Meltdown, centering, and balance

Saving Elmo 4

>>>Saving Elmo 4: The Meltdown

elmo3On Friday night, Sept. 16, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. Four days and two surgeries later I found myself in The Fortress, a post-acute care facility, doing my best to save Elmo (and my mobility).

These are the stories of that path. They’re self-indulgent, icky-raw in places and, if you don’t know me, likely boring. I’m writing them as a history, so that when I’m at a lowish point, I can read these to see how far I’ve come. And maybe, if you or a loved one end up on the same path, they’ll help you spot a light at the end of the tunnel.

You knew there had to be a meltdown, right?

Mine came Wednesday morning and by all accounts was a great success. Go big, or go home, ya know?

Tuesday, September 20, 8:30AM

Tuesday started out great; I’d passed the evaluators’ can-she-stand-pivot-wheelchair-to-the-bathroom? test, once again opening the world of not-in-the-bed toilets (with supervision). I felt remarkably little pain, and made friends with my new roomie, Sally, a darling grandma type whose big-hearted family welcomed me with open arms.

The pain in my leg took off like a rocket around noon.

Nobody could figure out why my leg hurt so much. Sharp pains on the skin around the incisions, burning and burning and gaining in heat until I gasped “8” when the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I’d given my smashed-up, un-morphined leg a “9” on the night of the accident, so this was pretty bad.

They’d remove Hector the Protector brace to investigate… and the relentless hammering would stop. Unfortunately, Hector’s a 24×7 fashion accessory, never supposed to leave my leg until some magical day of healed many weeks hence. After awhile they’d strap him back on and… pain.

Ten hours of that, and my lovely Tuesday shower vanished in a sheen of sweat and fear. It hurt too much to leave Hector in place, but taking him off risked twisting or bending the bone grafts, ruining 5.5 hours of careful jigsaw puzzle repair…and my future mobility.

Finally, around 3AM, I gritted my teeth, powered the bed to a sitting position, and clawed Hector off myself. The pain stopped, and I saw something odd inside the brace: Velcro.

What the hell is THAT doing in there?

I reached around my thigh and slipped out a velcro strap, the one used to attach the ice machine pad to my leg. Apparently it had embedded in the brace and every time they wrapped Hector around me again, it was pressed into my skin, right over the incisions on my upper thigh. An assistant found a second Velcro strap down by my painful knee.

The pain lessened and I asked for help to get to the bathroom. On the way, it spiked again, so suddenly that I slipped. My attendants on either side barely saved me from a fall.

They helped me finish and got me back into bed, considerably shaken.

Wednesday, September 21, 8:45 AM

I awoke to the sensation of icewater dripping into the incision, so real that I groped for kleenex to dry off my leg. Mysteriously, the area was dry.

The sensation increased to a steady firehose flow (which actually felt pretty good). Then, 15 minutes later, it changed. Instead of ice water, it heated up, until it felt as though a curling iron had been laid against my flesh. Maybe 7 on the pain scale.


I’d maxed out on pain meds and the next dose was two hours off. I reached for my sippy cup of ice to lay against my skin, but it was maybe six inches past my stretched-out fingertips.

Hit the call button. Waited. Couldn’t sit up because my back hurt. Couldn’t lie down because my leg became guest of honor at a branding.

Every press of the call button made me feel like a malingering fraud.

Cynthia, you idiot, these nurses are really, really busy helping sick people. Dying people. Are you seriously considering hitting that call button, dragging someone away from a patient coughing out their last, to say, “Excuse me, I can’t reach my sippy cup?”

Desolation Stew

Mix together one part loss, three parts future-maybe loss, and a heaping helping of pain. Season liberally with terror and helplessness.

Pat, my physical therapist, walked in, and slid my sippy cup within reach. Her casual, unthinking act did me in: Hour-long crying jag that I just couldn’t stop.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. One little misstep, and now I’m Cynthia the beggar, crying for favors. 54 more days of pressing that damn call button and asking for help…

Pat held up a hand. “Whoa,” she said gently, “What’s going on? You were so positive yesterday.”

“One mistake, do anything that interferes with healing, and I could lose my leg,” I sobbed, “I can’t control what is happening to me, I can’t even reach for a cup. I can’t stop this.”

“You’re used to being in charge?”

“Well, yeah. Of me, anyway.”

“So what do you need to get back in charge again? Let’s work on that today.”

“I need Elmo safe,” I babbled wildly, “I need my leg not to be broken. I need to be out of this damn bed and moving around, going for walks. I need to go HOME.”

“OK. Those are whole projects. What’s the best way to handle a big project?”

“Line it out. Break it into smaller goals, with milestones.”

“Exactly. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit, take this one little problem at a time.” She gave my tear-sodden body an appraising look, then said briskly, “First, your brace is too loose, and not centered on your knee. It’s got to be used correctly, or it won’t work.”

“Now, there are too many caregivers and nurses in shifts around here to make sure they all know how to do that. So…how will you fix that?”

“I need to manage Hector myself.”

“Right. So I’ll teach you that today. And then I’ll write out instructions and post them on your wall. It’s your job to make sure everyone who looks after you reads those instructions.

But mostly, you are responsible for making sure that brace is really protecting your leg. If it’s not, you fix it.”

We practiced taking the brace off completely, figuring out how to lift my bare leg safely, push the brace under it and center it on my knee. I learned how to secure the straps properly. Smoothed out wrinkles in the pillowcase protecting the bandages, checked for unwanted artifacts like Velcro.

Centering the brace centered me.

Some things–like walking–I obviously couldn’t manage (not right now, anyway). Everything else was an exercise in problem solving and project management.

I was back in charge. I could do this. I saw the way forward.

Thanks, Pat.

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, 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:



  1. ellen abbott October 13, 2016 at 7:22 am - Reply

    I tried posting a comment a few days ago when I first read this but it didn’t post. so…you had been holding in all that fear and and pain and trying to put a brave face on it. of course it had to come out. it must have been a real relief though to finally express that.

    • cynthia October 13, 2016 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      It was and it wasn’t. I wound up really embarrassed that I didn’t keep my cool, even while I recognized that the meltdown was really the start of recovery.

  2. Gloria Badiner October 12, 2016 at 7:07 am - Reply

    I wish you the best for a full recovery. Our bodies can surprise us with how adaptive and capable they truly are. Sometimes it is hard to listen, to take that moment and pause for the healing to happen. Particularly difficult when your path is in the fast lane of life. Sending healing thoughts your way.

  3. Brenda October 11, 2016 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Hugs! I wish we lived closer so I could be there in more than spirit… 🙁

  4. Gloria Badiner October 10, 2016 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    I treat each day as a balancing act – like what you found by centering. It is my goal not to tip and tumble. Some days falls happen, I know longer feel my feet and the road of life is not paved smoothly. I have gone to formal functions with skinned knees and a bruised chin. I have learned to accept that this is my road, every step forward is MY STEP FORWARD. I know you are a kindred soul and are finding your path as well.
    I wish you and Elmo speedy healing. Take care, keep posting. I wish I was closer to bring you soup.

    • cynthia October 12, 2016 at 6:52 am - Reply

      Thank you, Gloria. I had no idea you were in this boat and I’m sorry. Staying upright is at my core right now; I’m discovering, as time goes on, that my other job is not letting that be my sole focus. You’ve done that so beautifully in your life.

  5. Marian Fieldson October 10, 2016 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for posting your thoughts and experiences through your recovery. I’m learning about life (and glass) from your blogs. Thinking of you and praying you are up and mobile.Yes- awesome therapist, it sounds like you are getting wonderful care.

  6. Lyn October 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    So unfortunate to have this happen, (I’m a art glass FB friend) How brave of this for you to post and with humor! You are awesome!!

  7. Risa October 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    I hope you realize there are a lot of lurkers out here routing for you and Elmo to remain a team. And while we can’t do much more than send you the white light of healing, we are hopeful your journey will be a complete success. (And if it were me, my meltdowns would be much more frequent and much less gracious. )

  8. Suzanne Chudnoff October 9, 2016 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Ahhhhhhhhhh, Cynthia. I am a huge fan of yours, and I feel your pain. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you, but sometimes life just sucks, eh? Nothing like a trauma or illness to reduce us to a sniveling bag of tears, and make us acutely aware of just how vulnerable we are! It will get better. At least you still have your sense of humor to share your drama with us. I appreciate that! Hang in there, and enjoy the pain meds while they’re still available. And remember, none of us are good patients!

  9. tbachblog October 9, 2016 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Again, thanks for keeping us in the loop. I am constantly reaffirmed by the existence of a small number of people who are skilled at teaching us how to regain control … it is imperative! One of our sons was severely injured falling off a car … won’t go into details now … he was sixteen and still feeling immortal … on the morning after the second brain surgery, we came into his hospital room and witnessed his “meltdown” firsthand. His liquid intake was very limited to keep brain swelling down, and he was furious that no one had brought him his morning coffee. Couldn’t believe what came spewing out of his mouth … the filter in his brain had been disturbed, and what came out was the longest string of profanities we had ever heard … all over a cup of coffee? The nurse on duty that morning was a sharp cookie! She first calmed him down, and then calmly discussed the fact that he was only allowed 200cc of liquid per day for the next few days. “You,” she said, “are in control of when you get your drinks … you can drink it all this morning, or you can have a little now, a little this afternoon, and still be able to have a cup of coffee before you settle down to sleep.” His mood changed immediately … he was once again in control of something in his uncontrollable world. I can only imagine the magnitude of his disruptive behavior had that nurse not been on duty that morning. He survived … he’s still a control freak … he is married to a wonderful woman who puts up with his need to control very well, and they have two beautiful children. Their youngest is very challenged … both physically and mentally … and he is carrying forward that lesson in maintaining “self” as her fiercest advocate in being included in family life, school life … life in general. Making sure that she has a voice in her own future, even though she does not speak.

    • cynthia October 9, 2016 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      What a wonderful example! Thanks for sharing that. Yep, that was the key–as soon as I had some kind of anchor I could manage myself–my brace–I was able to take stock of everything else, put it on a time table for resolution, and go forward.

      Doesn’t mean I still don’t have some down times (I call them “visiting the Desolation Bar & Strip Joint”), but I have the tools to fix it. Makes a world of difference.

  10. Rinee October 9, 2016 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Your physical therapist sounds awesome! You can do this, Cynthia!

Comments welcome! (thanks)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: