Web Blog Post By Carol R., Digital Editor National Public Radio, Washington, DC
August, 2016 – Remembrance of a Broken Leg
It was February 2nd. We were on day 3 of our six-day ski vacation at Lake Placid, New York.
I was on the second ski run of the day. And it was on the bunny hill of all things! My daughter fell behind me and I look back and tried to stop. While trying to stop my knee went “snap, crackle, crackle, crackle, pop!”
I screamed in pain. I have never felt such horrible pain. I have shattered my shoulder, had 23 stitches put in my arm without pain killers, given birth to two kids, been bit by a brown recluse spider and experienced shingles. Nothing in my lifetime had ever hurt as bad as this.
In that moment of pain, I silently said “Why?” And then words came into my Presbyterian brain washed head at that moment; an answer that is still so clear: “This will be good for you.” The pain being so intense I just cried.
My daughter, a trained lifeguard, was my first, first responder. My boot and ski still attached to my now for sure at-least torn knee, I was stuck in an awful position waiting for others to help me.
I have spent most of my adult life being responsible for myself, my husband, and my kids. However, there was nothing I could do. I needed help. And with the pain being so intense, that help from others was a welcome sight. The ski patrol removed my boot and ski and got me off the mountain. You know, in those first aid toboggans. You hate to see them on the mountain because you know somebody is really hurt, but man, was I glad to be in it.
I ended up in an ambulance headed to the local hospital, and still the pain never stopped. I remember the ‘clip clop’ of my husband’s ski boots on the linoleum floor of the admitting area. I remember being disrobed in a cold sterile examining room. I remember the incredibly painful X-ray session. I kept thinking, “How is this going to be good for me?” The pain just would not stop even with the hospital drugs.
And then the diagnosis: I broke my tibia in seven places right below my knee. So every time gravity pulled on my leg my knee was attached, but my leg and foot were not. Fortunately, six of the breaks were hairline and the seventh was only ‘minimally displaced.’
My ACL was still attached to my bone, and, miraculously, surgery would not be required. A broken leg, a couple days off work, maybe a couple weeks, this could be nice. I was starting to understand how this could be good for me.
Right? Not a chance.
Hours later, I was back at the hotel. On intense drugs with my family surrounding me. My leg was encased in a toe to thigh ace bandage covered splint. My toenail polish was chipped and I wished like hell I hadn’t skipped my nail appointment the day before our vacation started.
Despite the protestations of my family, I insisted the last three days of our family vacation be played out. I would be fine. The pain seemed to worsen with each passing hour. Dinner was served by a room service waitress who wore a black tuxedo like outfit and seemed to take great pleasure in telling me about her broken leg which took three years to recover from.
After dinner, I needed to pee. I tried to stand on my own – with the splint and drugs – and still nearly passed out from pain.
The next three days, my family – husband and two teenage kids – went skiing. I stayed in the hotel room wondering what in God’s name I had done to deserve this fate. Over the course of those three days, I came to know the hotel room service staff – particularly the cute coquette who had broken her leg. I took breakfast, lunch , and dinner in the confines of my bed with the room service tray tucked snugly against the bed side.
Our flight back to DC on Sunday was nightmare. The pain, although slightly lessened, was still relentless. I thought I would die when I was loaded into the hotel van for the trip to the airport. The ride couldn’t have been bumpier. Upon arrival at the airport, I was unloaded from the hotel van like a piece of meat and dropped in a wheelchair.
I made the horrible decision to have a couple of pre-flight Bloody Mary’s to ‘take the edge off’ things. The alcohol, combined with Hydrocodone I had taken with breakfast, sent me into an almost comatose state. Somehow my family got me onto the plane. I arrived home to the comfort of my ground floor bedroom five hours later.
I couldn’t get myself food. If I didn’t have the TV remote I had to watch whatever was stuck on the TV. I couldn’t care for my basic needs. The pain forced me to stay down. I felt like a toddler; with my life and needs subject to others’ schedules and lives. Asking for help made me feel demanding and needy. It’s true I couldn’t do it on my own, and there was no way around that, but still I felt bad asking for help.
Three days after arriving home, I had my first appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon. He confirmed that surgery would not be required for my knee but the recovery would be lengthy. His prognosis – 10 weeks in a full-length leg cast followed by a period of time in a splint while I participated in physical therapy.
The casting process was far more painful than I anticipated. Any movement in my knee caused excruciating pain. And the cast technician was burly, middle aged man who seemed to take pleasure in endlessly adjusting the position of my knee before applying the bandages. I chose a wine color for my cast – I called it Merlot.
God I hated that cast. I wore the damned thing for 9 weeks. It was heavy. It itched. It took me an hour each morning to shower and get dressed – what normally would be a 15 minute process.
We had the worst winter on record in Washington. Getting into my car each day in a snow covered driveway was an adventure. I had to get down 5 ice covered stairs and then negotiate a snow covered sidewalk while on crutches. In hindsight, its amazing I didn’t break more bones just trying to get to my car.
I work for National Public Radio and had a 45 minute commute to work each day. The NPR office is in downtown Washington. I couldn’t drive with the cast so my son, daughter, and husband took turns chauffeuring me to and from work.
I used a backpack to transport my laptop and lunch to work. Once safely at my work cubicle, I propped my casted leg on an overturned trash can. For the first two weeks, I ventured from my cube only to pee once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As the weeks went by, I became more adventurous – even attending group meetings in with my casted leg propped on an empty chair.
Ten weeks after breaking my leg, the cast was removed. I was placed in a removable splint and began 8 weeks of physical therapy.
Today, the doctor's tell me I have fully recovered from the injury. I don't believe them. There is not a day that goes by when I don't think about my leg. My knee becomes achy and sore when the weather changes. It feels unstable when I walk downhill. And it makes a weird clicking sound when I bend it at more than a 90 degree angle.
If there truly is something good that comes out of a broken leg, I still have not found it.