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The Unwanted Gift that Keeps on Giving

All the king’s horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again. Much like the surgeon and all his men on my shattered ankle. It turns out that when you destroy your bones and shred your soft tissue, it can’t all be fixed in one surgery. 

Yes, I recovered to the point of being able to walk. When I am well-rested I can almost walk without a limp. Once I’ve been up moving  a while I walk like a drunk. When I’m not wearing good shoes with my custom orthotic I walk like a drunken Frankenstein! 

As fun as it is to let people think I’m THAT mom who goes to the grocery store stumbling drunk at 9:00 in the morning, the constant pain hasn’t had the same comic relief effect, it’s been my personal hell. 

After going to several specialists for opinions I relented to having another surgery in the hopes that I could gain even a slight increase in mobility and a decrease in pain. 

Surgery is a very different experience when it is carefully planned in advance instead of being thrust upon you in a traumatic shit-show. This time I could clear my schedule, shop, clean, and make sure my leg was properly shaved and ready to be flayed. The only benefit of being ambushed by surgery is that you don’t have to dread it for weeks. Knowing that I was going to willingly have my ambulation taken away again for a few weeks was a big pill to swallow. Even though it’s been extremely painful to walk on this janky- ankle at least I could walk, it’s hard to go back to the walker/crutches/balance on one leg lifestyle. 

Two days ago I underwent surgery to address damage that still existed in this mess of bones pretending to be an ankle. There were quite a few issues to be addressed: bone spur, scar tissue, and a large tear in my posterior tibial tendon. Also, since the ankle was already prepped it was decided that going ahead and taking out all the metal hardware would be best. All in all I had incisions on three sides of the ankle. It hurts every bit as terribly as you would imagine. 

I’m back to zero weight bearing and spending most of the day with my toes elevated above my nose. It sure feels like I’ve gone back to square one. Fortunately this time everything was carefully planned and calculated. Recovery should be much quicker and more predictable. This time I know the tricks for using mobility aiding devices. This time I know how to maneuver from wheelchair to walker to toilet without drama. Believe you me, toilet drama is an added insult to injury that no one deserves.  And this time I didn’t start out by spending four days writhing in pain and hallucinating while corked up on morphine. All things considered, this is just a normal, sucky, surgery recovery. 

I’m praying this is the last ankle surgery for me. I’m praying I will have much less chronic pain after this heals. And I’m praying this horrendously unwanted chapter of life will really come to an end. In the meantime I am looking forward to playing Mario Kart through the aisles of Schnucks on the motorized scooters again soon! 

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I literally feel your pain!

Exactly 10 months ago I shattered my ankle. It’s a great story, if you missed it click here. At the time it happened I scoured the internet for an injury just like mine. I could find lots of ankle fractures, a couple trimalleolar fractures, maybe a dislocation, but I could never find one so grotesquely dislocated to the outside (eversion) like mine. As I was repeatedly told by doctors, nurses, and physical therapists it was a “unicorn” injury. It just wasn’t common enough to find a lot of them online. I needed to see it though. I needed to know if I’d ever be okay. I wanted to understand what happened inside of my skin that day and to read all about the process of recovery. But, alas, I was kind of alone to blaze the trail.

All this changed a few days ago when NBA Celtics player, Gordon Hayward, did pretty much the exact same thing to his ankle.  It was described as grizzly and gruesome and I can’t get enough of the media coverage. On one hand it stirs up my PTSD to see him laying there on the court with his foot pointing to wrong direction (I remember that feeling!) on the other hand I’m finally getting the detailed information about this horrifying injury that I so desperately wanted when mine was so new. This handy graphic is a great illustration of what broke and how my foot was able to turn 90 degrees to the outside and then fall limp away from my leg.

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My heart absolutely aches for Gordon. He has no idea what’s in store. Although in most ways I know he is in a better position to heal from this injury than a middle aged, not in great physical condition, housewife with commoners insurance and limited access to covered physical therapy, but I still know that he is not going to be returning to playing basketball anytime soon, if ever.

I think about the frustration and tears I’ve had in the last 10 months because I can’t go to the mall, zoo, or Six Flags with my kids. I have to plan one outing at a time with lots of leg up rest time afterwards. I’m in pain EVERY SINGLE DAY. When I’m not wearing supportive shoes with an orthotic insert my foot collapses and I can barely walk. It’s life changing. It has been humbling. I haven’t always handled it well but at least it didn’t end a dream career for me.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have joked about being thankful I don’t have to walk/stand/run for a living! It’s not a funny joke anymore.

The articles I have read so far mention that he won’t walk with full weight for 1.5-2 months (It was closer to 3 for me) and that he has 4-6 months of intense therapy (yup, so far I can agree) and that it will take a couple years to see where his full recovery lands him (I’m not there yet.) So far everyone seems to be keeping alive hope that he will return to professional basketball. I pray that he does. I pray that this injury doesn’t steal his livelihood and his happiness. I pray that he has a great support system and lots of friends and family to rally around him in these horrific first months where he will have so much pain, frustration, and fear.

Best of luck Gordon Hayward, from one broken janky-ankled gimp to another.

~~Delaney Rhea

*Too bad the only way I’d ever physically have something in common with a professional athlete is in broken bones!

Its a marathon, not a sprint.

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Today is 5 months to the day from my accident resulting in a shattered ankle.  Five months can seem like a lifetime or it can pass in the blink of an eye. I feel like this past 5 months has simultaneously been both for me.  What do I have to show for these last five months?

I’m not regularly using any kind of bracing on my ankle these days. I often have kinesio tape wrapped around it like the worlds most expensive and unwanted burrito. I will sometimes use a compression sleeve if I’m having a particularly swollen kind of day: burrito gordito. I own the most expensive ugly shoes imaginable and inside of them are more crazy $$ orthotics to help support my poor foot in ways it can’t support itself. Basically, I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money to wear terribly ugly footwear. I had a shoe saleswomen tell me, “People should be looking at the smile on your face, not the shoes on your feet anyway!” I kicked her. No, I didn’t, I broke my good kicking leg. I punched her. No, no I didn’t do that either. However, didn’t buy a new pair of ugly orthotic $150 shoes from her either.

All my life I’ve heard people say that a sprain is worse than a break.  I always assumed those were dumb people. I mean, a broken bone is the worst, right? My breaks were complicated, out of place, shatters and you know what? They are healed. Yes, there is a lot of metal holding them together, but fortunately I’m still young enough to have strong bones and they have grown back together and are finer than frog fur! So, why then am I still in so much pain and still doing so much therapy to learn to walk without a limp? Oh, that would be because of all the strained, sprained, and torn soft tissue in the foot and ankle from my grotesque dislocation. (How do you know a “grotesque’ dislocation? When the paramedics make comments as such and ponder how to splint a foot that’s pointing the wrong direction and kind of dangling off of the leg.) I completely hosed the ligaments and tendons responsible for holding my foot in place and allowing for proper movement of the ankle and they are slower to heal that molasses is to flow on a cold day.

Here’s the good news and celebratory update: When I’m rested, moving slowly and really thinking about it… I CAN walk without a limp. So we know it is possible. That is truly a wonderful blessing. I was warned early on that it might not be a possibility for me. However, I’m still working up to the strength and mobility to be able to have a normal walking gait naturally.  I suspect that this will be a few more months. But I’m finally starting to believe that it really will happen. In the meantime, when I get tired I wobble and hobble along like a drunken peg-legged pirate. Ahoy, matey, soon I’ll be walkin’ like a real landlubber, but fer today I be a three sheets to the wind seadog.

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~~Delaney …the drunken pirate

One small step for mankind…

One giant leap for Delaney Rhea!

Today is three months exactly since my accident and shattered ankle. Three months is merely a drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime but it has gone by so very slowly for me.

Progress is a fickle thing.  Some days it is obvious and other days it seems to tuck tail and retreat. It turns out that the anesthesiologist who took care of me during my surgery is also a client of my husband. They had a jolly time of shaking hands and catching up over my morphine-laden, shock stricken, belly-aching pre-surgery self.  In fact, I think they knocked me out sooner so they could compare the latest sports scores in peaceful quiet. Last week my husband was at this doctor’s office to do his tax-magic-stuff (numbers and math… eyeroll.)  My hubby told him that I am making progress in my recovery. The doctor confessed to my husband that because of the complexity of my break he assumed it would be about three months before I’d see much in the way of progress.  Then… get this… they laughed!  Yes, caring doctor and doting husband laughed.  In my husband’s words they laughed in mutual agreement because, “Progress sucks!”

Truer words have never been spoken.  Progress sucks!  If you are doing it right it hurts. Only in the last couple weeks have I not had to take painkillers and muscle relaxers to be able to sleep on a nightly basis. Now only after a particularly long day or hard session of physical therapy do I need them.  It doesn’t feel like progress when I’m in pain but I know that I’m pushing myself harder and doing more so pain is going to go hand in hand with healing.

Now I am weaning out of the boot into an ankle brace that I wear with a regular shoe.  It sure looks like progress. I can even get around with only one crutch now on most days. But in the evening, or on a rough day, I still need my boot and I still need two crutches. Then the progress seems lost. That’s where it is so important to remember that, indeed, progress sucks! 

My husband works crazy stupid hours this time of year and has always depended on me to carry more than my share of home/parenting duties during tax season. This year I’m not up holding my end of the load. I asked him if he’s stressed out and frustrated. He laughed again. He reminded me that he saw my foot immediately after the accident. He sat in the E.R. with me before it was set in place to face the right direction (apparently it was black/green) and he was with me everyday in the hospital. He took me to my first post-op appointment when the cast was removed and we first saw my swollen, bruised, patched back together Franken-foot. He laughed because he has always had realistic expectations for my recovery. He said I’m exactly where he imagined I’d be three months out. Apparently I’m the frustrated and stressed out one with unrealistic expectations. 

I’m really hoping that in another week I will be walking in small increments without a crutch at all.  I might even be able to do short errands without them. But when the pain and exhaustion set in I have to remember that returning to the boot or crutch isn’t a setback in progress, it’s proof of progress and proof that I pushed myself.

Go make progress. Even if it sucks. Find what you need to use as your crutch and push through the pain. Set realistic expectations and surround yourself with people that love and accept you every step of the way.

And just for honesty’s sake, yes, I will absolutely miss using the motorized carts! They are the slowest yet most fun way to grocery shop! 

Just say thank you.

This is my left ankle. It’s part God-given and partly from the hardware store. It’s all mine, for better or worse.  I had this X-ray taken today at my 6 week post-op appointment and I was given the good news that healing is progressing  well. I can now start physical therapy and start weight bearing on that foot again slowly. I also realized I was wrong. I have one more screw in the outside of my ankle than I had originally thought. I actually have 6 on the outside and two on the inside. Eight screws. That’s badass! 

After six weeks of being helpless I’m ready to live like an adult again, and just in time because my month of calendar-scheduled meals and caretakers is coming to an end. This calendar, that I initially turned down, has been our life support.  

When I was in the hospital both of my pastors came to see me to share comfort and wisdom. My Pastor Amy bluntly asked me how I was going to ask for and accept help. I will forever remember what she told me, (and I loosely quote in my own words) “Hospitality is a two way street. There has to be a receiver in order for there to be a giver. You’ve been allowed to be a giver many times, now give others the same opportunity.” Then, she took it up a notch and asked for specifics about to whom I would turn for help.  I said I would let my friend, Boni, put together the care calendar as she’d offered. To my horror, after Pastor Amy prayed with me and started to head out she said, “I’m texting Boni later to make sure she’s heard from you.” This forced me to accept the offer, no matter how uncomfortable. 

As physically painful as this injury has been, accepting help has been almost as painful emotionally.  I needed so much help for so long.  Every time I was given an offer, or someone signed up through the calendar, I had the urge to thank them and turn them down. Each time I just remembered my pastor’s words reminding me of my job; to be a receiver so others could give. 

I think the hardest lesson is yet to come: Learning to ask for help.  During the last 6 weeks the offers of meals, household help, and companionship have been handed to me. I only had to say, “yes” and “Thank you.” However, at no time did I have to seek it out.  But I think my day is fast approaching. Now I’m becoming independent. I’ll be able to walk and drive, no longer a home-bound lump.  But this is where I’ll try to do it all and exhaust myself. This is where I’ll push myself and have a setback day and I’ll need an ear and shoulder. This is when I’ll have to actually ask for help.

I’m so Thankful to my Pastor for giving me the wisdom that is allowing me to accept help. In a way, it’s the same grace extended by God. God offers up unconditional love and forgiveness and we just have to accept it. The next step is learning to ask God, through prayer, for help and forgiveness.  It turns out these earthly lessons have eternal meaning. 

There are two take away lessons that I can share. The first is that when you are offered help: Take it and just say thank you. The second is that when you know someone needs help just offer it, don’t wait for them to ask. 

There will be a third lesson about asking for help. Probably when I decide I can buy a full cart of groceries and then realize I can’t get them into the house alone. Or when I get sick of the stench and throw the dogs in the tub, not thinking through 65 combined pounds of soggy-doggy-mess. In the meantime I’m rejoicing in my progress, feeling thankful for the help we’ve been given, and looking forward to grossing out many more friends by making them feel the outline of my steel plate in my ankle. No really, you can feel it… isn’t that cool? 

~~Delaney 

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