Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Distal Radius Fracture and Repair. In the case of this blog post, it just means that I broke my wrist, and then had it put back together with hardware that I’ll wear for the rest of my life.
It’s been about three and a half months since I broke my wrist. I’ve been trying to write some blog posts about the event, including a post about how to help a friend who’s had surgery, but for some reason, the writing hasn’t come. Oh, I have had lots of starts and lots of ideas and lots of information, but I’ve been reluctant to write it all down and then hit that publish button. I do have some thoughts as to why I’ve been hesitant, including that I don’t want to write about my own vulnerability, that I don’t want to write about what happens when someone disappoints you when they’ve offered to help and then aren’t available when you need them, that I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m not Super Woman and can’t do everything anymore, that I don’t want to write about what happens when you know your life as you know it has changed. But truthfully, I don’t really know exactly why the words are coming so disjointedly, and until now, I haven’t thought about it too much; I have just moved on to the next thing, the next topic, the next publish button.
Maybe it’s time to just go ahead and write about it. And get it over with. This is bound to be a bit wordy. I’ve added some photos, too, so maybe that’ll help with all the words.
So on that note, here’s some information about the radius, that bone I broke. And then there’s a whole bunch of words that’s me trying to tell the story that’s in my head as best I can. With pictures.
The radius is one of the bones of the forearm; if you are holding your arm out in front of you, with your elbow tucked to your side, with the palm facing down to the ground or floor, it’s the bone nearest your body, on the same side of your arm as your thumb. It’s also apparently the most-fractured bone in the body. “In the United States, one out of every 10 broken bones is a broken wrist.” according to webmd.com. Considering there are 270 bones in the body at birth, that “one out of every ten” adds up to a lot of broken wrists.
The most common way to break your wrist is to fall with your hand outstretched. In my case, when I fell down, I hit the outside of my arm (which is the ulna) in the bark dust adjacent to the sidewalk. I scraped up my knees and elbows on the concrete, but it was the wrist that bore the brunt of my injuries. The funny part of this is that I was walking to my car heading out to the local China Panda to get some (yummy and tasty) orange chicken for a friend who had just had a knee replacement and couldn’t drive yet.
After I fell, I picked myself up, and thinking I might have just sprained it, continued on to my car, got in, used my left hand to put the key in and turn it, and to put the transmission in gear, and then drove to the Walgreens next door to the China Panda and bought an Ace bandage, which I then wound around my wrist. I walked next door, ordered the food, got back in my car and drove back to my friend’s house, where I sat at her table with an ice pack on my wrist, and then drove back “home” (actually the home of friend where I was house/dog/cat-sitting for the weekend). By the next morning, however, I knew I needed to make sure it was just sprained so I found the local urgent care (it was a Saturday morning; my regular doctor wasn’t in) and after an x-ray or two, along with a “yes, you needed to come in here” from the medical person in charge, I walked away knowing it was broken. There were several breaks in the end of the radius, near all those little bones that make up the wrist, some of which were jammed up into the space created by the broken pieces. I remember thinking it was odd that the bone I actually hit on the ground didn’t break; it was the one next to it. Go figure.
Twelve days later, I checked in for my surgery at the bright hour of 6:30 AM. Mark was on his way to Texas for a conference, so Nick became my chauffeur and right-hand person for the day. I got my handy dandy little hospital gown and a pair of socks with rubber nubby things on them so I wouldn’t trip, and I carefully changed into my costume for the day. When the nurse asked if I had a religious preference or any special requests for my time there in the hospital, I said yes, I wanted clowns in costumes and cookies. I also asked for Queen to be played in the operating room. I got Queen.
The surgery “went well.” It was about two hours long and although I apparently had a tough time coming out of the anesthesia and a room was being prepped so I spend the night, I decided to throw up the Sprite I’d been drinking… and just as if a switch had been thrown, I was back to my cheerful self, ready to go home.
From the beginning, I had been instructed not to use my wrist, fingers, arm. I’m right-handed. It was my right wrist. I quickly found out how many things one does that normally require using two hands – tying shoes, buttoning and zipping up jeans, hooking a bra, opening a can of tuna – and how many things one normally does with the dominant hand – turning the key in the ignition, shifting the transmission, shaking hands, brushing hair and teeth, writing, eating.
Doing everything one-handed meant that everything I did took longer, whether it was walking to the car, folding my clean laundry, fixing something to eat, putting my clothes on, washing my hair. Doing everything one-handed was challenging enough but add to that the wrecked wrist which hurt like hell, and I felt like I was moving in slow-motion. And after many years of saying, “Don’t use your teeth for that!” I began to use my teeth whenever possible to take place of the “missing” second hand. I opened jars by placing them between my knees and twisting the lid with my left hand. It usually worked. When it didn’t, I waited until someone could open it for me. I learned to ask cashiers to open things at the grocery store or to stop someone in the parking lot if I forgot to ask the cashier.
Taking a shower took on humongous proportions all its own, and afterwards, I felt like I’d accomplished something huge for the day. Heaven knows I needed a recovery period and maybe a nap after all that work! Getting clean(ish) looked something like this:
- get out of my clothes using only my left hand
- get into the bathtub and pull the shower curtain closed
- turn on the water, let it get warm
- raise my right arm as high over my head as possible
- using a large plastic cup from a 7-11 Slurpee, fill with water and pour over body until all parts are wet
- set large plastic cup down somewhere where it won’t fall out of the tub onto the floor where it’ll need to be retrieved (a process all its own)
- using shampoo, squirt a bunch on top of head
- put shampoo bottle down on edge of tub
- smoosh shampoo all over head
- using bar of soap, get all the important parts soapy
- put bar of soap down somewhere where it won’t fall into the tub or onto the floor
- pick up the large plastic cup, fill with water, pour over shampoo-y head and soapy body parts, again and again, until sure all shampoo and soap has been rinsed off
- set large plastic cup down again
- check to make sure all soapy parts have had the soap rinsed away
- if any shampoo-y or soapy parts are still soapy, repeat the last several steps as many times as necessary to make sure all shampoo and soap have been rinsed away
- turn the water off
- pull shower curtain back
- pick up towel, which hopefully I remembered to place nearby
- dry off wet clean body with one hand (try it sometime – it’s not as easy as it sounds!)
- step out of tub, carefully maintaining balance
- …and now go into the routine of combing out hair and drying it, putting lotion on my face, etc. Oh yeah. Try putting deodorant on with just one hand – hold the container in left hand, finagle it with fingers to try and get some of the stuff on the skin under my arm, then squish arm around, back and forth, trying to spread it out as much as possible. It was sure a good thing no one was filming this!
From the time I fell and fractured my wrist, until I had surgery to repair it, was twelve days. Twelve days during which I saw the orthopedic surgeon (a three-hour drive round trip + crazy Portland traffic) where I got the word that surgery was the best fix for the damage, and then to get ready for that surgery, I made arrangements with my son to spend a few days at his house (had to locate a bed that could be set up in their “entertainment” room), located a body-piercer who would take my piercings out and replace them with glass “place-holders,” tried to anticipate what I’d want to eat for a few days after surgery and went to the store to get it, and found someone to cut my hair really short so I wouldn’t have to mess with it. I also had appointments with my new gastroenterologist and my new cardiologist during the week after I broke my wrist. Might not seem like a lot to do in 12 days but I was doing this while in a lot of pain and doing it all one-handed, and for the most part, making the round-trip drive from Gervais, over an hour away; everything just took longer.
I really thought I’d be spending only a few days, maybe a week, at my son’s and then I’d go back to Gervais where I was staying with friends. Little did I know: that surgery is kind of serious and your body takes awhile to recover, not only from the surgery but from the anesthesia as well; that it’d take such a long time just to recover enough to sit up for more than 15 minutes at a time, let alone make the over-an-hour-long drive back to Gervais; that just getting up to go to the bathroom would take more energy than I had but I knew I had to anyway because no one can pee for you. That surgery wiped me out. Literally. Wiped me out. And I had no idea. None of us did. There were things that happened that completely caught me off-guard: things like sounds. Every single little sound made every single cell in my body jump. Sounds that normally don’t even get a second thought would make every part of me cringe, like every little cell was cringing. All I wanted was peace and quiet, no sounds, no noise. But I didn’t know I wanted that! How do I explain it? I’m not sure I can. The last time I had surgery, I was ten years old so I just had no idea that it would affect me like it did. Once I was more coherent and more aware, I googled the after-effects of surgery and found that what I was experiencing was very common. I wish I’d googled it before I had the surgery but I didn’t, and it made for some uncomfortableness because none of us knew it would be like it was. Mark and Nick were doing the best they knew how to make me as
comfortable as possible for what we thought was going to be just a few days. I just didn’t have the energy or stamina to consider driving back to Gervais. So a couple of weeks went by, and then, I got sick with a bug that flew by (or that someone brought over to the house with them).
It seemed like I was never going to get out of their “extra” room, which really wasn’t extra at all; I had taken over a large part of their living space in their little bitty home and having me there was a challenge for all of us – challenging because of the lack of space, the lack of privacy, the not knowing what to do to help out, just about everything that surrounded this new experience. I had tried to anticipate what I would be able to make myself to eat so had brought food with me, but once it ran out, one of them (Mark or Nick) would have to go to the store for me, and with their schedules and availability, let’s just say it was challenging. I knew I needed to give them back their space, but I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place – I just didn’t have what I needed physically to get myself out of there. That probably didn’t make me any easier to live with. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of not being able to take care of yourself when you’ve been doing it most of your life. It’s not a very good feeling.
I can’t begin to describe the frustration, the helplessness, the despair that came over me. I was trying to navigate through the specialists who were going to be taking care of other parts of my body, all the while trying to take care of myself with an arm that felt like someone had hit it with a 20-pound sledge hammer and a body that was trying to negotiate having been anesthetized and drugged with pain medication. I was totally shocked at the reaction I had to the surgery – the physical part and the mental part. People who had offered to help me out were not available when I called them. Other people who would have helped if they could have weren’t able to be there for whatever reason. I don’t mean any of this to sound like I’m blaming anyone for not being there because I don’t mean it that way at all. I’m just trying to put into words what I felt like. I fell into pits of disappointment when I’d call someone for help only to find they really weren’t available when they said they would be. I know we’re all human and things change and it’s just the way it is, but my recommendation here would be that if you aren’t planning on being available when you say you are going to be, don’t offer to help out in the first place. Or let the person know that your availability has changed. For the person who is depending on you, it’s important to let them know.
I cried for no reason. Or for what seemed like no reason at the time. I’d cry when I was trying to do my therapy exercises and my wrist hurt so much I just knew it was never going to get any better. I cried when I tried to open a can of tuna and couldn’t make the opener work. I cried when I tried to trim my fingernails and couldn’t work the fingernail clippers. The worst part was I’m not a crier. That made me feel even worse.
Today is the three-month anniversary of my wrist surgery. I am now the proud owner of two stainless steel plates, thirteen screws, and one big long pin, all holding my wrist in place. I still go to physical therapy every week and do my exercises several times a day. My wrist still hurts but is much better than it was three months ago. I have about half of the range of motion that I had before this break happened. I can use my fingers but do not have much strength in them so gripping anything is difficult. As a result of the surgery, I now also have a trigger finger (the tendon doesn’t glide properly and the finger doesn’t straighten out) and Dupuytren’s Contracture (eventually one or more of my fingers will not be able to straighten out) in my right hand, both of which make getting my grip back a challenge; both things will probably need to be addressed at some future date.
Things I took for granted before this injury: taking a shower, turning the key in the car’s ignition, opening a can of soup, trimming my own fingernails, folding the laundry, opening a jar or bottle, filling out paperwork, signing my name, blowing my nose, combing my hair and putting gel in it, putting sheets on the bed, tying my shoes, putting socks on my feet, buttoning my jeans and zipping them up, hooking a bra and putting it on, buttering a piece of toast, eating a taco (heck, eating anything!), driving my car, putting kinesio tape on my ankle, using my phone. The list is endless; I never realized how many things I did two-handed. I hope to never take these things for granted again.
I have been told by both the surgeon and the hand therapist that it will be at least a year before I won’t notice the pain as much and that I should have back all the range of motion I’m going to get by then. In order to accomplish either one of those things in this coming year, I will have to continue doing my hand exercises several times a day, continue to see the hand therapist at least twice a month, and not fall and break it again. Reality is that I will never have back the range of motion that I had and it will probably hurt for the rest of my life. In any case, it will definitely be a whole lot better than if my hand had been chopped off, because at least today, I can hold the deodorant container with my right hand and get that solid antiperspirant properly applied to my left pit. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference, don’t you know 😀
…and now I think I’ve said all I can about my distal radius fracture and the subsequent repair. Thank you all for hanging in there with me, for your thoughts and prayers, for the flowers and balloons and cards, for taking me out to lunch and coffee, for calling and messaging, for making me dinner, for grinding the pepper for me, for driving me places when I couldn’t drive myself. I appreciate each and every one of you!
Onward and upward!