I felt the urge to explain what happened to my leg. In all honesty, I should have started blogging when it happened to keep a better track of my progress. But since it is slowing me down (and I am whining about it so much), here’s the story – from the perspective of running. Something I’m still sorely missing. If you want all the pics (warning – gory!) check them out here.
The last time I went to my orthopedic surgeon, I broached the running subject. After all, the plates in my leg could hold my weight just fine. I had read about Wolff’s Law. Surely stressing my leg could only be good, right? It would help the bone grow more quickly.
He looked at me as though I was trying to get him to write me a long-past necessary script for Vicodin. “No,” He said. “No impact. You can swim. Bike, maybe. An elliptical trainer would be fine.” After a thought, he repeated, “Swimming is good.”
“Oh, ok!” I said. I didn’t want to swim or bike or elliptical. I wanted to run. “But, out of curiosity… when do you think I can start running?”
He made no promises. Offered to see how my leg was doing the next time I came in. In three months. The beginning of October. My heart broke. The nurse shook her head at me, “I broke my ankle three years ago and I still can’t really run, sweetie,” she said. “You’re dreaming.”
Running was one of the first things I thought about when I was laying on the road, caught under the van that had arrested my forward motion. My husband, work, and running. What else was going to suffer? My right leg was shot, I knew that, but I also knew it was a distracting injury. I kicked my left leg – my knee hurt a little, but it was fine. Probably a scrape. I kicked it again and bounced my toe on the ground. Now everyone screaming about 911 and are-you-ok could see I was alive and literally kicking. I tried to talk through my helmet, but I had no idea how many words made it past my mushed cheeks, through the helmet, and out from under the van to the ears of The Witnesses.
The lady that hit me came up behind me. I knew it was her because I could hear the sheer panic in her voice. She asked if I was ok, but there was hysteria polluting her words. They came out halfway between a screech and a sob. I felt badly for her. I said I was OK as loudly as I could, but still had no idea what people could hear. Too much noise. Why was everyone panicking? The police arrived.
I thought about running again. What part of my leg was broken? Ankle, too? Was it smashed? The whole thing? More importantly, would I heal in time for the half in October? I counted the months in my mind… 8 months… ish. Yeah, that should be fine. 3 months for the bone to heal, and I’ve still got nearly 5 to train! I wouldn’t set any records, but I could totally do it. Ok, maybe I would have to walk some… still do-able.
They chocked up the van and pulled me out. I was shaking, but I think it was from the cold. The pain was definitely there, but I could look at it from far away. I could joke around. Every time it started to crush me, I reminded myself that this would pass, and that mental act of dismissal seemed to do the trick.
I was lucid. I had no real complaints beyond my leg. They cancelled the Heli-vac into Philadelphia and put me in the ambulance. Part of me cheered – I had never ridden in an ambulance before. Cool! The other part was sad. Helicopters are cooler. They took forever to hook me up to The Drugs, but by the time we got to the hospital I had already had my second dose and was feeling sleepy. I could feel it clogging my brain and my thoughts oozed around like molasses. I had the EMT text my husband from my phone. In short order I was in the hospital with all my shredded motorcycle gear unceremoniously folded into some random sheet. Where did they get that sheet from?
They scanned me again and again looking for something – anything – else that was wrong with me. Just a broken leg. And some amazing bruises. Not bad for being hit when I was doing 40! I was a tough cookie. That’s what my mom would have said if she were suddenly in Pennsylvania with me.
Andy showed up. I was still joking around and smiling through clenched teeth and pain. He turned to the nearest nurse “How long do you think she will be in the hospital?”
“Andy!” I chided. “It’s a broken leg! They’re going to put me in a cast and send me home!” The nurse nodded a knowing agreement. I felt validated. I would be at work tomorrow. Well, realistically, probably the day after. I would be running soon enough.
An hour later they were telling me the swelling was going to kill the blood flow and nerves to my foot if they didn’t do something. They weren’t worried – it is a very common complication for closed high-energy breaks. They knew how to fix it.
The orthopedic surgeon told me my entire treatment depended on the swelling. “They may need to do a fasciotomy to relieve the pressure,” he said. “If they have to do it today, I will have to do external fixation on your leg tomorrow. If I can do my surgery first, it will be internal, and it should help with some of the swelling, too.” External fixation was a rig that would live outside my body with the nails going into and through my leg. I cringed. “I’m crossing my fingers for internal plates!” I told him. “I don’t want to see it!”
So much for a cast.
He won the battle. A few hours later I was in surgery getting my shiny new plates. When I woke up, my leg felt so much better already! Stable. The pain was phenomenal, but it wasn’t aggravated with every breath I took. The surgery helped with the swelling, but they wanted to keep me over night to watch it. I was elated. Not a simple break, but it was fixed. It was done. Now I just had to heal.
I got my fasciotomy the next day, after all. As I came to, I felt tears already streaming down my face. I gasped and howled. Perhaps they didn’t re-dose me with painkiller before I woke up. I felt like a thousand knives were in my leg. As I started to gain more control, I subdued my cries to moaning, but I couldn’t shut up. Every breath came through with a groan and whimper. I was such a baby. The tears flowed freely. I tried to blink them out of my eyes and saw my husband and mother-in-law, both crying, too. They were suffering for me. I held my breath and calmed. They gave me drugs. I felt catatonic. I was there for four more days.
My fibula had been jammed a few inches into the base of my tibia. My boot held everything together inside my leg. Later, when I saw my dissected boot, I noticed the metal armor in the ankle had been dented in, absorbing the impact there. My ankle was fine. I was told I had lost two arteries to my foot (I didn’t know I had a third). My muscle was “ground meat” and the swelling continued to threaten my stitches and incisions for the next month.
A month and a half later I was in PT. I still couldn’t put weight on my leg, but I was starting to move my foot around. Trying to keep the scar tissue that was starting to form from freezing my muscles. The guy next to me was being treated for a running injury. Apparently he came in all the time for one running injury or another.
“I’m a runner, too,” I thought. “Well, obviously I can’t run really fast or far right now, but…” I puzzled over the stupidity of that thought. Of course I couldn’t run very far – not even a mile. Or… even half a mile, I guess. My throat clenched up. I couldn’t run a step. Not one. I had to take a deep breath. I closed my eyes and fought the tears. Some childish part of me thought, “I could hop on one leg!”. The grown-up part raised my eyebrows.
I’m over the emotional part, now. It’s been six months. I am “walking” unassisted. I affectionately call my leg my “Zombie Leg”. The pain is dull. There are periods of several seconds at a time where I can say I am not feeling any pain. My ankle is still tight. The scars are shocking. My thigh and calf are atrophied, but I go to the gym and work on them every day. Last week I was able work my calf for a long time before the pain made me stop. The next day my muscle was sore from being worked. It felt amazing. It was another milestone.
I am preparing for when I can run again, and I can feel myself getting closer every day.
It might not be October, but one day my doctor is going to say, “OK, you can run now, just take it easy. See how it goes.”
I’ll take it easy. I’ll be winded after a quarter mile. Probably less. My leg will start throbbing, and force me to limp back to where I started. Everyone looking at me will think I was defeated. But I’ll be grinning ear-to-ear. I’ll try again tomorrow.