Thursday, July 18, 2013

Navigating Life With A Broken Ankle

I recently broke my ankle (fibula fracture) on a beautiful beach on Maui.  Yes, it was the dreaded vacation injury.  I would love to tell you I had a spectacular surfing accident, or something equally glamorous, but I just slipped at a tide pool on some wet rocks, and my right ankle bent behind me and I felt that ominous POP!

My foot swelled up and had a lot of bruising.

If you are dealing with a broken ankle, here are some tips I have picked up along the way.

Contact your insurance carrier.  We did not do this first, but did contact our carrier shortly after I had treatment.  If you are injured on vacation, you may need to pay your bills up front, and then submit the receipts for reimbursement.  Your insurance company may have an agreement with a particular doctor or facility where you are traveling, so it is a good idea to contact them if you want your treatment covered. My insurance carrier was able to help me find an orthopedic surgeon and get an appointment so I could be seen right after returning home.

If you break your ankle on vacation as I did, seek medical attention immediately.  Rather than going to an emergency room, I was able to get x-rays and a diagnosis at Doctors On Call on Maui.  They sent me on my way with a boot, crutches, and instructions to keep my weight off my foot.  Crutches are a necessary evil, and I found my skills on them were extremely rusty. To salvage our vacation,  I rented a wheelchair from "Wild Wheeled Wentals" on Maui and highly recommend their services.  They delivered the wheelchair to me, and picked it up from our hotel after we left the island.

My wheels on Maui

Ask your hotel if you can have different accommodations.  Ours moved me from a second floor room accessible only by stairs to a ground-floor room with a handicapped accessible bathroom.  This was a huge help on our trip.

Contact your airlines.  The doctor wrote me a "prescription" for extra leg-room for our flight home.  United Airlines had a "disability desk" and was able to move our entire family to a row with more leg room for our flight home at no charge.  They also arranged for me to be transported through airports and security by wheelchair, and had attendants waiting at the jetway every time I de-planed.  We did have to make these arrangements more than 48 hours before departure, so the earlier you contact your carrier, the better.  Note: if going through airport security in a wheelchair, you will be subjected to the dreaded TSA screening.  They should give t-shirts after, indicating you survived!

Icing and elevating my broken ankle.

There is no substitute for elevation.  Elevate your injured ankle above your waist as much as possible, and ice it when you can.  Ice melts pretty quickly on Maui, but we did our best.  Expect your ankle to swell quite a bit while flying.  Elevating it as much as you can at home will help the swelling diminish.

My x-ray two weeks after surgery.

My particular injury created ankle instability that could best be rectified by surgery.  My fibula now has a plate and 5 screws.  After surgery I was in a splint for 2 weeks, and now have a neon-green cast.  After the cast I will have a boot and crutches.  Plan on several weeks of No Weight Bearing (NWB).  This is inconvenient to say the least, but there are accessories that can help.  My doctor gave me the proper forms to get a temporary tag from the DMV that allows me to park in handicapped parking spaces. Your DMV will probably have forms online that you can print and have your doctor sign if he does not offer you this service.  My doctor's office also called in a "prescription" for me to rent a knee-scooter from a home health service.  This makes it possible for me to get out and about a bit, and makes life easier around the house.  I can now prepare my own food, for example, because I can stand on my good leg with the knee of my injured leg on the scooter and keep my hands free.

Borrow other useful equipment as much as you can.  If you can borrow crutches, a shower chair, a toilet extension seat, an ice machine, or anything else to help you through your healing process, do it.  If not, consider buying or renting items that may make your life easier.  Ask might be surprised how many people you know who have had a knee replacement or foot injury, and they may have supplies you could use. You will find your muscles get stronger, and using the crutches, scooter, and getting up and down from a seated position on one leg will get easier. It is still a lot of work!

A shower stool is a huge help!

Follow your doctor's instructions.  After my surgery, I was told to keep my ankle elevated the first three to four days.  I was told to get up only for meals and to use the bathroom.  This is a great time to catch up on movies or tv shows you may have missed, or tackle some books you have been meaning to read.  Also, after surgery, I found I slept a lot the first few days.  It is ok to rest and give your body time to heal.  Once you are able to get up and around more, continue to elevate the ankle a few times a day whenever possible.

A toilet extender with handles can also be a big help.

Although my doctor said taping a plastic bag around my leg for showering should work fine, I was given some cast covers made by Curad that have been wonderful.  Think of a giant "Christmas stocking" bag that fits over your cast and fits tightly around your leg below the knee.  These have kept my leg nice and dry while showering.

I keep a stool in my bathroom to sit on while brushing my teeth, applying make-up, etc.

Accept help.  I am practicing saying "yes" to people who have offered to help me with meals, cleaning, driving children around, and more.  I am fortunate enough to have capable family members in my home who can do most of these things for me, but have appreciated help from family, friends, and neighbors as well.

Watch for a progress report when I am "weight-bearing" and starting physical therapy!

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