Broken legs do not come with instruction manuals for recovery, and I needed one after tripping down one step resulted in cracks and breaks in my left leg, along with a broken wrist. Two surgeries left me stunned and bewildered. No one gave me a repair manual for healing. They did give me a prognosis of six-to-eight months for recovery. I thought they meant weeks.
We measured my healing over the next five months with sighs of relief as we said goodbye to the open cast, the black brace with velcro straps, the walker, the wheelchair, the shower chair and the equipment’s scuff marks left on walls, doors and furniture.
At six months, the orthopedic surgeon shook my hand and said “goodbye.” Leaving his office with a stiff, swollen leg, I still wondered about the healing. I found the answer when folks stopped me in the store, on the street or in the gym to ask, “How are you doing?” Every single one then talked about their own healing process.
A former city official said, “After my knee replacement, the surgeon said, ‘when you sit in the lounge chair watching tv, lift and bend your leg as many times as you can.’” I still do leg lefts and march the leg when I am sitting at church, in the car and in the lounge chair.
At church, my friend said, “get your leg up on a chair and bend it as deep as you can.”
Since my knee resisted bending, I tried anything. I stepped on the chair seat and bent into it. I laid on the bed and walked the leg up and down the wall. I did leg slides. I measured the leg’s bend by the distance the heel moved up the division on the lounge chair’s foot prop. The heels match these days, but I still don’t bend the leg underneath me and sit on it as I once did.
Once the doctor said, “Get up and walk,” I went shopping. I grabbed a grocery cart for balance and wheeled my way through the store. Near the check-out a woman I know from a repair shop stopped and asked, “How are you doing?”
“Okay. It just takes a long time.”
“I know. I had a tibial plateau fracture last year.”
I studied her standing without a cart for support. “How long did it take to heal?”
She smiled, “six-to-eight months. I still limp sometimes.”
I actually found that encouraging.
I asked a friend about her husband’s crushed leg.
“He could not put his foot down for five months,” she said, “He did all the exercises and says that is why he is walking.”
Five months! That got my attention. The summer went by with my exercising five-to-six hours every day. At three-and-a-half months, the doctor gave me permission to stand and walk.
At six months, I joined an exercise class and met an ankle surgery patient. We commiserated, pedaled stationary bikes and walked together at turtle speed.
During my annual physical, I tried again to gather notes to address the swelling.
“Well, you do have a lot of hardware in there. It takes a while. When I had to wear a boot for a tendon injury, it was a year-and-a-half before I walked normal,” the doctor said.
It is nine months since I broke my leg, and the only instruction manual I have is: “Healing takes a lot of exercise, a lot of time and a lot of listening to other folks’ experiences.”