When you've just fractured (or sprained) your ankle, and everything seems impossible ...

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I hear you! I'm six weeks out from a spiral fibula fracture, and four weeks post-ORIF surgery. As of yesterday, I'm in a walking cast after six loooooooong weeks of non-weight bearing. Here's some things that would've helped me to hear:

First and foremost: I’m really, really sorry. Whether it’s the most horrific fracture or “just a sprain,” it’s HARD. You’ll feel so frustrated, depressed, tired and angry. You probably feel that way right now. You’ll replay the moment when you got injured over and over, and think of how you could’ve avoided it. Most people seem to injure their ankle doing the most mundane thing: they trip. I’ve thought SO MANY times about how if I had just moved that little thing when I saw it, I wouldn’t be in this mess.

So here’s my first piece of advice: if you’re a person who has been depressed in the past, it’s probably a REALLY GOOD idea to check in with your primary care doc or therapist. Even people with totally normal brain chemistry who have never been depressed in their lives get depressed when this happens. That’s OK and it’s normal your life has totally changed for the worse without any warning. You feel out of control. Even the simplest things are so hard. If you’re an active person, you don’t have those endorphins or just the peace that comes from a nice long walk, or playing with your dog. You can’t do anything for yourself, you’re so dependent on other people, and you’re home bound for at least a few weeks. Everything in your life revolves around this stupid, stupid thing that nothing can fix except time and patience. That’s a recipe for even the most sane person to feel blue.

Here’s some things that helped me:

1. Keep perspective think, “My injury is awful, but I will get better and walk again. A LOT of people don’t have that; they get hurt and don’t get to walk again.” Repeat as necessary, perhaps up to 80 times per day!

2. Celebrate the small victories. To someone else, they may seem small, but to you, they can be HUGE. This starts by just noticing them “Today, my ankle does not hurt,” or “today, I made my bed by rolling around and pulling the covers.” When I was allowed to stand on my good foot and cast, I was SO EXCITED that I had to show everyone. I also made a list of the things I could do standing at the mirror to put on makeup, or being able to scramble some eggs. If you can think of and write down just three things you're grateful for at the end of each day, that small act can really help.

3. Keep yourself busy with what you can do, and pick something you’ve always wanted to work on/read/etc. Call those old friends that you may have lost touch with and have them over just for coffee and a chat. Take up watercolors. Re-read Harry Potter. Learn to play the ukulele. Stay on this forum and support other people, or just read others’ stories. This is my first post here after a lot of lurking, and every time I read, I felt less alone.

How do I live my life??

This one is tough, especially for those of us who live alone. I spiral-fractured my fibula on June 30, then had surgery on July 12. For 5+ days after both these events, I could not live alone, and had to change my life so that someone else could take care of me in this case, mostly my mom, but also my little sisters, friends, etc. To make it easier, I stayed with them, but do know that figuring out how to safely navigate a new space can take some time. A good way to figure out if you’re ready to take care of yourself is to see how long you can go without asking for help. And speaking of which ...

* You have to ask for help. You have to accept help when it’s offered. I HATE ASKING OTHER PEOPLE FOR HELP, and yet I had no choice. You will feel like the neediest baby when you’re asking for everything, even a drink of water. Just repeat to yourself: this is only for a few days. This is only for a few weeks. My friends and family love me and they want to help if the shoe was on the other foot, I would be so happy to help them.

* You can do maaaaybe one thing per day. Going to the store is a thing. Visiting a friend is a thing. Until you have a really good handle on what your physical energy level is, go slow, and don't make big plans -- you'll often have to cancel, and that can feel so disappointing. Spoiler: your basic physical capacity is going to be WAY LESS than when you're not trying to move through the world in a new, exhausting way and your body is not trying to knit bones or skin back together. Rest and have patience with your body; it's doing something very hard and amazing and fighting to get you back to a place where you want to be!

SUPPLIES:

1. A knee scooter is what kept me sane! Mine is named Scoots McGillicutty, and I love him so much. Get one with a basket, and keep the directions, because folding it and putting the brakes on aren’t intuitive. Do know that the standard ones (solid tires) really can’t go on anything rougher than a driveway. This is the single most important thing; if you can’t afford one/your insurance will not pay, check on Craigslist, post on Facebook, ask your orthopedist if they know of anyone who doesn’t need theirs anymore, sell a kidney. In short, GET A SCOOTER!

2. Crutch pads: you will still have to use your crutches sometimes. Amazon has great ones in many colors.

3. An orthopedic pillow: especially at first, you just have one job: elevate that damn ankle. I got a good, steady pillow that was specifically made for this on amazon and it felt so much sturdier than the piles of pillows I used before it arrived. The more you elevate and ice, the quicker, easier and less painful your recovery will be. Ice the back of your knee if you have a cast or splint; it cools the blood going to the area. I elevated for up to 20 hours a day, and my surgeon was amazed at how ahead of schedule my healing was.

4. An office chair with wheels and adjustable height: This is so great for things like cooking, tidying surfaces or heck, just sitting at the table with your family and not having to futz with crutches. I got one without arms, which i was able to sit down on from different angles more easily.

I feel like I have sooooo many more tips, but I’ve already written a novel! Ankle Problem folks who are totally on the other side, what did you do that made your life easiest?

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10 Replies

  • Posted

    That's the most helpful post I've read on here. Thank you for writing it and describing so accurately what I'm dreading (haven't yet had the op and keep putting it off for all those reasons). Brilliant!

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    • Posted

      I’m blushing! Thank you so much. I definitely understand the dread ... when my ortho said I needed surgery or I’d never have a stable ankle again, I immediately thought, “Eh, who needs it?”

      YOU CAN DO IT!! It’s a huge pain, but time keeps moving forward and every day I reminded myself that I was one day closer to being well. 💖💖💖

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  • Posted

    Awesome advice. I am 12 weeks out from a trimalleolar break.  2 plates, 12 pins.  Had some set backs with recovery but I am WALKING!  Sometimes with a cane on uneven surfaces but still walking.  If you would have asked me 8 weeks ago or even 4 weeks ago if I thought I would be walking now  I would have said “are you crazy?”  The knee scooter, the elevated pillow, the chair.  All those things were life savers, but the biggest things to take away from this is 1. Let people help you!  And 2.  You WILL get better!  Best wishes and healing thoughts go out to everyone!
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    • Posted

      Oh my goodness, Monique, I can’t imagine! I’m so, so happy to hear you’re walking now — I just started yesterday and I’m in almost as much pain now as I was a few days after surgery. My friend suggested I get a cool wizard cane and I’m for sure tempted!

      The most amazing part was standing upright and walking up the stairs to my room — no more scooting like a weird Spider-Man. 

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    • Posted

      KelBelle, 

      You have no idea how thrilled I am to be walking. I used to dream about it when things were really bad. Now, it certainly wasn’t easy...it took lots of time in Physical Therapy and even more time to realize I needed to stop pushing myself so hard. I thought I was a failure because I didn’t follow the typical recovery schedule. But I just kept doing a little more each day until one day I realized I walked into the kitchen with my cane and walked back out of the kitchen and sat on the couch, looked for my cane later and realized I left it in the kitchen!  And just like that I walked. Lol!   This forum has been wonderful, just knowing that others have made it through recovery and to the other side kept me going.  Good luck!  

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  • Posted

    You. Are. Amazing.

    I personally have broke both my ankles (4 yrs apart) both the exact same break. Fractured my fibula, dislocated the tibia and severed the ligaments and BOTH times recovery were COMPLETELY different. I wish I knew all of these things the first time around. My recovery was sooo slow and I was afraid to do or try anything for fear of reinjuring. I followed instructions to a T and babied myself. But that was what I needed to do. I didn’t have a job at the time so there was no pressure of having to get well soon or do anything. My support system was my mom, step dad, husband and daughter. All of which were at my beck and call. 4.5 months I was in a cast, started walking after 2 months.

    This time around, I was angry, stressed, felt completely useless and pushed myself a little too hard at times. I went back to work two days after surgery, don’t ask me how cause I don’t really remember (all the meds). I tried it in a wheelchair the first week and then I got the kneeling walker (with hard wheels) and although it made my life easier, I was still angry. At myself for doing this again, for maybe screwing up my job (it’s construction  season), for making everyone do things for me, for being a burden and for screwing up my family’s summer. Yesterday was my 6week appointment and my surgeon gave me the green light to walk at my discretion and to do regular exercises. Since I’ve done this before he said I can do the physical therapy on my own if I want. He said to wear a brace at all times and that’s that. I’m over the moon anout it and can’t believe I’m at this stage already. Either way, Doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or how you broke it. It sucks and everyone heals differently. Take the time that YOU need in the moment and don’t be too hard on yourself cause it can happen to anyone and we need to embrace it and do what we can. And I totally agree, GET A KNEELING SCOOTER!!! Lol

    Good lick everyone and thanks Kelbell

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  • Posted

    Hi, what an amazing post and so inspirational! I myself am 7 weeks post talo-navicuar fusion. I agree with the whole pillows thing. I tried pillows but very quickly got myself a proper elevation support which was much more comfy! I elevated totally for 4 weeks and then had a change to full cast and had foot still more up than down but still non weight bearing. I didnt get a scooter but bought myself an I-Walk. What an amazing bit of kit and it paid for itself over and over with me being able to get around easily and have two hands to do things! I am now just over a week out of the cast and have crutches and a boot, Finding it easier to walk every day although lots of aching as I expected. I even managed one crutch all day yesterday! Kelbelle is right, you need to use all the positives. Every little triumph is another step towards full mobility and I have good friends and family although I live on my own who have supported, called in for coffee, shopped etc. Its frustrating but it will end and when I can walk free of pain it will all have been worthwhile! 
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  • Posted

    Thanks KelBelle for your helpful narrative. Well done.

    Ankle injuries essentially are wake up calls to us to experience the humility of temporary helplessness and distress. That's why these injuries could be life changers to those who are aware of the lessons.

    I would like to add something to your recommendation of knee scooters. Yes, they are great for many but not appropriate for all.

    In some cases, when patient feels unsafe or unstable on a scooter or lacks the energy to maneuver one around, a wheelchair is a better idea.

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    • Posted

      You’re so right about the scooter vs. wheelchair thing — and Set, just below recommended an iWalk. 

      What I should’ve said is that you REALLLLLLY don’t wanna be on crutches the whole time — they hurt, they’re exhausting and scary. I’m a young, reasonable coordinated and strong person and I *still* fell multiple times on them, once very hard. 

      You’re even more right about the lessons. What I hope I take out of this experience:

      1. Gratitude! I’ve felt extra grateful that my arms work, because I know how easily they, too, could be injured.

      2. Compassion for the disabled, and support for ADA-accessible everything: I had *no idea* how just a small step can be impossible. 

      3. Awareness of those around me who may be physically struggling: I’m so grateful when people offer help, even if I don’t need it ... but there have been times when I’ve had to say “Excuse me!” To the 14th stranger who walks right past me when I’m struggling with something simple. 

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  • Posted

    KelBelle thank you for your post! I am so thankful for these posts as it helps at times when I am feeling low or "alone". I broke my right ankle and had ORIF surgery, wire and two screws, on the same day (07/05).

    My husband, daughter and I were suppose fly out to CA to visit my parents on 07/19, but had to cancel obviously. So that combined with my husband having to take on everything, not being able to tuck my 5 yr old daughter in each night, the reality of my injury and how it happened, really depressed me. Out of my 45 years, I never had a broken bone let alone depressed, so this is all new to me. I try to stay positive and not have my "breakdowns" for the sake of my family because this has had a huge impact on them as well.

    Things you once took for granted are now front and center lol. Using the bathroom, shower, getting water, so many things. But as you mentioned, these are great achievements.

    My last appt (07/20) I got my stitches out and they put me in a boot but still non weight bearing. My next appointment is 8/16 and not sure what it will entail. I am a total scaredy cat about the thought of putting pressure on my ankle once the PT begins but also know that if I want to drive I have to suck it up lol. My current issue I will have to address is my good leg hurts from using it scooting up and down the stairs, the walker, the knee scooter and will use the iWalk once my good leg doesn't hurt. Thank you again for your encouraging posts.

    Wishing everyone a safe and speedy recoveries! We can do this ?

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