The Great Ankle Break of 2016

Three days before Christmas, I underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff muscle and degenerating tendons.

“I thought this was a story about an ankle break?” I hear you ask…

Hold on, I’m getting there.

Confined to an immobilizer —the sling version of the back brace I donned five years ago after my herniated disc repair— I was limited in what I could do and learning how to perform daily activities with my left hand.

When a record busting 36-hour snowstorm enveloped the DC metro area, I cheered. I baked. The kids shoveled. I drank wine. We watched ten movies, and I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.  But then school was canceled for a gazillion days. The pretty white snow started to gray, and the unmelted volume interfered with life returning to normal.

On January 28th, one week after the region collectively buckled down for the storm, I dressed to leave my house. I had a physical therapy appointment for my shoulder, which I was looking forward to after a week of confinement. Metro was still unpredictable, but my ex-husband was venturing to work that morning, and his office is conveniently located across the street from my PT. I begged for a ride.

Traffic was ghastly. After an hour in the car, sitting in gridlock four blocks from my destination, I made a tactical error. “I can walk faster,” I insisted, not wanting to be late. My ex agreed. I hopped out of the car, climbed a snowbank, landed on the sidewalk. Literally. Splat.

I was in shock for a lot of what happened next. I remember hearing screams as if they were coming from elsewhere. My vision went a cloudy white. Excruciating pain radiated from the ankle, which I’d seen contort on my way down. The shoulder was fine, but I knew without trying that I couldn’t stand on my right foot. A homeless woman asked if she should call someone for me. I grasped for my phone, but like in a dream when you can’t ever dial a phone number correctly, I couldn’t remember how to work it. After several bumbles, I managed to call my ex, who had only advanced a few car lengths up the street. He pulled into a snowbank and ran to scene of the fall.

He tried to help me up. I wailed. Cautiously, he got me standing on my left foot. Since I couldn’t drape my right arm over his shoulder three-legged race style, our center of balance was off as we hopped a few tentative steps.

“I’ll drive you to the ER,” he reassured me, until we reached the street corner and realized his car sat on the other side of an impassable patch of ice and snow. We called 911.

The ambulance led to the emergency room. The emergency room led to three sets of x-rays and two ankle reductions —a process by which two-to-three doctors push and pull on your ankle to “set” the broken bones. (Yes, there was morphine.) Those procedures led to four hours of reconstructive surgery the next day. Overall, I spent five days in the hospital.

I’m home now, completely non-weight bearing on the right side of my body. I can’t use crutches because of the healing rotator cuff, so a wheelchair is my mode of transport. I’m confined to the first floor of my house since I have no way to go up or down the stairs. My living room has been converted to part bedroom/bathroom, as ADA compliant as possible.

A side note: never buy a house without a first floor bathroom.

From the moment of my accident, friends and family jumped to action. While I was still in the hospital, my sister friends set up my house, organized around the clock care, bought me books and wide-legged yoga pants, stocked my refrigerator, fed my cats, and created a meal calendar. My beloved Weekend Warriors scheduled an impromptu visit to complete tasks around the house to make my life easier. My dad arranged transportation to follow up doctor visits and rented wheelchair ramps to get me in and out of the house.

The prognosis is to be determined. The rotator cuff repair requires four-to-six months, minimum, before I’m back to normal. My ankle surgeon said I have at least two more months to go before I can put weight on my foot. (I thank yoga and barre for giving me a strong core; the left side of my body is doing all the heavy lifting these days.) I learned to transition with ease from bed to wheelchair and back. I’m putting the lap in laptop because there’s no FMLA when you work for yourself. Like it or not, sponge baths have to be my jam for the time being. For all who have offered advice on pain management, I thank you. With the consult of my doctor, I have figured out a regiment that works.

Healing is my focus. I won’t jeopardize recovery of the ankle or the shoulder by rushing the process. As deductibles, co-pays and other medical expenses mount, I won’t panic; top medical care is not worth skimping on, as I now realize after bumping down from a gold health plan to silver, effective 01/01/16.

Thanks to all who have sent healing vibes, prayers, meals, hugs and other forms of support. My heart overflows with your love and warm thoughts. I’m mostly in good spirits, but I slip into inevitable moments of self pity. There are lessons to be gleaned from all of this, lessons I will take to heart.

And when it’s all over, maybe I’ll commemorate the Great Fall of 2016 with a tattoo over the scars that will forever remind me wedge boots are never a good idea in the snow and ice.



9 thoughts on “The Great Ankle Break of 2016”

  1. Oh Chelsea, I’m so sorry to hear about your injuries, but so pleased to read about all the help you got! While you’re home wheelchair bound, keep on writing! Your voice comes through your work so magnificently. I can’t wait to see the eventual book.

    Touche re “A side note: never buy a house without a first floor bathroom.” Maddy

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    On Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 11:56 AM, the chelsea chronicles wrote:

    > chelseahenderson posted: “Three days before Christmas, I underwent > shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff muscle and degenerating > tendons. “I thought this was a story about an ankle break?” I hear you > ask… Hold on, I’m getting there. Confined to an immobilizer —the sl” >

  2. Wow! I knew about your shoulder surgery and then I got the idea from Twitter that something had happened to your ankle. I had no idea it was this horrible! Hoping for a quick recovery.

  3. Found your blog through Wardrobe Oxygen. Your post about your injuries gave me flashbacks to 5 years ago, when I fell and fractured both ankles (one required surgery), my foot (also needed surgery) and my heel (same foot). I was in a wheelchair for 2 months, then crutches for a month, and finally, a walking boot for a month. It was a very trying time. I am very independent and I had to learn not just to ask for help, but to accept help. I learned not to refuse meals and company. I was so lucky that one of my sisters was able to stay with me for a month while I recovered from surgery (she flew to the U.S. from Japan to be with me!) and I made her crazy with trying to do things myself. I do have to say that I was grateful every day that I “only” lost the use of both legs and not both arms. I feel for you having to deal with a shoulder injury AND the ankle, and losing your normal mobility. It sounds like you have a great attitude. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself once in awhile. I sure did. I also learned how amazing my friends and family are. Best of luck to you in your recovery!

    Large wet wipes were my best friend until I figured out how to shower seated with a new handheld shower head with both legs hanging outside the tub!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am touched by people sharing their experiences with me and it gives me strength to know I’m far from alone… My sister has been a godsend and I’m already dreading her leaving but I also know I will be fine… So much love surrounds me and maybe it took all this to happen to open my eyes to it all.

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