Friday 20 March 2015

Learning to Walk Again

Six months and two days ago, I fell down our front step and spectacularly broke my ankle - what's known as a Trimalleolar Fracture, made up of a fractured tibia, a fractured fibula and a dislocated ankle. Six months ago today, I had three 45mm screws and a long plate fitted into my ankle.
Recovering from a Trimalleolar Fracture - six months on
So half a year on and what have I learned? (other than to pay a bit more attention to where I'm walking)
Breaking a bone and being in hospital

Hospital pudding
  • It wasn't agonisingly painful, the adrenaline and shock kept any real pain at bay for a good half a day. I had two paracetamol 10 minutes after I'd done it and then nothing else for about 3 hours until I was given gas and air while they were manipulating it.
  • Which leads on to...gas and air - ruddy good stuff, incredibly surreal but blimmin' good.
  • Hospital food is not that bad, there's far more choice than you think and it's actually pretty tasty. 
  • But the meal sizes are small. Although you won't feel like eating much anyway.
  • On an orthopaedic trauma ward, if you're under the age of 60, you're a statistical anomaly.
  • Using a portable toilet, on a ward, behind a curtain is one of the most unglamorous things you can ever do. And that's after having had two IVF treatments and 19 different people look up my bits.
  • Every medical person who reads your notes will say "wow, you did a good job of it" (and you'll still be being told that months later)
  • Revisiting the scene of the crime will probably make you burst into tears.
  • Don't break anything whilst you're in the middle of IVF treatment, especially not the day before your embryo transfer. That'll result in frantic phone calls to the fertility clinic (to make sure they hadn't defrosted anything yet) and a long-winded explanation to every doctor and nurse as to why you're already on so much medication.
Being in plaster
  • You'll worry constantly that it's not healing properly.
  • Sometimes the cast will feel tight and sometimes it'll feel loose - and you'll worry that each one isn't normal.
  • A helpful toe massage attendant is useful, your skin will become sore (as you're not walking on it to rough away the dead skin). Any sort of Salvon, Germolene or other antiseptic cream is good.
  • Don't cut down on the pain relief too soon, ease off slowly, dropping one tablet at a time.
  • Disabled toilets are your friend. Buy a RADAR key (shopmobility places often sell them) and make full use of the arm rests and supports.
  • Your bum will soon become numb. Buy one of these and be amazed at the pleasure it brings.
  • Knitting, cross stitch and crochet are all good hobbies to take up. I learned to knit and made a scarf, crutch decorations and Christmas stockings.
  • You'll have to put up with living off someone else's cooking and menus. I had 6 weeks of sausages and mash and Fray Bentos pies.
  • Stairs are dangerous things. If possible, don't go up or down them without someone else being around.
  • Your hands will become calloused from using the crutches. It's not even worth bothering to use hand cream until you're off them. On the plus side, using crutches is an excellent way of minimising the bingo wings.
  • The house will become a mess. But that's okay. There's more important things to concentrate on.
  • Get yourself a wheelchair (the Red Cross hire them). Go out as much as normal (even if you have to ring places in advance to organise disabled access). Don't give up having a life.
Taking my broken ankle to the theatre
  • The only handbag you'll be able to use is one that goes across your body.
  • Long kneehigh socks are your friend, combine with dresses or long skirts and you don't need to worry about chopping off one leg from a pair of tights or jeans.
  • Get a friendly knitter to make a large sock. Or teach yourself and make it your first knitted project. Put over your cold tootsies whenever you're outside.
  • Showers are the enemy. You can spend £20 and get yourself a plastic leg cover or you can make do with a 'bit of a wash' for 6 weeks. You won't be doing much to get dirty anyway.
  • Learn to use dry shampoo.
  • Getting in and out of a car is a complex procedure requiring space to open the door fully and your crutches to hand. Other drivers won't appreciate why you're taking so long to get out. But they will all feel guilty when they see you shut the door and hop away on your two extra legs!
The first few weeks out of plaster

The healing process of the scar on the left side of my ankle The healing process of the scar on the right side of my ankle
Left to right - 30th October (the day the cast was taken off), 8th November and 19th December.
  • Your foot will be manky.
  • The amount of dead skin you'll shed is atrocious. And you'll still be shedding it a month later.
  • Putting it in water will be very nice but is also very strange.
  • Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.
  • Your foot and ankle will be huge. But your leg will be withered. Both will be completely inflexible.
  • You'll probably wear a boot brace for a few weeks before going back to normal shoes.
Boot brace worn after fracture
  • But normal shoes won't fit and you'll end up wearing one size bigger on the bad foot.
  • Shoeswise, anything that can be opened up and then laced or zipped is good. Anything fitted or pulled on is bad.
  • Everything will be bruised. And you'll see every colour of the rainbow before it goes away.
  • You'll won’t actually want to do anything with it, it'll feel too weird and all exposed.
  • But wiggling everything is good. And the more you do, the better it'll get.
  • But it's slow, deadly slow.

Physiotherapy ankle leaflet
  • Physiotherapists are evil creatures. But also spectacular magicians. I don't know what they do but it works.
  • Make sure you go, if you're getting it after a fracture it'll be part of the services the NHS provides and even if you don't think you need it (you do), we should all be supporting the NHS.
  • Do everything they tell you, several times over.
  • They'll get you doing things before you think you're ready. Listen to them. They're the experts and they know what they're doing.
  • Walking with one crutch is hard. HARD.
  • If your foot or leg's still swollen you might be offered soft tissue massage. Take it. It's excellent. A 30 minute massage free of charge? Yes please.
  • Some hospitals also offer an exercise class designed to improve your strength. Take that as well. It's free. Far cheaper than a gym subscription. 
Three months on
  • Feeling up your scars is fine for you. Everyone else shudders at the thought of touching the screws and plate through the skin.
  • The first time you walk without any crutches will seem like a huge milestone. Even if you're waddling like a penguin.
  • It's tiring though. Any flat surface will become a chair and a place to rest.
Returning to work
  • You'll have to explain exactly what you did and how you did it about a thousand times over.
  • There'll be a small bit of you that's disappointed everything didn't just fall apart while you were gone.
  • Stuff will have been half-inched from your desk (and no, no-one will know where it's gone)
  • When they ask "was it painful" and you say no then tell them how many co-codamol you were taking (8 a day) everyone's mouths will fall open in amazement.
Six months on

Physiotherapy - standing on the bad leg on a cushion for 30 seconds
This is the balancing-on-your-bad-leg-on-a-cushion-for-30-seconds physio move.  
  • People will still be asking what you did and how you did it.
  • You'll probably just be getting to the end of your NHS physiotherapy.
  • Pulling on a pair of standard shoes or boots will feel like a real achievement and make you feel almost normal again.
  • You might just have a small limp occasionally (which you can put on a bit more when you want some sympathy).
  • But it's probably time to drop the "I broke my ankle, don't you know" excuses.
  • Don't give up the physio exercises at home! 
And last but not least, I sincerely hope that none of you ever need this advice!


  1. It's good to see you've come a long way Louisa! And it was hilarious to read about your physio-experience as a physiotherapist. I promise you, we do seem like the devil but we absolutely mean well!

  2. It sounds like a long old slog! I'm very grateful that I have never broken anything :)

  3. The "time to drop the excuses" point made me laugh! Having had NHS physio a couple of times (the first time for a mangled leg, too) I'm with you on that - I don't know how such tiny movements help so much but those people are magicians and we're so lucky to have free access to them.

  4. Bloody hell Louisa, that's HORRIFIC!
    But well done on making it through the dead skin and weirdy withered bits! I hope I never need this advice too.
    M x

  5. That sound horrendous. I've had physio for a damaged shoulder and I understand what you mean by your description of the therapists ... certainly sorted me out though!

  6. Goodness me! I don't think people appreciate actually how much someone goes through after breaking something, especially something you need to walk!!
    You are doing so amazing, such a trooper. Here's to you being 100% completely healed and out adventuring with no problem!


  7. Oh. My. Seriously!!!! That sounds horrendous!!! I'm not going to run down the stairs for the train anymore!!! Great, great advice though!!! Xx

  8. You mentioned so many things I'd never even thought about! Some really great advice and a v.interesting post! I really hope I never need it :)

  9. What an amazing journey - I found the same about hospital food when I was in there; super small portions.

    Lizzie Dripping

  10. Goodness yours is the post to come back to if I ever break any bones. Touchwood I won't! Glad your on the mend.xx

  11. Aw bless you. I still can't believe how your did it :) I always wanted to be on crutches and in plaster when I was in school. I definitely DO NOT WANT TO BREAK ANYTHING EVER now I'm an adult :D xx

  12. I can't believe it's been 6 months?! Wow that's passed quick (although it's unlikely it did for you :) ) hopefully I will never need to use this advice but it is amazing how bodies heal after the trauma that they go through :) xx

  13. Good grief I didn't expect your ankle to look like that after plaster! Glad to see it's healed well.

  14. I'm so glad to find your post. This happened to me a week ago and it's so good to read a no nonsense, personal account. Thank you, and good luck on you continued recovery x


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