Friday, July 1, 2011

Biting the Bullet

For nearly two years now, I've lived in pain.

Sounds melodramatic, doesn't it?

Local paper photo, the day after.  Black car is mine.
The plain truth is that I was in a very nasty auto accident in July of 2009, which left me with some nasty road rash on my left hip (despite the skin never coming in contact with any road), lots and lots of colorful bruises along the seatbelt lines, crumbled auto glass in places that one should never have glass, two breaks in my right wrist, four broken bones in my right ankle, two titanium screws (to repair sheared-off bones in said ankle), a seven-day hospital stay, and familiarity with weird medical contraptions like platform walkers.

The other (17-year-old)  driver escaped with bumps and bruises.  So did her front-seat passenger.  (Her back-seat passenger wasn't so lucky, but being half my age, has likely recovered better than I did.)

The kids spent 10½ weeks living at Mom & Dad's.  I was there with them for 9½ weeks.  Hubby came down when he could, from Sunday afternoon, after church, until Tuesday morning, when he had to be back in his office.  (It was awful.)  It was physically impossible for me to recuperate at home.

Mine was snazzier.  And red.
Four days of intense physical and occupational therapy in the hospital gave way to PT once a week.  I had to do something to keep my leg muscles from atrophying, because I couldn't walk.  I needed to use the platform walker, because I had a broken right wrist and an ankle that could not bear any weight on it at all...for six long weeks.  That meant I braced my right forearm on the platform, curled my fingers around the handhold, gripped the walker itself with my right hand, supported all my weight down across my shoulders and through my left hand and right elbow, and heaved myself forward.  That would scoot me forward about two feet.  (Hubby tried it once.  He could barely do it.)

I could barely take care of myself--there was something oddly hysterical about having to be baby-sat by my octogenarian aunt, who couldn't get up much better than I could, while my family went to church (she could at least move the lever to get me out of the recliner, which I couldn't do myself)--let alone take care of my kids.  I was immensely grateful to my parents for letting us invade for two and a half months.  It was, however, humiliating to not be able to cut up my own food.  I was 34, not three and a half.  I cried a lot.

Pool therapy, Labor Day '09
When I was finally able to move home, it was wonderful...but challenging.  When the kids napped, so did I.  I could only handle the stairs a couple times a day.  We live in a very old half-house, and the thirteen steps between the first floor and the second are quite steep.

I knew from my surgeon that I was going to have pain, and that the winter would be unpleasant...this first winter post-op being the worst.  There were many times that I came downstairs, propped my foot up, and wrapped a hot pack around it to chase the chill out of my bones while Hubby cared for the kids.  The ankle in particular was very sensitive to weather and atmospheric pressure changes.  (Of course, that was the winter we got dumped on with snow.)

I'm still having ankle pain.  It's not as awful as that first winter.  But it's persistent, and it's annoying, and Hubby finally had enough and insisted I call my orthopedic surgeon for a follow-up appointment.  (Mom even consulted her podiatrist, who said what I was experiencing was not normal, but then, I figured, he didn't do the operation, he hadn't seen the x-rays, he didn't have more than second-hand knowledge, and I was told I would have pain, after all.)

So I did.

Turns out...about 50% of people simply cannot tolerate titanium in their bones, particularly the ankle, because there's so little fat to cushion the screws.  (I was really hoping sheer willpower would put me into the "tolerated" 50%.)  And the discomfort I've been feeling is definitely related to the screws.  He pushed on the location of the (very small) one on the outside of my ankle, the one most easily felt.  "Does it hurt?" he asked me.  "Painful?  No.  Uncomfortable?  Yes."  Then he probed the spot for the screw head on the inside of my ankle--the big one, that's at least two inches long and screws right up into my tibia.  "What about this one?"  I hissed in a breath.  "That hurts."  Despite that screw being buried in a ligament first and then bone, that's the one that really hurts.

The x-rays they took that day showed that the screws weren't actually loose, and were still in good position.  The bones were solid.

I am apparently not one of those who tolerates titanium well.
Picking up an acorn. PT!


I really didn't want to have the screws taken out.  For one thing, it's cool to be able to say that I'm sporting hardware.  For another, the jokes are just there for the taking: if I have them removed, I'll always have a couple screws loose.  And after the pain I endured post-op the first time, when the morphine would only last 45 minutes to an hour (I was on a two-hour schedule), I was in no hurry to have this ankle touched surgically again.

But Dr. P says that removing them will get rid of most of the pain I've been feeling.  The ankle is one of the best joints, he says, because it's so un-prone to arthritis, even after breaks.  It has the most cartilage.

So my surgery is scheduled for July 26th, a little over two years from the date I first met Dr. P.  (Which was, ironically, during the hellish hip x-rays following my first dosing of morphine.  He helped get me from the gurney to the table and back.  I was impressed that he would pitch in and help, and then he read the films right there and announced my hip was fine.  Nastily bruised, but fine.)


Fortunately, this should be a much simpler procedure.  A half-inch incision through my old incisions, screws unscrewed (I get to keep them), and I'm stitched back up.  Crutches for maybe a day.

Just no contact sports for 3 months while the screw holes refill with new bone.  So I can't go kick anybody for awhile....

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