Tibial Plateau Fracture Recovery Part Two Surgery & Recovery

Traveling in a car with an external fixation device was no easy feat. We had a 3 hour trip back home to Fort Lauderdale and my plan was to make sure I took a pain pill before I was discharged from the hospital. I had no clue how I was going to get in the my SUV, my leg throbbed just thinking about it.  I couldn’t bend my knee even to get in the front seat. I had a metal frame on my leg attached to 2 pins drilled into my thigh bone and 2 in the bottom of my shin bone to stabilize the fracture.

The back seat wasn’t an option either because I needed to lay down for the trip. No way in hell was I sitting up sideways for 3 hours. The only option left was to  fold down a seat and ride in the cargo area. Two nurses wheeled me outside to where my boyfriend was waiting. They somehow managed to get me in the back. I’m pretty sure it was a modern day miracle, because my mobility at that time was next to zero. I was weak AF (as f*ck) from the surgery and having spent the last 5 days in bed non weight bearing.

We headed towards home, where I could feel every bump. I finally fell asleep and woke up in our drive way thankfully still in one piece. It’s funny how afraid you are of everything after a traumatic injury such as this. It makes zero sense, but post traumatic stress definitely took up some rent space in my mind.

Now we had to figure a way to get me out of the vehicle and into the wheelchair by ourselves. I was able to scoot myself to the edge of the vehicle while my boyfriend supported my injured leg out straight. I then managed to get myself up on one leg and maneuver myself into the wheelchair all while my boyfriend held my leg. It was so painful.

Every new task from this point on was a learning process for us both, but once we figured out a way to do something, we became a well oiled machine. We literally had no plan for how I was going to use the restroom. We have a half bath on the main floor but I was in too much pain to exhaust my precious resources to get up to use it.  I’m not lying when I say the first time I had to pee, I sat up on the edge of the couch and tried to pee in a bucket while my boyfriend held it. It didn’t go so well. The next day my boyfriend went to a medical supply store and bought me a bed side commode.

Forget about modesty with this injury. Family members, significant others, and friends are going to see things they can’t unsee. They are going to have to help you to move, bathe, and dress in the early stages of recovery. My boyfriend had to do all the housework, laundry, shopping, and cooking. My full time job at this point was basically to lay on the couch, manage my pain, and sleep between meals and bathroom breaks.

A week and a half in, we finally found a trauma surgeon who could perform my open reduction internal fixation (ORIF.) As my shitty luck continued, my surgeon pushed back my surgery a whole week because of a full schedule and emergency trauma surgeries in between. Of course I cried like a two year old, but only for a day.

Then June 8, 2017 finally rolled around. I spent exactly 18 days in the external fixator. Just when some of the pain had settled down in my knee, I had to go through this all over again, but it was time to move forward with another phase of my recovery. My surgery was supposed to be just a few hours but it ended up taking all afternoon and into the evening. I went in to surgery around 1 p.m. and didn’t get to my room until around 9:30 p.m.

I shudder to think what was going on in that OR. I do remember they told me in pre op that I would be strapped into the OR table and flipped over so they could operate behind my knee and place some of the hardware on the medial (right side) of my left leg. Wait! What? Horrified, I immediately asked,  “Are you going to flip me over while I’m still awake.” The 2 OR assistants looked at each other, then me, and laughed. “No, no, you will be under before that even happens.”  I must have looked so relieved after they said that.

The last thing I remember was giving my boyfriend a kiss goodbye and being wheeled into the OR with some small talk from the staff. Still lying on my pre op bed they placed a mask over my face and asked me to count. That was all she wrote!

When I finally came to, I was so relieved to finally have that medieval torture device off. In a way, I felt like I had a part of my leg back, even though it didn’t feel like my leg at all. My leg was numb and throbbing. It was wrapped in an ace bandage from my upper thigh all the way down to my toes with a Donjoy brace locked in full extension. Ohhhhh the paaaaaaain!

I had to spend the night in the hospital. I sent my boyfriend home so he could get some rest. He was just as exhausted as I was. I’m sure he slept like a baby that night. All I wanted was my pain meds so I could fall asleep and escape this awful pain in my knee. A few hours later, I was awoken by an Orthopedic assistant who had brought a CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine in tow. I had seen this torture contraption several times in my nursing career working on orthopedic medical surgical floors, and I knew what was about to go down wasn’t going to be good. For either of us.

I’m sure I looked like a deer in headlights when he first began to speak. “Your surgeon wants you to start moving the knee, so we’re going to put you in this machine. It’s going to bend your knee and help with your range of motion.” I looked at the clock on the wall squinting and thinking it’s only been a couple of hours since I got back to my room. I looked at him and I began to cry and moan. I distinctly remember mumbling “I don’t want that f*cking thing on my leg!” He just stared at me bewildered, and against my better judgement I let him proceed for the good of my recovery.

He removed my brace from my leg and strapped my leg in the device and turned it on. What followed next was a string of obscenities that are buried deep in my medical records somewhere. I’m sure of it. He set the machine to a 120 degree bend and as I watched my knee come up to what seemed my nose, I screamed and wailed. He kept adjusting it down, and I kept screaming and crying…and cussing. I’m sure I woke up the whole floor. He was finally able to get it set at around 70 degrees without me swearing anymore. Ding ding ding…we have a winner folks!

I’m sure he marched straight out of my room and informed the nurses and my surgeon what a b*tch I was.  I was so doped up, that I fell back to sleep even though I wanted to rip my leg out of the device and toss it out the window. The machine, not my leg. A nurse came in a couple hours later to take my vitals and medicate me and I begged her to remove it. She thankfully complied. I’m sure the nurses also relayed what happened to my surgeon, because no one tried to put that thing on me again. In fact, no one ever said a damn word about it again.

The next morning physical therapy came in with a walker and instructed me on it’s use. The therapist helped me get up and practice using it from my bed to a few feet to the door. A few steps was all I could handle. I had also broken my left shoulder as mentioned and it certainly didn’t feel good putting weight through my shoulders. I was discharged later that afternoon and was to follow up with my surgeon in 2 weeks.

The next phase of my recovery was about to begin. I really had no idea what I was in for or how difficult a journey that lay ahead.

Read Part One Here.



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  1. avatar

    Auughh! The CPM! I had seen them also, when I worked as a nurse, and wondered why nobody was putting me in one. I was positive they were hurting my recovery by not letting me bend my knee until 4+ weeks! Now I’m glad 😀 even if I am fighting ROM now. Sigh.

    • avatar

      OMG, that thing was the devil! The weird thing is my surgeon locked my brace when he sent me home and didn’t unlock it until my two week check up. How they ever thought it was a good idea to put me in that contraption only a few hours post op is crazy!

      You ROM will return. It may not be what it was before, but if you can get to what they call “functional” you’ll be fine. I’m still lacking some flexion, but I feel like it’s my hardware that is preventing me from getting there. Hopefully, I can have it removed at one year. It’s beginning to be very bothersome.


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