The days and weeks after injury
In my last post about my skiing accident I mentioned I knew I was on a tough road ahead with what I have been dealing with over the last few weeks. In this post I wanted to lay out my experience. I’m doing this to summarise it for myself but also on the chance that it helps someone else going through, or supporting loved ones through, similar challenges.
After I left the doctor’s surgery I was no doubt in shock. And pain – both physical and emotional. And I couldn’t move much. At that stage I didn’t have crutches so needed to rely on my fiance to get around the house where we were staying. Surprisingly I was able to actually shuffle on my bad leg but I needed help getting up from sitting, walking including getting to the toilet and getting into the shower. He had to hold me in the shower for me to feel safe.
The first night I don’t think I slept as I had continual nightmares of being on the snow and feeling my knee twisting. I was in pain but so exhausted and couldn’t relax at all. The idea of surgery terrified me. I have long had fears of medical procedures, although I had made 2015 the year to confront my fear of needles head on, and I had been progressing pretty well.
We had to cancel our overseas holiday (our last time together for seven months as my fiance was leaving for an overseas posting) and face the reality of dealing with a range of medical issues and costs.
I was pretty well in tears on and off for the first couple of days. This was hard for my fiance to handle as he hated seeing me so upset.
We headed back home on the second day after the accident and hired some crutches as we got closer to home, knowing I’d need to get up four flights of stairs. That night I felt pretty ill and happened to wake at 3am struggling to breathe. That prompted a call to the ambulance, a trip to emergency and six hours in a hospital bed with a canula in my arm and heart rate and oxygen monitor on. Luckily, after a chest x-ray and an ultrasound of my leg to check for blood clots, they confirmed there was nothing physically wrong with me.
In between bouts of codeine, lots of pain and rest, visits to the physio, an MRI, the next week went by in a blur. My fiance and I did take a three-day break to the Hunter Valley to try and have some relaxation. It was nice but it seems so long ago now.
Reading the MRI report almost broke my heart, and brought the emotions flooding back… Grade III ACL and MCL tears, grade II sprains of my LCL and a couple of other ligaments and muscles a bone bruise and heaps of swelling. It seems I didn’t tear my meniscus though (a good thing).
Seeing the surgeon
Just over two weeks after the accident I saw the surgeon. He told me ‘Claire this is a really big injury to your knee’. He told me that for my MCL to have any chance of healing on its own, I’d need to stop bearing any weight at all on my leg – ie. on crutches always, never putting my foot down with weight.
I was in shock again. He prescribed me some more painkillers and some drugs to help stave off a deep vein thrombosis. And then he said he’d see me in six weeks. So that was it. Back to home and trying to manage this injury, and facing the prospect of doing it alone.
I felt very lucky though to have found a great surgeon who is so caring (he has a knack for passing the tissue box right when it’s needed too). We are going to have a year-long relationship after all :).
The reality of living, day to day, with this kind of injury
It was clear that I had no concept of how difficult coping with this kind of injury is.
When you can’t bear weight on a leg, it means at any one time you can only use your one good leg with crutches (or extremely good balance) OR your hands. Never both at once. The only things I could carry would be a few papers tucked under a finger or a few things tucked in my armpit. I had to employ a backpack to carry anything of consequence, but it couldn’t be too heavy.
Every time I wanted to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, I needed to move my leg carefully (often painfully), get my crutches nearby, figure out how to move in a coordinated fashion to get my leg off the bed and get upstanding with my crutches. Then it was a slow hop to the toilet and I’d need to put my crutches to the side and carefully lower my body to the toilet, then push myself up again using the hand basin. All in all this kind of exercise takes a good five to ten minutes.
Food preparation; what a nightmare. We have a small kitchen but it was still frustrating. I couldn’t take a step without crutches from the kettle to the sink, for example.
Picking anything up off the floor was basically impossible for those first few weeks. I could pick things up with some careful maneuvering of the crutches to balance on one side, and with my bad leg carefully bent and extended out behind me as I bent over. But most of the time I would just leave the thing on the floor!
In the first two weeks I had my fiance around to help me with food preparation, bringing me a pillow, moving things around, helping support me in the shower. But then he went overseas for his seven month job. Facing the reality of having to be self-reliant was not at all a nice prospect.
It was extremely stressful thinking about what to do when he was gone. Should we get a cleaner? How do I get to the physio (I can’t drive)? How do I eat? I can’t cook! (I have been on Lite ‘n Easy since; what a lifesaver.) I can’t clean! What if I fall down!…
And friends popped by every couple of days. Then a dear friend of mine who lives interstate but can work from anywhere really, offered to come and stay. She arrived four weeks after the accident. Wow. I am so lucky. It saddens me to think of other people out there that have no one to help them.
It’s hard to summarise everything what this support means to someone in constant pain who has so little energy. I was only getting 1-2 hour blocks of sleep at this stage to a total of 5 or 6 hours… It was extremely hard to do the everyday things. Having support from people for the practical, day to day things, means the world.
Here are a few examples of things that could only be done by others for me:
- cups of tea actually in a cup, rather than a Thermos, delivered to me wherever I was in the house
- clothes in a washing basket carried outside and hung up
- picking up things that fell under tables or beds
- meals delivered on plates
- vacuuming and cleaning of shower
- driving / transport full stop (I was very intimidated by the thought of getting to a bus or train stop in the first place, let alone getting on them)
- getting boxes out of cupboards
- carrying anything large, heavy or awkward
- cleaning the fish tank
- collecting any shopping items (I did do one really big online shop where they delivered but even then putting things away was sometimes tough)
- cleaning up spills
- taking out the rubbish (we don’t have a rubbish chute)
- opening doors (sometimes this was difficult)…
Hugs, support and company are the other, most critical things. But more on that in a later post.