Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks. I guess I fit in the chronic pain category, as I’ve been in chronic pain for five years.
I categorize things in my life as, um, before the health events that put me in the hospital 6 times in one year and then after those events. The events are co-mingled. Event 1, I had an illness that went un/mis-diagnosed for a year. I was just getting a handle on the Event 1 illness when Event 2 happened, an unfortunate accident that shattered my lower leg bones, fibula and tibia, in, no shit, over fifty pieces.
These health events changed me. They cost me my job and my well being. I’ve never been the same. I suffer from pain every day. I have a different perspective on life. I’ve slowed down a lot. I’m not as confident. I’ll never forget the shock and trauma I felt.
I had to give up some of the activities that I loved to do. I don’t have a constant limp, but I do have an intermittent limp. The limp occurs most often in the morning, when I get tired, after I take a long walk and sometimes it just happens.
Don’t get me wrong…I don’t expect life to be perfect. At 63, I know life isn’t perfect. I’ve helped those in my family through cancer diagnosis and treatment, the ravages of Alzheimer’s and through long chronic undiagnosed illness. As a therapist, I’ve been treating people with chronic illness and the resultant chronic pain for 20 years. In my career, I’ve worked in a Cancer Center, a NeuroScience Center and a Partial Care Center. I’ve seen the ravages of accidents and illnesses on the human body, in many forms.
But, I didn’t really believe that I would become afflicted with a chronic condition or with chronic pain.
After the accident, I had to end my more active hobbies. I was an avid horseback rider. I owned horses for 12 years. They are intelligent, communicative, wonderful, loving and loyal.
I also loved to ski. I was never brilliant at either of these hobbies, but I loved to participate in them. It was mostly that I loved to be outdoors and to feel my body active. But I’ve had to give these up.
I also love to garden. Over 25 years, I’ve planted lots of big perennials and even bushes by myself, by hand, to create a garden in 3 homes. We’ve been in our current home for 14 years, and the garden is becoming mature now. I’m always adding to the garden. Yet, the gardening activity has changed a lot as well. I can only plant very small plants by myself now. I’ve wanted to do a larger daffodil bulb planting project, but I haven’t been able to kneel on my right knee since the accident.
I gave up aerobics because the jumping hurt the joints in my right leg. So does walking on the treadmill. These activities are too hard on my joints.
One activity I refuse to give up is walking and hiking. I bought hiking poles to use during my recovery. But I now need them all the time for hiking, to steady myself. I still walk my dog and hike. I make sure the hikes aren’t too strenuous, as my right leg swells around my knee, ankle and foot. All of this swelling began after the injury.
I am also more afraid to go on more adventurous hikes, as I’m simply more anxious than before. I’m afraid I’m going to fall. I put out my hands like an older person would.
Lots of little things are harder to do. The activities of daily living are more difficult. My overall agility is down. As I said, I limp on and off, depending on the pain and stiffness level. I cannot look at the bottom of my right foot anymore, as the leg is not as flexible as an uninjured leg. It’s hard to put boots on and off that leg, as it doesn’t flex the way it used to. I cannot kneel on my right knee because of the pain.
Let’s get to the accident. I slipped and fell and shattered my fibula and tibia. I was in the middle of a busy street in the rain. I heard the bone crack and I’ll never forget that sound. I was shocked. Some women came over to help me up, but I couldn’t get up. I was trying to catch my breath as I was scared. I was lucky that there was an ambulance right there on the corner. One of the men in the ambulance came over to help me up. He was shocked when he saw my leg jutting out to the side at a weird angle. They drove the ambulance into the intersection, got me on the stretcher and took me to the hospital.
I was going into shock, I was shaking and crying and getting cold. But they needed an x-ray before they could sedate me. The technician had me scoot off the hospital bed onto the x-ray platform. It was agony. After that, the nurse sedated me and then splinted my leg. I got a long rod in my leg, from knee to ankle, pins, and a plate near the ankle.
I was in emotional shock for a long time. I suffered from post traumatic stress for a few weeks, waking up shaking and crying and having nightmares.
The accident was on November 11. I don’t remember that Thanksgiving, as I was still in shock, I couldn’t eat. I was in a wheelchair for about a month. My leg hurt alot. My stomach issues were impacted by the accident. My nausea intensified after the accident. I was nauseated for weeks and had diarrhea. It was difficult to get to the bathroom in time as I couldn’t put my right foot down for 2 months.
I became severely constipated from the pain medications. BTW, I only took TWO of them! I was doubled over in pain. My husband had to call 911 as he couldn’t get me out of the house to the car, because of the snow. So he called for help, as I was crying, in pain and severely nauseated. The police came and lifted me. It was terrifying. I was severely nauseated, dehydrated as I couldn’t drink.
Much of my memory of the recovery is spotty, as it was so debilitating and painful. It was emotionally draining and traumatizing. It was emotionally paralyzing. I lost alot of self-confidence. I suffered from post-traumatic stress and was prescribed medication to help calm my anxiety and help me sleep.
Recovery from the accident was difficult. I was already on short term leave from my job. I was going to get back to work, but then my job protection expired. The company said I could interview for other positions. But then I couldn’t drive until March, as it was my right foot. So I couldn’t easily go on interviews and I couldn’t get around well at all. My husband drove me to one interview, but I had my cast on. I think the interviewing manager wanted someone who could start right away.
Currently, the pain is in my foot and knee. Sometimes the pain is so bad it keeps me up at night and other times it’s like a dull ache. I want to add that my doctor is great. He’s kind and competent. He says the knee and foot pain is not related to my accident, but I didn’t have these pains until after the accident. The knee will sometimes swell up and get stiff. The top of my foot throbs and sometimes keeps me up at night.
I stopped wearing high heels as it is too painful. I tried many types of sneakers and now I use Hoka One One, which have very thick cushioning and soles and are made for people with hardware in their legs. I went to physical therapy twice and was advised to wear inserts. The physical therapist said that only 85% of people need custom orthotics, which are expensive, so I make do with commercially available orthotics. Sometimes I think I need to invest in custom orthotics, but these are very expensive.
I cope with the limitations of my physical body by stretching and getting massage. The massage seems to break up the adhesions around the hardware in my leg. The leg is stiff and the motion is limited. It’s better if I do yoga poses several times a week. If I don’t do the poses and get massages, I stiffen up quickly. I get cramps in my leg and foot, which are painful.
Eventually, I re-opened my private practice as a psychotherapist. The pain is aways with me, but I keep going.
I have derived purpose from the pain.
The accident made me a better therapist. I’m more able to understand the paralyzing effects of emotional trauma, the nightmares, the anxiety, the loss of confidence.
I’m more able to understand my clients when they tell me about how much more limited they are now, since their illness or accident.
I appreciate every day and in every way that I am healthy. I keep going.