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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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12 thoughts on “Tips for Suriving a Broken Ankle

  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.

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  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!

  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.

  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.

    • 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!

  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

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