I’ll shut up about my ankle soon, I promise.
In the meantime, if you want to read about how I broke it, go here.
If you want to read about the first couple of weeks with a busted ankle, check this out.
If you want to know the rest of the (sadly, increasingly dull) story, you’ve come to the right place.
I spent the first couple of weeks of my pseudo-convalescence trying to get a Medical Absence Form filled out. I wanted to know the surgeon’s official opinion on whether I could continue to work, and if so, how. My place of employment wanted to know too.
This is where somebody like Jackie Chan and me differ. Jackie Chan broke his foot on the set of Rumble in the Bronx. Like me, he was told to keep his weight off that foot for several weeks. Unlike me, he had a film to finish. So he simply returned to the set of Rumble in the Bronx, painted his cast to look like a sneaker, and got on with the job.
I, on the other hand, had no interest in hobbling into work every day on a broken ankle. The last thing I wanted to do was re-injure it and make it worse. So I sat in my basement and pestered the surgeon’s office. I suggested emailing the Medical Absence Form to the office so that the surgeon could fill it out and they could email it back to me and I could forward it to work.
“We don’t have email,” a woman at the surgeon’s office told me.
“You don’t have email?” I couldn’t believe it. “How is that possible in 2017?”
“You’d have to ask the IT department.”
“What do you have an IT department for if you don’t have email?” I asked, though of course just because they don’t have email doesn’t mean they don’t have computers and other IT paraphernalia.
The woman I was talking to turned sullen, and it occurred to me that maybe I’d been rude. Which, apart from being uncalled for, probably wouldn’t help my cause any.
“How do I get you the form?” I asked.
“Drop it off,” she suggested.
“I have a broken ankle,” I reminded her. “I’m not exactly mobile.”
“Jackie Chan would drop it off,” she told me. “He’d paint his cast to look like a sneaker and run all the way here and drop it off and then run all the way home again.”
I could believe that.
She didn’t really say that, of course. What she actually said was, “Fax it.”
Which sounded like ancient technology to me, like something people did back in, say, the Twentieth Century. I couldn’t help but wonder if this reflected my surgeon’s approach toward medicine. Had he reset my broken tibia and fibula with ancient Roman bone levers? Had he cauterized my wounds with rusting iron tile cauteries? If I peeked, would I find leeches beneath my cast?
“Fax it is,” I agreed, with no real choice in the matter.
Fortunately, I was able to find a free fax service online, and a mere two weeks after my surgery I was informed that I could either stop work altogether, or work from home. Seeing as I had already been working from home since the Monday following the accident, I opted to keep working. Because I was working from home, it wasn’t even necessary to paint my cast to look like a sneaker.
My first follow-up appointment was scheduled roughly two weeks after the accident. My wife and I arrived at the Fracture Clinic twenty minutes early. To my surprise, they took me in for an X-ray right away, and as soon as they finished snapping photos of my broken bones they led me to an examination room. Within minutes a technician showed up and called up my X-Rays. Seconds later another technician cut off my cast. The place was a model of efficiency. During a brief lull, I snapped several pictures of the X-Rays with my phone. (Later, someone called me on my camera. What a crazy, mixed up world we live in.)
With the cast off, I admired my injured foot. It was one damned ugly appendage. It was so ugly it was beautiful. It was swollen, blistered, battered and bruised. Rows of stitches over the ankle on either side made it look like the work of Frankenstein (I mean the mad scientist, not his monster, for those of you who care about such distinctions). A massive red bruise marred the right side of my foot from the ankle almost to the toes. Another bruise covered the heel on the left side. Four ugly red blisters decorated the right side. Later, at home, both my daughters refused to look at my foot after an initial glimpse. (Naturally, I wanted to show it to everyone. Only herculean self-control has prevented me from posting pictures of it here.)
A slim, well-dressed man with curly black hair showed up and began riffling through a folder presumably containing information about me.
“So, what happened to you?” he asked me.
“Slipped on ice,” I told him.
“Who’s your doctor?”
“Oh, that guy,” he said.
I was confused. “Aren’t you him?”
“Yes,” he admitted, with a chuckle.
A comedian, I thought. Good. I’d been afraid he’d be aloof and impatient. I had several questions, some of which had already been answered, such as when would the cast come off (it just had), and what hardware had he placed in my foot (the X-ray clearly indicated nine screws, one plate, and zero screwdrivers).
He answered all my questions patiently, such as which bones were broken, how long I should keep my weight off that foot (four weeks), and when I should come back for another appointment (also four weeks).
Business was booming, so he left to see one of his other many patients, and a young woman in scrubs showed up. Her name was Francesca. I assumed she was a nurse, but she was actually a student training to become a medical technician. Student or not, her job was to pluck the twenty-seven staples out of either side of my leg that Dr. Ibrahim had thoughtfully inserted there.
“Does that hurt?” she asked, digging a particularly stubborn staple out of my ankle.
“No,” I lied, effectively giving her license to dig even deeper for the next one.
Another technician arrived with an enormous big black boot called an Air Cast, all rigid plastic and Velcro. It came with a thick white sock and something resembling a sock but much looser with a hole where the toes were supposed to be. “Use the loose one until the swelling goes down,” the technician told me.
As I write this, seven weeks since breaking my ankle, the swelling has yet to go down. I switched to the tighter sock eventually anyway (okay, the swelling did go down somewhat).
She also gave me a small rubber bulb with a spout on either end used to pump air into (or remove air from) the cast, to make the cast more comfortable (they don’t call it an Air Cast for nothing). I only ever did this a handful of times. Most of the time it seemed fine the way it was.
The Air Cast was a Godsend. Whoever invented it should receive the Nobel Prize. My foot felt Protected in that thing with a capital P. There was no chafing, allowing my blisters to heal properly. I could take it off whenever I wanted to, which I did when sitting for any period of time. After a while I began taking it off at night while sleeping, because if you think wearing socks while sleeping is ridiculous, try sleeping with an Air Cast. Although if I had to get up during the night, I made sure to put it back on, because apparently that’s when a lot of people re-injure themselves, thinking they can hop the few steps to the bathroom without their Air Cast, and then they trip or stumble and break their fragile ankle again and it’s right back to square one.
The next several weeks were a blur. Working from home kept me busy, and as I’ve mentioned before, I assumed most of the cooking chores while my wife took over chores requiring actual mobility, such as walking the dog and chauffeuring our daughters around.
Fast forward four weeks to my next follow-up appointment. Another quick, efficient visit. X-Rays and a short chat with Dr. Ibrahim. My foot was healing just fine. Dr. Ibrahim told me that I should start putting weight on it right away. This would allow me to return to work. I was to stop wearing the Air Cast at home, but continue wearing it outside, but spend the next week and a half gradually weaning myself entirely off both the crutches and the Air Cast.
At home, I took off the cast. I had a pretty pronounced limp but I had no trouble getting around. On Saturday, I took a shower without having to sit down for the first time in six weeks. Glorious! I put the cast back on and took a single crutch with me out to run a few errands, including groceries. I had no trouble walking around with only the cast. On Monday, I wore the cast to work, but took a crutch with me just in case. No problem. Tuesday, I left the crutch at home. Friday, I awoke to find that it had snowed, and there were patches of ice on the ground. I figured the air cast would be more dangerous than wearing a normal winter boot (no traction), so I went to work in normal boots with no cast. It was great wearing normal shoes around the Broadcast Centre.
I’ve now been back to work just over a week. Now that I’m putting weight on my foot, it throbs a bit just about all the time. As I mentioned earlier, it’s still slightly swollen. The bruises are gone, but the blisters have yet to fully heal. I have a fairly pronounced limp, especially after walking for a while. I’ve started physio, but haven’t gone enough to see any real impact.
The journey’s not over yet. Right now I feel like I’ll have a permanent limp and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to run again. Of course I’ll be able to, I tell myself; it just doesn’t feel like it right now. But I’m upright, and walking on two feet, and that’s good enough for now.
I remind myself that we’re just talking about a broken ankle here. To get a sense of perspective, take a look at Jackie Chan’s blooper reel. He’s broken his ankle at least twice and let’s not even get started on his many other crazy injuries.
And then there’s Evel Knievel. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Evel Knievel suffered 433 bone fractures performing 75 motorcycles jumps. He says he only broke 35 bones, but still. He spent a total of 34 months recovering in hospitals.
What’s a mere broken ankle compared to all that?