Tips for Suriving a Broken Ankle

Before and after

My right ankle, before and after

So, you’ve broken your ankle. Do you live alone? Eeeesh. Do you enjoy exercise and outdoor activities? Ughhh. Do you prefer to plan your own meals and have control over the day to day minutiae of your life? Oy. Do you dislike asking for help for every little effing thing? Oh lordy. Brace yourself. You’re in a lot of pain and haven’t even thought about how much your life is about to change. Take a deep breath and consider this advice from a person who was NWB (non weight bearing) for 8 weeks. It will be okay. But for right now, this is your life.

IMG_4865  IMG_4903

Whatismylife

Ask someone to get you fuzzy crutch covers IMMEDIATELY. One rugburn on your armpit is too many. You also will want to cover the handles to prevent blisters. (You will still get some blisters.) You can buy some, or use some towels or old t-shirts. It doesn’t matter what you use, just cover that rubber.

giphy

This isn’t you.

Learn how to actually use your crutches. Get a doctor or nurse or physical therapist to show you how to use your crutches properly. Make sure they’re the right height and that you’re putting most of your weight on your hands, not armpits. Find someone to explain how to go up and down stairs properly. Stairs are the absolute worst.

giphy-5

Get yourself a knee scooter post haste. Crutches are the devil. Two weeks after my surgery, I crutched into a McDonalds to use the restroom. It had been raining and the floor in the entryway was wet from people’s stupid wet shoes. I wasn’t even thinking and crutched right in there and completely wiped out, landing on my splinted foot. This hurt a LOT and could have jeopardized my entire recovery. (Thankfully, the screws held!) A graceful and experienced crutcher may look cool gliding down the street, but I promise you it is NOT WORTH THE RISK. Get an Rx for a knee scooter and ride that damn thing with pride.

IMG_4952

Scooters also need fuzzy covers.

Sure, you look like a child with your backpack and sneakers (you should be wearing sneakers now – preventing trips and falls is very important) but who cares. You’ll be much more comfortable and much more stable. You’ll even have a hand free to carry things for yourself, which is very important.

Practice patience. Oh, baby this is a hard one. It’s multidimensional too. You need to be patient every moment of every day. Nothing will be quick for you anymore. Grabbing something from the fridge during a commercial? Nope. Running upstairs to get that one little thing you need? Nope. Taking a quick shower? Nope. Running a quick errand on the way home? You are not about that life. You are the turtle. Be the turtle. Every move you make is measured, thought out, and slow. Rushing is for other people. You have to become a zen master. Going to be late to work? Accept it. Not quite enough time to cross the street before the light changes? Wait for the next cycle. Need to put your boot on but the sock is still in the dryer? Chill. If you rush, you will hurt yourself. It’s not worth it. Patience.

online-shopping-parks-and-rec

Along those same lines, remember that this, too, shall pass. Your NWB days will end. It seriously sucks, but it is temporary. Be patient. Be patient.

Don’t get over confident, there, buddy. The minute you start jumping on and off your scooter or crutching at high speeds over uneven terrain, you will fall. Seriously. Use both hands on the scooter when you’re going backwards. Make sure your crutches have made solid, stable contact with the ground before swinging your body forward. GO SLOW. Hubris leads to re-injury.

slow-down-crazy

Learn to ask for help. Sometimes it feels really awful to ask for help. On Labor Day I got a ride to a matinee showing of A Walk in the Woods. I should have realized the theater would be PACKED with the elderly and their many walkers and wheelchairs. The handicap accessible seats were all taken, and every other available seat was up or down stairs. Since I was using my scooter and didn’t have my crutches, stairs were not an option. I was trying to figure out what to do when an elderly woman with a cane got up out of her handicapped seat and and insisted I take her seat. I immediately refused. I was absolutely mortified, but she hoofed it up the steps with her cane and woudn’t take no for an answer. When I told my coworkers about the incident, they had a completely different take. They said, “She must have been really excited to have been able to help you out. You probably made her day!”  It took me a moment, but when I thought about it, I could see that being the case. This was really helpful for me to realize as I struggled to ask for and accept help. My friend James wrote a great post about that. Read it. You will need to ask for and accept help.

help

You will also need to stop feeling awkward about how often you say the phrase “thank you,” because it will be every other word that comes out of your mouth. These days, I say it at least nine times during every single interaction I have.

Learn to receive help graciously. This is one of the hardest parts about being laid up with a broken leg. Suddenly you can’t do anything for yourself. If you’re lucky, you will have people helping you. But the downside to that is that you have people helping you. Like when someone graciously offers to go grocery shopping for you and buys all the wrong things. (Regular Cheerios are NOT just as good as Multigrain Cheerios, Mom!) Or people sweetly offer to bring you food and keep bringing you pizza. I now know how it feels to be so freaking grateful for pizza and also so goddamned sick of pizza at the same time. It’s a strange feeling.

giphy-2

One of the things I struggled with the most before my knee scooter was the fact that I couldn’t carry a plate or a glass of water on my crutches. This meant that I couldn’t serve myself food. This meant that one of the most basic functions of being an independent adult – feeding yourself – was completely in the control of other people. In my case, for two weeks after my surgery, the people in charge were my parents. And let me be clear here: surrendering that level of control to your parents as a 30-year-old independent woman is INFURIATING. Yes, my parents were so incredibly generous and helpful and basically saved me during those first few weeks after my surgery because I had no one else. I am so, completely grateful for everything they did for me. But it was still really freaking hard not to lose it that time that I asked my dad for some food because I was really hungry and he said “No, it’s too early for dinner. We’ll eat later.” And I was like “AW HELL NAH, DAD. I AM A GROWN WOMAN AND I AM HUNGRY AND I WILL EAT NOW.” Except I had just had surgery, didn’t have the scooter, and I couldn’t get my own food. He refused to bring me food and I started to cry and he got upset that I was upset and that was probably one of the worst moments of this whole entire experience. Once I got my scooter, I had a free hand to carry things. It was a game-changer.

tumblr_m5st0cMb5w1qzvyhvo1_500-1

Find and revel in small moments of independence. Help is great and necessary, but sometimes you just want to do stuff by yourself. Some of the best moments of my convalescence were those that I spent alone. Like, really alone in my house for a whole day by myself. Sure, I planned ahead so that I had a fridge stocked with ready-to-eat meals, a few movies queued up on Netflix, and my scooter. (Praise be the scooter!) And on those days, I made myself eggs when I felt like it. I washed my own dishes. I shaved my other leg without anyone having to know about it. I did those things by myself, with no one watching or offering to help. It was beautiful.

(minus the dancing)

(minus the dancing)

Get out of your head. Having too much time to think is dangerous, and that’s what you have now. Way too much time to think. Try not to make any major life decisions right now. Your broken leg depression (situational depression is common for people with broken legs) will cloud your perception and poison your thinking about the state of your life. In addition to impacting your day to day concerns like eating and transportation, your injury is going to affect your relationships, your job/work, your social calendar, your creative outputs, and your community engagement. It may very well impact your sense of self. You might begin to wonder things like: “Am I still an outgoing, involved, busy person who does improv and loves hiking if none of those things are currently happening for me?” “Are my relationships as solid as I thought they were after spending an entire weekend without hearing from anybody?” “Are the melancholic, pessimistic jokes I use to manage my feelings starting to make other people uncomfortable?” “Is my life even going in the right direction?” “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?” … This shit is dangerous and it is real. On the bad days, try to remember that things are actually not as terrible as they feel. This is temporary. This is temporary.

whoamilesmis

Therapy is awesome, though. But if you can’t drive and have limited transportation options and can’t get out of the house to see a therapist, you’ll have to figure out some other strategies. Reach out to people as much as you can. Even thought it’s super inconvenient and a huge pain in the ass, ask someone to get you out of the house at least once a week. Go to a restaurant. Listen to some music. Change up your surroundings, even if only for a few minutes. You can ask someone to call you to check in every day. If there’s someone else in your life who’s struggling right now, do what you can to try to help them out. Helping someone else is one of the best ways to get your mind off your own shit. Cross off the days on a calendar. Countdown to your next doctor’s visit. Plan something really fun and special for when you’re healed. Make sure you remember the end in sight.

bleieveyoui.gif

Make plans. I found it really helpful to think about and actually make plans for when I could walk again. For example, I’m going to dance at my friends’ wedding in a couple of weeks. I’m going to visit my parents in the city after that. Perhaps the biggest distraction/focal point has been planning a Christmas vacation with friends. After effectively missing summer (no swimming for me…) I am going spend a week on the beach in the Caribbean!!! The trip will be totally indulgent and fun, and I will have no regrets.

tumblr_n8eygpH9YJ1qj4315o1_500

Continue to be patient. It’s been almost 10 weeks since I broke my ankle. I am currently walking, albeit very stiffly and slowly, with a sport brace and sneakers. I am doing physical therapy and I can finally drive. All of this is excellent. And yet, I’m not quite myself again. My ankle is still swollen and sore most of the time. I still cannot carry anything heavy. I still cannot jump or walk quickly or wear normal shoes. I’m also still feeling sad and frustrated and all of the other things you feel when you’re not okay. To others, I appear to be through the worst of it, healed, back to normal. But there’s a lot more healing left to be done for my ankle, and also for my spirit.

tumblr_mac5ck2MHN1qgyohyo1_250

Remember, healing hurts. Continue to be patient and gentle with yourself. Continue to ask for help. Hang in just a little longer. We all must walk before we can run.

giphy-3

25 Comments

  1. Best wishes on the rest of your healing. Great lessons for us all here. I have never broken an ankle, but have had many sprains. Crutches hurt, your hands, your armpits and if not used well, your body if you fall. By the way, my now wife first noticed me while I was on crutches, so there are upsides.

    Reply

  2. hey…loved your work…
    please visit my blog and help me with your feedback !!
    Here’s the link- caffeinestories.wordpress.com

    Reply

  3. Thank you for writing this blog. It’s been 8 days since I broke my ankle. Yes, the thinking made me stress more! Horrible nightmares and actually giving my BF instructions at 3 am to do things like mive the bed, etc. He said I was wide eyed AWAKE and responding to his questions. Meanwhile, don’t remember any of it.

    After this healing, I have surgery for a torn rotator cuff. Looks like I’m in for another long haul!

    Reply

  4. I just broke my ankle on Dec 10… I’m in that limbo phase between surgeries… I’m depressed. Your blog made me feel better. I hope you’re doing well.

    Reply

  5. I hope that you are all healed and 100%. I am just 4 weeks out after ankle surgery, so I am in the thick of it. Your post was very inspirational and just what I needed. I was feeling blue, frustrated and tired. Clearly, that sounds normal. Thank you for the inspiration and mantra of patience.

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Pia. I am 100% healed, although sometimes my ankle does stiffen up on me and my range of motion isn’t quite as good as the other ankle, but generally it doesn’t bother me. Feeling blue, frustrated, and tired sounds absolutely normal. Hang in there. This will end!

      Reply

  6. Thank you! I broke my ankle 2 weeks ago doing acrobatics and this transition has been incredibly tough. I am used to being independent and very active. Now I can’t ride my horse, practice yoga, do acrobatics or surfing… basically everything I did was physically active. I had to put off my clinical rotations at vet school to graduate late now so I feel like my whole life is on pause. One thing I have found helpful is getting into more artwork because I can sit and paint or craft something and not feel useless for a short period of time. I definitely share your feelings of loneliness and feel like a burden on everyone around me but good to know there is some light at the end of the tunnel

    Reply

  7. I want to say a big Thank you for your blog. I broke my ankle 10 weeks ago and your blog summed up exactly what I was going through (in a humorous way). As a very active and independent person it totally turned my life around. Suddenly I was totally dependent on my partner and was shocked my how many things I could not do. I am not going to lie there have been many very dark times and I have been surprised to see who has been supportive and who not so much. I am now moving around much more and attending physio. I am improving everyday but it is such a slow process. Just trying to take one day at a time and celebrate the small triumphs. Thanks for sharing your journey – it has made me feel not so alone.

    Reply

  8. Thank you for this, I’m on week 6 of broken ankle with minimal weight-bearing (5kgs!) and 6 more weeks in the boot… Your post has made me feel normal (for my situation)!

    Reply

  9. Hi I broke my freaking ankle too in the end of July. Yeah …hense patience isn’t my friend yet. Got so much time to hear crab voices from my head. Deep down I know it will heal but time master is far fetched scenario. Soon..which next like next Friday my hardware are coming of. Not even 6 months…this because the plate is to long fixed below my fibula. So constant piercing and obstacle to regain side ways ROM. I like reading that this is temporary. It so important for me…to remind myself about it. Current….vicious circle screwing my weak mind is the coming surgery and that bloody winter. More surgery…scared as hell. I got plans drawn up..all this will put in practice after the surgery.

    Reply

  10. I broke one ankle and sprained the other almost 3 weeks ago now. I’m in a ton of pain, non weight bearing on the broken ankle and as little as possible on the right. This is difficult physically and mentally. Today I figured out a way to get into my shower by myself but then I couldn’t get out. It’s nearly impossible for me to do anything. I’ve not been outside for a week. I’m sleeping on a bed in my dining room because I can’t get upstairs. Every evening I get to the point where everything hurts and I start to feel awful and lash out at my husband who is doing the best he can. He took off work the first week to take care of me because I was essentially crippled. My mom came out to help for two nights the second week when my husband was working and I’ve been alone this week while he’s at work. It looks like I’ll be alone for Christmas. my family lives about 2 hours away but none have offered to come here instead of me going to them even though I drive to them every holiday. This is so depressing.

    Reply

  11. I’m so lucky I found this blog when I did because I just broke my ankle, specifically the fibula bone, and now I know how to navigate this tough experience. I have only been using crutches for 3 days and my whole body hurts, so I will definitely be switching to a knee scooter! When my doctor told me I would be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks, I went into shock because it felt like she was saying I couldn’t do anything productive for the next month and a half. I will try to be more open about to asking people for help throughout my recovery, as I am already a nervous wreck about that kind of stuff!

    Reply

  12. Thank you for this post Leah. I broke my tib-fib and have been NWB for 6 weeks now and have a few more to go. Situational depression is a thing as is coming off the pain killers. Your post helped normalize my feelings and experiences – made me feel a little less alone. 💚

    Reply

  13. Leah, thank you so much for your blog post and thanks to everyone else for sharing your experiences. Leah I am very happy that you are post-recovery and hope the stiffness works itself out. I am 3.5 weeks post-surgery with a right ankle dislocation and breaks in 2 places. I have trenendous support but this situation still stinks. Today was the first day, I think, that I realized just how long a 12-week recovery, if I am lucky, really will be. I am in too much discomfort to do more than watch tv and read the paper. On the other hand, time is still flying since the day of my accident, Feb 17. Is there a way for us more recent posters to connect with each other online?

    Reply

  14. I had a skiing accident in japan 2 months ago and was not permitted to travel back to Australia so had to have surgery in a remote hospital where no one spoke English and there was no internet. It was necessary to use most of the world’s titanium resources to hold this spiral, complex fracture together with all the fragments etc. But the worst thing was that the Japanese do not use any kind of strong opioid based painkiller. They tried to influence me to have the 7 hour surgery fully conscious ( which I refused) and woke to sheer agony with only the equivalent of ibuprofen.
    I live in on a large rural property on my own and I have found out how quickly peoples’ compassion is exhausted. Even my own daughters, who live in other states have simply written off my isolated and overwhelming situation as a non event.
    The insurance company were utterly dreadful and left me to fend for myself in a hotel room for a week, with no assistance at all, until they came up with a hospital in a backwater where at least the staff were kind.
    If you have decent painkillers (none here because they say i made it this far so I can wear it) and any kind of helper such as husband or parent then you can thank your lucky stars!

    Reply

  15. Hi all. Naomi, seeing that you posted motivated me to come back to support you and share some tips I have learned about the way. I am sooo sorry to hear that you had to endure so much pain in Japan, both physically and mentally. I cannot imagine going through this experience in a country where I could not communicate with the doctors, nurses and other patients because of a language barrier. I hope you are giving yourself credit for getting through that part of the journey of getting back to well.

    As for tips: It seems that most posters on this blog did not have access to a walker and the the magical walker accessories — a basket and a tray. I am currently 7 weeks NWB. These “toys” have given me much more independence and control in my life. I also tricked out my bathtub with a shower bench and handheld shower head so I am good there as well. Finally, I got a grabber, a tool that can reach and grab all sorts of things I may not be able to reach or would risk falling to get to. The knee scooter is scheduled to arrive on Friday.

    I am continually being reminded that I have to go slow — what a drag! But it beats re-injuring myself with one false move.

    Best to all who are also enduring this seemingly endless recuperation…and let’s all remember that this too shall pass.

    Reply

  16. I wish I found this site earlier. I picked up on many handy hints. I am entering my ninth week, will start bearing weight on it for physical therapy. It is so true. Everything that has been said here. My boyfriend, God bless him, has been chauffeur, care giver, home aide etc. I was in my first semester of nursing school when I was injured on Feb. 10. It was horrible. By grace of the college, they let me stay in one class. In the other class I couldn’t do the clinical component, (working in a hospital), because I couldn’t bear weight on the leg. I have been frustrated, and totally depressed. EVERYTHING IS A CHORE. Just getting to shower is like a major event. It was so hard to get into nursing school. It took me years, with the courses required, not to mention the money. The college will have me back next spring. I would go earlier in the fall, but I am worried I am not giving my ankle enough time to heal properly. In Clinical work at the hospital, I have to help lift and hold patients. That is dead weight. They need full assistance, so you have to be ready and 100%. They loaned me a wheelchair at the college, so it gave me a great break on using crutches. You need to focus on something, pick anything. Try Khan academy, you tube, keep your mind active. It is so easy to slip into a negative mindset, believe me, and it was hard to get out of it. Keep in touch with people. Meeting with the kids at school and having something to talk about other than my leg, is wonderful. Try knitting, its awesome and keeps your mind zen. Netflix is awesome too. You will make it through this. make shower time special, order a few shower gels from amazon that smell great. Pamper yourself, you deserve it. Its not all in your head. This is an adjustment.

    Reply

  17. Thank you for your words.

    I broke my ankle a little over a week ago. I still have an external fixator on it, and currently I’m home wating for the swelling to go down enough so that the actual surgery can be done.

    I was in a hospital for 6 days. Some days I felt very unreal, at first I didin’t even realise how bad the injury was. First days walking with crutches I had so much trouble keeping my balance, I was very tired and in pain. Everytime I got back to my hospital bed I started crying and felt so hopeless. I was so scared that I would fall and cause more damage to my ankle.

    Now being home I feel like everything is so new. I live by myself in a small apartment. I have to carefully plan for every little thing that normally I would just get up and do. I know I’m going to be NWB about 6-8 weeks which at this point sounds like forever. We don’t have access to knee scooters here in Finland but I got myself a wheelchair so that it is possible for me to go outside with my friends or go to the store without so much assistance.

    The most difficult thing for me right now is to think about how I was just recovering from depression again and I was doing quite good actually. Now this. Although I try to think that this injury is the final way of my life trying to tell me to stop, slow down for a while. It kind of threw me back to basics, and it might actually be just what I need.

    Your post made me feel so much better. Every day I tell myself that this is temporary but sometimes it’s hard to believe. And the fact that this is my life for now has been hard to accept. But you made all this easier, your words were very comforting and reassuring. Thank you.

    Reply

  18. Thanks for sharing your story. I broke both bones when I fell off steps and broke my ankle. I couldn’t walk for 10 wks. I started using a walker and I should be using a cane,but my son has 3 dogs and I’m afraid they’ll trip me. I didn’t have surgery. But I fell better having read your story. Thanks again!

    Reply

  19. What a great piece. It affirmed most of my feelings/experience 4 weeks into broken ankle, NWB recovery. Thank you, by reading this I’m seeing that my process has been pretty organic, and I am making progress without demanding it of myself all the time. My biggest challenge is safely getting up/down one step (no railing) to let my dog out. Doctor changed the cast for the second time today and said less scooter, more crutches and a little occasional WB. This is kinda thrilling but also needs a plan. I LOVE my scooter. I know I’ll get there but wanted to say thanks for your contribution!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s