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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.

BH-2017-10-20-A002

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!

Do unicorns have ankles?

Today is a big day! This is one month to the day since I demolished my ankle. It is also four weeks to the day since my surgery. And what progress do I have to brag about on this big milestone? Nothing! My healing is in a holding pattern. It’s like trying to watch a video on your phone and being stuck in endless buffering. Maybe a few seconds run, getting your hopes up and then back to the flashing swirly circle of eternal streaming purgatory.

I went to my general practitioner yesterday to lament about my frustration and lack of progress. My complaints: blood pressure drops, nausea, not regaining strength or stamina, and pain.

Let me say how much I love my doctor and how much I love honesty. So when she looked me in the eye and said, “You didn’t just break your ankle. Your surgeon told me how extensive the damage was. Honestly, we rarely see patients get an injury like this.” (My rough quoting) This was not upsetting, but confirming and comforting.

I’m a mom. I do all the household mom stuff and it is really hard to see it go undone. I also troll google daily and read stories of people with broken ankles and feet. By one month post surgery these people are up and around, maybe limping in a boot or using a knee scooter, and pushing on with their lives. Here I am still spending most days in bed or on the couch. I’ve been feeling down, wondering if I’m just weak. Am I ‘milking’ this? Why am I not  getting on with my life? So I’ve been pushing myself to do more and get up more and in return I feel worse and worse.

I needed to hear my doctor tell me that my injury is in a category of its own and so my recovery will be on a different timeline. I needed to be told to not push myself and that my body is still in the acute phase of healing.  I might have the mind of a badass superhero but right now my body is a delicate, and wilted, daisy. 

It turns out my electrolytes are all out of whack so I will now be sucking down Gatorade and broth all day.  I stopped all pain meds two weeks ago because they make me feel sick, little did I know that constant pain also has negative consequences for the body.  I’m trying a new scheduled pain management. I have learned that I’m the opposite of a drug seeker as I beg and plead with my doctors NOT to give me narcotics! 

One of the best healers, way better than narcotics, has been the love and support of friends and family.  One of the stranger parts of this experience is how little I knew what was going on around me when I was in the hospital. Geoff only recently told me how many of my friends texted and called him with offers of help and asking to come to hospital. One of those sweet friends and I were so happy to see each other once I was out of the hospital and this was our text exchange:


I love that she so quickly validated my (very real) concern and readily agreed that I might be filled with magic unicorn dust. Maybe that’s why, in the words of another friend, I got a unicorn of an ankle injury- one rarely seen! Fitting given my obsession with one-horned-equines. I guess I have to just remember that I’m not your average horse and I won’t heal like one. I’m a unicorn and I have to slow down and let my healing take the winding magical rainbow path. 

For now I take it slow and trust that my body is doing what it needs to do. And the next time I see my surgeon I’m asking if he was shocked to open me up and find that I’m filled with rainbow glitter! 

~~Delaney 

Anatomy of an ankle anarchy

How the hell did you do that?  Wow, you don’t mess around, you go all out!

These are common comments I get about my ankle injury. Especially from medical people. Broken ankles aren’t uncommon. Breaking all three bones is a little more uncommon. Breaking three bones with a complete dislocation is even better. However, the vast majority of those cases involve the ankle rolling toward the inside. Not me, mine completely snapped to the outside. You guessed it. That’s worse.

I must have really flown down a lot of stairs, right? 

Nope. I literally just slipped and only went down 4 steps. This impossible scenario confused all who saw (and repaired) the damage. 

Standing at the top of the stairs and asking detailed questions about my landing position, a wise friend asked, “Do you think your foot got caught in the stair rails as you fell?” 

That proverbial lightbulb clicked on and suddenly it pieced together. I remember my foot slipping out from under me, but by the grace of our built in emergency response system it all goes blurry. I’ve quizzed my family and they all concur that my body landed with my freaky foot facing into the stair rails. We have a winner!

I’m going to break it down: (Stop now if you are squeamish.) My hubby and I were watching our newest tv obsession and the kids were face-in-phone in the living room with us. During commercial break I thought I’d get a snack (next time stay on the couch chubs!) I took dishes with me as I headed down stairs because we had no functional kitchen upstairs at this time. I opened the metal dog gate and took a step but my Dr. Who slipper socks failed me and my feet slipped up out from under me. I began a downward slide. As my body gained momentum my left foot must’ve gotten caught up on or in the railing on the left and came to an abrupt halt as my leg kept careening forward. SNAP! Almost right off my body. In the mayhem the gate crashed down around me and shattered the dishes over me like evil sprinkles on a sucks-to-be-you-cake. 

In related recovery news, I am super proud to report that as of today I am officially released from being house bound. My blood pressure finally stopped bottoming out when I stand upright. Today my home health nurse tested me and determined me trustworthy on a walker without risk of passing out and shattering another limb. 

 

HOLY CANKLE! This is the least offensive picture from my first post-op appointment. I was so relieved to see my foot back on straight again! My cute toes deserve the Deluxe Spa Pedi as soon as the thought of someone rubbing my foot doesn’t make me gasp in anticipated pain.

I’m officially on the path to being healed and as soon as I have a willing driver and some tennis balls maybe you’ll see me and my nifty walker out buying new pajama pants to replace the ones the ER doctor cut off my body… yeah, I’m still bitter! And I never got my other Dr Who sock back!

~~D

Nothing is normal

I gingerly rubbed lotion into my broken leg and foot today. I sobbed. It wasn’t painful, it was just the first time I’ve really and fully touched my bruised, swollen in some places, saggy in others, flesh of that foot since my accident. It has taken three days since the cast removal to work up the nerve.  I knew I had nerve damage and numbness, but wasn’t sure the extent. I knew it wouldn’t feel like ‘my’ foot but I wasn’t ready to get personal with my new foot. 

I’m off of the major pain medicines. The good news is that I now have a clear head and can make decisions and memories (so sorry I didn’t remember your visit, Ang, I’m glad you found that funny instead of offensive!) but the bad news is that now I have to process my injury and recovery without blurry, drugged, edges. Now I have to learn to live with terms like, limited range of motion, limp, orthotic shoes, and permanent damage.  Under the beautiful blanket of opiates I heard, “minimum six weeks no weight bearing” to mean that in six weeks I’d walk out of my doctor’s office. Now I realize that means they won’t make any predictions until reviewing what the six week x-rays reveal.  

I don’t have a new normal yet. The bathroom is so far away and my blood pressure is still f*^%ing unstable so even peeing is an exhausting experience. 

I’m not the same mother. My kids have to help me get food and drinks. They help me get dressed. I’m not upholding any of my previous doting duties.

I can’t be the same wife. My husband is always my rock of stability but now he is sole provider, sole active parent, and alone in orchestrating this household. 

I’m certainly not the same daughter who calls her mother everyday to check in and laugh about life’s quirks. I’ve exhausted my mother in ways I can hardly think about over the last few weeks. 

I’m not even the same friend. I forget who I’ve talked to and don’t answer texts or calls for days. I’m taking instead of giving. I’m not there for anyone because I’m not yet able to be there for myself.

So I sobbed as I touched my new, not normal foot because I have to make peace with the new, not normal me. I have to put all my energy into healing, gaining back my mobility, and forgiving myself for not being myself. My husband sat with me saying all the right things but I know he’s hurting and scared too, because he’s also mourning the loss of our ‘normal.’

A friend said that I’ll find my new normal. But not yet. 

I just keep thanking God for kids, and husbands, and mothers, and friends who are willing to give me so much when I have empty arms in return. 

~~Delaney

Please be kind 2017

Today is January 1, 2017 and I’ve already had two very good crying spells. Not the way to start a new year, in my opinion. Almost exactly two weeks ago I slipped on our stairs and broke my ankle. Now, when I say ‘broke’ I’m not referring to a fracture.  I mean broken. Shattered. I’ll never forget looking down and seeing my foot dangling off 90 degrees to the side of my leg and grotesquely deformed from displaced bones and swelling. I can’t get the image out of my head. Neither can my family, they all watched it happen.  My 15 year old called 911. This was 6 days before Christmas. 

I guess I’m pretty lucky that it took 42 years before I suffered a traumatic injury. Oh I’ve felt pain before. I’ve birthed two children and had two hip surgeries. Let me say none of those remotely compared to the pain of this injury.  It was a struggle to remain conscious through the pain. Even the maximum dose of morphine would only buy me a groggy hour before I’d wake crying again.  

Even splinted, any time I had to be moved I could feel the bones shifting inside of me and the searing pain made me scream involuntarily. I feel so bad for my poor family and one dear friend who had to witness any of it. 

I try to be a stoic person.  I’ve experienced some very difficult things in my life and I try to face situations with as much grace as I can.  But there I was, crying out in agony with three people trying to lift/position me every time I had to use the commode. It’s a level of vulnerability I’d never imagined. 

I’d suffered what is called a trimalleolar ankle fracture with dislocation. It’s basically the worst case scenario of ankle injuries. Three of the supporting ankle bones were snapped and my foot was left dangling like a tennis ball in a tube sock.  To save my foot, the ER doctor reduced the dislocation (under sedation) almost immediately.  Unfortunately there were snafus and setbacks that meant surgery wouldn’t happen for another three days. 

I was released from the hospital on Christmas Day and came home a house full of family and merriment, very little of which I actually remember.  The week after Christmas was a blur of charting medications, sleep, and visits from friends. 

How do I launch into the excitement of a new year when I can hardly leave my bed? My blood pressure still drops when I try to stand, so a wheelchair is necessary. I can’t cook, clean, drive, or care for my family and dogs. 

Now I learn the hardest lesson yet: helplessness and accepting help.  Now I learn to let my family take care of me for a change. I learn to let my house be in disarray. I learn to say ‘yes’ when someone offers assistance, because if I say no it might mean I lay in bed hungry and holding my pee until the next offer comes along. 

I’m learning that everyday brings healing and progress, no matter how slow. 

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