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Things My Surgeon Couldn’t Do for Me

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“It’s a 60/40 percent doctor-patient deal how well you will recover.” As he applied the denim-blue plasticized cast the technician related some of his own experience with a bad ankle fracture: “It’s not enough to sit with the foot raised. You need to spend most of your time in bed with your leg above the level of your heart.” Then he explained that there were two types of pain. Throbbing pain (from increased swelling) meant a trip to the E.R. to cut the cast. I had received written instructions from hospital, P.T. and nurse clinician and read through them all. Nevertheless, it was the look in the cast-technician’s eye which kept me, bored stiff in bed, when I was dying to catch up on all my accumulating e-mails or surf addictive games for hours.

Then it came time for an x-ray and cast change. The pain and swelling had decreased a lot, but instead of praise for my weeks of forced bed rest, I was told to start exercising and weight-bearing “even though it hurt.” The joint could stiffen up permanently if I “babied” it, my wise friend in the cast room informed me. I wondered how he knew what I was thinking; his long look said he knew what he was talking about. I now had a “boot” of rigid plastic with velcro fastenings. I began Home Physical Therapy with an agency but the pain was bad enough to keep me awake (even with OTC pain med, and a sleep assist) on the two days a week she came. I decided to “let up” on the exercise regimen and weight-bearing every other day, and caught up on sleep that way.

Once I was getting out more, to church, a restaurant, and my son’s graduation, the “plastic boot” on my left ankle started attracting attention. Two women came up to me and shared their experiences with “the boot” and similar severe ankle fractures in middle age. One told me her injury was so bad there was talk of amputation at one time. She described doing daily exercises, as though sketching each of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in the air with her toes. I noticed she walked normally in regular shoes without a brace or assistive device. She demonstrated complete range of motion in the affected ankle.

People willing to share difficult victories like these have a tremendous affect on the motivation and positive attitude of someone like me: still in the throes of an acute injury. Even though I knew it was “just an ankle,” I could see myself going through the classic grief stages, especially immediately after surgery: I am diabetic, and have seen “worst possible scenario” in diabetics with major foot wounds. The first time the dressings were removed, I had a jolting deja vu of falling on ice and hearing my bones “cra-a-ck!” I also had an acute fear of falling at first, e.g. during a car/wheelchair transfer. I had difficulty trusting myself in the hands of family as they tried to help. Not to say that I didn’t express all my gratitude for their efforts to help, but I also had to make quite a few apologies for snapping at them.

I have moved from using a wheelchair, non-weight-bearing, to a wheelchair and walker, with more and more weight-bearing, to trying crutches which a friend loaned me. At this time I am able to climb the stairs one at a time, holding the banister in one hand and both crutches in the other. I am able to trace the letters of the alphabet in the air with my toes every day without much discomfort; on a really good day I trace them all upside down and backwards as well! My sons were surprised to see me walking so much when I spent graduation day with them. Soon I will try driving a short distance careful to take my cell phone: (perhaps a drive-in restaurant on the corner, when my husband is home by the phone ...?)

Some folks believe there are angels all about to help us on our way. Some people seem to do the job of angels when we need them. I knew enough not to move when I saw my left ankle twisted halfway around; but oddly enough (perhaps because of the January cold, or shock,) I felt no pain. Suddenly I was surrounded by people with quilts and cell phones, even a pillow to slip under me. They asked my name, phoned my spouse and an ambulance, stayed with me twenty minutes ‘till the ambulance arrived. One woman asked if I wanted a blessing: I was more than happy to accept her offer. She placed a gentle hand on my injury, and afterward told me “It won’t be too bad.” I asked her if she was a deaconess, though I’d lived in the “bible belt” long enough to shy from the not unusual circle of “healing hands” while visiting a friend’s church. At the time I thought her simple answer rather odd. She said, “I only do it when I’m told to.” Perhaps I only accepted because I needed to.

I may be somewhat dependant on the support of my “boot”, crutches walker and even occasional wheelchair use, for the next year or so. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that “Somebody up there loves me!” has been more than a hackneyed truism in my life lately. Thank God for those angelic folks who are helping me through a hard time ... by passing on their own faith in more than the surgeon’s skillful hand ... by pausing to share their experience, strength and hope with a stranger ...Why? ... Because “they were told to” in their heart of hearts, one day as we passed on the street. This story is my “Thank You,” and a pledge to stop ignoring my own compassionate nudges, when conscience (or whatever else it is,) moves me to act.

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