You don’t get sent home with a “How to Recover from Tibial Plateau Fracture Surgery” booklet post ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation.) At best, I received a half-assed physical therapy session on how to ambulate with a walker. I also had a fractured shoulder, which no one seemed to care about other than giving me a flimsy sling and telling me to keep it as immobile as possible. The pain in my shoulder paled in comparison to my postoperative pain, so my left shoulder fracture definitely took a backseat to my knee for the time being.
I was discharged from the hospital post operatively on June 9, 2017 and given a prescription pain medication, walker, and told to follow up with my surgeon in 2 weeks. I was to be non weightbearing on my fractured leg for 12 weeks. My life as I once knew it was about to change in so many ways. Both good and bad. Time literally seemed to stop dead in its tracks during this phase of my recovery. The nights were sleepless and each day felt like a year.
Luckily for me, I have a very understanding boss and company that I work for and they gave me all the time I needed to recover. At least I didn’t have that worry on my plate. It allowed me to fully focus on getting well and healing at my own pace.
Every task was such an adjustment and took so much of my energy. I was so fatigued from the trauma of the accident. And having undergone 2 major surgeries really took a toll on my body. Let’s just say that anesthesia and pain meds really messed with my digestive system and backed things up for a bit. It was awful for about two weeks or so until the anesthesia worked itself out of my body and I pulled back on the pain meds.
Having so much time on my hands, I obsessed over my recovery and researched my fracture in depth. I also researched ways to heal my fracture naturally and nutritionally. I found a couple of blogs written by people who used Comfrey on family members to heal broken bones with some great results. According to them, at least. I didn’t have access to comfrey leaves, so I went with the Comfrey ointment instead. I also added Arnica and a shit ton of vitamins to my arsenal of treatments.
Besides the comfrey ointment another product I swore by was Dr. Christopher’s Complete Tissue and Bone caps. They smelled like a barn yard and I had to gag them down, but I did it hoping it was helping my fracture to knit and grow new bone. I’ll never really know if it made a difference. Even if it was a placebo effect, I’ll take that as a win because at my 8 week check up I was allowed to 50% weight bear. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here though.
PS. I don’t get any referral fees for any of these links nor am I affiliated with any of the products mentioned. I’m simply sharing them as a courtesy.
Thank goodness I lived with my boyfriend because he literally had to care for every aspect of my care in the early weeks of my recovery. He also had to handle all the household chores, shop, and prepare all our meals. His employer was great and allowed him to work from home in my early postoperative days. They told him to do whatever he needed. As I progressed and became a bit more independent he would come home on his lunch hour and tend to my needs. Our relationship was no longer girlfriend/boyfriend, it became patient/caregiver.
I don’t know how people who live alone recover from this horrible injury. He was so patient with me, and provided me encouragement in the really dark days. I can’t count the number of times he came home from work to one of my crying episodes. When you can’t walk and are watching people live life from your couch, it tends to depress you a little bit. Not knowing if you’re ever going to walk again, and according to all the websites I was visiting, my outcome for this injury looked pretty bleak.
He threatened several times to ban me from the internet. I remember he said to me, “Hon, you’re reading the worst possible outcomes of people who didn’t recover well for any number of reasons. Most people who recover well from your injury aren’t going to websites to leave a comment about how well they recovered. Why? Because they are back to living their lives again.”
When you have all day to lay around and brood, it’s easy to go to a dark place. I had to take a turn out of Negative Town, because nothing good ever happens there. Sure, I had my crying spells and bad days here and there, but I pulled myself up by the boot straps and focused on my physical therapy and recovery.
I’ll try to break it down by weeks as best as I can remember. I wish I had taken better notes or just jotted down in a journal or my cell phone notes when I reached a milestone.
Postoperative Week One:
The couch was my was my place of rest, bed, and healing center. No way was I able to get myself up the stairs and into a bed. I wasn’t really sleeping well because of the aches and pains and I didn’t want to keep my boyfriend awake. The only position I could sleep in was on my back at this point. I am so not a back sleeper. Plus, I had to sleep with the brace on my leg and it was so uncomfortable. I kept all my vitamins and meds close by on an ottoman chest in front of the couch. Everything I needed to survive the day was within arms reach.
I wasn’t allowed to shower yet because my leg was in a brace and wrapped in gauze and ace bandage. The most I could handle was getting up to my wheelchair and taking a basin bath in the living room. We had a half bath on our first floor but I just didn’t have the stamina yet to sit at the sink and bath. I remember when I was still in my external fixator I smelled so bad because they didn’t bath me correctly or wash my hair at the hospital in the 5 days I was there, that my daughter and boyfriend took me out on the patio and gave me a shower with the hose. I wrapped my leg in a garbage bag with duct tape to seal it so it wouldn’t get wet. I did that for a few weeks in between basin baths. Some days I just didn’t feel like bathing at all.
I had to learn how to get about the first floor and up to the bedside commode. It was just easier to use the bedside commode for the first couple of weeks until I got a little stronger and more proficient at ambulating with crutches. They initially gave me a walker, but it hurt my shoulder to use it and it made me feel like a 90 year old granny. I found crutches much easier to traverse about and they put less strain on my shoulder. I was allowed to toe touch weight bear for balance, but was afraid I would accidentally put too much weight on the leg so I tucked it up under my hip and hobbled along on my crutches. It was exhausting just to go about 20 feet from the couch to the kitchen. I couldn’t even carry a bottle of water or a cup of coffee because…crutches! I would either ask my boyfriend to make me a cup of coffee or get me a water. I tried not to drink too much caffeine during the healing process because I read caffeine hindered bone growth. I eventually just didn’t give a shit anymore and decided that one cup of coffee a day wouldn’t make or break my recovery.
Postoperative Week Two:
My first postoperative visit to my orthopedic surgeon was June 21st, 2017. He took x-rays to check HW (Hardware) placement and bone healing. The ace bandage was removed and I was allowed to shower at this point. They unlocked the brace to 90 degrees and I was allowed to start bending my leg and physical therapy was ordered 3x/week.
I hadn’t prepared myself for what my leg looked like. What happened to my beautiful leg? It was swollen and looked like Frankenleg. I had two huge long scars. One on the lateral side of my left leg and one behind my knee.
My skin was all wrinkly and peeling. Some of it was due to the glue they had used but the skin that peeled off the bottom of my foot for weeks after that was beyond disgusting. When you’re not bearing weight and it’s wrapped like a vienna sausage, you’re not really shedding skin cells. So there was a gross build up. My boyfriend was constantly vacuuming around the couch and inside my brace.
I was able to finally shower, but had to figure out a way to get upstairs. I refused to go up on crutches. I saw some tutorials on YouTube on how to ascend and descend stairs on them. F*ck if I was even attempting that and falling down the stairs!
For the next 13 weeks I went up and down them on my behind. On a side note, it was a great core work out and helped to increased my stamina. When I would get to the top of the stairs, I would scoot myself in the bedroom to a chair and pull myself up to the chair. My boyfriend had an old pair of crutches out in the garage so I left my crutches downstairs and used his old set upstairs.
I would wait until my boyfriend came home from work to shower. I was too afraid to go up the stairs by myself and I needed him to help me balance to sit down on the shower chair and my leg wouldn’t bend enough for me to get it in the tub so he had to guide it for me. That first hot shower felt absolutely divine. I didn’t want to get out.
He also had to help me dress after I showered. I couldn’t lean over to put my underwear on. Wearing dresses or night gowns was just easier at this stage too.
Everything I did took double the amount of time because It was so exhausting. Hobbling around on crutches isn’t the quickest of ways to get around either.
At this point, I transitioned my bedside commode to the half bathroom on the first floor. It came with a second bucket with a hole in the bottom that sat right over the toilet. I was able to use the restroom in private now, without my boyfriend having to empty my urine and number two’s! He got smart though and would line the bucket with a small trash bag to catch everything during those early days. I actually only pooped in the bedside commode once and tied that bag up on my own. You haven’t lived until you poop on a bedside commode in your living room watching Alaska The Last Frontier.
Weeks Three through Seven:
I pulled back on the pain medication and only took it if necessary. Mostly, if I wanted to get a decent night’s sleep I would take one at bedtime. I was never really sleeping through the night, but it at least allowed me to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. I felt like the pain pills were depressing me also.
I started physical therapy which I hated going to. It was a necessary evil though. Luckily for me after the first few weeks of going 2 to 3x/week, my physical therapist thought I was doing so well on my own that he could see me just once a week. I made sure to always work on my isometric exercises at home.
My son and his girlfriend came to visit from Ohio for the 4th of July week. Not that I could go anywhere or do anything, but it was nice to have them here. I did manage to get dressed and out to dinner with them one night. My first mistake was that I just wasn’t ready for an outing like that yet. My second was, that I went on my crutches instead of taking my wheelchair. It would have been so much more comfortable. Instead they set us at a booth in the bar area and after 20 minutes of my leg bent at 90 degrees and hanging down, I just couldn’t bare it anymore. I couldn’t even enjoy my dinner. I had to apologize and excuse myself at that point and go home. Thankfully they understood.
I began going up and down the stairs alone now, showering and dressing independently now. I still wasn’t sleeping in a bed and residency on the couch remained. Muscle atrophy at this point was evident even with maintaining my isometric exercises.
By week 5 I was doing much better and my boyfriend would take me out on short shopping excursions in the wheelchair to Target or Walmart. Sometimes, he would push me to the corner CVS so I could get some fresh air. At this point, I was able to get myself out on the patio to sit during the day to get some vitamin D.
Be week 7 I was pretty proficient at getting around on crutches and found ways to get food and drink from the kitchen to the couch. I bought a lunch cooler and would make my breakfast and lunches in plastic containers and put my coffee in a thermos and carry the cooler by the strap while crutching. Or sometimes if I just wanted a drink I would throw it from the fridge to the couch. You learn to adapt that’s for sure. This injury has opened up my eyes to the physically challenged and disabled.
Around this time I was going stir crazy and thought that maybe working from home would get my mind off of this injury and maybe help speed up time. At my next doctor’s appointment I asked for a “work at home release.”
Weeks 8 through 15.
I saw my surgeon again on August 1st, 2017 for my 8 week check up. My x-rays looked great. He said I could ditch the brace and 50% weightbear. He ordered another 6 weeks of physical therapy. He gave me the work release to work full time from home.
I went back to work full time from the couch. I’m a legal nurse consultant and do 98% of my job on a computer so I was able to prop my feet up and earn income again. It also helped to pass the time a little quicker. It was a bit hard to focus, but I had to keep things as normal as possible.
Now that I could weight bear I bought myself a stationary exercise pedaler to strengthen my leg muscles.
I also started going to our pool for some pool therapy. It felt wonderful and really helped me to build some muscle back early on.
By week 9 I was really missing the beach. We pretty missed out on the whole summer and I was feeling much better and getting around better now that I could could put about half my weight through my leg. That meant I could crutch with two feet on the ground. Just not put full weight through my injured leg. That also meant I could be more stable on the sand, but we couldn’t risk me falling, so my boyfriend jerry-rigged some drain screen on the bottom of his old crutch tips so the sand would filter out and I didn’t sink.
It totally worked. And I was able to make it to the beach. It was so therapeutic and made me feel somewhat normal again. I was so happy that day! The beach is my happy place!
I still wore my brace out in public places for protection, in case someone bumped into me or I fell. I had some close calls on my crutches but usually could recover at the last second. We all have that one bad fall or time we accidentally put full weight on our injured legs while on crutches.
By week 10 we were able to take an overnight trip to Orlando to meet up with some friends. We stayed in a Disney resort for a night and met up with my boyfriend’s hockey friend and his family for a birthday dinner. We didn’t go to any of the theme parks. No way I could handle that even in a wheel chair. It was still nice to get away though. It finally felt like some normalcy was finally returning to my life. Don’t get me wrong, it was still very difficult to get around and I was fed up with being on crutches.
It was around this time that I also started sleeping in the spare bedroom upstairs. I wasn’t ready to go back to my bed because I didn’t want to disturb my boyfriend. I was still waking up several times during the night to reposition myself. But at least now I was able to sleep on my side and stomach.
September rolled around and along with that came Hurricane Irma. Just what I needed. I’m so grateful I was more mobile at this point. My boyfriend battened down the hatches on the house and we headed for Tampa because Irma was supposed to make landfall in Miami.
We spent the night at this brother’s house in Tampa and by the next morning, Irma had shifted more west and headed straight up the west coast now. So we packed up the car again and came back home to the east coast to ride it out. Irma arrived on September 10th, 2017. Luckily she didn’t wreak much havoc other than numerous downed trees. We never lost power although it would go out for a few moments occasionally, but always came back on. I’m so thankful we didn’t have to deal with not having electricity on top of everything else.
During the hurricane I transitioned back to our bed. No way was I sleeping in the spare bedroom by myself with 100 mile an hour winds whipping around trees outside like toothpicks. I remember the day after Irma, I was feeling well enough to do some light housework around the house and wash the bed linens. It felt so great to contribute again. I felt so proud of myself.
September 19th finally rolled around. I went for my 3rd postoperative visit and my surgeon said my x-rays looked great and that I could fully weight bear. He said to “lose the crutches.” He ordered one final round of physical therapy and by this time, I was ready to go back to the office 2 days/week and work the other 3 days at home. I definitely celebrated my freedom that night with a couple of cocktails!
I had been on crutches for a grand total of 15 weeks of my life. That’s an eternity when you’re not able to walk. I started back to work on September 26th and maybe used my cane at work for a couple of days. My leg was strong enough now and I was able to walk unassisted. At the time, I was so upset when my doctor left me at 50% weight bearing for 7 weeks, but the reality is, it allowed me to build my muscle, strength, and stamina so that when I was allowed to fully weight bear, the transition was fairly easy.
I never thought I would get to this point, but I did it! Hot damn I made it!!!! Stay tuned for my next update.