I expected the scars, but not the fat old leg. I apparently hadn’t paid enough attention to my wife 16 years ago when she described her own broken-leg recovery.
The medical professionals were not much help. They provided vague information, and only specifically what I asked. There wasn’t any meaningful prognosis from either the surgeons who operated on my leg or even the physical therapist in the hospital who tortured me with a climb-the-stairs…and come back down…on crutches lesson before I could leave for home.
In the hospital, the surgeons told me the next morning following the insertion of a 14-plus-inch titanium rod where my tibia marrow used to be that the leg was “structurally sound.” That was the first of many over-the-wall statements I got from them in hospital and at the three and nine-week follow-up visits.
In my morphine-addled state, I asked what I thought were sensible questions, like, “When can I get on a bicycle again.” That stopped the head trauma ortho guy as well as his team of residents. He laughed heartily. That was a matter for the physical therapists, but his best guess was September (seven months after the break). He added that I surely wouldn’t feel like riding and it would likely really be December. Maybe he doesn’t pedal in Boston, but December is not our best month to get back in the saddle.
Thumping to the Toilet
The PT arrived with a walker and crutches. His job was to get me to stand up (excruciating; much like the pain of my full shoulder dislocations of yore). Then I was to head by walker maybe 60 yards away to a stairway to learn how to climb up and down with crutches. He knew we had five steps to get into the house, but more relevant, the bed and toilet were in rooms 13 steps up from the main level.
He was a jolly fellow, but deferred to the surgeons and the future PT person on rehab and healing schedules and such. He predicted next to nothing. Those attitudes may be professionally safe, but left me dangling like a comminuted fibula.
The two follow-up visits with the surgeons were similarly over-the-wall. At three weeks, as far as they were concerned, the cast would be on for eight or more weeks, depending on whether I was a fast or slow bone grower. No predictions, no things to do, no light in my tunnel…
Then at nine weeks, the two who looked at the new x-rays included a young resident ortho surgeon. He let it be known that when he could find the time, he like to cycle. He was more inclined to answer my concerns. The unrepaired fibula was still a shattered mess, but the tibia was growing bone in and around the cleft they left me. He said it was not a good idea, but in theory I could get on a bike now. He also warned that I had better realize that for months to come, I’d pedal real slowly.
I knew the latter from the gym. For over a week, I’d crawled onto a stationary bike-like object and literally lifted the lame leg over the saddle with my hands and carefully placed it in the pedal strap.Try as I might, my own previous times on the same tours wasted me. Slow was a kind way of describing my deconditioned self. Even after being on for two weeks, I am still dog slow. I can imagine my wife, the anti-biker, zipping past me on the road, if she’d ever bike on the road.
That’s the future. The present is messier. I won’t see a PT until mid-May for the earliest appointment. I can see not getting much out of it by then. I’m exercising, walking as much as I can and using a Thera-Band to loosen up the ankle ligaments and tendons.
I wasn’t well prepared for what to do by the medical types. Nor did they let me know about my bratwurst leg. For the former, I know now that a tib/fib break as they say is damned common. A web search turns up everyone from 14 up writing about their circumstances, often with photos and x-rays, and describing the operation.
They tend to elide the recovery and rehab. I did find a couple though who recommended keeping the lower body pulsing with blood. Even letting the maimed and pained leg dangle was okay, so long as the other leg worked. While that sounded a bit illogical to me, it seemed to have worked. I grew a lot of bone and I found two aerobic machines I could do even before I could drag that leg onto the one-wheel “bike.”
For me those were the Scifit sort of arm-bike thing and the rowing machine. I could park my left leg out of the way and burst out into a 45-minute or so panting sweat. The blood and air were coursing through me. Plus, I wasn’t thinking about the leg with the rod. I was busy.
For the leg still retaining fluids more than two months after surgery, I was ignorant. That’s the way of the recovery from this. My left ankle is at least 50% bigger than my right. Any sock, even the very loose Polartec one, leaves deep ruts in the skin. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure doesn’t look right.
Here the nine-week-visit surgeons were straight with me. Full recovery, what they referred to as “getting your leg back” is a year. Meanwhile, no matter how much blood is pushing through the lower body, that leg will stay really round and squishy to the touch.
So from my very unscientific view, if you know someone with a tib/fib break that takes surgery, say:
- Exercise as soon and as much as you can
- Expect lumps, bumps and bratwurst limb
Tags: harrumph, harrumpher, rehabilitation, gym, broken leg