Thoughts from the left side body

After spending five days in the hospital and the last two weeks in my modified home (read: first floor conversion to combined living room/dining room/bedroom/bathroom space) I’ve been thinking thoughts I never expected to have. For example:

“I wish I had paid better attention to healthcare policy.” I worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years, but I was so caught up in energy and environmental policy, I never engaged my brain in healthcare policy debates. In fact, I rarely dove into my own health insurance policies, merely opting for what looked like the most generous plan. This strategy backfired on me when the monthly premium for the gold plan I subscribed to for 2015 under the Maryland Health Exchange shot up an additional $200/month for 2016. I opted to reduce to a silver plan, which costs me the same as the gold plan did last year (nearly $400/month, for the curious). I presumed because the new plan was also in the CareFirst family, all my doctors would still be covered. Wrong. My shoulder surgeon is now out of network, as is my physical therapist. The $2400 I “saved” by bumping down to a lower tiered plan will now be spent on out of pocket expenses to keep the doctors and therapists I know and trust.

“I’m glad I don’t have a boyfriend.” While I had some teary why me? moments in the hospital, I never lamented my lack of a romantic partner. My best friend Nancy served as a fierce but loving advocate and constant companion during my hospital stay. She was present for every conversation with the doctors; participated in all the PT/OT sessions; called for the nurse when I needed pain relief, water, or other help; dealt with some security breaches; and on numerous occasions, was present while I performed bodily functions. I’m a rather private person; needless to say, these last three weeks have been a huge test in letting go of any sense of modesty. Since my injury, my friends and sister have helped me bathe. Get dressed. Use the toilet, a flushable/portable one at home that requires periodic emptying (thank you, Meghann). I’m suddenly immune to peeing in front of guests. BUT, would I feel this way if I had started dating someone a few months ago? Or even a year ago? I can’t say that I’d feel comfortable flashing my backside in a hospital gown, perching on a bedpan or using my new potty arrangements in front of a love interest.

“I need help.” I’m independent. I live alone 50 percent of the time. I work out of my solitary home office. I have to muster a lot of courage before asking for help. But I could not live in my own house right now were it not for the constant care and companionship provided by my friends and sister. I could not feed my children without the meals friends, acquaintances, and even strangers generously drop off on a nightly basis. I could not leave my house to get to doctors appointments and PT sessions without the arrangements my dad has made. I hate asking to have my water glass filled or for my toothbrush to be rinsed off, so I wait until the last possible moment to make these small requests. Today I have to ask my sister to wash my hair, no longer a simple task, but it’s been six days. I don’t know when I will step (or roll) into a grocery store again, be able to feed my cats, or tuck my children into bed. I need as much help for the small things as I do the large. And it’s hard, even when those answering my needs insist it’s their pleasure to help.

Each day brings new challenges and thoughts, but also presents countless expressions of love and valuable life lessons I will carry with me as I wheel toward full recovery.


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.