On Sunday 6 September 2020 I broke my left ankle. I tried to somewhat keep track of the recovery process to maybe help someone in a similar predicament frame the injury and know what to expect. I will describe significant events as days since the accident. Day 0 is 6 September, day 1 is 7 September, and so on.
This post describes days 26 (2 October) through 39 (15 October).
Day 26: A Trip to the Orthopaedist
With a heavier heart I once again make my way to the hospital. After another X-ray, I eventually find myself in the doctor’s office. Up till this point I had always been handled by one of the doctors doing their residence. This meant they did not have an office. Instead I was always dumped in one of the rooms the nurses use to handle a patient. This in turn meant the doctor had no setup to really show me my injury. While they had evidently described things, that only does so much.
Now in the actual doctor’s office, he invited me to look at his computer screen displaying my fracture. My heart dropped as he pointed out the still visible fracture. He explained it was a type A fracture of the fibula. I looked at it and it still looked clearly broken. A clear line separated a tiny piece of fibula from the rest of the bone. Had I not been healing? Luckily the doctor’s narrative did not match my own. He said things were evolving the right way and everything looked nicely in place. I was going to be allowed to start putting weight on the leg again! Then he dropped a bombshell. He gave me two options. The first one a “walking cast”, which he did not describe in detail, but I assume it would be like any cast but with some more protection at the bottom. Then came option two though. Oh boy I did not see this one coming.
NO! MORE! CAST!
WHAT‽ OPTION TWO! OPTION TWO! ALWAYS OPTION TWO! I doubt I managed to prevent a grin from showing on my face. This was way more than I had hoped for. As the doctor explained it, with the way the fracture was aligned, there was little I could do wrong to it. He said that taking the cast off would also be better for the muscles and tendons in that they would be able to move some more. More blood flow, better healing, or something. He did not need to give any reasons. The idea of no longer having to deal with an uncomfortable or painful cast was already more than enough to convince me. He added that that would also no longer require me to give myself shots in the belly. Dude seriously, OPTION TWO. He told me to come back in two weeks and sent me to the nurses to take the cast off.
The nurse got the saw ready to cut off my cast. Before doing it she did the usual spiel of explaining why I should not worry about the saw. I was not really listening. If it were really dangerous, they would have thought about another way to do something so routine by now. She slid some plastic strip in my cast to protect my skin just in case the saw did go to deep. She started sawing and when she was about halfway I took a look. I was not sure she was actually sawing above the plastic strip. Seconds later I feel pain, she sawed into my skin. Luckily it did not go deep. From there on she also was more careful not to go any deeper than the hard cast. Still, just my luck. So far for her safety speech.
Eventually the cast comes off without any further injuries. I look down at my leg and I do not recognise it. This is no exaggeration. All the muscles disappeared and it has gotten so tiny that my mind takes some seconds to accept that is my leg. Really fucking weird. I try to flex what is left, but I cannot even make it move. Yikes. Part of that may be due to the ankle’s mobility, or lack thereof. I can move it a few degrees up and down, but that is it. Dang, four weeks of immobilising ruins things. The foot and ankle are still somewhat swollen, but I had already read that this can keep happening for months to come. The skin also looks like a mess, but maybe some good washing will fix that.
The nurse gives me a sort of sandal shoe that reaches up to above my ankle. The sandal vibes enable it to be used with the varying sizes my foot may have from swelling. The high reach I assume is for some modicum of ankle support. It will take a bit for that leg to be able to handle my weight of course, so I still got to use my crutches and see for myself when I can upgrade my mobility. For myself indeed, the doctor says I will need to be my own physiotherapist for the next two weeks. No point in seeing a real one yet, supposedly. I would have preferred the guidance, but he knows best.
Days 27-31: To Walk Again
I decide to walk (with two crutches) back and forth in the living room every so often to keep the blood flowing. I have missed going outside, so I dedicate two moments in the day to go for a short walk. These eventually max out at 40 minutes which at current speeds means 1.3 km, eventually 1.6 km. Yeah, I’m slow. On the walks I try to keep the foot on the ground as you would in a normal situation, though the lack of ankle mobility makes me lift it earlier of course. Still, I figure by focusing on that, it will also help stretch the muscles a little. The inside of the sandal they gave me has something scratchy right in the area where they cut me. Evidently not ideal. My solution ends up being: put high socks on + wrap a cloth around that area before putting the sandal on (the socks proved not to be enough). Socks are tricky at first due to everything still being a bit painful when moving and the ankle and foot swelling up easily. Eventually I get better at it.
If you read the previous post, you might recall me complaining about the tightness of the cast being really painful on my foot. This became evident once the cast was taken off. The entire upper side of my foot was blue and bruised. The area near the pinky toe was red, as was the pinky toe. The lateral side of the foot, along the edge of the sole, was also blue and bruised. Lastly a bruise on the medial side, between the heel and the bone sticking out on that side of the ankle. A lot of suffering to heal something else! By the end of this period, the bruise on top has largely cleared up (or maybe another day or two, I do not recall). The ones on the side are more persistent. The pinky toe also improves daily.
As mentioned above, the skin also was a mess. The soles looked awful (like layers upon layers of dead skin) and everything just looked like it needed to be bathed in lotion. Some soaking baths later, the worst was gone, but my skin would suffer for a while still. Every day it was peeling and I kept on pulling off some skin.
Day 32-33: Losing a Crutch
One of my walks this day was managed entirely with one crutch! I am still carrying the other crutch along as a precaution, but things are going the right way. My speed is still pretty much the same: awfully slow. Oh well, going outside is nice.
Later in the day I decide I need to focus some more on ankle mobility. I recall an exercise where you draw the alphabet with your foot that I have used in the past after light sprains. That might be too advanced for me right now: I hurt myself doing it. The next day I decide not to do any ankle mobility to give it some rest. I also look online for something more appropriate for my level.
Day 34-35: Look Ma, No Hands!
On a whim, I decide to try walking without any crutches in the living room and I actually manage (slowly, carefully, tiny steps). So happy! I only do a few back and forths, but it feels amazing to manage that again. I cannot put into words how happy that made me feel at the time. I cannot do this outside yet of course, the footing inside is just way flatter, smoother, and safer.
By this point in time, the swelling definitely is not as bad any more. My foot does still turn red pretty easily when standing up though. Oh well, as long as it does not bother me.
I found a flyer for people who had a broken ankle and are fresh out of their cast. Could it be any more relevant? In the evening I do their beginner exercises. Just a series of stretches really. The beginner exercises are hard for me, but at least they do not hurt me like the alphabet did.
The next day I do the mobility exercises in the morning right before my walk. The flyer recommends to do them three to four times a day. Doing it right before my walk might not have been the best idea, the exercises do rough up the ankle a little. The walk does not feel too great.
Day 36-38: Playing It Safe
As I notice the swelling of the foot does not dissipate as easily as before, I decide to give up on the walking for now. My limiting factor is no doubt my mobility at this point, so I prioritise those exercises. That is what I say to myself to not feel too disappointed at least. I still walk a little bit back and forth in the living room, because I cannot help myself. Those are with either one crutch or no crutches.
On day 38, I notice that the bruising on the medial side of the heel and the bruising along the edge of the sole on the lateral side has substantially lessened. It is almost gone now.
Day 39: Anticipation
Waking up with a sore left calf. It is easy to overdo it when you have no strength left.
I try testing out how flexible my ankle is at the moment. I place my big toe against the skirting board (maybe one centimetre thick?) and try to touch the wall with my knee. Physically impossible. For comparison’s sake, my right foot manages from about 8-9 centimetre away from the board. I am not a flexible person to begin with, so you may easily go from further still.
I also give our elliptical a short spin. Ten minutes, low rotations per minute, low resistance. It seems almost normal, but not exactly right. I am thinking I might be able to use it in a few more days.
Besides all that, I am living in anticipation of tomorrow’s hospital visit. I am hoping it will be my last time, but I also feel the fracture site from time to time. I do not know whether that is sore muscles/tendons in the area or the bone itself. The uncertainty means I assume the worst, which in turn makes me worried about the day to come. Still. A man can dream.