Friday, June 15, 2012

Must Have Items....If You Ever Break Your Ankle

 I have been in this current cast for a week now, and the pain is really gone at this point. Almost 5 weeks since the fall, and since then I have had five different casts, and a really painful recovery from surgery.  If you ever have to have this surgery, and I hope you don't, plan for the first week post surgery to be pretty bad, and take it day by day.

Right now, I sometimes get a stinging feeling where my three incisions are, but overall, I am dealing with discomfort and just the general feeling of being in a cast and dependent on others.  I am pretty much over it at this point and looking forward to walking again very soon.  I still get those random spasms/shocks up my leg, but not as often as before.  I had one last night when I was trying to fall asleep and it was sooooo painful.

Anyway, that's not technically the purpose of this post but thought I would share...

So, if you EVER break your ankle or have any sort of ankle injury (and I sincerely hope you don't) there are some items that I highly recommend you purchase, borrow or rent to get you through the journey to recovery.  It's kind of been a learn-as-you-go process for me, because this is all new to me, here are the items that have really gotten me through, to this point.

  1. A large water bottle/jug - I have been drinking A LOT of water these days and because its not easy to get a refill and you don't always want to wait or rely on someone else to get you more water, having the largest water bottle you can find is important.
  2. A backpack - I learned very early in this process that there are certain "things" that I need to carry around with me when  move from the bed to the couch and back to the bed each day on my crutches.  I was initially relying on my husband to transport all these items for me, but then had the idea to use my The North Face  backpack to carry everything I needed.  Now, I am packing my backpack with my laptop, phones, chargers, water bottle, books, pens, notes, medicines, whatever I need.  It's small and sounds silly, but I feel so independent doing that!
  3. A bath bench - So, in addition to all the things you can't do on your own when you are immobile, the main one is obviously regarding hygiene.  I will just say this....find a caregiver that you trust and love, and invest in a bath bench.  It can be quite dangerous without one - tried it.  
  4. A cast cover -  While you're using that bath bench, you don't want to get your cast or split wet AT ALL, especially after surgery when your incisions are healing.  I was skeptical about using this cast cover, but we tested it out, and so far so good.  I haven't completely submerged it in the water, but its really helpful for how I am using it right now, and I am so glad I have it.  
  5. A knee scooter - This may be the coolest thing to come out of this whole ordeal.  It certainly has been a conversation piece.  I use this to get around downstairs and will likely take my new wheels out for a spin at the mall or something this weekend.  It's so much faster and safer than crutches.  You can purchase these or rent from a medical supply store.  I think doctors may also write prescriptions for them too.  I bought mine, I hope we never need it again though.  You can also buy baskets ad other accessories to help you with getting around and carrying items.  So far, every person who has visited us has had to test the scooter out for themselves -its pretty fun :)
  6. Patience - You can't really buy this, but you have to have it to get through this.  If you don't have it, it will be miserable.  I believe we are each allowed the right to "pity party" days, and I have certainly had a few a lately.  But really just be patient with your recovery, your family and friends who are helping you, and with your injury - its a long process and returning to normal life will take a while - there are still many times I wonder "Why Me?!?!" and "WTF!!!" but I am learning to be patient and focus on each milestone as an achievement.  
I'll quote one of my favorite movies here ("What About Bob?") - "Baby step to four o'clock. Baby step to four o'clock."  Each hour, each day, each week is a small step to recovery.  Celebrate it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Week Post Surgery

It's been a while since I wrote about my experience, and I considered deactivating the blog because I wasn't sure if I was going to keep up with tracking my recovery.  But I figured I would post a few updates on how surgery went and the week after surgery.

I went into surgery on Thursday May 31.  It was a very straight forward procedure, and my husband was there with me.  The surgery was in an outpatient surgical center.  All of the staff was very helpful for the most part, and I think my most traumatic experience of the day was when one of the nurses was attempting to release the brake on my wheelchair and instead released/dropped the leg rest that my broken ankle and 20 pound full leg cast were resting on!!! My leg/cast went crashing down onto the hard hospital floor,  and I yelled a FOUR LETTER WORD at the top of my lungs.  Several other nurses came rushing into my pre-op room to help, and I am pretty sure I was in shock.

The nurse felt so bad and was so apologetic, I know it was a mistake, and I was really just ready to get some sleepy meds at that point.  From there I was wheeled into the area for my anesthesia, and also so the nurses could remove my full leg cast.  I don't really remember them removing my cast, because I was falling asleep when they started and completely asleep when they finished.  I had local anesthesia from the knee down and was put to sleep through an IV, so I wasn't completely under - I really like this option because I was not groggy when I woke up and didn't have the risk of being completely sedated.

When I woke up, my leg was still numb, and I wasn't experiencing any pain or grogginess. The bottom part of my leg was in a split cast with ace bandage and padding around it.  My husband and I headed home and I started taking my pain meds immediately.  My surgeon and nurses suggested I do this, so that I was always ahead of the pain.  This worked until about midnight that night, when the local anesthesia on my leg wore off.

Thursday night and all day Friday were bad.  Really bad.  I experienced a pain that I really can only describe as someone taking a knife and dragging in around your ankles, non stop.  The pain in my ankle resonated all the way up my leg.  It was excruciating.  I knew it would be bad, but really wasn't prepared for this.  Friday we called into my doctor's office and got a stronger pain medicine prescription.

This new medicine helped me so much to get through the weekend - but with any pain medicine, you also typically have side effects.  I had a raspy voice, and was pretty dizzy and nauseous most of the weekend - but I wasn't in too much pain.  I also had really itchy skin.  I started to only take a half tablet of the medicine along with a benadryl and that seemed to work really well.

Things were ok (considering) through Wednesday night like this.  I did experience some random pain and also this strange feeling when I was asleep or falling asleep - almost like a shock of some sort from leg that caused me to jump (imagine when you are dreaming you are falling and you jump to wake yourself up) - this would happen randomly.  I read this may have something to do with the nerves that were damaged/shifted during surgery, but I am not certain.

Wednesday night, the bottom part of my leg went completely numb.  I couldn't feel anything.  I was able to move my toes but everything else was numb.  I am sure it was a bit of me being so over this whole ordeal and worrying excessively, but I was so worried this might mean something bad.  So I called the nurse on Thursday and she said it may be because my ace bandages were too tight OR because I wasn't elevating my high enough.

I slept with four pillows under my leg, instead of three.  It helped a little - but the real relief came on Friday at my post op appointment when the splint/cast was removed - it felt so good to let my leg breathe for those few minutes for xrays!!   The doctor also removed some stitches (I didn't realize how painful this would be), and had me begin to move my ankle front/back and in circles- that was pretty weird since I have not moved my ankle since the fall in Belize.

Now, I have a short cast (under my knee and down to my toes) for the next three weeks.  Everything seems to be healing properly, and hopefully I'll get a boot in 3 weeks and start physical therapy.  I am able to put minimal pressure on my foot - only to maybe touch my foot to the ground while I brush my teeth or something, no more than that.  I haven't taken any pain medicine the past two days, and I think I am done with them.  There is still some pain, but nothing compared to what it was.

This is such a long process and not fun at all, but I am trying to make the most of it, and so appreciative of my friends and family who have offered to help us out a bit right now - we need it!  I have learned a few things and purchased some items I would highly recommend if anyone else goes through this - I will share those on my next post.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And the Verdict Is....

SURGERY.  First thing in the morning.  I cannot say I am really shocked, but I was just really hoping the surgeon would say my leg was healing and didn't need surgery.  I went into the doctor's office today and they took new x-rays which confirmed that I would in fact need surgery ASAP.  The nurses also prepped my current cast by cutting slits down the sides of the cast with the saw, so that way tomorrow they will only need to use scissors to cut my cast off.  Then, they wrapped the cast in Ace bandages so it was secure until the morning.  The doctor did a great job of explaining everything to me though, and it sounds like I should be back to "normal" by August - so....I can go to spin class in August some time - that's my light at the end of the tunnel for now.

Until then, my focus will be on recovery.  The good news is after tomorrow I am done with the FULL LEG CAST and I should have a cast that's only up to my knee when I wake up after surgery.  This full leg cast has been so annoying, so I won't miss it at all.  I will go in tomorrow morning and have out patient surgery.  I'll be out of work at least another week, though I admit I do keep sneaking to look at work email from time to time. 

If I'm not too drugged tomorrow, I'll write about how it all goes - or at least post a thumbs up or something.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One week later...

It's been a week since we flew home from Belize and 8 days since my fall.  I have been in a full leg cast for 6 days now.  It's no fun and I really miss my independence, but I am starting to get into a bit of routine, and finding lots of things I have put off doing for a while now, that can all be done via the Internet (read online shopping).

The day after we flew back to North Carolina, I went into see an orthopedic surgeon  He confirmed that I did have a pretty bad break in two bones, above and below my ankle, but that there was a slight chance I could recover without surgery.  Part of me thinks he only said this to give me a week to calm my nerves, because I was an emotional wreck and when he mentioned screws and plates as a part of surgery I lost it (again).   I know its very common and many people have gone through this, but the thought of screws and metal plates being left in my body after a surgery give me, as my dad would say, the heebie-jeebies.  But, if that's what I have to do to walk again, then bring it on.

Tomorrow morning, I'll go back to the surgeon and he'll determine whether or not I need surgery.  If I need surgery, it will be on Thursday morning.  If I don't, I think I'll get a new leg cast and continue the recovery process.  We'll see.

I keep thinking how lucky I am to have such an awesome partner to take care of me through all of the pain, my emotions, and all the awkward, random things I can no longer do myself - like wash my hair.  He's also an excellent cook - so that helps a lot.

Let's see what tomorrow holds!

It was all good just a week ago...

After a week confined to my bed and unable to walk, I feel its time to write.  I am going a bit stir crazy and have been asked the same questions repeatedly.  So I feel like a blog might be a good way to share my experience with everyone.  I have also searched online quite a bit, in moments of complete boredom, to read about what to expect when someone breaks their ankle.  I figured I would contribute with my story as well.

So here goes....I'll start my story in Belize.  Where this all happened.  My husband and I were in Lamanai, Belize on day 4 of a two week vacation that we had spent months planning.  We were so excited to be in Belize and experience the culture, history, and nature of the country - we were also scheduled to be tested for our PADI Scuba Certification on Ambergris Caye - so it was a big trip for us.

Day 4 started like our other days in Lamanai had, we woke up and had a great breakfast, visited the local Mayan village, took a long nap during a huge thunderstorm, and then we headed out to the New River for a sunset cruise.  After the cruise, we spent the evening at the restaurant of the lodge, where again, there was another huge storm - it is the rainforest after all.

Once the storm passed, my husband and I headed back to our lodge, which was down the hill closer to the river.  I remember us talking about how dark it was outside, and then the next thing I know, I slipped and fell.  The steps were made of stone and because of the recent rain, they were quite slick.   I just remember screaming and crying, and feeling a pain unlike anything else I had felt before.  My husband asked if I could walk, and I knew that I could not.  Thankfully, he carried me back up the hill to the restaurant - it had cleared out but the staff on duty gave us something similar to Icy Hot for my ankle.  We elevated my ankle and since I could move everything - we thought maybe it was just a sprain.

My husband carried me back to our cabana down the hill, and I must admit, I was still in shock and in tears.  The pain was unbearable.  I don't think either of us slept that night.  I actually remember waiting for the clock to read 6:00am because I knew reception would be back on duty at the lodge at that time.  My husband headed up to reception first thing in the morning and began making phone calls (there were no phones or televisions in the cabanas, yes, we were really in the middle of nowhere).  He made arrangements to move our flight so that we could fly back into the USA that day.  We still didn't know what the diagnosis was on my ankle, but we knew we didn't want to continue our vacation like this.

When it was time to leave the Lamanai Outpost Lodge - all of the staff were so helpful and accommodating - this really isn't the place to be when you are disabled - so my mode of transportation was a piggy-back ride from my husband - everywhere we needed to go prior to leaving.  Typically - Lamanai isn't accessible by car - to get there from the airport on Day we rode in a van for one hour, then rode in a boat down the New River for an hour - needless to say, I was NOT looking forward to this journey!

The lodge's manager offered to call a plane to pick us up.  For a small price (I would have paid anything at this point honestly) a small 4-seater plane flew into Lamanai - they actually have an airstrip - and then took us directly to the Belize City Airport in 15 minutes - totally worth it.  Still a painful, bumpy ride, but I made it.

Once we landed at BZE - a wheelchair awaited me - thank goodness.  I was not able to put weight on EITHER of my ankles at this point.  A wonderful and highly recommended taxi driver named George met us also.  We loaded up all of our bags, and me into the taxi and headed directly to the Emergency Room.  The waiting room at the ER was packed, but apparently if you are willing to pay more money, are crying in pain, and have an international flight to catch, they can see you right away.

So off we went, and I was admitted into the Belize City ER - this ER is a bit more laid back than any others I have visited, and we waited a few hours for the doctor to arrive - he was "on his way" for quite a long time.  During the wait, I did have x-rays and was administered a pain medication through a shot.  I learned that I had broken both bones in my right ankle and sprained my left ankle - I lost it completely again.

When the doctor arrived in what appeared to be golf attire, with no white coat, my husband had to hold me down while he injected local anesthesia into two places on my ankle - again, I was experiencing a serious panic attack at this time - something about receiving injections in a foreign place is just scary to me.  The doctors also applied a temporary cast to my right leg so that I could travel back to the United States with some support on my ankle.

Let me help to better paint this picture for you.  All the while I am losing it, and my husband is holding me down, George, our taxi driver is in and out of our room - apparently the whole "family only" rules don't really apply here? Not sure. He's keeping count of how much time we have to get back to the airport to catch the last flight to Miami for the day.  "You have to leave here in 30 minutes guys"...."OK guys you only have 15 minutes"....'We should have left 5 minutes ago..."  George also has a gold ring on every finger, and he continues to tell us he thinks God wanted this to happen to me. Not now George - please.

Belize is also a culturally diverse country of Hispanic, Native, Caribbean and Mennonite people - I surely stood out in this hospital and had to be wheeled through the waiting area for xrays - I still wonder what everyone who saw me was thinking!

As soon as that cast was on my leg and we paid our bill I was rushed out of the ER and climbed into the back of the taxi - when I tell you that George SPED back to the airport - that's an understatement - but without him we would have missed our flight for sure!  We arrived back at BZE and checked int our flight with no issues.  There were delays in Belize and Miami due to storms, so we didn't get back to the RDU until 1:00am the next morning.  I was in so much pain and just completely exhausted.

The story doesn't end there though -as soon as we left RDU - we headed straight to the Emergency Room here in Cary, NC.  I needed to be seen by a doctor as soon as we landed, that's what the doctors in Belize had said.  Luckily it was a quiet night in the Cary ER - so I was seen right away, more xrays were taken, the cast was removed and a split was applied - another painful experience.  The best thing about this visit was that they gave me drugs!!

We got to our home and my husband, who was also completely worn out, carried me to our room (I still cannot put weight on either ankle, remember) - and we slept.  We slept for about 10 hours straight.  This was the longest 36 hours in my life - but we survived it.  We will be back to Belize to finish our vacation - but now starts the journey back to walking - its the little things I guess.