Broken Ankle: Not Recommended

After a break last week to review our March progress update, I am back to recap the third and final challenge we experienced while we were away from the blog. Previously, we shared about our endless renovation and our cat’s illness. The Instagram updates I wrote during recovery provide a real time summary of what it was like. Now, with the perspective of a year, I’ll share how the injury happened and details about that first day. 

While I was recovering, it was all I could do to keep my head above water with my day job. My focus narrowed to the immediate. Writing articles about our financial future was impossible. The injury was a complete disruption of our routines and lives. I couldn’t even think about this website. I shared on social media for two reasons. First, I wanted to put something out there for anyone else going through a similar injury (shoutout to #brokenankle!). The broken ankle and ORIF (open reduction, internal fixation) community online was a helpful resource for me. Second, social media posts were an easy way to keep friends and family updated on my condition. 

Going back to the beginning, the day started like so many others. I felt so relieved that our cat had been cleared for surgery. Our furnace failed on New Year’s Day, and that repair was just completed. The morning was quite cold (16 degrees F), with a little bit of snow and a lot of wind. I planned to run about thirty minutes, which would be around three miles. It was the kind of morning where I dreaded the run. I waited until it was fully light, later than my usual time. We had some snow and I knew there were a few icy patches where snow had melted on sidewalks. I decided it was clear enough to run without my yaktrax. In a concession to the wind and low temperature, I planned a route that would take me into the wind on the way out so I would have the wind at my back during the last half of the run. So, I ran a route that was uncommon for me. In those days, I ran without my phone. It was my quiet time. I felt safe and loved the freedom from distractions. 

The early parts of that ill-fated run are seared into my memory. I passed the one mile mark, with a steady pace that felt good given the conditions and had settled into the run. I remember slipping on one icy patch, yet continuing on. Within five minutes after that first slip, I would have another that resulted in my injury. Falling took fractions of a second. One point eight-seven miles into the run, at 8:51 a.m., I heard a popping noise and felt a shock of pain, both of which immediately seemed very bad. Right away I stood up and tested my leg to see if it would bear weight so I could limp home, about a mile away. My left leg would not hold my weight. At that point, I went into survival mode. It was cold, I needed help and didn’t have a way to call for it.

What happened next began a streak of fortunate events for which I will be forever grateful. There was a car heading towards me a block away. I waved for help and the car stopped. The kind stranger offered to call an ambulance for me, I refused, believing at the moment it was unnecessary. He let me use his phone to call Mr. Vine. In the meantime, local police came upon us. They called an ambulance right away, not waiting for my consent. Like so much of what happened that day, it turned out to be lucky. 

I sat in the snowy area between the road and the sidewalk. The cold kept me focused and distracted from the pain. An ambulance arrived. The EMTs loaded me onto a stretcher so I could get warm while we waited for Mr. Vine, who arrived minutes later. We had a brief discussion of which hospital I’d go to and whether the ambulance or Mr. Vine would take me. I opted for the ambulance because the thought of moving and getting into our small car was unbearable. This, also, turned out to be the correct choice. 

One more serendipitous coincidence occurred while I was in the emergency department. I fell on the orthopedic surgeon’s surgery day. As a result, he was in the hospital and came down to see me. This saved me time and an office visit when it came to scheduling the ORIF surgery that I learned I needed. 

My injury consisted of a dislocated ankle, two fractures in my lower tibia and one oblique fracture of my lower fibula. Three bones make up the ankle–the tibia, fibula and talus. Because I’d fractured two of those bones, my injury is called a bi-malleolar fracture. The dislocation was causing the most discomfort, though and that would need to be reduced, or set back into place, before I was discharged. I can tell you the prospect of having my ankle reduced, with three fractures, did not sound like fun. Even the emergency physician winced when she told me what was about to happen. One bright spot was refusing to let the medical team cut my running pants off to set my ankle in a plaster splint. I bravely insisted that I could tolerate removing them. That act of determination set the tone for the rest of my healing journey.

Recovery was hard. It was frustrating. Mr. Vine had to do everything for me and for our cats. This included taking on responsibilities to transport our sick cat to surgery and follow up appointments. I had my own surgery to put the fractured bones in the correct position for healing and to stabilize the fractures with a metal plate and screws. From the day of the accident, it would be three weeks before I saw my left foot and ankle again.

In those early days, I experienced recovered memories of the fall. I cried every day, from pain and frustration and the trauma of it all. I searched the internet for articles on how bones heal. I would visualize this process and started meditating daily. Ever so slowly, life began to get easier. I started to bear weight in the protective boot. I began physical therapy, which was an incredible boost to my mood. 

Seventy-eight days after I fell, I took my first steps without the boot. I wrote in my personal journal: I am amazed at our capacity to break and heal, physically and mentally. About a month after that, one hundred and twelve days after my last run, I once again took my first running strides. My return to running was often frustrating, too. Coming off a run streak that lasted 770 days and starting over was difficult. But now, almost a year after I came back to running, it feels normal. Sometimes on a run it’s hard to believe the injury happened, except that I am more careful now. I often choose the treadmill when the footing is questionable. I always carry my phone. I no longer feel the same sense of fearlessness and invincibility. 

There is more I could share about the recovery process, including the costs of my medical care. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see a breakdown of the medical expenses for a broken ankle requiring surgery, of if you have other questions about my injury.

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