THE ACCIDENT & THE HOSPITAL
I broke my right leg in 3 places in a pretty scary car accident in the middle of December 2013. I had previously never broken any bones, or even gotten stitches or even gone to the hospital.
The whole thing is really patchy in my memory, from looking down and feeling red warm everywhere, to seeing my foot turned around and my leg bone sticking out from under my knee. The first few hours are so fuzzy from the shock of the trauma (and morphine), that I couldn't wholly describe what they did to get me x-rayed and patched up for surgery, but I guess they did their best, because I'm still here, and still have my leg!
If the car accident was hell itself, the 5 days in the hospital was one of its inner rings. I was mostly bed-ridden, with the physical therapists (PT) trying to get me out of bed on the last 3 days. They had set me up in a full leg brace up to my inner thigh (I'm a short lady, I'm not sure they make leg braces in "petite"), and a velcro boot from the knee down (I was eventually able to convince them to send me a kid-sized boot from the children's hospital next door). At this point, I was using the bathroom by scooting myself over to a standing toilet, not that much was coming out anyways- pain meds were enough to back me up for a full week. So the PT work was all about just being able to get in and out of the bed, and to use a walker to hop my one leg around the room, and eventually to the nurses' station and back. Many, many tears were shed.
They changed my bandages twice- the doctor did it once, painfully and rough in the middle of the night. I was completely convinced he was a sadist sociopath. Almost a month later, wrapping the injury is still the most difficult and anxiety-riddled part of the injury's upkeep.
From never being told what exactly my injuries were (clearly I knew my leg was broken, but I didn't see any X-rays at that point, or have any word on what the healing process would be like), to the realization that maybe no one really knows if I will be able to walk again like I used to… and the oncoming flood of tears for the lost goals and dreams I had for myself this year (I'm only 25, I was trying to move to NYC to find a better job).
Luckily, I had coworkers, friends, and family coming to visit during the day. My cousins brought me dry shampoo, makeup, underwear, and a sports bra. Ego savers. After proving to my occupational therapist that yes, I could put pants on by myself (thankfully am a former yoga student, I had enough flexibility to touch my toes and beyond so it made a lot of the process easier), that I was off the heavy pain meds, and that my stitches were healing without issue, I was ordered to be sent home.
Looking back, I must have seemed like a crazy person to the medical staff. To some therapists and nurses, I was super nice and easy to deal with. Others immediately came across as bossy and pushy, and I returned their attitudes with resentment and little to say. They probably were just doing their jobs, but everything seems a lot more personal when you are coping with the loss of your freedom and the prospect that nothing will be the same for a very long time. Hopefully, they understood.
HOME FOR 2 WEEKS
My dad was off from work for the holidays for two weeks, so he brought me back with him to my hometown about 3 hours away. The drive wasn't as bad as I anticipated, and I was lucky enough to be spoiled by him for those two weeks. We worked on getting mobile enough to scoot around the house with my walker, and changed the bandages a couple of times. He even drove me to the beach one day- which was beautiful, even if I couldn't get out of the car.
Speaking of cars, that is a whole other issue. Since my tendon was snapped off and reattached, I am unable to bend my leg at the knee. So toilet seats, passenger seats, basically any chair that isn't also a couch is off limits. However, I eventually realized that with the right amount of space, I could lower myself onto a seat with my leg extended like a kick stand, and at least be able to sit for a few minutes at a time. Too long and it starts to really get painful, I guess from all the blood flow, I'm not sure.
At this point, I started weaning myself off the pain meds. I'm not a huge fan of them to begin with, and my digestive system was having some major issues. I was taking some stool softeners, along with a daily aspirin to prevent clots. In addition, I have been taking two gummy one a day vitamins to keep my nutrition in check, and it's the only thing I'm still taking daily.
We bought a shower stool, which finally gave me the freedom to take a shower. We fixed it so that my walker would be right out the shower door, and I would prop my leg up onto that. It's not the most comfortable solution, but aside from wrapping the leg in a giant lawn trash bag, it was the most I could do to make sure nothing got wet.
Finally, it was time for my dad to go back to work in a different town, and I hitched a ride with a friend of a friend, and made it back to my city without any big mishaps (now I have a constant nagging fear every time I get in a car).
DOCTORS VISIT & DAILY LIFE
Adjusting to my house was much easier this time around. My bed is lower to the ground, and the kitchen is so small I don't have to move much to make something to eat. I have a bag I use to carry around my laptop, my water mug, or whatever in too, so toting around things isn't too hard. Still on the walker, I have more difficulty with the small bathroom here, but it's something I quickly adjusted to, and even can use it to my advantage. However, switching from a standing shower to a tub was not as easy as imagined. I have to be a lot more careful when sitting, as the tub is slippery and the stool likes to move around. It's definitely not a chore to do alone; I'm grateful to have my boyfriend helping me with that kind of stuff.
I brought my dog home with me- most people told me not to- but she's been amazing and gentle with the leg, stepping over it, and around me, and just lays next to me providing a comforting warmth that is worth more than ten Netflix subscriptions could give! Plus, I am lucky to have a yard so walking her isn't an issue.
I have a short term disability perk with my job, so I have until Feb 10th to be a bum! I am also very lucky to be able to work from my computer, so even when I "return," I can still work from home for as long as I need, as long as I can hitch a ride to the office every once in a while.
I had one appointment, about a week ago, where I had to go up stairs for the first time. It. was. awful. Many times I look at a problem with my leg and have to just stare at it for a minute before I figure out a plan. This time, I didn't really have that moment to think, and basically was just carried by two people down the stairs (again, thankful I'm small enough to be lifted easily). My other appointment a week ago, was with my surgeon. His tech took my stitches out, which never having stitches to having hundreds- was quite the experience. They took X-rays (the technician accidentally bent my knee, I screamed so loud I'm pretty sure I cleared the waiting room from fear alone), and I finally got to understand my injury for the first time:
**My 1st compound fracture was my fibula right above my ankle. They didn't even bother putting that back together, as it's a little bone and he said it heals naturally (um, couldn't they have at least taped it or something?). Next to that, my tibia was fractured. The top of the tibia (the part that I got to see with my own eyes) had been shaved off by something in my car. When that happened, it also shaved off the part where the patella tendon attaches to your bone. So the doctor put a rod in the tibia, with 2 screws at the bottom, and 1 screw at the top. He drilled some holes at the top, and tied the tendon back to the bone, with some of it also attached to the screw below it, because I guess you can never be too careful when you're putting a rag doll- I mean a person, back together.
I never knew medicine was still so gruesome. I guess we're all just meat puzzles that sometimes lose our pieces. I'll start PT a week from tomorrow, just by trying to bend my knee a little bit (I'm not ready!!), and after that, it could be about 8 months before I will be able to walk again. The doctor didn't make any promises about running. And I guess it will be a very long time before I can wear heels. It's depressing, but I worry that this whole thing may have just ruined the life I was trying to build for myself. But I guess this meat puzzle just has to do what all of you are doing, and endure, and grow stronger, and something something motivational because that's really all I have now, I guess.
If you have any advice, especially about the patella tendon stuff, please let me know. From how long that might take to recover, to some hopeful stories.