Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ten years out...

The 22nd marked the tenth anniversary of when I fell and broke my leg. It was a bad break, and entailed surgery and a long recovery period.

How I did it was so pedestrian. I was coming back to my car, carrying any number of shopping bags with fruit and veg. The blizzard they'd been forecasting to start that afternoon arrived a few hours early, and when I got to the fruit and veg place, I saw three flakes hit my windshield when I parked the car. In the 12 minutes or so it took for me to get my items and pay for them, the snow had fallen with abandon, covering the parking lot. I was six steps from my car when I slid on some old ice now covered with snow. I stopped short on my left leg, and the rest of me spun around. It was an example of torque failure, and I fell. I couldn't feel anything below my left knee, which concerned me, and I lifted my left leg. My left foot was dangling at an awkward angle.

I knew it was bad when two Mexican women who walked by stared at my leg and immediately crossed themselves.

I was grateful for my cell phone, and that I could get a strong enough signal in the notorious dead zone where I was, so I could call Himself to come and drive my car, as I knew I wouldn't be able to drive it (it's a standard). He was with his dear childhood friend, and I was grateful for that, too. This friend was visiting us for the weekend, and when the two of them came to where I was, Himself blanched and stumbled. His friend caught him.

I was doing everything right. My car was due for servicing, and I was taking it to the dealership as it had a warranty and in order not to void the warranty, the dealership did the maintenance. Himself and his friend were driving separately, the plan being that they'd pick me up at the dealership and we'd drive home. We thought first thing in the morning was best, as we'd miss the storm. It was a football playoff weekend, we were going to have chicken wings, and I realized I didn't have any celery to serve with them (I'm not sure that Buffalo chicken wings are a thing outside the US, so i'll explain that they are chicken wings cooked in a flavourful sauce and often accompanied by celery and bleu cheese dressing. The bleu cheese dressing I had, but not the celery). As the fruit and veg place was on my way, I figured i'd stop in, pick up the celery, and then continue on. It was safer, too, because the place was on my right, so I didn't have to cross traffic. As Himself and his friend were going to stop and grab a coffee I figured i'd pick up the fruit and veg, and we'd meet at the dealership about the same time.

Best laid plans.

Whenever people asked me how I broke my leg, and I tell them by walking, they say I need to jazz up the story a bit more. Yes, I suppose saying it happened while i was bungee cord jumping in Bali sounds much more exotic, but the truth is, I was picking up fruit and veg, was 100% sober, and it was one of those freak things.

Never to be one to do anything by half, I couldn't break just one bone. I had to get my money's worth, and it was a tib-fib with a spiral fracture. To the nonmedicos, my shin bone was shattered where it met my foot, and the top part of my shin bone below my knee had a spiral fracture. Think of cracks in cement. The fibula or smaller leg bone was broken in four places. Clean breaks. My physiotherapist referred to the shattered part of tibia as cornflakes. And that's what it looked like.

For the first few weeks, I couldn't do much of anything. I was shocked at how much energy it takes for the body to heal, and Himself had to be my caretaker. He did a great job, and I did my best to be a patient patient. The cats helped with my healing, too. One always stayed with me, and they took turns. All of them purred, and Grace, who was never a lap cat, stretched herself across my leg and would lie on it by the hour, purring. They've done studies showing that purring can help broken bones heal.

My hockey season was cut short that year, and at a neighbour's son's graduation party a few months later, I was chatting with a woman who worked at an orthopaedic surgeon's office. I was still crutching it, and we talked about my injury and healing. I told her I wanted 100% healing and was willing to do whatever that took. She told me that no matter how good the surgeons were, the healing was never 100%. There was always something different afterwards. For many people it wouldn't matter, because if they had 90% healing, they wouldn't really notice a difference. She said because I played an extreme sport (I had never thought of hockey that way), i'd notice it. If I were lucky, i'd get 95 or maybe 98%, which would still be great. I'd probably notice the 2% difference, but most of the time it wouldn't matter.

I told her that while there are times where full healing isn't possible, I think there are many more times where it is, but the patients or doctors or both just don't want to do whatever it takes to get there. Good enough is good enough. And they may have a point in a way, but I wanted to go for 100% healing if it took the rest of my life.

She smiled, and we both realized that we had not convinced either one. We agreed that a good mindset was important no matter what percentage healing ultimately took place.

Most of the things I could do before I fell I do now. I can wiggle all my toes, I can stand up on tippy-toe--now you taller readers may shrug and say so what, but since i'm not quite 5'2" (157.5 cm or 1.57m), I find I need to stand on tippy-toes at least once a day. I returned to playing ice hockey, practicing yoga, and getting on with things.

There are two holdouts, one being that I really can't wear high-heeled shoes. After about an hour of wearing them, I limp. Since I telecommute these days, it's not a problem insofar as work is concerned, and I do have a couple pair of dressy flats that fit the bill. I kept a few pairs of high heels just to try every now and then. The last time I did so was at a funeral that was standing room only for the service. We got there just before the service started and were relegated to standing the entire service. Message received. The days of my gadding about in heels are behind me.

The other holdout is running. Now, I was not all that keen about running, but do like to do so on occasion and found that I couldn't run a single step after breaking my leg. I'd draw up lame like a horse. For the most part, I simply did what I could, but there were times where the light was going to change and Himself said, "C'mon Meg, hurry up," and he'd grab my arm and start to run. I simply couldn't. Not one running step without searing nerve pain compelling me to stop immediately. That was damned inconvenient. And so I learned that if the light were going to change before I could cross the street at my slow walking pace, which was the best I could do, then i'd have to wait for the next light.

It gave me an idea that older people must have to consider stuff like this all the time. That their slow step was maybe the fastest they could do. That I needed to be more mindful when my speed came back and I was tempted to make a snide remark about the slow mover in front of me. That I probably owed countless apologies.

Every so often i'd test to see if I could run at all. Eventually, I could but there was always nerve pain. Sometimes it happened on the second step, sometimes the tenth step. The last time I tested, I could run about a quarter mile (400 metres) before I had to slow to a walk. At least I could run across the street now if the light were changing, or I could run from a burning building if necessary.

Earlier this week, in a moment of I don't know what, I ordered a pair of running shoes. I could run 5K before I fell and broke my leg, and i'd like to get to a point where I can do it again. I was never a fast runner and don't expect that i'd break a world record now. But to be able to run one nonstop and without nerve pain would signal to me that my healing is 100%.

I can't say how much I appreciated my orthpaedic surgeon, my physiotherapist, and so many other people who helped in countless ways. One person's healing really can be a group effort. But the man I often think of most fondly is Dr R, the doc working in the emergency room (ER) who was assigned my case, who had the thankless task of untwisting my foot. He and his team were kind and efficient. They all looked really upset when I couldn't stop screaming as Dr R untwisted my leg. I had asked not to be knocked out because I wasn't sure how well Himself and his friend followed the ambulance that took me to the hospital, and the roads were getting worse by the minute. I wanted to have my wits about me. Dr R said he'd give me twilight sleep (I think it was fentanyl) so I wouldn't remember anything. I don't remember the pain, which is a mercy, but i'll never forget the feeling of my leg untwisting like an overwound rubber band. It was the oddest sensation. And I screamed in horror because it was only as Dr R untwisted my leg that the enormity of what happened when I fell really hit me.

About 20 minutes afterwards, Dr R came back to where I was and asked me what I remembered. I recounted everything, and he looked very upset. I told him I didn't remember any of the pain, so not to worry about that, and while I always respected doctors and nurses, I had a much deeper appreciation now. I could not do what he and his team did. I'm glad they could.

All those memories came flooding back this week, and I thought a lot about Dr R and his team. People in the ER who are there as patients are not at their best, and I thought maybe the doc would like to hear the aftermath.

A quick internet search told me Dr R is still an ER doc, and still at the same hospital. So I wrote a note, thanking him for the work he and his team did during that blizzard 10 years ago. That every time I think of him and his team, I breathe a prayer of thanks. And how they were at the start of the healing process. That they met me on a very bad day I wasn't planning on having, and I thought they might like an update. That I've moved back to the northern coast, I'm still playing hockey, i'm in a place that's great for snowshoeing, I like to kayak and sail in the summer, and while running still eludes me, my inner cock-eyed optimist ordered a pair of running shoes this week.

Since we're slated to get a pretty good snowstorm this week (18-24 inches/45-61 cm), I've got my snow cleats on my boots, and shall put my attempts at running on hold until spring.


  1. That's very nice of you to write to the Doc. My late cousin occasionally had letters from ex-patients, and he was always very moved.

    I've never broken any bones (except my nose 3 times). I'm hoping my record lasts.

    1. Cro, I hope the days of breaking my bones are behind me. I'm glad to hear your late cousin liked the notes. After I sent my note along, I had second thoughts, pointing out how daft I may have been.

  2. I'm sorry you had such a terrible experience. It was sweet of you to write to the doctor. I don't want to brag, but in 2009 I broke my back in five places. I'm not supposed to bend, twist, push, pull, or lift. If I followed the rules, I'd spend the rest of my life in bed. Someone has to buy the dog food and carry it in the house, and that someone is me. I tell my complaining back to shut up.


    1. Oh, Janie, that sounds horrible! I did all the things I was supposed to do, and at the last visit to the orthpaedic surgeon about six months out, when I was back to walking sans crutches or walking cast, he said, "Seeing progress like yours is the reason I keep doing what i'm doing."

      All of the physiotherapists where I had my PT liked me, and mine explained that I was one of the few who actually did the exercises and took an active part in her healing. I was surprised when she said that, and told her I wanted to get back to living my life and would do all I could to facilitate that.

    2. I never had any physical therapy. Maybe the orthopedist didn't arrange it because he knew I was getting ready to move. Yes, I also packed my belongings while in a back brace and using a walker. I kept the walker in case I ever want to use it again. People were very nice to me when I had the walker.

  3. A difficult piece but beautifully written

  4. A horrid experience! I am 70 and have not run since I was 17 when I shattered my kneecap. Things got worse and after 21 operations shared between both knees I appreciate that I can walk (outside on crutches). I enjoy the great outdoors and walk every day for an hour - no more sport - just armchair stuff!

    1. Lindsay, how awful! I've remarked more than once that had my fall happened earlier, i'm sure my recovery wouldn't be as wildly successful as it's been.