Over the past couple of months I have become a different sort of patient than I have been the previous 4 decades. Up until this point I have kept my body reasonably in tact, that all changed during my Colorado winter holiday. The husband and I were taking a lovely morning stroll to the grocery store, savoring the falling flakes making a brilliant white blanket over the mountain scenery. Admiring our surroundings I snapped this picture:
Mere moments later, life came to a crashing halt. The snow I’d been so recently admiring concealed a patch of ice on the trail. As I walked along, both my feet slid out from under me and in an effort to break my fall I put out my left arm, landed hard and screamed out in agony. I sat in place for a few moments in shock. Unbelievably, the nearest sign of civilization to my landing spot was an Urgent Care, just opening for the day. After carefully peeling off a few layers of my winter gear the doctor didn’t even need an x-ray to see I had landed so hard I completely shattered my wrist. An x-ray confirmed, 4 broken bones one of which was completely gone…this was turning into one memorable vacation.
The doctor performed a reduction (the name of this procedure belies the torture that it is), casted my arm from my knuckles to above my elbow and sent us on our way to fly home the next day. Most disappointingly the husband and I were scheduled to go on a dog sledding adventure that afternoon…an experience that will have to wait until next winter.
It was an agonizing journey home, as my already swollen injury swelled even further during the flight. By the time I fell into my own bed that night I couldn’t bend any part of my unrecognizable fingers. Gratefully, the husband had already made arrangements for me to be seen before 8AM the next morning by a wrist specialist in our area.
Bright and early this next morning, now 2 days after the accident, I was seen by the orthopedic surgeon. After reviewing the x-rays we had brought back with us from Colorado and taking some more of his own he decided that my wrist was broken into so many pieces surgery may actually cause further damage. However, he wanted to keep a close on it for a few weeks and reevaluate. For the time being, I had to just grin and bear it.
Now up to this point in my life being a patient was a pretty permanent prospect. Due to all of my diseases, illnesses and afflictions once I established a relationship with a doctor and/or specialist I knew I would see them until they retired. Seriously, last year alone 2 of my doctors retired; it’s a “hazard” of the job.
This new situation was completely territory for me as a patient. First of all, I was dealing with an injury, not a disease or illness so I will eventually see the end of this road. Second, with exercises and physical therapy there are steps I can take to improve this temporary condition. However, in the meantime it has been a challenging 2 months in 4 different casts, being unable to drive or work and simply do life’s little daily tasks.
As I move through life no one I casually encounter has any idea about my health conditions, whereas, wearing a cast obviously means having an injury others can see. Now with the obvious malady I get stopped walking the dogs (which I can now only do one by one with the cast on), in the grocery store and Starbucks by complete strangers asking what happened and offering advice or an anecdote about their own injury.
Physical therapy has also offered camaraderie with others going through similar situations, nothing I’d ever experienced in the typical waiting room of my specialist’s office. The conversations while sitting at the wrist and hand therapy table is a bit like a scene from an old prison movie with patients asking one another “what are you in for?” or “how long have you been in?” It provides some lighter relief for a painful and stressful situation.
The final cast has thankfully come off and now there will be another couple of months with a brace and physical therapy. In the meantime I continue to learn how to manage this unfamiliar territory as a new kind of patient.
How do you manage when your patient life takes a dramatic change?