On June 3, 2017 I had an accident that had profound effects on my lifestyle. This blog recounts my road to recovery.
Until June 3, 2017, I have never had any broken bones (not counting a broken collar bone as a child that didn’t require surgery) or major surgery (don’t count impacted wisdom teeth as major surgery). I have always counted my blessing of good health. That all changed June 3, 2017 and within a timeframe of 4 months I have had 2 major ankle surgeries on my right ankle. The first surgery was a major trauma surgery from falling through an attic roof. I suffered a major compound fracture. My Fibula and Tibia pierced/broke through my skin. All parts of my ankle (Fibula, Tibia and Talus) sustained major damage. On September 27, 2017 I had a further surgery on my right ankle to fuse the ankle.
Given these were my first surgeries, I thought I’d share some of my learnings as a patient regarding the recovery process to possibly help others in their ability to overcome post surgery recovery. I feel very fortunate in both surgeries to have had what I consider very good/excellent surgeons. I am not going to dwell on the technical aspects of the surgeries as I’m not a doctor. For technical aspects of the surgery, prepare a list of questions and concerns to ask your surgeon. Don’t hold back – ask everything that’s on your mind. Ask all the ‘what if’ questions. Ask all the ‘worst case/alternative case’ questions. Ask/understand what the post-operative recovery period will look like and how long will the recovery period be. It’s your body, it’s important to know and understand your options. If you are concerned with the responses, or not sure of the responses, get a second opinion (if possible – obviously with my first trauma surgery where I was in emergency and time was of the essence, my options were fewer and second opinions not really an option}.
First, understand that recovery after a major surgery will take time. The emotional challenges during the recovery are equal to or greater than the physical aspects of the recovery. There will be ups and downs – good days and not so good days during the recovery. You’re not alone in the recovery process and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for assistance and support during recovery. During recovery, life as you know it will not be normal. Make your recovery a priority.
Recognize and understand that major surgery represents a major trauma to your body and it’s immune systems. Accordingly, there will be some natural reactions/consequences from the surgery. The first is significant swelling in the area around the surgical points. For recovery and to minimize possible infection from and around the incisions, it is imperative to keep your feet/ankle elevated as much as possible. Keeping your foot elevated will reduce blood pressure on the surgical areas. Blood pressure on the incisions increases the likelihood of infection and will prolong the healing and recovery period. This means spending significant time in your bed or laying down. Make sure your foot/leg are protected while laying down. In my case, I have 2 dogs, so impeding their ability to jump up on my bed while I’m laying down and possibly hitting my ankle was critical. The more you elevate your foot/ankle from the beginning, the faster your incisions will heal and swelling in the affected area will diminish.

Recognize and be prepared for a prolonged period of swelling. In my case, my orthopedic surgeon told me to expect anywhere from 4 – 6 of swelling. I was shocked. It’s been 4 months so far and there still is swelling. Certainly not as much swelling as the first couple of months. As the swelling diminishes, so do your pain levels. More swelling = more pressure = more pain. Pain is not good.
Pain management immediately after surgery is a priority. Don’t try to be a hero. Painkillers serve a purpose and are critical to pain management. Understand I am not a fan of medication and even less of an advocate of painkillers. I’m well aware of the side effects of painkillers on your kidneys and liver and the highly addictive nature of painkillers. They do serve a purpose for post surgical pain control. Staying in front of pain is critical as it takes time for painkillers to take effect. If you wait for the pain levels to become unbearable before taking the medication, it will probably be an hour or longer before the benefits of the medication are felt. I never took the maximum allowable dosage of painkillers and about 2 days post surgery I was able to start weaning my self off the pain medication and reducing the dosages so I was completely off the medications within a week. Everyone’s pain tolerance and surgical situations will be different.
Slowly increase your activity levels. Do not overdo it. Gradually build up your mobility. Your endurance will build with time. Practice and be patient with your mobility aids such as crutches and wheelchairs in the beginning until you get used to them. You do not want to stumble and fall and cause damage to the surgical area post surgery. Your body is particularly susceptible in the early stages. Minimize stairs with crutches. They do not make a good combination in any situation. Ensure your wheelchair brakes are on/set before you try to sit down or get into your wheelchair. You do not want it moving while trying to get into it. Whenever moving or getting up and about, be slow and deliberate and be observant of hazards. Moving around with aids will take longer than you’re used to.

Get as many mobility and household aids as possible. They all serve a purpose, designed to help and assist with your daily living requirement. You don’t realize how much injuries (especially to major body parts) impact your ability to perform the simplest of daily living functions, such as: dressing, moving around, bathing, going to the washroom, eating, etc, etc, etc.. There are the obvious items like crutches and wheelchairs (get both – they serve different functions), knee walkers. But also look at getting: bed rails (help you getting into and out of bed), bathtub rail/grip (safe passage into a bathtub is critical), Bath/shower seat (my favourite day/activity is a shower.. Feeling warm water wash down me is pure heaven), Raised toilet seat (makes it much easier going to the toilet reducing the toilet seat height), grab/grip handle for a truck/car. These are but a few aids that make normal living activities easier. Other household items like pillows/cushions (you won’t have enough) and foot stools will make your life more comfortable in bed or sitting. Depending on where you are or live, you may be able to get a lot of these from a local Red Cross store, online sites like Craigslist and Kijjii are also useful for used items but be careful what you’re getting.
As time goes on, you’ll discover what works for your situation and you’ll develop greater mobility. With more mobility comes greater freedom, independence and self confidence. It won’t happen overnight. Be patient and don’t rush it.
One of your greatest challenges will be your mental health. Be aware there will be good days and not so good days. There will be periods when you’ll be frustrated given your limited mobility and loss of independence. Develop awareness when you feel yourself not being ‘yourself’, being more irritable and short tempered, less patient. When you start feeling some of these feelings, develop coping mechanisms (ie call a friend, get some fresh air, etc) to stop a death spiral of despair and irritability. You need others around you to help you, pissing them off with a bad attitude won’t help.
Your biggest asset in helping with coping with post surgery recovery, is developing a positive attitude. A good attitude is your best cure. You’ll get much more done quicker and recover faster. Use this period to try things you normally wouldn’t have time for. You’ll have more time than ever before to try new things. Make time your ally, not your enemy. Try new hobbies, crafts, activities. In my case I’m getting back into writing/blogging, I’m learning the guitar (which I always wanted to do) and I’m reading more books than before. Making use of the time, will make the time pass quicker. I’m not sure watching TV all day is productive. There is so much negative news/talk shows, etc on TV and social media, none of which aids your recovery. In my case, I cancelled my daily newspapers. I used to be a paper hound. Couldn’t start my day without reading 2 newspapers. I found the news depressing and nothing I could do would change it, so I stopped reading it. I will watch one evening news show just to stay in touch with the outside world and connected.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Of course, while recovering your abilities are diminished which is a source of frustration. When feeling sorry for yourself, realize or think of others who are in a much worse situation than you with terminal illnesses, more severe illnesses. Think of those who’ve had to deal with amputation or worse have become paraplegics. Look for sources of inspiration of people who have overcome adversity like Terry Fox or Rick Hansen. Your troubles and challenges will pale in comparison. Learn to put your recovery timeframe into a realistic perspective. While my ultimate recovery will be close to 18 months with 2 major ankle surgeries, in perspective of overall life expectancy, this is not long.
Make sure you take time when your family or friends are around to engage with them. Social interaction is critical.
While you’ve experienced major surgery with a prolonged recovery period which to varying degrees will have short and possible long term impacts your lifestyle and mobility, remember, it’s not permanent. A positive attitude is your best cure. You will overcome this challenge and life will go on.