Earlier this summer, I suffered a dislocated and broken ankle (a trimalleolar fracture). My ankle was temporarily stabilized with an external fixator. I had to stay off my feet for 12 days until the soft tissues calmed down enough to operate. After a surgery to repair the fractures, I had a temporary splint for 15 days, and then was fitted with a nonweightbearing fiberglass cast which had to stay on for a month.
The hospital arranged for a rented hospital bed, a commode with arm rests, my friend loaned me a walker, and my husband bought an intercom system so I could call him (upstairs) or our son (in the basement) from my bed. When I arrived home from the hospital, I was determined to follow the doctor’s instructions to try to keep my foot elevated 24/7 and not think too far beyond the immediate goals of each day.
I offer a few tips from my very recent (and ongoing) experience, some of which may be helpful to you or someone you know.
Pain Pills – Know What You Are Taking
Recuperating from this kind of traumatic injury almost always entails pain management for a period of time. The good thing is that the first days fly by. The bad thing is that you are too foggy to do more than look around and blink as your family members come in and ask you where things are in the kitchen.
Keep your own medication chart. It’s easy to forget when you last took something. As you wean off your stronger medications, writing down the lengthening periods between your doses is very gratifying. If you regularly take any other prescription or over the counter medications, clear them with your doctor because they may be contraindicated. For example, and importantly for my situation, many in the medical community now believe taking ibuprophen inhibits bone growth.
My attention span was severely limited at first, and it was hard to read more than a page or two or even type an email without dropping off to sleep. Playing solitaire on the computer was about as much higher brain activity as I could manage.
Unlike Your Teenager, Your Muscles Do Not Appreciate Doing Absolutely Nothing All Day:
To help myself wake up in the morning, I found it helpful to do isometrics — muscle tightening exercises — which were recommended by my physical therapist to maintain good circulation in my legs. Also, when I started sitting up in bed, I found tightening my stomach muscles took pressure off my lower back.
I would stretch my arms and shoulders in the morning before I embarked on a trip to the bathroom with my walker. I also started using my arm bicycle for short intervals each day to help relieve stiffness in my shoulders.
Depending on your situation, you may find it difficult to wear your usual clothes. I discovered that, with care, I could fit my husband’s boxer briefs over the fixator apparatus – they also were of a heavy enough material to pass as shorts for purposes of lounging around during the day. To go to the doctor I would also pull on a pair of my husband’s shiny basketball shorts. At first I needed help getting anything over my injured leg but eventually adopted a successful “ring toss” maneuver. During the first several days I wore boxers and tee-shirts day and night. It was a big step toward normalcy to have the energy to get myself dressed in my own clothes in the morning and into pyjamas at night.
Keep a jug of water by your bed with disposable cups. At first I was too exhausted to sit up all the way so keeping a supply of straws helped. I borrowed our small rolling cart from the laundry room to keep my water jug, drinking straws, meds, hand wipes, glasses, etc. nearby. I also tied a large garbage bag to the cart so I could toss stuff without having to clutter up the very limited real estate around my hospital bed which was set up in the living room of my already very small house.
Toothbrushing and Washing up:
After my surgery I could not balance on one foot at my bathroom sink long enough to brush my teeth properly, so I used my water jug and disposable cups and brushed my teeth in bed. Same with washing up – I would have a family member bring me some warm water and soap to my bedside. Once I could sit for short periods, I would sit on a chair by my bathroom sink and do a sponge bath. The psychic satisfaction of each small advance toward self-sufficiency cannot be overstated.
I had to banish my two cats to the basement when I had the fixator because it was unacceptable to risk a wellmeaning feline stepping on my fixator or licking my toes considering the amount of open wound sites holding all of the external hardware together. When I returned home after my surgery, the cats were free to move around the house but I kept a clean t-shirt loosely wrapped around my cast to preclude a curious cat from sniffing or getting too close. I kept a spray water bottle nearby just in case – luckily I never had to use it.
For my own sanity, getting safely back and forth to the bathroom on my own was a huge step forward. At first, I was too fatigued or in pain (I would get purple toes from my tight splint), so a steadfastly dedicated family member pushed me in a rolling computer chair from my bedside as far as the bathroom door, where I would place my walker in front of me and make the rest of the way in myself. My exceedingly patient family member would hold the computer chair steady or back it up against a wall so it wouldn’t go anywhere while I was lifting myself on or off.
Chafed Forearms and Callused Palms:
I developed chafes on my forearms from using the arm supports on the commode and from scooting myself around in my bed. Lotion soothed the chafes. Ditto for my palms that were very sore at first but eventually developed calluses from gripping the walker.
Try to eat healthy, If you like hummus on whole grain bread or a veggie burger – that’s a great lunch that’s easy to prepare. Raw baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and other summer fruits are also good as alternatives to less nutritional snacks (note: don’t deprive yourself of an occasional treat but make sure you have had some good nutrition before you tear open the bag of cookies). My favorite “healthy” snack is a dozen whole almonds and a half dozen dried apricots.
Washing Hair in the Kitchen Sink:
My cast ended at mid-shin, so I could kneel my casted leg on a chair, which gave me balance and took some of the strain off my good leg. One of my long-suffering family members would hold the spray nozzle so I could concentrate on shampooing. I kept a dishtowel on the counter in front of the sink, because as I got wet, the counter got correspondingly wet and slippery — not good when I needed to grab it for support.
What, It’s NOT All About Me?
In retrospect, I can see that the first few weeks were not just about my adjustment to having very limited physical mobility after my accident. My family members were forced to make enormous psychological adjustments to my situation. I myself had a fairly simple agenda: (1) don’t fall, and (2) wait for the bones to heal. My family members, on the other hand, were busy holding up my end of the household chores and worriedly watching me as I lurched around on my walker. They deserve a lot of credit for hanging in there.
Recovery is like a moving walkway. If you don’t look around as you go along, you aren’t aware of how far you have come. These little tips are offered in the hope they will help you gauge your progress, whether you are starting out on your journey of recovery, finishing up, or, like me, chugging along somewhere in the middle.