Broken Leg – Part Two
When we left off, I had arrived at home from the Emergency Room in the wee hours of the night. I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I never did end up falling asleep that night and stayed awake for the entire next day. I mostly spent the morning responding to DMs and text messages.
Once clinics were open, I began making phone calls. First, I called the orthopedic surgeon that the ER referred me to, but they told me that due to my insurance, I needed my Primary Care Provider to refer me to them – the ER wouldn’t cut it.
I made a call to my PCP and had to leave a message. They took a while to call me back, and referred me to a local orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the only hospital in town. I actually preferred this, since I didn’t relish the idea of having to travel an hour each way to see the ortho that the ER recommended.
I was told to wait a couple of hours and then call the orthopedic surgeon’s office to make a plan for surgery – my PCP had already sent over my x-rays. I waited approximately half the time they said and then called.
It took them THREE HOURS to call me back, and when they did they asked if anyone had called to schedule me yet. I replied that they had not, and they told me their weekend on-call orthopedic surgeon was super backed up in the operating room, but once he was out of surgery he’d be calling me himself to make a plan.
Up until this point, I was still assuming I’d be able to see a doctor that day. Once it was getting close to the end of the business day and I was facing the prospect of a weekend full of long, painful nights, I started to despair.
HOURS later, at 8pm, the orthopedic surgeon finally called me. He said I needed surgery for sure, so rather than having to call their office on Monday to schedule, he advised I just show up Monday morning (reminder: I was speaking with him on a Friday night) for an appt and then we’d see about putting me on the surgery schedule.
During this terribly long wait for an update, I had a really poorly timed bathroom break and ended up crying the entire way back from the bathroom to the couch. Using crutches was really difficult, as the splint from the ER went up and over my knee and was very heavy. I had not cried up until this point, so you know it was bad. After that experience, I figured out that I should time my bathroom breaks to be approximately an hour after taking medicine but not less than an hour or two before needing to take them again. It was a short window of time! I also almost passed out once on the way back to the couch – it was early in the morning and Daniel was taking me before he left for work, and I had to sit in a chair and then needed him to hang on to me in case I blacked out. I didn’t, ultimately, but everything went fuzzy and I definitely came close.
On Saturday, I began to do some insurance-related research. The weekend on-call doctor I’d been assigned wasn’t familiar to me (I live in a very small town. We know who the local doctors are!) and when I attempted to look him up on my insurance’s website, he was not listed as an in-network provider even though all his coworkers were.
Knowing that my out of network deductible was FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS (because the United States is a backwards hellhole that doesn’t have universal healthcare), I promptly panicked. I called the orthopedic surgeon’s office and left a very tightly-wound voicemail indicating I liked the doctor when I spoke with him on the phone, but for insurance reasons I had to see somebody else. I said he wasn’t showing as an in-network provider and if he’s not in-network, my deductible is astronomical and there’s no way I can be on the hook for the full cost of my surgery.
I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink after midnight on Sunday in case they decided to go ahead with surgery. I showed up Monday morning and as we were parking, I saw I had a voicemail from their office.
In it, the admin assistant acknowledged she’d received my call about wanting to switch providers for insurance reasons, and wanted me to know that even though he shows as out of network, it’s only because he’s new to the practice and he’s actually contracted with all the same insurance companies his coworkers are.
To recap: I was assigned this doctor Friday the 2nd. I requested someone else via voicemail early Saturday the 3rd. I was arriving at his office for an appt on Monday the 5th. (This info becomes important later.)
NOTE: I know I have several non-US readers, so if this insurance stuff is confusing, I’m so sorry and it’s confusing to all of us too.
Once I was taken back to the exam room, I kept telling Daniel that I cannot let this guy so much as LOOK at me or else I will be on the hook for everything out of pocket. The sad thing was, I really liked the doctor! (We’ll call him Dr. K.) Daniel asked if I wanted him to talk with the front desk and I said YES, so he went to do that. Dr. K came in and I said the same thing to him – it’s not about YOU, it’s just that you’re not listed on my insurance. He reassured me it was fine and that he’s on all the same insurances the other doctors are. Daniel came back and said the front desk told him they’d spoken with my insurance and it was all fine. I wasn’t sure I believed them, but I was in pain and had been suffering with a very broken leg at home for four days and I was ready to get this show on the road.
Dr. K scheduled my surgery for that same day at noon, and we headed to the hospital. My mom’s cousin (“Aunt K”) was my pre-op nurse, which could sound embarrassing but was actually really comforting. It was nice seeing a familiar face! I also liked my anesthesiologist and we talked about how we both used to live in Portland. I had to have blood drawn for a pregnancy test even though I have an IUD and Daniel has had a vasectomy but AN ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION I guess. They gave me an IV and placed a nerve block for my leg, which is kind of like a leg-specific epidural that goes in the back of your thigh, close to your knee pit.
The only terrible part of the whole ordeal was in the operating room as they were trying to knock me out. They applied an oxygen mask and told me to breathe deeply and count backwards from ten. As they were saying this, they pushed something cold through the IV in my hand. It was so PROFOUNDLY painful that I screamed and burst into tears and so the last thing I remember before going under was me scream-crying and someone rapidly telling me to keep breathing so I’d go under faster.
Happily, I woke up a while later with a repaired leg and ankle and the news that Dr. K didn’t have to put in removable pins to hold my tibia and fibula together, meaning this surgery was one-and-done and I wouldn’t have to have a followup surgery to remove anything. Yay! Daniel told me my surgery took about three hours.
Aunt K was also my post-op nurse, and she took great care of me while I recovered. I did need some anti-nausea medicine at some point because I felt gross, but recovery was pretty uneventful. I mostly had to pee a lot! I munched on some crackers and toast and eventually felt good enough to leave the hospital.
The next few days were a blur of round-the-clock babysitting since I couldn’t get my leg on or off the couch by myself for bathroom breaks. Thora also came down with some kind of barfing sickness so not only was I completely non-functional, anybody who babysat me had to be willing to enter a house with barfing child germs. We went through a lot of Clorox wipes that week.
I was instructed to be completely non-weight-bearing for six weeks, so Daniel’s mom brought over a hard plastic school chair with wheels and it changed my life! I could sit and be pulled to the bathroom instead of having to crutch there! Later, she brought over a walker – one of the fold-up ones with a little seat that elderly people use to get around. I would sit on it and scoot backward through the house. (This is not its intended use, and it specifically advises against doing it on the walker, but it worked really well for me!) I cannot overstate how revolutionary this walker has been for my recovery. It has gone with me everywhere and I love it.
In total, I spent three unpaid weeks off of work, mostly sitting at home on the couch. I didn’t watch much TV; it felt too busy. I also didn’t feel like I had the concentration for books, so I spent a lot of time on social media. I tried not to do much online shopping.
One of the biggest struggles I had was with hygiene and self-image. The idea of showering with my enormous splint was so daunting – our house doesn’t have a bathtub, just a single standing shower stall, so space was an issue and I was terrified I’d accidentally get my splint wet and have to go in to get it replaced. I did a lot of awkward sponge-baths with soap and a washcloth. Daniel kindly washed my hair in the sink.
I was living in men’s sweatpants that we cut off at the knee for my splinted leg and at the ankle for my non-injured leg. I had a hard time wearing underwear since my regular cotton ones wouldn’t stretch over my splint and the synthetic underpants I had made my skin hurt.
I just felt so gross all the time. Unwashed! No underwear! Men’s sweatpants! Dirty hair! Ugh.
I had a followup appt two weeks post-surgery. They took my splint off, and I got to see my repaired leg for the first time. I was told my incisions looked amazing and Dr. K was really pleased with how I was healing. I received a walking boot (not for walking though!) and instructions to not put any weight on that leg until my next appointment six weeks from then.
That appointment was on Christmas Eve, and a high school classmate was my X-ray tech! She and I talked about our kids and Christmas shopping and it was really nice. Here’s what my repaired bones look like:
My X-rays looked great according to Dr. K so I was told I could start putting weight on my leg again! My instructions were: wear the boot for walking for four weeks; you can take it off to sleep (GAME CHANGER); after the four weeks, you only need to wear it if you’re going to be going outside because it’s snowy and icy. Whew!
Once I was allowed to put weight on my leg, I felt like my recovery really sped up. I’m still using the boot, but I can hobble around the house without my walker for short distances.
Lately, I’m noticing if I spend too much time upright or walking without my walker, I do get some swelling/pain under my skin, almost like the screws are irritating it from the inside. It looks completely normal from the outside (no redness or anything scary) but feels like a bruise. Kind of wishing I had Dr. K’s email address to ask him if that’s normal… maybe I’ll call about that tomorrow!
There’s a lot of stuff I’ve failed to document here (like my whole pain medication saga) but this is basically the gist of it all! It’s been such a wild ride. So many of our family and friends have supported us throughout my recovery, whether it was bringing meals or babysitting me or babysitting the kids and I’m so grateful for all of that and everyone who reached out to me over social media or via text! It’s been a pretty lonely recovery (I haven’t been anywhere besides work, parents houses, and my doctor’s office since Nov 1st) so my “pocket friends” have been a lifesaver.
I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about any broken leg or ankle-related topics – I’m pretty open about my recovery!
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