Saturday, 17 April 2021

My Injury and why I felt Gratitude and Empathy while I was Rehabilitating


Patella Fracture and Proximal Tibia Fracture

I never do anything by halves ...... This fracture impressed both the Surgeon and Sports Therapist to whom I will be eternally grateful. I don't think I have ever felt so much pain as the day when these bones fractured simultaneously. I remember this moment as though it was yesterday ....... but it was in fact 8 years ago, back in 2013.

I was working onboard cruise ships at the time and we had just returned from a cruise and docked in port. We were always on a tight schedule on 'turnaround' days. Once the last passengers had disembarked, the crew had a limited amount of time to visit the nearest town and stock up on toiletries and personal buys. I went into the town and filled my rucksack with shopping as we were due to sail to the Caribbean for 30 days. Just before I returned to the ship, I popped into my bank to withdraw a bank statement from the ATM machine. I was too busy reading the printout to notice the small step ahead of me. I fell and landed on my left leg with the full force of my weight and the heavy rucksack. I heard the 'crack' and then felt the pain as I dropped to the floor. Luckily the bank staff acted quickly, called for an ambulance and managed to use my mobile to call my boss. He was in fact, just around the corner. He arrived at the bank within minutes and held my hand as the paramedic and ambulance crew tried to move me onto a stretcher and relocate me to the ambulance. My boss was amazing as I know I squeezed his hand with vigour ........ to the extend his eyes were watering. The paramedic was very kind and gentle and by this stage I was intoxicated on gas and air for the pain. 

So that was me, off to the local 'accident and emergency' room and 'away with the fairies' on gas and air........completely unaware of the damage to my knee. Once at the hospital, I really can't remember too much. I know that I was given morphine as the pain was excruciating. There were a couple of things I remember. I must have been placed on a bed awaiting a doctor to inspect the damage to my knee. The nurse tried to remove my jeans and I screamed in pain. She was so worried about removing them so decided cutting them off was the best option. I think I agreed to this because they weren't coming off in the normal way. I knew something was terribly wrong at that stage because I saw her face when she looked at my knee. The same expression was on the doctors face too when he arrived. He sat on the bed with his back to me and asked the nurse to hold my hand tightly. He looked over his shoulder and told me that what he was about to do would hurt. I was too far gone at this stage. He lifted up my leg and it really must have hurt, because I found the strength to push the nurse away and give the doctor a good old 'wack' across the back. He look a bit startled as I lay back down and possibly passed out? 

My next recollection was being in a hospital ward, with a cast around my entire leg from foot to the top of my thigh. My sister arrived, at around 10pm, so I had lost a lot of hours during that day. A doctor came to visit me and his first words were "Ah Catherine, you are the talk of the hospital. The doctor that saw you initially is still trying to recover from slap you gave him". I apologised profusely as I remembered almost knocking him out!!! He did hint that the damage to my knee was pretty substantial and had booked me an appointment for a weeks time at my local hospital. My sister took me home.......but I still thought it would repair over the coming weeks and I would be back on the ships in no time.

My sister took me home and this was when I realised two crutches and just one able leg was going to cause me a few problems. The approach to the entrance had a step.....not a problem normally, however having never jumped with just one leg and accompanied by a couple of walking aids was quite daunting. I actually felt a bit scared and vulnerable. During the next week, there were many situations that made me feel empathy for those who are unfortunate enough to be in this predicament for a lifetime. Limited use of limbs and loss of independence takes a lot of thought with your entire movement and ability.

My sister went to work the next day. This was not a problem as the flat was stocked full of coffee, food and multiple TV channels. I hopped into the kitchen and made a coffee. It is quite hard work hopping and balancing whilst boiling the kettle and trying to stay upright when opening the fridge door. It never occurred to me at the time either, the issue of taking a mug of coffee from the kitchen to the lounge? With both hands in crutches and bouncing on one leg......this took some planning. Moving the mug a few inches along the work top, then hopping and moving the mug again. There were several manoeuvres to be made transferring that same mug to the lounge. By the time I finally sat down, the coffee was stone cold. The whole day was a lesson of gratitude to the days when all my limbs were in full motion. The things I have always taken for granted.

As the days passed I was getting use to this new life and how to adjust to my limitations. Still I was convinced my knee was on the mend. I was due my hospital appointment and another x-ray.

To my horror, I had a moving fracture and there was no going back home. I was transferred straight to a ward and prepped for an operation. To say I was afraid was an understatement. I had never been on an operating table before. I had never broken a bone before and felt really unprepared. One of the surgeon's took some time to explain to me how bad the damage was and that the probability of me recovering completely was quite low. He explained that my knee would not be able to recover with a 100% bend (possibly an 80% recovery) and that I may have to walk with a stick for the rest of my life. 

After the operation, I had to stay in the hospital bed for 5 days, with my leg elevated. I remember looking up at my leg, thinking how disappointed I was with the white plaster cast, I was hoping for a pink one? I guess I didn't have a lot to think about at the time. After the 5 days, the physio's tried to help me out of the bed and on to crutches........I was in so much pain? The cast felt so heavy. I was very lucky (and again very grateful) that one of the nurses who had seen me initially prior to the operation, was quite impressed by my movement on crutches and how I was managing after just a week. She spoke to the surgeon who came to see me that evening to talk to me. He mentioned the nurse and said he had made the decision to have the cast removed and replaced with a leg brace around my entire leg. He felt that I would manage a lot better with a traction brace. 

Once the surgeon signed the release papers, it was time for me to return home and start my rehabilitation.

After 8 weeks of complete rest, hospital appointments and x-rays. I went to see my surgeon. He spoke again about the damage to my knee and told me that it will take hard work and consistent exercise to recover. He said it could take up to a year but if I was lucky and worked hard, I may be left with just a limp. So there was hope. The recovery could be down to me and the work I put into my rehabilitation. I spoke to my sister that night. She is a nurse herself and recommended a private sports therapist. I was prepared to pay as much as it took to get me back on my feet and walking. 

I booked an appointment and the therapist actually took a copy of the fracture as she was so impressed with the surgery and extent of the injury. She was really reassuring. She made me feel I could recover ...... again stipulating that it was down to me. I had set myself a challenge. I had 3 more appointments with the surgeon and the next was in 2 months. I spent 2 hours a week with my therapist and she gave me a list of exercises to do between visits. If she asked me to do 5 exercises I would do 15. She told me to do the exercises twice a day, so I would do them three times. I worked hard for the 2 months and continued to see her and her assistants twice a week.

My therapist was really enthusiastic with my progress and encouraged me to move as much as possible. In the evening I was to rest and elevate the leg to help the recovery. I will be forever grateful to my therapist and her assistants. They filled me with encouragement and never once did I feel I would not make a full recovery.

The things I was grateful for

There were so many things I was grateful for. My sister most of all, as she gave me a safe haven to stay whilst I was in recovery. I was living in Cyprus at the time and I would never have been able to fly back and rehabilitate there. My parents really helped me a lot and once I was able to walk up a flight of stairs I could stay with them too. My surgeon - he was a knee specialist, so I was extremely lucky he was on duty the day of my operation.  My sports therapist and her team for their incredible encouragement. My friends for helping me and taking me on day trips to keep my spirits up. It was a long recovery.

But there were also the little things..........

Struggling to cross the roads, especially in the early days. Traffic would stop and wait, even on busy main roads. There was never any impatience or hooting of horns. On busy high streets, people would move out of the way, or stop to let me pass, regardless of their age too. People would always help me because of my crutches and leg brace. 

I use to walk (or hop) down the road every day for exercise. It was really strenuous to start with. The pavement was quite narrow and I use to hear this voice behind me most days "can you not go a bit faster?" He had a cheeky smile as he passed by and I 'kind of' waited to hear that voice behind me daily. As the time passed, he used to congratulate me on my speed. The days when I was having a speedy 'spurt on' he would say "slow down a bit, I can't keep up"

I wanted to regain my independence and I would go shopping a couple of times a week. You get a little inventive as time goes on. I use to tie my crutches to a trolley so that I could at least move around the shop. I'd sometimes meet an old fella with a walking stick down the isles and he would help me. He said he had nothing else to do that day and at least he had more moving limbs that I did. He would reach the top shelves with his stick and knock the produce into my trolley. He could hardly walk himself, but he wanted to help. 

There were many shops that I went into and I would say, pretty much, either an assistant or a shopper would come to help me. They all just wanted to help. 

This has definitely made me feel very empathetic towards anyone with crutches and very understanding of the struggles and limitations of people with disabilities. When something is taken from you that you take for granted, it is very noticeable when it's gone.

My First and Last Appointment with My Surgeon

After 4 months and my journey from operation to rehabilitation, it was time for my first 'check up' appointment with my surgeon and an x-ray to see how my knee was mending. At this stage I was walking with just one crutch and feeling quite confident. After my x-ray I saw my surgeon. I walked into his office and he looked at me, then my medical file and back at me again. I think he thought he had pulled the wrong file from his drawer. To say he was pleased was quite an understatement. I think bewildered would be a better description. We talked about my recovery, the exercises I was doing and the plan for continuing my healing process. He was so happy and very complimentary about the hard work I had put into my rehabilitation, that he cancelled my next two appointments. My recovery was so advanced. He signed me off and agreed to me going back to work and on the cruise ships within 28 days.

Exercise is a medicine not just a source of fitness and weight loss. Exercise aids recovery and helps the mindset. Although I regret the day I did so much damage to my knee........I am eternally grateful for the experiences that took me through this journey of recovery and the lessons I learnt along the way. The whole episode has changed my views on many things.....especially exercise and the power it holds to heal. 

Events and circumstances can change our lives in the 'blink of an eye'. We can take so much for granted and not realise the implications until our lives change. We need to ask ourselves 'What if?' and practice gratitude daily for all the things that we do have.


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