I am a very active 50 year old female who travels often for work and enjoys a lot of fun and fast sports. I am a snow skier, water skier, scuba diver, USCG Captain and I ride motorcycles. I “jumped” into ortho care from 13,500 feet! Skydiving is my favorite fun and fast sport! I have been skydiving for more than 23 years and have made over 900 skydives. On July 28, 2013 I had a bad landing. Translated – I messed up! I came in too fast on a low wind day, didn’t flare properly and dug my Teva sandal and foot into the soft ground. The result . . . left foot pointing in the wrong direction. I thought it was “out of its socket” . . . later I found out I don’t know anatomy . . .was told that hips and shoulders have sockets . . . not ankles! My tibia & fibula were broken into 11 pieces.

My treatment and recovery

Emergency Room: After my bad landing, with the help of my husband and two other people I got up and hopped over to a pickup truck that met us on the field. I got in the front seat of the truck and held my leg as we drove off of the airport grounds and to our car in the parking lot. I then moved to our car. I sat in the front seat and again I held my leg as my husband drove to the the hospital. We got to the ER; my husband went in and got a wheel chair. I hopped in and we rolled in to talk with the admissions team! The hospital staff, obviously, knew that the injury was pretty bad, but they were amazed how calm I was. It hurt, but it was not overwhelming and even more unbelievable, I was not in shock. The ER visit is a story in itself! I did not have any pain medication because I was afraid of narcotics. Pretty much anything stronger than Advil has not settled well with me in the past. So I wanted to avoid narcotics if possible. Everyone who walked by the exam room had to stop and back up to take a look! I guess they don’t often see a person with their foot pointing in the wrong direction. Of course, I said hi to everyone and invited them in to take a closer look!! (See, I am even smiling in the ER, see the picture.) I went through the first series of x-rays. Now we kind of had an idea of the damage that had been done. We took pictures of the x-rays on the screen. Even we could see “Houston, we have a problem!” From here, the next step is to get the foot pointing in the right direction. To do this they put me in a “twilight” state using propathol (I have no idea how to spell it). It is the medicine that killed Michael Jackson. And, yes, that’s what I said to nurse when he told me what they were going to use. I said, “isn’t that the stuff that killed Michael Jackson?” He said, yes, but we will not use enough to create issues for you!! In the meantime, a group of EMT trainees were passing through. (I know I am getting old, because I would have bet they were still in high school!!). Of course, they wanted to see the foot that was pointing in the wrong direction!! Since they were getting ready to put it back in its place, I asked the group if they wanted to watch, and they did! There were too many of them to fit in the room so they drew numbers! I saw three or four young boys/men standing in the door holding little white pieces of paper. So I asked if they were the winners or the losers!! They told me they were the winners!  Now for this part of the story, my husband has to help me with as I don’t remember anything, thank God! The nurse administered the Michael Jackson stuff. I proceeded to go through a series, similar to getting very drunk/intoxicated! This is how my husband described the phases: 1) Relaxed 2) Barely able to keep eyes open 3) Happy, smiling and laughing 4) Love. Telling people thank you for being so kind, I love you and everyone! 5) Started telling stories. I told everyone (in a slurred voice) that my husband drove not more than 5 mph over the speed limit all the way to the hospital. He also stopped for the red turn arrow. When there was no oncoming traffic, I told him we could take a chance and run the red turn arrow. We really didn’t need to wait through a full traffic light cycle! (Of course, this surprised my husband, as I had talked with people for 10 minutes before we left the DZ and told him the pain was not an issue. Or, of course he would have picked up the pace!) 6) At this point, they knew the timing was right. One man held me firmly around the waist. Another big guy had my foot and ankle. They proceeded to play tug of war, while the doctor was in the middle feeling, touching and guiding my foot, ankle and leg back into place. 7) While they were doing this, my husband said (in a funny voice) I was saying “ouch” “Oh, that really hurts” and I repeated this two or three times! 8) They only had a small window to do this procedure 9) Before they had finished wrapping the ace bandage for the splint, I began to wake up. My husband said I told them it was okay if they wanted to give me more of the “happy juice!” 10) Amazingly, I don’t remember anything!! WOW! Now, I am almost ready to go to my hospital room. At this point, still no pain medicine! And, no mention of shock from the doctor. There was probably some shock, major mind over matter, adrenaline or something going on. From the ER room, I went for a CT scan, followed by more x-rays. (See the scary CT images below!) I went directly from the imaging rooms to my new hospital room. It was here that I finally needed pain medicine, and I needed it in the worst way! External Fixator: The next day, Monday, July 29th, I went for surgery. Of course, I was hoping they would be able to repair my leg/ankle, put it in a cast or boot and send me on my way. We didn’t know what time they would do the surgery. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 3 pm ish. Oh, yes no food or liquids since midnight on Sunday! Ugh!! Well, they couldn’t do the repair surgery on my leg and ankle. Too much swelling and concern about fracture blisters. I will tell you more about fracture blisters in a bit! So now, Monday evening I am seeing my new “External Fixator.” It looks like someone made it with an erector set kit! It had a metal frame and is secured with five screws that are secured right into the bones. (Ouch!) While in the hospital, I practiced my skills with crutches and learned the navigate nature calls. Of course, they stored my crutches way out of reach so I couldn’t do anything without a nurse! (I wonder why? Did they not trust that I would always call for help?! 🙂 Before I could be released, the bandages on my leg/ankle had to be changed. This is the first time I saw a fracture blister. Internet research has helped me to learn and understand these blisters. They can happen after bone trauma. They don’t happen to everyone (lucky me!). They occur when there is so much swelling and not enough tissue to allow for the expansion. So in essence, your skin splits and the blisters form to handle the swelling. The blisters can happen up to three weeks after the trauma! The picture shows what the blisters looked like the day I left the hospital. The blisters, now with hindsight, were not bad at all when I left the hospital. On Wednesday evening, July 31st, I was released to go home, elevate my foot, and allow the swelling and fracture blisters to heal. To prepare for my arrival, my husband arranged to rent a hospital bed and wheel chair. It was delivered and strategically placed in the breakfast nook, between the family room and kitchen, so I could be in the middle of all of the action in the house. I came home and began to settle into my new space. At this point, I had no idea how long this would be my little slice of paradise! My first full day at home was Thursday, August 1st. This was also the day of my employer’s companywide meeting. Yes, I was supposed to be in Texas with the rest of my teammates, but that just didn’t happen. However, I was able to join the meeting via telephone! Yes, I listened to the entire meeting, over six hours. It was worth it to be able to still be a part of the meeting! A nurse came to the house every other day to check on me and to change the bandages on my leg. Remember the fracture blisters that I had when I left the hospital, well two days later the nurse showed up at the house. I was shocked, amazed and upset to see that I not only had more blisters, one was huge! Take a look at the pictures, pretty yucky, huh! In addition to nurse visits, a physical therapist sees me about three times a week. From the time I got home from the hospital, I was struggling with pain. I was able to take Advil with the other medicine until Sunday. (They wanted me to stop the Advil in case I was eligible for surgery, as Advil deters bone growth.) The medicine they sent me home with, minus the Advil, was just not working. I called the doctor’s answering service on Sunday to ask for options with pain medicine. They said I could add Tylenol. It helped a tiny bit, but not enough. By Monday, the pain was off the charts, especially when I stood up and the blood rushed to my foot. I am pretty tough, but this pain was so intense it would take my breath away, and as I stood there with my crutches I would start trembling and the tears would flow. This is when my physical therapist, became my advocate with the doctor’s office. Over the course of the week, she made several calls to help me get my pain medicine regulated at a level that the pain could be tolerated. On Tuesday, August 6th, I went to the doctor. Of course, I was hopeful that he would be able to schedule surgery. Unfortunately, the fracture blisters were way too severe. There was no way they could do surgery until all of the blisters had healed. (The doctor mentioned that he thought about doing the internal plates and screws, but decided to go with the external fixator (my erector set!) due to the trauma. He said if he had done the surgery and the blisters came in the way they did, he would be fighting to save my foot from amputation. This little story made me stop whining about the erector set on my leg!) While we were at the doctor’s office, they decided to cut the blisters and remove the skin. He said there were two schools of thought on the blisters; allow them to naturally absorb or to release them. Based on the size and condition of my blisters they chose option two. In addition to cutting the blisters, the doctor also took some x-rays to make sure nothing had moved around. This picture will let you see what the erector set and pins look like on the x-ray! (Yes, there is a long screw that is drilled completely through the heel and bone. Ewwww! After the consultation with the doctor, he mentioned that a colleague would be doing my final surgery, as he was an ankle specialist, then he scheduled my next appointment for August 16th. . . . August 16th . . . ten more days of lying in a hospital bed? Are you serious?! As you can imagine, I was devastated. The devastation was even more severe because of my unrealistic expectations. I went to the doctor hoping he would schedule my surgery for later that week. So when he said nothing could be done until the blisters and swelling was down and scheduled my follow-up for ten days later, I was so upset! So here is another lesson. While over the years, thanks to my husband, I have improved my former bad habit of setting expectations that would cloud my ability to recognize that things were really good. You see, when things did not happen the way I expected, I was unhappy or frustrated. As my husband taught me, if you have minimal expectations or realistic expectations you are better able to enjoy what happens for what it is, not just for what you expected it to be! My husband also helped me to get over being so rigid and planned out. A famous quote of his is “Indecision is the highest form of flexibility!” My husband helped me deal with my disappointment in knowing that I still had quite a lot of time to heal before we could move to the next step! After I got home knowing that I had to deal with more time in the hospital bed. I knew it was time to get my new little space set-up and organized so I could keep busy and be productive with work. So in addition to my work laptop, my husband brought down a second monitor and my printer. We also set-up a filing system, so I could keep track of things that need to be processed at a future date. I now had my office and almost everything I need to do my job. Once I got my “to do list” in order, I was ready to roll. Now that I had come to terms with the fact I would be sitting in a hospital bed in the middle of our breakfast nook area for a minimum of ten more days, life start to move on and the learning process started to take shape! Within two days of my doctor’s appointment, the next bandage change exposed skin that was healing rapidly! So the choice to remove the blisters seemed to be the right one! At last, I am seeing positive results! Surgery for Plates and Screws: We are now to Wednesday . . . I went to the doctor and . . . YES! Surgery will be on Thursday, August 22nd! I was very excited, as this is the first big step towards recovery. While I knew there was a long, tough road ahead, I was ready! It is now Saturday, August 24th. The surgery was complete. I now have three plates and 17 screws in my lower left leg and ankle! It’s all titanium so I won’t set off a metal detector, but the airport scan machines will certainly show all of this metal! (see x-ray to the right) Surgery was completed on Thursday morning. It was supposed to take three hours, but ended up taking four. However, the doctor was very pleased with the outcome and we are too!! The doctors and all of the hospital staff were great! They made my time there as pleasant as possible! I was released on schedule (8/24) after proving to the physical therapist that I could safely walk on my crutches and I had to demonstrate my ability to navigate the restroom for the occupational therapist. All went well and I am now at home! With the help of Aquatic therapy, I began to learn how to walk again in the pool. It is a very sobering process to realize how much you can’t do. However, the time I spent in the pool was a significant factor in my rehabilitation! In addition to aquatic therapy, I also spent a lot of time in physical therapy. The big thing is stretching. My work travel schedule started to take off in October. Even though I was still non weight bearing, I used wheel chairs and crutches to navigate airports, hotels and client sites. I did nine training workshops from a wheel chair and traveled to five states between October – December. I was reliably walking in five months, building strength and balance by seven months and back in the air skydiving by nine months! After crutches, a big boot, compression stockings, lots of pain and limping . . . I have made 12 skydives, ridden my motorcycle, been on 12 out of state work trips, on a 17 day boat trip, snorkeling three times and have made three scuba dives. I am hoping to go snow skiing this season and get back on a water ski soon! At one year I still have swelling often and some pain. In addition, I can indeed predict the weather – as much as two days before! I get a lot of tightness and pain. However, I can deal with this! I am grateful to my amazing surgeon for giving me a second chance to enjoy all of the fast, fun and crazy things I like to do!

Tip

Keep a positive outlook – it’s hard enough to deal with the temporary lifestyle change and pain. Don’t make it worse by being negative.

My Second First

Because of the miracles worked by my orthopedic surgeon, I am able to: Walk again, operate and enjoy time on boats, swim, travel, ride motorcycles, skydive, snorkel, scuba dive, and when time and weather permits, I am ready to hit the snow ski slopes and put on my water ski!

Life is good! 

Comments

2 comments

  1. Ro erneston

    Amazing story, pictures & recovery……I know.Brevard County (lived there 18 Yrs) where did U have UR surgery?

    I’m currently awaiting shoulder replacement across the state in Lakeland & had been researching various terminologies when I came across your article…..please know I wish you continued health BUT you are SO much braver than I know I could ever be!!!

    • Julie

      Ro, So glad you enjoyed the story! The surgery was done at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne. Everyone at the hospital made my stay as pleasant as possible!

      Good luck with your shoulder replacement! I hope everything goes even better than expected . . . just be patient . . . recovery takes longer than we want it to! 🙂

      All is good for me! Making lots of skydives and back to living life on two legs!

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