self- esteem, confidence, daily purpose. Small things/activities we take for granted daily, now become major victories.
I got home Saturday morning June 10 after a 5.5 hour flight from Raleigh NC, to Seattle, WA and an overnight sleep at our trailer in Marysville, WA, just north of Seattle. I settled into my own bed. It had been a long and traumatic week. I was tired. I just wanted to rest, talk with my wife Karen who I hadn’t seen for a couple weeks (one week business trip and week in North Carolina). But I couldn’t even relax.
Don’t know if it was the result of finally unwinding and truly relaxing but by the afternoon, I had developed a searing pain in my left leg/left side. It was more painful than my right ankle. We went to the local Delta hospital to find out what was going on. Delta hospital is small local hospital about 30 mins away from our home. Emergency room trips are never fun. You know they will be long visits, but I had to find out what was going on. This pain was severely impacting my comfort levels, my ability to move or sleep. During my 5 hour emergency room stay, I was given more blood thinners for blood clots, and strong painkillers – Percocet. I was scheduled for an early ultra-sound the next morning Sunday) to rule out blood clots and given more Percocet to manage the pain.
Despite the pain killers, I could barely move Saturday night. The searing pain in my left side was unbearable. I couldn’t get up to go to the washroom. Back to peeing in a bottle. Was getting good at that. Sunday Morning was up early again to go back to Delta Hospital emergency for the ultra-sound and trying to get to bottom of this left side/leg pain. What was supposed to be a ‘quick’ trip ended up being another 2.5 hour visit. In the doctor’s opinion, I was suffering from some form of sciatica as a result of being on crutches, my right ankle injury affecting my normal walking gait, etc. More pain killers to manage the pain..
In the following days, I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible, keeping the ankle elevated and trying to minimize the sciatica. Painkillers were a necessity but I wanted to wean myself off as quickly as possible. I had never been on so much medication in my life.. Blood thinners, painkillers, anti-inflamatory, etc.
I just want to be able to move around. I’m not looking to run a marathon. I’d be happy to simply move from my bed to the washroom, or bed to chair without pain.. Is that too much to ask? The ankle? That was almost secondary to the sciatica.
The Monday June 13, I met with my family doctor to review all the American medical records from the surgery and arrange for the appropriate Canadian orthopedic surgeon referrals for post op follow up. I was referred to our local Orthopedic Surgeon who specialized in feet and ankles. He had only been at our local hospital less than a year. Lucky me. I was able to get a follow up appointment for that Friday. I was anxious to have the splint on the ankle removed to see how the incision wounds were healing and get his opinions.
Monday afternoon, my wife Karen went to the local Red Cross supply store to pick up all the mobility aids I was going to need. My wife Karen had previously had foot surgery so was aware of what was needed and sympathetic to my needs. Much better than I. She came home with bed rails, wheel chair, raised toilet seat, and grab rail for the bathtub. Having needed assistance for her previous foot surgeries was a tremendous support for me as she could anticipate what I was going to need.
Oh yes, how the simplest of daily routines give the injured the greatest pleasure.. My greatest pleasure was a shower. Oh, how sweet that warm water feels. Don’t know if it’s because it’s washing off the dirt or washing away worries for a few moments. A shower is heaven. Followed closely the the first and then regular bowel movements.. See, while taking painkillers, and other medications have the side effect of causing constipation.
That week was lonely. No one (except the dogs) around the house. My wife was working full time. I just kept replaying the accident over in my mind, kept asking that question ‘What have you done?’ and wondering what the future would hold. I also worried immensely for my wife Karen.. Not only had my world changed, but so had hers.. I could no longer do any of the normal routine stuff life walk the dogs (first thing in the morning and evening), cut the lawn, water the plants, cook, generally help around the house.. She now had 100% responsibility for everything around the house PLUS being my nurse maid. All this on top of working a very busy and full day at work.. This also doesn’t factor in her natural concern for my well being and health. The stress has to be enormous.
I met my new Canadian Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Lewington at Delta Hospital (now my second home) on the Friday. Really nice doctor with excellent bedside manner. He removed the splint. It was the first time I saw my ankle post surgery.. There were surgical incisions down both sides of my ankle. Looked very Frankenstein-esk (Frankenfoot). The left incisions were the repairs to the skin where the Fibula and Tibia had broken through the skin. The right side (a neater and cleaner incision) were from the installation of the screws and metal plate that held everything together.
Dr. Lewington was pleased with the progress. The focus over the coming weeks was to reduce the swelling and focus on healing the incisions and to avoid infection. Dr. Lewington again re-iterated the severity of the injury (worst he’d seen) and how lucky I was to still have a foot. I was put in an air cast to immobilize the ankle and would have weekly check-ups until the wounds/incisions had fully healed. He also re-iterated – No weight on the right side for 3 months. He clarified that the rehab after 3 months would be the better part of a year! Ugghh. Dr Lewington was very good at being clear to articulate the current state of my injury, next steps and longer term prognosis.
I was shocked also when Dr Lewington said that the swelling would persist for anywhere from 4 – 6 months. Again, my body had experienced a major trauma and this was its way of healing. I knew it was a major injury, but I guess I under-estimated the magnitude and impact to my body in the process. This was all natural given the nature of my injury but I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the impact and my body’s re-action. Funny, through out the whole ordeal – from original injury, to post surgery recovery, I never lost the sensation in my toes. I always had feeling in them and was able to wiggle them around – both good things. How the smallest of things now give me the greatest joy.
Not sure if I was in denial or just oblivious to what my body was telling me, and what my wife was telling me. My focus was to get up and about. While some movement is fine, keeping pressure off the ankle and keeping it elevated was critical to recovery. As I wasn’t really feeling pain in the ankle (I had stopped painkillers as soon as the sciatica was under control) I moved about as much as possible. I had to. I was going stir crazy being cooped up in the house. Any time that I moved around too much, my ankle quickly reminded me. The swelling and pain would magnify and I’d be laid up in bed again to control the swelling in the ankle.
Initially my biggest challenge was how to pass the time and loneliness. My cell phone and social media were outlets to the outside world. Let me see what was going on and keep touch with friends and associates. Too much so in my wife’s opinion. What’s the old saying – Idle hands make waste..
We were very lucky too as we noticed shortly after I got home that a neighbour around the corner of where we live had a motorized wheelchair/scooter for sale at the end of his driveway. He had a handicapped wife who was changing her transportation modes. He not only had one but two scooters for sale. We bought both. At worst, I figured after 3 or so months I could resell them for close to what I paid for them. 2 scooters was a bonus. We’d keep one to give me mobility close to home and take the other down to our trailer down in Marysville, WA for the weekends we were down there.
I quickly got into a routine where I would at least once a day take a ride on the scooter around my neighbourhood. This allowed me to see what was going on, get fresh air, get some sun and most importantly – gave me some modest mobility. Haven’t really tested the range, but it can get me to an area close by that has a bunch of shops, coffee shops, library, etc. Great social interactions.
Probably more importantly, it gave me range that I could attend my weekly Toastmasters speakers meetings on Monday nights at the local library. These Monday meetings gave me social interaction, a purpose to get out. It became the highlight of my week.
The biggest challenge by far, was what was going on between the ears, in my head… I found myself more emotional than ever. I felt like I had lost purpose. I found myself at various points in time during the day crying. I worry about my wife Karen who is taking on massive responsibilities. I worry about the lasting impacts my fall and the sights from the fall have on my elderly mother. I worry about what my future mobility will be. I guess a large part of the isolation was/is consumed by worry and guilt.
I worry and feel guilt although I don’t blame myself or anyone for the accident that caused the injury. Accidents happen. I can accept that. Perhaps it’s more a case of understanding and wondering what was different this time up in my mom’s attic from the many other times I had been up there.
I accept and recognize I can’t change what happened but I worry of the impacts the trauma on my elderly mother of seeing her adult son laying prone with blood and bones sticking out. A sight no one should have to see. I worry she’ll blame herself – which of course she had nothing to do with the accident.
I worry about the emotional toll and stress looking after me and all my responsibilities plus her stressful daytime job will have on my wife. I feel tremendous guilt for this. I will never be able to repay her or thank her for all she has done for me. I realize I’d do the exact same for her if the shoe was on the other foot, but it doesn’t lessen my guilt and worry any. I am blessed to have such a wonderful woman in my life. Her support is invaluable in my recovery in so many ways. But I know it is taking a toll on her well being as well.
I know my future mobility will change. No more running for me. I know I can compensate with other activities I enjoy such as biking, swimming, hiking. The challenge which can’t or won’t be answered will be to what degree will I be affected. I won’t know until the rehab is complete. All I know is there are changes and I will adapt.
One of my biggest emotional challenges was the need to cancel and not go to my niece’s wedding in Massachusetts, US. All the family – my sister (mother of the bride), brother (and his family), my son, mother, aunt, nieces and nephews will be there for the July 1 long weekend wedding. Again, I know they understand the reasoning, but it doesn’t make it any easier not being there to participate, witness and enjoy this joyous family event. First wedding in the family. I was tremendously emotional all week leading up to the wedding and in particular the weekend of the wedding. I was following intently on facebook for pictures to get a sense of what was going on.
Losing mobility, independence and sense of purpose takes it’s toll. Nothing is routine any more. The most mundane of items that in a normal day you would largely miss/not notice, now become very transparent. You notice every small detail of insignificance.
Take driving. I’m the primary driver. I drive for work, but I also do all our family driving. Whether it’s the 1:45 hr drive to our trailer in the US, to the grocery store, or longer family trips. Now my wife Karen does it all. She’s a great driver. I have complete confidence in her abilities. Yet I find myself pointing out her speed limit, giving directions or better routes to get to destinations, etc. for any trip. This just adds to her stress.
My biggest challenge is to just let go. Recognize I am no longer in control. Everything will happen in due course. Everything will happen in time. Perhaps not in the time or sequence that I’m used to when I could just do it myself, but it will take care of itself. Again, the loss of independence is like losing a limb.
The need to let go and trust others is critical for my rehab and long term well being. Easier said than done when one is used to being active, self-sufficient and in control. Patience was a word that was not in vocabulary, but if I am to survive, I would not only have learn it’s meaning, but master practicing it.
Along with patience, practicing gratitude and thanks is critical. The need to acknowledge all the help and support of others – Even for the most mundane of things – is critical for ongoing support. Sounds simple and common courtesy, however, when in constant discomfort, not being able to sleep regularly, and experiencing constant pain, ones internal frustrations can block these basic behaviours.
As the saying and song goes: What doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger..
Dealing and overcoming adversity teaches a wide variety of coping and life skill sets which cannot be minimized. Feeling sorry for one’s self or self-pity only magnifies the disabling condition. One has to develop coping skills to learn from the adversity. These skills will stand you in good stead in all capacities going forward.
On June 3, 2017 I had an accident that had profound effects on my lifestyle. This blog recounts my road to recovery.