Category Archives: Calcaneus fracture recovery

Post-surgical life on the couch

My only real instruction from the doc was to remain supine with my leg elevated as much as possible. This was able to manage about 99% of the time during the first week after surgery. Friends came over to feed me, get my mail, handle chores and keep me company. For the first few days I only got off the couch to use the bathroom and take showers. I slept frequently. I was in little to no pain, so I stayed off the heavy drugs completely. I took 800mg of Ibuprofen twice a day for the first few days to stay ahead of pain and control swelling, then I reduced my intake until I was off meds. For about 24 hours after the surgery my left leg was entirely numb. This felt really odd to me. As the feeling returned, my leg throbbed a little, plus I had some tingling and discomfort around my inner ankle. It was nothing like the gut-wrenching, life-altering pain they had prepared me for.

The biggest challenge during that first week was the feeling of utter helplessness, followed by perpetual boredom. I read a little, did a bunch of crossword puzzles, and watched TV online. During this critical time period, I truly appreciated the efforts of my friends who called and stopped by to check up on me. Without them it would have been drastically more frustrating, depressing and difficult.

Going from an extremely active lifestyle to a completely sedentary one was really awful. Five days after the surgery, I did my first little workout on the floor. This consisted primarily of gentle stretches, plus a short series of core exercises to get my muscles working again. It felt amazing to lay flat on the floor after spending so much time with my back rounded on couch pillows.

Surgery: pinning my heel back together

The morning of the surgery, a colleague and his wife picked me up and drove me to the medical center. I was led into my own personal waiting room, where I changed into a 21st century hospital gown and got comfortable. The nurse secured an air hose to my gown that allowed me precise temperature control. She turned the air on and the gown puffed up with warmth. Fancy.

I stayed here for a couple of hours, nodding off every now and again. The hospital bed was more comfortable than my own bed at home. Several nurses and anesthesiologists came in to attach doodads to me and ask me questions. Eventually I was wheeled into another room, where THREE anesthesiologists got to work on me. They were entertaining and fun to talk to. The last thing I remember was being told to lay on my stomach and being given something through IV that was supposed to make me “feel like you’ve had a few beers.”

. . .

I woke up some time later, thinking I’m glad that doesn’t happen every time I have a few beers, feeling pretty good. I was hungry, thirsty, and I had to pee, but I didn’t experience the wrenching nausea that I had after ACL surgery. Kudos to these anesthesiologists. The nurse who was in charge of me now brought me water in my own commemorative plastic water bottle with the medical center’s name on it (“Thanks for choosing us, come again!”) as well as saltines and graham crackers. She also offered me soda, which I found a bit absurd.

Shortly later, I was able to get up and use the restroom. The nurse called my ride and I was out of there in another 20 minutes. I never got to see my surgeon after the procedure and I had little information for aftercare. I bet most people don’t even bother to ask. Here’s me, actually caring about getting better and being a good patient, sheesh.

I was able to get into and out of the car on my own. My head felt a little swimmy, but that subsided after a few hours. Another friend came over to meet me at my apartment and spent the night to keep an eye on me. I didn’t need her for much, but I was glad she was there just in case.

Getting ready for surgery

It was somewhat nerve wracking in the days before the surgery, even though I felt like I’d been there before. I had a rough time coming off anesthesia after my ACL surgery so I anticipated feeling really yucky for a bit after this one too. The medical staff were of absolutely no use to me before the procedure. Prior to surgery I had to meet with a pre-op doc, who, I think only knew about assessing patients for proper anesthesia. She didn’t know anything about my surgery and couldn’t answer any of my questions. What a waste of my time. To make things worse she wore an insincere perma-smile that offered me no comfort during this stressful time. She tried to sell me on the idea of getting a nerve block put in that would remain attached to me for three days after the surgery. Basically this is a bag of drugs attached to a tube leading directly into a nerve that constantly pours into my leg to numb it completely. During that time I would not be able to move without assistance. Since I live alone and seem to have a high pain tolerance anyway I declined that terrifying suggestion. I’d prefer to have control over my own pain management with the Ibuprofen and Narcotics I’d already been prescribed.

Breathe in…breathe out…surgery tomorrow.

Adapting to life on crutches: week 2

Suddenly, life became more difficult. Simple tasks became arduous and time consuming, if not completely impossible. The world presented myriad new challenges, from high curbs to heavy doors and much more. I became aware of handicapped-accessible features and learned to appreciate them immensely. Something as simple as a push button-operated door made getting around alone easier. Daily chores required a bit more forethought and creativity. Here are some of the modifications I found useful:

1. The disabled parking permit from the DMV not only allowed me to get a space close to the entrance of a building, but also provided enough space for me to get my crutches out and get myself rigged up to go. Most parking lots are not designed in a way to facilitate moving people around, only for fitting in lots of cars into a small area. Since walking on crutches, especially in the beginning, was tiring, I appreciated shortening the distance traveled in any given trip.

2. I chose to shop at smaller stores like Trader Joe’s, instead of trying to negotiate behemoths like Fred Meyer. This minimized my “up” time and eased the stress of shopping. This did require more frequent, and more carefully planned, trips; however, I found the pros far outweighed the cons.

3. My Grivel rope bag/backpack was perfectly designed, not only for carrying climbing gear, but also for carrying things up and down the stairs to my second floor apartment. Its easy to load and adjust design allowed me to transport items comfortably and securely, unlike an over-the-shoulder shopping bag. Those just slid down to my wrists and generally made life miserable.

4. For smaller items, the backpack was overkill. It took longer to load/unload and was completely impractical if I just had to carry my wallet and keys plus a small water bottle, for example. To tackle this inconvenience, I designed and sewed a small handbag. It had velcro straps that allowed me to attach it to the hand-hold on one of my crutches. It took hours of work over several days, but it was a project I could easily work on while laying on the couch with my foot elevated, watching movies. It’s fabulous for carrying snacks, mail, water bottles, etc. around the house. It’s also perfect for going out!

5. Items such as plates of food, open beverage containers, and larger objects were a little more tricky to prepare for transport. Eventually, I figured out this was a perfect way to re-purpose the lid to a styrofoam cooler. The inside dimensions of the lid were about 12″ x 12″. I could place my dinner, for example, on the upside-down lid and push it across the floor with the toes of my injured foot while crutching forward on the good one.

6. A short length of climbing rope came in handy to transport a huge pizza box from one room to the next. I only had to use this awkward method once.

7. Taking a shower was not as simple as it used to be. For this I placed a small camp chair in the tub to sit on. When I was still in the cast, this allowed me to sit with my (plastic-wrapped) foot resting on the edge of the tub. It was considerably easier to keep my cast dry this way, since water generally doesn’t run uphill. Plus, I didn’t have to try and balance on one foot in the slippery tub. My chair dried up quickly after each use, and remained in the shower for future use. This also made getting into and out of the shower much easier.

8. Crutching around requires wider travel zones, since the crutches jut out several inches to each side. I found it necessary to clean up as much clutter as possible, and rearrange furniture as necessary. My narrow bathroom doorway remained the most challenging part of my home to navigate.

9. Some things just remained impossible for me. Taking the trash downstairs and cleaning the floors were jobs best left delegated to my friends. They were happy to help!

Week 1 after the fracture

For several days I mourned the loss of my hard-earned summer. One of the benefits of being a teacher is getting a long summer vacation. I spent the past year or so building up my rock climbing skills, fitness and confidence to lead trad climbs at the crags and in the alpine. Now, I felt, all that progress had come to a grinding halt. I reflected on the miserable summer I had 2 years ago after blowing out my ACL and getting surgery right before summer vacation. This would be different, though, because I would need to be completely non-weight bearing on the injured side for about 3 months!

I had to miss the last week of classes with my students to care for my foot and schedule doctor’s appointments. I got a CT scan of my foot and followed up with an orthopedic PA, who basically said “take a look, it’s shattered and I have no idea what to do with you.” He told me the joint surfaces appeared to be intact and it would be up to an orthopedic surgeon to decide if I needed surgery or not. He put a cast on me and rushed me out of his office as quickly as he could. He made it very clear he had more important patients to get to. Here I was, feeling just as shattered as my heel was, and it seemed like no one wanted to help me. And later I found out the crap he told me about the joint was false.

Tired of dealing with clowns, I got on the phone with my trusted chiropractor and asked for her advice. She referred me to the foot clinic at OHSU. I got in to see a podiatrist pretty quickly. He said I would need surgery to restore the integrity of the subtalar joint (between the calcaneus and talus), which the injury had knocked out of alignment. He proposed pinning the two major chunks of bone together and clean out the tiny bits that would just act like sandpaper in my foot. My cast came off, and there would be another week of waiting before going under the knife.

Fortunately, I was in no pain and I so I never had to take the meds that the doctor had prescribed. I spent most of the day laying on the couch RICE’ing my foot and watching movies online. It was horribly boring. I couldn’t put my summer plans out of my mind and I was feeling pretty sad. I did have some great friends who stopped by to bring food, entertainment and comfort. This was immensely helpful for my sanity.

Diagnosis

This is an adventure of a different sort.

The story began on June 6, 2010. It was another, ordinary day of climbing at the local rock gym. I was pushing myself a little bit on lead, trying to wrap my head around the idea of falling safely and being willing to push on even when tired. It’s really safe to fall at the gym…

Knowing I was about to fall on my last clip, which was below my feet, I yelled down to my belayer, gave her a second to react, then fell. My left foot smacked directly into the wall, heel first. My right foot missed the wall completely, as I was climbing on the outside of a 90 degree corner. I knew instantly I had hurt myself, I just didn’t know how badly. I asked to be lowered, then sat down on the floor. My belayer snapped into action, removing my rock shoe and examining my foot. It hurt, and I felt really dizzy.

Several of my climbing friends were at the gym that day, and all offered to be of assistance if needed. Once I felt okay enough to be upright, I used two human crutches to help me get my stuff and get into the car. We went straight to Urgent Care, where I was x-rayed promptly and then deposited into an exam room where the doctor would see me. After what felt like an agonizingly long time, a woman in a white coat, wearing what looked like a clear plastic welder’s mask came in.

“This is going to be a very painful fracture” were the first words out of her mouth. Such tact. I immediately started weeping. I had never broken a bone before and I had no idea what to expect. She very cheerfully informed me that I should be ready to walk again before school starts up again (in 3 months), which was completely devastating. So much for the amazing summer plans I had; several alpine climbs, days full of cragging, long backpacks, and camping trips, vaporized right there. She sent me away with a note to give my boss stating I couldn’t work for 7-10 days and some prescriptions for pain pills. I had no instructions for home care or what to do next. I felt depressed, angry, confused and frustrated.

My friends took me home, where another small group of pals had been waiting for me. No way I was going to cancel dinner plans. I couldn’t walk, but I could eat. I was grateful to have people to talk to because I was a disaster that night. What next? I couldn’t possibly imagine.