Life With a Broken Ankle

As almost the entire planet probably knows by now, about five weeks ago I broke my ankle slipping on a patch of ice on the way to work. A clean break in both the tibia and fibula.  A classic example of how life can be turned upside down literally in the blink of an eye.

I wrote about the first couple of days here.

I wasn’t sure I’d write any more about it because it’s not like breaking an ankle is that unusual.  But who knows, there might be people out there breaking ankles this very moment, people soon to be confronted with vast amounts of free time to scour the internet seeking articles on “What to Expect When You Break Your Ankle”, so what the heck, I’ll pick up where I left off.

The original cast. More of a splint, really.

All things considered, I was pretty lucky. I had surgery two days after the accident. This allowed my ankle to begin healing properly almost right away. For this I must thank the Canadian Health Care System. I wasn’t required to cough up any dough, didn’t have to negotiate any labyrinthine bureaucratic hurdles. I just had to show up at the hospital when they told me to.

The surgery was pretty straightforward. Still, I was a bit nervous. I was thinking of my paternal grandfather, who died shortly after exploratory surgery for cancer back in 1954. A blood clot got him, I’m told. I didn’t really think anything like that would happen to me, but it was on my mind.

As I lay on the operating table, the nurse asked me if I had any questions. I had lots, but my brain wasn’t completely functioning.

All I came up with was, “You guys have done this sort of thing before, have you?”

“Google’d it this morning,” the nurse assured me. “We’re good to go.”

And they put me under.

I woke up later with nine screws and a plate in my ankle and much better questions on my lips, but the surgeon had left, so my questions had to wait.

Before the surgery I had worn a cast that went slightly above my knee, preventing me from being able to bend my leg. After the surgery I wore a cast that went a little more than half way up to my knee. It was a huge improvement being able to bend my leg.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the pain was quite manageable.  I’d heard it could be pretty bad. That’s not to say there wasn’t any, but it was more discomfort than pain per se. At times it just felt weird, making me wonder what was going on down there. I had narcotics (Oxycocet), but I never took any. Ibuprofen seemed to do the job. The cast began chafing after a couple of days. I didn’t realize it, but the chafing was doing a number on my foot. I would find out just how bad it was about a week and a half later, when they took the cast off.

More machine than man, now…

One morning several days after the surgery I woke up to find that a good portion of my leg had turned black, especially under the knee. This freaked me out. I actually looked up gangrene, just to rule that out, but it was just severe bruising. Probably because I was keeping my leg elevated and the blood had pooled toward my knee. It made bending my leg really uncomfortable. It lasted about a week before clearing up, at least on my leg. Five weeks later my foot is still bruised.

There was also quite a bit of swelling. This lasted until two or three days ago.

Sleeping was pretty uncomfortable for the first little while. I was sleeping downstairs in the guest bedroom. I could negotiate a path from the bedroom to the washroom easier down there with crutches. Also, I wouldn’t disturb my wife with all my clattering about if I had to get up in the middle of the night.

The bed in the guest bedroom, I discovered, isn’t anywhere near as comfortable as the bed in our master bedroom. (My apologies to all our guests over the years!) And having a cast on my leg didn’t help matters. I like to sleep on my side. The only way to make this comfortable with a heavy cast on one leg was to stick a pillow between my legs.

The worst, though, was the lack of mobility. I was warned not to put any weight on my bad foot. The last thing you want to do is to break it again while it’s fragile. Maybe there’s a way to get up and down stairs with crutches when you can’t put any weight on one foot, but if so, I never figured it out. I was reduced to crawling up and down the stairs on all fours. It was kind of pathetic. I felt like we had suddenly acquired another dog, and I was it. Sometimes as I crested the stairs into the kitchen I would announce my presence with a bark.

As if having to crawl up the stairs wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t even shower by myself those first few days. Not exactly safe standing on one foot in the shower, and I had to be careful not to get the cast wet. I went several days without showering. Instead I just knelt by the tub to wash my hair and scrub my body. When my stench started knocking people standing close to me unconscious, I realized something would have to be done about this.

Coincidentally, my friend Fergus happened to have broken his ankle a couple of weeks before me. (So did two other friends—it’s been a virtual pandemic of ankle fractures this year.) Fergus suggested a stool in the shower. Myself, I thought you were supposed to dispose of stools in another part of the bathroom, but hey, whatever turns your crank. My wife borrowed a special waterproof chair for seniors from a neighbour. The chair sat half in and half out of the tub. The idea is to sit on the part outside the tub, then gradually work your way in. Fergus also mentioned something called a Seal-Tight Brownmed Cast and Bandage protector. He didn’t have much credibility with me after the stool business but I ordered one anyway and was glad I did. Between the chair and the bandage protector I was soon fit for human companionship again.

I loved the cast art, courtesy of my daughters

One day my wife arrived home with a walker she’d borrowed from someone. I liked it at first, but it required a lot of hopping on my good foot, and after three or four days of this the heel of my good foot started to hurt so bad that before long I couldn’t walk on either foot, so I reverted back to the crutches.

Crutches are great, but unfortunately you can’t really carry anything when you’re using them, unless it’s small enough to jam in your pockets. So my wife and kids had to wait on me, fetching stuff for me, carrying bowls and plates to the table during meals, and cleaning up without my help. They did all of this graciously, but I hated being dependent, and tried to refrain from asking for anything. Often I would just figure out how to carry or move something myself despite my inability to do so with ease. Which, if it was even possible, was usually time consuming, and sometimes dangerous, especially if it involved stairs.

During this period I felt a lot worse for my wife than I did for myself. Suddenly she had to do all the chauffeuring, and dog-walking, and grocery shopping, and waiting on me, in and around going to work. It wasn’t fair to her. I tried to compensate by doing most of the cooking, and cleaning up in the kitchen afterwards, which I discovered I could manage by resting my knee on a stool, or leaning on my crutches, and hopping around a lot. Of course, it still didn’t make up for everything she had to take on.

And then there was all the sitting around. I imagined I could feel my body deteriorating with the massive doses of inactivity.  Before breaking my ankle, I was reasonably active, walking the dog, doing Pilates. I was contemplating returning to Karate. That was out of the question now, and Pilates classes would have to wait. I did some Pilates lying on the floor, but I couldn’t really get into it. Not vigorous enough, for one thing. Had it been summer, I could have hobbled around outside on the crutches, but with ice still coating the sidewalks and streets, that was out of the question. Still, I did manage the odd outing, such as accompanying my wife to Costco one day, which helped shake off the cobwebs.

Many people assumed that I would have a lot of free time while recovering. That never happened. My sister and her husband immediately shipped me up a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror and Fantasy, thinking that I would have all kinds of time to read now (thanks guys!) The truth is that during this entire time I continued to work. I only took one sick day, the day of the accident. After that, I worked from home. Why?

  1. Because it’s 2017
  2. Because I’m an idiot

Actually, I did this for a number of reasons. One, because it wasn’t really clear what I should do. Initially, my surgeon never gave me any instructions about work. Another surgeon told me that commuting was out of the question (my commute into Toronto is an hour and a half each way, involving busses and trains and stairs and so on), but nobody produced any paperwork to this effect until two weeks had gone by. Because of the nature of my job, I could continue to work remotely via emails, phone calls and Google Hangouts, so that’s what I did. It kept me busy, and it also kept me in the loop.  There was a lot going on, I had only been in my current position for six months, and I really didn’t want to fall behind.

(I did manage to get some of the Kipling read, though.)

That sums up the first two weeks after I broke my ankle.  Eleven days after I had my surgery, I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Ibrahim.

More on that in my next post.

Don’t look too closely if you’re squeamish…

2 Comments

  1. I hear ya…….I broke mine a week ago, same thing as you, slipped on ice. Ironically enough I had just left the gym from a leg workout. Thanks for the advice and keep it coming.

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