When I started this blog back in April 2012, it provided me a welcome lifeline and a way to share the real-time humor, and lessons, of my double-limbed adventure in orthopedics. More importantly, it was a way to keep myself sane during what would be a slow and long recovery. I had left home early on a Saturday for a mud run, 130 miles away in another state. I returned home two days later, sitting in a wheelchair and looking at two big surgeries — for my right ankle and my left wrist — and wondering how my life would ever get back to normal.
It was a front row seat to an important life lesson: that, yes, even 10 seconds or less can have an immediate impact on your life. That’s all it took for my ankle to roll and be unable to recover because an extraordinary over-abundance of mud was holding tight to my shoe. There are legions of men and women who suffer life-changing challenges just as quickly, and I am fully aware that many are far worse than mine. My takeaway – and the question for all of us – is: How did you deal with it and, if it worked for you, can it be helpful for someone else? If there were challenges because you had no one else to consult, what did you learn that will save someone else from facing the same roadblock? That second question, is why I started this blog. I had no one to consult. I was told by my orthopedic surgeon that he only saw two trimalleolar fractures a year – if that. There was no one I could turn to who had “been there – done that.”
I learned in 2012 that time goes very slowly when life, as you knew it, is turned upside down. In reality, it creeped by …second by frustrating second. That’s how it felt, anyway. I can appreciate those seconds, perhaps more than most, because I had spent a career in the news media – most of it in cable news, where hitting your commercial breaks and mandatory queue tones at the top and bottom of the hour was vital. Timing was everything. An hour of news was an hour — including commercials. It wasn’t 63 minutes, and it certainly wasn’t 47 minutes and 23 seconds. Being 32 seconds late in the A-block, meant making up that time in the B-block and, if your show timed out too short because you lost a live shot or an expected taped report, that meant scrambling to fill the hole, because it’s Live TV.
Yes, seconds – and minutes – do count. And there were tens of thousands of them between my ankle break on March 31 and when I was finally able to return to the office in mid-August. (It was the foot I drove with – and the hand I wrote with, or what I quickly regarded as a complete clusterf*ck.)
Having said all of that, imagine my surprise when I took a peek at my blog this weekend and realized it had been two years since I made a post! Yikes! Time flies far faster – even whiplash speeds – when you are back on the hamster wheel of life and no longer in the active phase of mending. On March 31, it will be SEVEN years since my ankle break. That surprises me! After all, most of your post-injury time is dealing with what happened – and recovering. When I first came home in the wheelchair on April 2, 2012, my first hurdle was how I would get up all the stairs to the front door.
What does seven years down the road look like for me now?
One of the outcomes of a broken ankle – at least in my case – is an ankle that is, in my opinion, rather large looking. I was initially very self-conscious of this. About two years ago, I started letting go of that because “I can walk!!” Getting back hiking helped me realize what all I had actually accomplished – so did some time I spent with my mom.
Last March, my mom broke her hip in a fall after getting wobbly, because the heel of her shoe got stuck in a crack in the asphalt. Her situation was further complicated by the fact that she was taking groceries into the house from the car, and had left her purse and cell phone on the kitchen counter. So, she laid there on the asphalt for 45 minutes before anyone saw her and was able to get help. Talk about a random series of unfortunate events! She and I now have Apple Watches with cellular because of that, but onto the point I wanted to make. I was there to help for two weeks after she was discharged from the hospital. Two days after hip replacement surgery – she walked into the house from the hospital with a walker. A week after her fall, she had started rehab — and four months later, on another visit I made, she walked 1.2 miles with me, a MAJOR milestone for her (as of December 2018, she’s now walking 3 miles). For me, witnessing the rapid recovery she had – compared to what I went through – was nothing short of remarkable. I was in a wheelchair for about three months. The resulting muscle atrophy in my right leg, meant I also had to relearn how to walk again and build up the strength in that right ankle, on top of everything else. It wasn’t easy!
Witnessing my mom’s ‘rapid’ progress enabled me, for the first time, to truly appreciate the enormity of everything I had accomplished in my post-injury recovery. It took me four years just to get back on the hiking trail – and part of that was due to my own stubbornness because I was determined to do it! As I wrote in a blog entry after that most exquisite walk in the woods, in a world where instant gratification is more the norm, it takes an amazing strength of will, spirit and determination to stay on course for a goal that will take you years to achieve. I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it! But I never really understood the full scale of what I had done, because – quite simply – I had nothing to compare it to. Now I do.
So where am I today, as the 7th anniversary of my mud run mishap nears?
The photo above shows a big right ankle. The swelling at the inner ankle has never really gone away – though it can vary. Anti-inflammatories help. I take one Aleve every day and have Meloxicam for when I know I’ll be on my feet all day – or putting a lot of miles on them hiking. At this point, I don’t anticipate that this swelling will change, but I will always be hopeful. By the time I switched doctors, the cartilage at the actual ankle joint had disappeared and the joint basically fused naturally. That said, I don’t limp at all – unless I’ve really overdone it. I walk normally and it’s something that my current doctor marveled at from the first time I met him. Basically, I trained the joint in my foot that’s immediately below my ankle joint to help me walk normally. The actual walking movement comes from that joint.
What else? Well, because my ankle joint is fused and immovable now, my days of running/jogging are long gone. I don’t think my foot joint is built to take the full-on “ankle” pounding of a jog. I’m okay with that, though. I can walk!! Without a limp!! The other thing I’ve lost is the ability to wear stilettos (ha!) and 4-inch-type heels … plus any shoe with a high arch or that requires movement in my ankle joint to point my toes downward more vertically. No can do. Platform shoes with even soles? Yes! Block heels that are about 2-inches?? Yes, again!! I’ve found some I can wear. I’ve even discovered in the last two years that I can wear booties. If a zipper is involved, they need to be big enough to zip over my bad ankle (depending on the shoe, that means one of three shoe sizes). The beauty of booties is they hide my bad ankle – and I just wear more socks on the other foot.
One of the things I did in 2018 was finally explore the lovely shoes in my closet that have gone unworn since my ankle break. I have heels that were brand new and never worn when it happened. I’ve donated some to thrift stores and am considering selling others on eBay. Some, though, might have to be buried with me. Yes, I’m referring to my Frye harness boots – I have two pair (brown and black) and I absolutely LOVED them!! Still do! I can still put the left one on and walk around the house a bit…right?! Girls and their favorite shoes aren’t easily parted! LOL!
There is life after a broken ankle – and I know with absolute certainty that I’ve charted my own unique course. I had to, because I couldn’t find anyone else who had been through my injury before. So, I learned really quickly that much of my recovery would be up to me.
What did I use that might be helpful for others?
- Perseverance and a Never Say Quit attitude (“A winner never quits; a quitter never wins”) – it might sound cliche but hard work and determination can move you forward.
- Celebrate every piece and every single moment of progress, no matter how small. As part of that, have goals that are reachable – and once in a while, step back and look at the big picture. What you’ll see is that those small wins can add up and, in turn, provide you more motivation to keep pressing forward.
- Laugh …laugh hard and laugh A LOT!! Laughing adds a smile to your soul, gives your belly some exercise and might even provide your tear ducts a workout, too. It can also do wonders for your spirits.
- Pay It Forward! If you were the recipient of help and assistance during your injury, be prepared to the do the same when someone else has had their own mishap. I finally had an opportunity with my mom. What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that I’d gain unique insight on my own experience in the process.
- Share your tips and your journey with others, especially if you are navigating relatively uncharted waters like I was. It’s another way of paying it forward to the people who are now going through the injury you were once dealing with — it can be very healing for you, too.