Health - Coping With a Broken Leg

A repaired tibia.
A repaired tibia.

Snapped like a chicken bone

I broke my leg five years ago when I stepped out the door of a Winnebago after the stairs had been retracted. Three feet and one sudden stop later my tibia, the main supporting bone in the lower right leg, snapped like a chicken bone. In medical terms it was a dislocated fracture, meaning the two ends of the bone were completely separated. In my own terms it was a train wreck.

To repair the damage an orthopedic surgeon reamed out the bone with a drill, hammered in a titanium rod, and fastened the broken ends together with what look like wood screws. It was an amazing feat of medical engineering.

Going through airport security has been more interesting ever since.

Having never been injured before, I had no experience as an invalid - especially one with a broken leg. It took some trial and error before my husband and I assembled the right equipment to cope with the situation. If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I offer the following advice to help you cope with a broken leg.

Unglamorous but practical.
Unglamorous but practical.

Use a walker

For the first three weeks I could not put any weight on my broken leg. For eight weeks after that I had a “walking” cast, a giant plastic boot that would fit Frankenstein's monster if he wore a size 30 shoe. But I needed mechanical assistance to keep from falling over. The hospital offered either crutches or a walker.

I am the first to agree that a walker is unglamorous and cumbersome, but it beats out crutches because you can carry stuff on a walker. This is important because when you can’t move easily you suddenly find everything you need is on the other side of the room. My husband attached a net car-storage bag to the front of walker and I kept my reading glasses, cell phone, water bottle, pen and paper, and meds inside. If I went out I put my wallet and sunglasses in there too. You can’t carry all that on crutches.

If you really want to join the Granny Olympics, you can get a super fancy folding walker with a seat and a basket. I do have some pride, however, and just went with the plain vanilla version.

Install a toilet seat riser

Okay. Not a pretty subject, but a very important one. If you can't bend your leg it is very difficult to lower or raise yourself from the toilet. My husband was going to install grab bars in our bathrooms so I could use the toilets unassisted. Instead, the person at the medical equipment store persuaded him to get a toilet seat riser instead. This is like a big rubber doughnut that fits on the toilet seat. It lets you lower yourself and get up again without bending your legs. When you no longer need it, you simply remove it. There are no permanent grab bars to contend with. It’s not great for kids, however, because they are usually not tall enough to sit down without having to climb. They also enjoy jumping up and down on them.

Get an ankle pillow

I simply could not get comfortable lying down because of the cast and then because I could not turn my ankle without it hurting. I spent the first few nights sleeping in a chair until someone told us to get an ankle pillow. The pillow elevates your lower leg and takes the pressure off the injured part. If you get a foot separator pillow, it also holds your foot with the toes pointing up. It made a considerable difference and I could sleep comfortably in bed after purchasing an ankle pillow.

Get a cast protector

The number one rule of having a cast is keep it dry.  If even a portion gets wet the mositure is wicked throughout the entire cast.  Besides being uncomfortable, the moisture will get into your wound and cause an infection.  This makes showering a challenge but fortunately there are cast protectors for broken legs and arms.   Ask at a medical equipment store and they will know which one to give you.  We joked that my cast protector looked like a giant condom, but it did the job.  I would just put it over my leg, fasten it at the top and my cast would stay perfectly dry in the shower.

Keep your leg elevated

I didn’t understand what this meant so at first I just keep my leg up on the ottoman. The swelling would not go down for weeks. When I had the cast removed, the surgeon explained my leg had to be raised higher than my heart. So my husband rigged up a pulley and sling and we raised my leg like you see in slapstick movies depicting people in full body casts. The swelling was gone within hours!

Do your physical therapy.
Do your physical therapy.

Do your physical therapy

Yes, it is boring and some of the exercises seem silly, but it is vital to your recovery.  I was shocked by how much my leg muscles atrophied in just three months.  I was diligent about doing my strength building exercises, but less so with the stretching ones.  After five years the muscles are still noticeably tighter in my lower right leg.  Do your therapy as instructed!

Be patient

It will take as long as it takes to heal - you can't rush it. Patience is not one of my virtues, but I quickly accepted the situation, not having much of a choice. I read a lot of books and made a lot of jigsaw puzzles over the 3-1/2 months I was recuperating. I enjoyed being waited on and having my meals cooked for me. And I really learned to appreciate my mobility. I swore I would never complain about making a bed again after I got both legs back.

Of course, that was five years ago.

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Comments 2 comments



Bobby Hammond 5 years ago

The Best TibiaOTSERV:

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