Three months of lying around with my foot in the air seems, at first blush, to be a total write-off of my summer.
But it's a longterm investment in walking without pain that I am eager to make.Thinking some more about it, I realize that this is a unique little patch in my life - a time when I won't be required to do much more than brush my own teeth.
I feel strongly that life is precious and I am not prepared to write off even one moment of what I've been given. What then, to do with these three months?
First ...organize my environment to minimize frustration by maximizing capacity for independence. Then, put together some projects that will bring me to the end of this patch exceedingly pleased with what I've done ...and not bored for even one minute.
My surgery is an ankle fusion - to rehabilitate an ankle shattered twenty years ago in an accident. While some details will differ, the strategies suggested here are adaptable to recuperations from other surgeries.
Preparing your Environment
Frustration comes of feeling helpless. Organize your environment so that you can meet your own needs as much as possible.
Where I live the Red Cross offers an equipment loans service. I was able to get everything I needed free-of-charge. That said, every single piece of paper they gave me had painstakingly detailed directions for donations and the walls of the equipment depot are papered in donations appeals ...fair enough.
If you don’t have this option, most equipment is available for rent from medical supply stores or for sale. Home renovation/hardward stores, for example, sell toilet frames and grab bars.
People with really good upper body strength like crutches. Those with not so much (most women) can develop serious pain in their arms and shoulders.Try them out. Practice. Develop some skills while you're still pretending.
The Roll-A-Bout is an American invention and available through the company’s website. www.roll-a-about.comThe cost is $499US. They are expensive but they look real nifty and users report high satisfaction. The principle is basically that of resting your knee on the shelf and “walking” rather than hopping so it is much easier on the good leg. Especially when the “good” leg isn’t so good anymore.
I found a used one for sale on ebay but dropped out when bidding went past $350 US. The company also rents them so this might be a reasonable option.
Another possibility is a device called an iWalkFree. This is a kind of stilt device. It looks a little harder to master but I don't see why you couldn't steady yourself with a cane until you get the hang of it. You can see it at www.healthchecksystems.com/i_walk_free.htm
My husband hammered together his own version - affixing a plywood shelf to a walker. I rested my knee on the shelf as I "walked" and pushed. I wouldn't want to do a walkathon on one of these, but it worked pretty well around the house.
Other people report pushing themselves around by resting their knee on an office chair with arms then kind of pushing and scooting along. Give it a try but remember you have no brakes so stay away from hills!
Wheelchairs can be useful in your home if you clear the obstructions (like coffee tables) out of the way. For me, the most important function of the wheelchair was the wheels it provided to get me back into the outside world. A lightweight, collapsable model will fit in the trunk of most cars. When choosing one, also check out the width, tire-to-tire. The smaller models will fit through internal doorways - important if you want to use it in the house. Final tip: you will need a leg extension to keep that ankle UP.
Yes, a plastic lawn chair will work too ...but plastic lawn chairs are light weight and when you are hopping on one foot you will need things to grab onto and a light-weight, unstable lawn chair isn’t a good choice.
Whether or not you need a toilet frame, will be determined by what else you have around your toilet (like grab bars or counters) to grab onto when you are lifting yourself up and down on one leg. As well, how strong that “good leg” is. When I first injured my ankle I was only 32 and it never occurred to me to look for assistive devices. My ankle fusion occurred at age 54, when my good leg now has an arthritic knee and I will take all the help I can get.
During this recuperation I had two options: the bathtub in the guest bath or the corner shower in the ensuite. Many people prefer the bathtub because they can place a shower bench across the tub, then sitting on the edge, lift their injured leg while they swivel into the tub. This wouldn’t work in my house because the tub has sliding glass doors.
The corner shower was a better option for me. I placed a shower chair inside, and a solid wooden chair with arms just outside, facing the shower opening. I was able to sit on the wooden chair, then step into the shower with my good foot, swivel and sit on the shower chair. My casted leg then lifted up and rested on the chair outside. I pulled the shower doors closed around the leg sticking out.
All of this took a few tries to figure out ...while my leg was wrapped in towels. The first time I tried it with a casted leg it went off perfect.
What are you going to wear?
I bought some cheap ($9.97) t-shirt style night-dresses from Sears. They look like $9.97 but they are very comfortable and have the added advantage of discouraging anyone’s passing fantasies about what all this horizontal lying about might be putting me in the mood for.
The other suggestion was shorts ...and this works better for men. Big, floppy, wide-legged shorts. I also found capris made out of t-shirt material to be very comfortable and easy to get over the boot.
After the initial post-surgical weeks I was moved from a cast/bandage to a removable surgical boot that I could take off for showering - bliss. The nurse at the clinic gave me a generous roll of what I can only think to call "sleeving". This is an elasticized cotton tubing that I pulled up over my leg before putting the boot back on. I cut this into 18 inch lengths and it worked perfectly as a lightweight "sock" between me and the boot.
Where are your clothes?
Location One – Bedroom
Some doctor’s want their post-fusion patients flat on their backs for the first two weeks. In any event you will be spending a fair amount of time in first days in bed, so prepare that environment.
Clear out bedside table and make sure meds, waterbottle, tissues, lozenges etc are at hand.
Have a reading lamp that you can read by and an interesting book of short items (short stories, humour, essays, magazines) ready. Your attention span won’t be great in the first post-op days. This is the time for People magazine, not War and Peace.
Have a commode near the bed for the first weeks. Keeping some water in the commode keeps it fresher. Placing an old mat under the commode makes sense.
Have a light blanket where you can reach it – temps vary as you recuperate.
Even though the surgery site will be casted or booted, the blankets may feel like they are weighting it down. Create a “tent” for your ankle by making a table out of a cardboard box or adapting one of those devices people used to use for abdominal exercises – anything to get the blankets off your ankle.
Have several thick pillows available for elevating ankle. I found it easier to sleep with both legs/ankles elevated. Otherwise my pelvis was torqued and woke up with aching back.
Have a heating pad and hot water bottle available for easing pain and sore muscles.
I got a sore back from lying around so much – twisting a towel and placing it under the small of the back offered some lumbar support and alleviated that quite a bit.
When you are not in bed, where are you going to recuperate?
At the time of my original injury, 20 years ago, I just happened to have an old La-Z-Boy recliner in my house. I lived in that thing. Preparing for this surgery I headed right out and found another one. Your personal budget dictates where you get his but you can get used one for peanuts. Look for good lumbar support and good lift of the foot pedestal – you need to get that ankle UP.
I called mine the “Command Centre” and friends quickly came to call me “Commander of the Universe” as I literally cruised the universe on my WIFI equipped laptop.
Tips for the Command Centre
You cannot carry open liquids on crutches ...but you can carry closed cans and bottles and thermoses and bags.
If you organize your kitchen so that things you like and need are within reach, you can hop in here, put what you want into your carry bag and hop back to the command centre. I also have a light sweater that I wear a lot – it just happens to have big stretchy pockets. I can put an awful lot in those pockets! Another survivor mentioned that she bought a painters apron and used the big pockets to transport things around with her.
If you are going to be on your own a lot, think about putting a small cooler next to your command centre. In the morning your helper can stock it with a sandwich, fruit, drinks, etc. They can fill a big thermos with coffee or tea and you are set.
This is where the rubber hits the road folks..... you can either look at this 6-12 weeks as the most incredible gift or you can whinge on endlessly about how bored and frustrated you are because daytime TV is really boring.
Think about it – 6-12 weeks with no responsibilities beyond brushing your teeth. This is an opportunity for some major accomplishments. To come out the end of this experience not only walking without pain, but with some new skills, tools, hobbies .....
Here are some ideas...
So ..there’s a few ideas. Come up with your own then set everything up in advance, putting all your "project materials" into plastic containers that you can access from the command centre.
Life is precious. We cannot, any of us, afford to blow off even one moment of our lives. The idea of blowing off 6-12 weeks of one's life is obscene. We’ll never ever get them back again. So enjoy....