One year ago Saturday, my life changed. So I took the day off, to consider how far I’ve come.
It seemed especially fitting, since things are about to change again. More about that later.
On Friday night, Sept. 16, 2016, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. I lived in a wheelchair, facing hip-high amputation of my left leg, for about two years while I fought health care bureaucracy, cost-conscious HMOs, and myself to figure out a way to walk again. (Spoiler alert: Elmo won!)
I documented my adventures in remobilization in this blog. They’re awfully self-indulgent, occasionally icky, and probably only of interest to me, but on the off-chance that they help someone else with a catastrophic injury, I’m keeping them together here. If you don’t want to read them, that’s OK; I still love you. If you do, you might want to start from the beginning, on the archive page that lists all posts.
A year ago, I took an unthinking header down three little steps, and didn’t go home again for eight months. To my cats Lola and Nikki, it must have seemed as if The Silly Human simply walked out and didn’t come back.
It had repercussions: Lola became an affection-starved bully. Nikki nearly died (long, sad story behind that), and wound up in the closet.
Literally. Nikki lives in my entry hall closet the same way Harry Potter lived under the stairs, to the point that we’ve had to install litter box and food or she’d starve. She’s found sanctuary from Lola’s bullying under my winter coats (do NOT ask about the condition of said coats).
After mounds of patient loving and coaxing from me and Bob and Rox and Nathan and Apple, she’s finally coming out of the closet and joining me on my desk…at least for awhile.
Lola NEEDS to be loved. A lot. Every pet or kind word to Nikki is one less for Lola, and since my absence she’s been fiercely defending her love.
I worry about them, because I’m leaving again. I’ll spend a couple of months with surgeons in the Bay area and–cross your fingers–be walking by Christmas.
Kaiser Permanente, after months of resisting, has conceded that maybe eventual amputation isn’t such a hot idea, medically speaking. Kaiser NW doesn’t offer much in the way of orthopaedic traumatology (as I’ve discovered), but I’m told by my consultants that Kaiser Northern California is pretty darn good at it.
NoCal’s Dr. Dan called a couple of weeks ago to discuss the matter, and we discovered we were on the same page. On the 28th of this month, he’ll essentially spatchcock The Leg.
Nathan is leaving his shed in the backyard and moving into the house, to make sure the cats can still cuddle at night with a familiar face. Until Lola can figure out the keyboard, he’ll help the cats Skype to me down south. My friends will be looking in from time to time to make sure everything’s OK.
I’ve got to hand it to Kaiser; when you finally get them to listen, they go all out. They’re flying me and Mom down to Oakland, putting us up in a hotel for the initial surgery.
Dr. Dan’s team will dig out all my fracture hardware, and stuff what’s left full of antibiotics. For awhile it’ll be a waiting game; I’ll hang out in a hospital bed on IV antibiotics and an open wound.
“Think of it as a kind of unusual spa vacation,” said Dr. Dan.
Somehow I doubt there’ll be much in the way of pedicures and facials…
Samples from from my leg will vacation in an incubator, waiting for nasty bugs to hatch. If one does, they do Surgery 1(a), to move the right kinds of antibiotics in place inside the fracture. Then we wait again, possibly for weeks.
More likely, Dr. Dan will start the second surgery, the big one. He’ll McGyver Elmo, running a brand new rod out of the top of Elmo’s head from knee to hip. He’ll dig out the bone marrow inside and use it–with some experimental bone fertilizer stuff–to stuff that great gaping hole in my bone.
The long rod will strengthen The Leg from the inside, reinforced by new plate outside. Dr. Dan predicts new bone will grow and I will be able to put all my weight on The Leg within 6-8 weeks.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
After that, rehab and lots of physical therapy. Dr. Dan is a big fan of loading weight onto the fracture to accelerate bone growth. So is my cousin David. So am I.
Nobody is saying this will be a cakewalk or a guaranteed success. I might see my Year Two Crashiversary from a wheelchair still, sliding down the slippery slope to distal-femoral implant.
That’s not the direction I see, but if it happens, I’m prepared. My house will be as wheelchair-friendly as it possibly can.
I’ve become a whizzbang wheelchair driver with Tyrone-the-spiffy chair. I go over curbs and drive cars all by myself, stuffing Tyrone inside. On my crashiversary I made five stops for a total of TEN womanhandlings to break Tyrone into components and move him in/out of the car. New record, and I have the bruises to prove it!
I’ve found the painkillers that work without making me woozy and mean. I’ve learned so much about going through the world with wheels on your butt, about becoming my own best advocate in a world that doesn’t really get wheelchairs.
I’m armed with more information than before. I know there are new distal-femoral implants that don’t chew up the bone and force amputation. They may last as long as knee replacements, too.
If iI need one, I’ll be ready to fight for my leg. Again.
I contemplated all of that on Saturday, while I watched my friend Kaitlyn perform old rock songs in her school-of-rock recital (she did a great job and was gorgeous doing it).
Thought about the wonderful friends–like Kaitlyn and her husband Aaron–who have stood with me, behind me, surrounded me with love and support and ideas. The coworkers who formed a bucket brigade to get me down three flights of stairs in a power outage.
Thought about my blog readers, who’ve been, literally, my sanity safety net. About the number of times I’ve given up, wanted to just go back to bed and STOP BEING, when an online friend pops in. “Just wanted let you know I’m thinking about you. What can I help with?”
My family’s unwavering support. Amazing.
I left Kaitlyn and Aaron, loaded Tyrone back into the car, and drove off with no destination. Hung out with skateboarders and drifters in a plaza, talking about life and nothing in particular. Heard their stories, gave them mine.
Then I went back to the scene of my crime. Had dinner at the little Thai place I’d dined at that night. Wheeled over to the spot where I fell, and waited for the sun to set.
I sat in my chair, watching those steps as the sun went down. They were a lot shallower than I remembered. In my recollection I’d fallen perhaps five feet to solid concrete. Reality turned out about three feet shorter.
I saw stains on the sidewalk still, where the cherry tomatoes I’d been carrying had been ground into the cement. I saw how well the stairs blended into the concrete below in the gathering dark. The dark blue merged almost perfectly with lower plaza horizon.
I realized that “scene of the crime” was more accurate than I cared to think. It seems that I’ve never quite gotten over (or admitted) that I’d been beating myself up for falling. That I was so stupid-silly to not watch where I was going, that I caused all this grief.
Time to stop that. It happened. It’s over. No point in dwelling on it. No point in asking why–if Kaiser had a great trauma center for my kind of bonebreak–they didn’t send me there months ago.
No point. Two different people this week talked to me of mindfulness, of learning to live in the moment, non-judgmentally, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
“I think you could really benefit from learning how to do that,” one said.
She’s right. Live in the moment, charging forward. Breathe in today and savor now.