First installment: 19 Oct 1999
I am writing this exactly two weeks after the accident, which happened on 5 October 1999, almost exactly four years after my previous broken hip. It is somewhat difficult to give a good linear account of what happened, because I sustained some head trauma in the accident, and as such wasn’t sure what happened to me until later, when I remembered.
At first, all I knew was that I had gotten into an accident riding around my neighborhood on my commuting bike. I didn’t know exactly where or what the circumstances were. I also didn’t appreciate the extent of my injuries at the time: I just thought I had a lot of road rash, although I was dazed. Jumping ahead a bit, after I was released from the hospital I found the backpack I was wearing at the time of the accident. I had just purchased a nice bottle of scotch to give to a friend for his birthday; when I pulled it (intact!) out of my backpack, everything came back to me. I had been riding westbound on a nearby street (41st St), coming from a liquor shop. This street has a healthy downhill, and at the bottom, a dip and a bump. I have ridden this way many times before, but this time I hit that bump exactly wrong and went flying. A woman following saw this happen, and insisted I let her drive me home. I was reluctant at first, but assented. Someone else rode my bike home for me (the bike is fine, incidentally). Upon arriving home, my then-wife Jenny quickly realized my mental status was altered. She mentioned an event in the recent past; I had no idea what she was talking about. She asked “What month is it?” I thought about it for a second and responded “I don’t know.” She put me in the car and headed for the ER. I was complaining of hip pain, so we brought my crutches. At that point, my recollection gets very fuzzy.
Once in the hospital, it was discovered that my head was basically OK, but my pelvis basically was not. I had two major breaks and some incomplete fractures. My short-term memory was almost completely shot. I would reportedly ask “Have there been x-rays taken?” Answer: “Yes.” Question: “Have I seen them?” Answer: “Yes.” Repeat every three minutes. Obviously the fact that I had seen them did make some deeper penetration, since I had the presence of mind to ask about it, but that’s about it.
My surgery was on Wednesday. I was in traction until then. Surgery lasted five or six hours. I had ten screws roughly 1″ long each, along with a chain, inserted to hold the two pelvic breaks together. I was in the ICU that night, and friends came to visit me. I don’t remember actually seeing them, but I remember their presences, and vaguely remember conversing with them. I told the hospital staff that I couldn’t eat much solid food, so they put me on what is evidently a fixed liquid diet of oatmeal, jello, and juice. I could have managed some fruit, but that wasn’t part of their plan, evidently.
Thursday I was in a regular hospital room. I was still pretty foggy, but I was able to hold thoughts in my head for more than three minutes at a stretch. More friends visited, and this time, I could actually remember seeing them, if vaguely. The hospital experience was largely as I remembered: a regular schedule of things being put into my body, mostly through two shunts, one in the back of each hand. I received two units of blood, which concerned me, but was evidently necessary. I had two huge surgical incisions: one running from my left side below the ribcage to a point south of my navel, the other running vertically up my left butt cheek. Blood drains in each. I felt like I had been opened up like a christmas package. Jenny wore an outrageous outfit to help lighten my mood, as she did each day of my hospitalization.
Friday, I had my foley catheter removed. That’s a relief. I also had my shunts unplugged from full-time drips, although the shunts stayed in. Someone from Physical Therapy came by and got me up on my crutches. I had plenty of practice with this, and was able to maneuver pretty well, so they were satisfied with me. A good thing I got up too: the massive quantities of laxatives they had been pumping into me (anesthesia can put one’s guts to sleep, evidently) were starting to work their magic. I made five trips to the can that day. Beats using a bedpan, I tell ya. I began refusing the laxatives, and started eating normal food.
Saturday I spent almost the entire day sitting in a chair, rather than in the bed. This is a big improvement. I could tell I was just about ready to leave the hospital.
Sunday morning I agitated with all the doctors who looked in on my to sign off on me, so that I could be released. One doctor seemed somewhat reluctant, pointing out that I was still experiencing discomfort. I replied “Look, I can experience discomfort here, or I can do it at home. I’d rather do it at home.” By the time Jenny showed up, my release was ordered, and I was getting ready to go. I was home early that afternoon (Oct 10th), and went to a bridal shower at a friend’s place. That friend was the one for whom I had bought the fateful bottle of scotch, the discovery of which triggered my memories.
I met with my doctor the following Tuesday, and he was pleased with my status at this time. I met with him a week after (the day of this writing), and he is still pleased with my status, but he is being much more conservative with my recovery program than before. I won’t be starting physical therapy for at least another two weeks. I had my staples out today.
I am getting around on crutches, which is a big inconvenience. In case you are wondering, I wasn’t in a cast at any point. Sometimes my pelvis just feels uncomfortable as a result of sitting around, but it isn’t an intense pain. I have weaned myself off the pain meds I was prescribed, but I am still taking a potent anti-inflammatory drug.
Second installment: 19 Dec 1999
I am writing this about 11 weeks after the accident.
I made good progress on my recovery following the previous installment. While I was not allowed to put any weight on the bad leg, I gradually recovered some strength and flexibility in it, and my general level of discomfort decreased. I resumed my daily trips to my neighborhood coffee shop about a mile away.
Four weeks after the accident, I had a visit with my orthopod. X-rays were taken, and he was so pleased with how they looked that he was almost giggling. He didn’t allow me to start doing anything new, or start physical therapy, but he was obviously happy with my progress. He and other people at the office commented on how well I seemed to be moving around, and how I seemed to be in generally good shape. One barometer of my progress was that before, in my trips to the coffee shop, I was taking the bus both ways. Around this point, I started to ride the bus one way and gimp the other.
Five weeks after the accident, I finally got over the occasional weak spells and dizzy spells I had been experiencing.
Eight weeks after the accident, I saw my orthopod again. He took more x-rays, and again was happy with my progress. He commented that one of the two breaks wasn’t even visible anymore. He told me to get up and walk without my crutches, which I was able to do with considerable wobbling. It felt physically very weird, since I hadn’t put any weight to speak of on that leg in eight weeks. The doctor told me that I could start as much weight-bearing as I could tolerate, but I should continue using crutches for stability–two crutches for two weeks, then one crutch for two more weeks, then none. I was allowed to drive, but not a manual, so I traded cars with a friend. He finally started me on physical therapy. I began augmenting this with rides on my stationary bike. Around this time I started gimping both to and from the coffee shop.
Once I started weight-bearing, I quickly got re-accustomed to it. After only a day or two, I upgraded myself to one crutch, and increasingly around the house, I would use no crutches. I was making daily progress in terms of strength, balance, and comfort. After about ten days, I felt emoldened to leave the house without a crutch on one or two occasions–I was still walking with a limp, but not bad. My sessions on the stationary bike were getting better–higher speeds, less pain, faster warmups. By the day before my next appointment, I could walk without much of a limp.
Ten weeks after the accident, I saw my orthopod again. No x-rays this time. He asked me how I was doing and I said “Better than either of us would have imagined.” He told me to walk, and I got up and walked quite normally. He was blown away. He even showed me off to his colleagues.
At this point, I can walk all I want, and I am walking about 2 miles a day (to and from the coffee shop), in addition to physical-therapy excercises and stationary bike rides. I am not allowed to run (not that I want to try that yet), jump, or ride a real bike for another three weeks, the time of my next appointment. I still don’t feel completely recovered–my left leg is still significantly weaker than my right leg, but that only comes into play when it is stressed. I still have some pain, especially at the end of a walk. I don’t have quite as much flexibility in the left leg as in the right. But I continue to make improvements each day.
I’m not sure if there is a secret to a successful recovery; I imagine everybody needs a different approach. But what seems to work for me is doing as much as possible, living as normally as possible, without overdoing it. Don’t be defeatist about the recovery, don’t be passive, but don’t get obsessive either. Just be determined.