I’m going home.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t so much as driven onto my street for more than eight months. Since I couldn’t go inside the house–it’s not exactly compatible with a woman who balances the world on one leg and lives in a wheelchair–there wasn’t much point.
I don’t much care for ranch-style, single-level houses and so I purposely bought a place with stairs to nearly every room, on a steep, steep hill. It’s got four levels (five, if you count the outdoors), a sunken tub tailor-made for tragedy, and the bathrooms are all on the top floor. I love it.
“Oh, HELL no!” muttered the occupational therapist, rolling her eyes, as she viewed the video walkthrough of my house.
That’s how I ended up at Mom’s, where–thanks to her foresight–hallways are wide, there’s a massive walk-in shower, and the only stairs worth worrying about are easily overcome with a rented ramp. Problem is, it’s 90 minutes from work in GOOD traffic, it can’t include the cats (Mom is deathly allergic), and it’s a lot of work for Mom.
Mostly, though, it just isn’t MINE.
My shattered thighbone still looks like someone took a walnut-sized bite out of one side, too close to provide much support for Elmo, my replacement knee. We’d hoped that the last surgery–an autologous bone marrow graft from my pelvic bone–would turn the trick.
The Doc says not, and he’s down to last resorts: “Stress the fracture site,” he ordered, “Sometimes that can jumpstart bone growth.”
Uhm…I just spent the last eight months with my leg in the air, and now you want me to STRESS THE FRACTURE?
Yup. Doctor’s orders and I’m now “30 percent-weightbearing.” Busted leg and all.
The difference is mind-blowing. Not only can I touch toe to the floor, The Leg can once again (sorta) support me. I stand without steadying myself, and balance that way for as long as I like. I can reach for things on upper shelves without strategies and backup plans.
Bigger news: I can walk. The able-bodied would call my walk a shuffling shamble, embarrassingly attached to an old-lady walker, but I’m WALKING. The other day I did 150 feet. Didn’t die, didn’t fall, not a wheelchair in sight.
Biggest news: I can do stairs. It’s not pretty–I go up backwards, on my rear, which now sports technicolor bruises–and the last couple of stairs at the top require massive effort and a fair knowledge of physics.
I stand up, pivot to face the steps, then streeeeetch The Leg out as far to the side as it can go on that step. Doing that vectors the downward force away from the fracture, and pushes most of my weight onto my good leg. I brace hard on the transfer pole and bannister, then lift the good leg to the next step. My arm supports are just a tad too wide for me to get my weight over them so, for just a moment, my stalwart right leg is airborne, and The Leg is carrying a share of the load.
It gives those watching (and me) a bit of a heart attack, but it works. “Pretty soon,” predicts my friend, Rox, “You’ll be going up the whole staircase that way.”
She’s probably right. It’s part of moving out of suspended animation in a temporary wheelchair, and back to the land of the living.
My femur fracture isn’t healing. And–at least according to the research I’ve been reading–the longer it goes without healing, the less and less chance that it will ever heal. At nine months, the chances are pretty much zero, without some kind of interventional surgical miracle.
If the fracture stressing doesn’t get bone growing around Elmo, The Doc can think of only one more option: Shorten the leg. They’ll take out the plates and rods holding my femur together, carefully slice apart the bone on either side of the fracture and neaten it up, then shove it together until the ends touch. With a shorter distance to travel, growth is far more likely.
Problem is, it severely weakens the bone (all those holes left by removed rods), and makes the leg an inch or two shorter, resulting in a permanent limp, changing hipbones and probable arthritis as I get older, one shoe with a really thick sole. That’s still better than the inevitable loss of leg promised by a distal femoral implant (I’m just not into peg legs), but I can’t say I’d be looking forward to it.
There are other options–stem cell research, bone “bondo” to fill in cracks, even a femoral transplant from a donor–but none are covered by my otherwise excellent insurance. If I go those roads, it’ll be on my own dime, looks like. None are guaranteed wins, which brings up the question:
How much is my leg really worth? Honestly, I have no idea at this point.
So…we’re stressing the fracture site by walking. Standing. Occasionally whacking the damn thing with a fist. If it works, I’ll be thrilled and happy and probably bouncing off the walls, but I’m no longer in a holding pattern because of it.
I could be in a wheelchair for two months or two years. Time to stop screwing around and instead get truly mobile.
Mobility is mostly (a) problem-solving, (b) forward planning, and (c) guts. You view a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, shake your head a few times, maybe sleep on it, wait for the terror to subside. Eventually, you figure it out…or Erica, my fabulous physical therapist, says drily, “If it were ME, I’d do it THIS way…”
The hardest part, honestly, is convincing your brain that your body is actually capable of such things.
Mostly what I need, Erica says, is strength and confidence. She gives me new exercises, taught me to deadlift my whole body with arms and shoulders, challenges me to find new ways to go up ramps. Urges me to try stuff that looks impossible.
At the end of two months, I am wheeling myself up slopes instead of asking for a push, so Erica decided I was ready to test my new skills on The House.
Last Thursday we all trekked down there, and Erica introduced me to Melissa, my new occupational therapist. They performed a livability assessment, AKA “Can Cynthia Actually Be Alone in Her House?” For an hour they watched as I got myself out of cars, climbed stairs, deadlifted over thresholds, trekked across my new back patio, sat on toilets and bathtubs, and carefully discussed my plans for coping with obstacles.
I must have been convincing; I passed with flying colors. I CAN GO HOME!
There are a few more grab bars to install, a tub seat to build, moving to plan, but I’ll be home by June 5. I’ll likely order groceries delivered instead of shopping myself (I choose to spend my muscles on other things than dragging groceries up the stairs on my butt). More than likely, restaurant delivery and Amazon.com will figure largely in my communication with the outside world.
And there’s still that pesky driving thing to figure out.
But…I’m going home!
The Saving Elmo series covers my adventures after crashing to the ground on Elmo, my replacement knee, sustaining an “open, comminuted fracture of the left femoral shaft.” It’s a tad more dire than it sounds; if my bone doesn’t grow completely back and return me to normal function with Elmo-the-knee-replacement, there’s a new, more painful, less effective femoral replacement in my future…with eventual amputation.
If you want to follow along on the journey, try these posts:
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