This morning, like all workdays, our alarm went off at 5:45. Rich rolled over, shutting it off, and dozing back to sleep. I willed myself awake knowing, I needed to go to the gym. I try to work out at least 4 days a week.
Half an hour later, I found myself, doing leg lifts with 90 pounds of weight. Wow! When did I go from lifting 50 to 90 pounds? Didn’t matter. There were other exercise machines to do, followed by planks, sit-ups, abdominal exercises, and finally, the dreaded Stairmaster. The only thing worse than the Stairmaster is running. At least with the latter, I can read while huffing and puffing up flights of stairs.
After the agony ended, it was time to shower, change, and zip to work. While sipping my first cup of coffee, I absentmindedly tore off the next page in my Mary Engelbreit 365-day calendar. It showed a woman opening a wooden box with a red heart inside. The quote was:
The greatest treasures are those invisible to the eye but found in the heart.
I paid little attention to the saying, returning to the tasks-at-hand. Then a few minutes later, I glanced at the calendar, February 7th.
And then it dawned on me.
Six years ago, while driving to Dell on a rainy Thursday morning, I slammed on the brakes to make way for a car getting on the freeway. I should have downshifted, but was used to driving my automatic Honda and not Rich’s manual Kia. Instead of slowing, the Kia swerved and spun across two lanes of the freeway, coming to a stop when a large box truck slammed into the driver’s side of the car.
It took several minutes until I gain consciousness. By then, the driver of the truck had slipped into the passenger side of the car, and was holding my hand. A nurse who was driving to work stopped to assess my condition… and strangely, a short-time later, an off-duty paramedic showed up, followed by emergency personnel and an ambulance.
Because of two very quirky happenstances, I sustained relatively few injuries. First, the lap belt in the Kia was broken so I was only wearing a shoulder belt, which enabled my entire body, except for my left leg to be thrust into the passenger side of the car when the Kia was struck by the truck.
Secondly, a friend at Dell had given me a super heavy black, leather coat, which I was wearing that day. The coat deflected the flying glass from the windshield, and also prevented the shoulder belt from cutting into my body.
In all, I fractured my left pelvis in four places because my left leg got caught under the driver seat while the rest of my body went the other direction. I also cracked two ribs, and had minor abrasions on the top of my head. No doubt, I was outrageously lucky.
I was immediately taken to the Brackenridge Trauma Center in downtown Austin, where my clothing was cut off, needles inserted, and body prodded. After x-rays and a CAT scan were taken, pillows placed under my left leg, and morphine administered, I wondered why they didn’t just slap a cast on my hip, and send me home.
Instead, I was admitted, given little to eat (in case I needed surgery), and told an orthopedic surgeon would see me the following day. The surgeon, Drake S. Borer with Austin Skeletal Trauma Specialists, waltzed into my room late Friday morning. A tall, trim, attractive man, he had an air of confidence and cavalry detachment.
He explained to Rich and me that “we” had two options. He could pin the pelvis, sharing he was pretty good at missing major blood vessels and nerves as he drilled and pushed a pin through my pelvis. Or I could put no weight on my left leg for eight weeks, and allow the bones to knit together. The no-surgery option, however, required that get out of bed by the next morning, balance on my right leg, and use a walker to get around.
Rich chose the latter.
I had my doubts. As the morphine wore off, and I switched to hydrocodone every four to six hours, I realized every aspect of my body was connected to my pelvis, and the slightest movement caused surges of pain. Moving my left leg even a fraction of in inch caused blinding pain, not to mention the agony of sitting up.
My broken ribs added to the misery, making it painful to lift my arms, let alone pick up anything or use them to move my body. Nevertheless, Saturday morning, I was eased out of bed, my catheter removed, and a belt placed around by waist by two physical therapists, who then proceeded to help me onto my right leg.
I thought I was going to pass out, but managed to grasp a walker, hop on one leg out of the room, into the hallway, and then back to the bed.
Sunday morning, I walked a bit further, and by that evening, I was wheeled over to a rehabilitation center to start a week of intensive physical therapy. By the time I left, I could get in-and-out of the bed by myself and into a wheelchair, race down the hallways in my chair, dress myself, tend to my personal needs, and even use the walker, but for short jaunts. It would take weeks before I could go any distance using a walker, mainly because holding up my left leg, using muscles attached to my fractured pelvis was astonishingly painful.
Eight weeks after my accident, I was cleared to start putting weight on my left leg. I visualized immediately walking.
Even though I’d spent the prior few weeks doing physical therapy in a pool in preparation to walk, my first few steps were horrifically painful, and I immediately plopped down in my wheelchair.
While Dr. Borer had mentioned the first year after my accident would be painful with the pain decreasing every year after; and by the third year, I’d be nearly healed; he neglected to mention two little words, “leg cramps.”
Yes, leg cramps. Like CONSTANT leg cramps. Like horrific leg cramps that wake up from a sound sleep if you happen to flex your foot. And he also didn’t mention it would be at least six months before I could lie on my side for more than 30 seconds. I slept on my back with my hips flat on the mattress for close to a year. Rolling over was painful and not worth the effort. It was even uncomfortable to lie on my right hip because my left hip wasn’t being supporting.
When I moved to Washington in late June, a few months after the accident, to accept a position with Microsoft, I made a point to walk as much as possible. Until we purchased a house in Kirkland, I lived an apartment, which was a mile from Microsoft so I could easily walk to-and-from work. And on weekends, I took long walks or visited area parks to build up strength and mobility.
Many of my walks ended in tears with my hip hurting, leg cramped, and exhausted from the exertion.
There was no denying the first year was challenging. Year two was much better, and by year three, I nearly forgot about the injury, except for the occasional leg cramp in the middle of the night!
And today, I’m whining about twenty-minutes on a Stairmaster, oblivious to the fact six years earlier I couldn’t wiggle a toe or shift in the bed without wincing in pain, and the only relief was a beautiful, white hydrocodone pill.
I had a remarkable recovery, considering what happened. I need to be more grateful for the opportunity to not only be able to walk, but hike, bike, kayak, gardening, torment Rich, and yes, work up a sweat at the gym.
My goodness, your story makes me realize my agony in rehab with a recent total knee replacement is just a faint whisper, compared to your rehab! And what a wonderful reminder to be grateful!
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