Lessons I Learned When I Broke My Leg
In March, broke my tibial plateau, tore my meniscus, and caused a 3/4 inch depression in my upper tibia. I required a plate, ten screws and 2 bone donors/grafts to put me back together. I was non-weight-bearing for two months, then partial-weight bearing for another. Here are some thoughts on getting through a medical crisis.
- •Two legs are a lot more useful than one.There's a reason we have two legs.
- •If you have to break a leg, try to make it your left one, so you can still drive. (Once you are off your heavy meds.)I broke my right. I could not drive for two and a half months. (But I couldn't walk either.)
- •Take only the meds you need. (This is a toughie.)I had surgery and then flew home four days later and started with a new doctor after a week. He immediately took me off Oxycodone and Oxycotin (I got to stay on the Valium!) because they are so addictive. I was in a shitload of pain & admit to being bummed. But he was right: the Perocet was fine. And when they told me it was time to wean off the Percocet, I was also bummed but again: it was better to do it now than risk dependency.
- •Become an organ donor. Full stop.I have always been an organ donor but never considered that I would be the recipient of a donation. I am so grateful to the kind souls whose bones were inserted into my body, which will eventually allow for a full recovery. (A few months away!) This is such a no-brainier, generous way to give back/pay it forward.
- •When in a crisis, accept any and all help, even if you are really bad at asking for it.My family could not have gotten through this without the support of an incredible network of friends I didn't even realize I needed as much as I did. They set up a dinner chain almost immediately, and drove my kids around the city. I was immobile for basically ten weeks. You cannot do something like this - any sort of medical crisis - alone. I am terrible at asking for help. I am so glad my friends didn't even wait to be asked.
- •Try to be optimistic.My physical therapist tells me that his patients with positive attitudes recover much quicker than those without them. I don't know if this is because you work harder at your physical recovery (I do my PT every day) or maybe just because your stress hormones are lower, but either way (or for whatever reason!), try to have a sense of humor when it's not so easy.
- •Get better crutches.The hospital-issue crutches are the worst. If you are going to be on crutches for a while (in my case: three months!), buy a pair of Mobilegs. You will thank me later.
- •Your body burns a lot of energy trying to heal itself.The doctors at the hospital told me that I would burn almost 2x the amount of calories, as my body fused and regrew the bone but I was dubious. Well, I literally could barely move for eight weeks...in fact, I had to sit in a machine that moved my leg for 6 hours a day, and I lost about 7% of my body weight just by sitting there. Bone regrowth is no joke.
- •Get in shape because you never know.I cannot, CANNOT, imagine how much harder this recovery would have been if I weren't in good health and in good shape. As it was, my leg muscle atrophied to the point where I could fit my hands around my whole thigh...and after 8 weeks of non-weight bearing, it couldn't even hold me up. But the rest of my body was strong and agile, & that had made a huge difference. Also, walking on crutches is tiring. Get in shape. It matters.
- •The metal in your leg might feel different than bone.Metal/titanium conducts heat differently, (so I am told), so when people say on damp rainy days, that their bad knee really hurts, they're not lying! Also, fun fact: you do not go off in airport metal detectors, as some genius told me I would.
- •Check your ski bindings before setting off for the day.Yeah. So. First run of the first day of vacation. My left binding wasn't on correctly, and my ski came off while I was skiing. My right ski overcompensated, swung around and twisted beneath me, and DIDN'T release and thus took my leg and knee with it. Welcome to the worst ski vacation of your life.
- •Marry/partner well.I'll be honest: when I realized what had happened, my biggest concern was how my household would manage. I have always been the one who takes care of nearly everything that goes along with 2 kids and 2 dogs, and while I love my husband, I don't think either of us quite knew what to expect. He stepped up at every turn, & while things have regressed now that I can walk, I know he can have my back in a crisis. The day to day marital hiccups are irrelevant compared to this.
- •Have perspective.Look, it could have been worse. I never forgot this, and I'm lucky it was only my leg.
- •Be grateful. Find the silver linings.I will never, ever, EVER forget the support we received: from the volunteer EMT who stopped for me when I was screaming on the slope and waited with me until ski patrol came, to the nurse from Vail who still checks in with me, to my friends who stopped by daily and eventually stuffed me into a car occasionally to get me out of the house. Also, my kids got more independent. I had downtime to catch up on reading. There are so many silver linings to be found in a crisis if you look for them.