Monday, 26 May 2014

Respect for the handicapped

It's now been 38 days since I broke my leg. It hasn't been a thrilling 38 days, but it has been at least partially an eye-opener in an unexpected way.

I spent my first few weeks fairly housebound, moving as little as possible, spending at most 90 seconds a day on crutches. I switched to mostly using a wheelchair about 3 weeks ago, and if this experience has taught me just one thing, it's to respect the plight of handicapped people who are stuck in wheelchairs or crutches every day of their lives.

I'm not an expert. I have spent very, very little time anywhere but my house in a wheelchair. But that's enough to have taught me at least this:

Doing anything in a bathroom in a wheelchair is a difficult (and no one teaches you how). Practicalities like dropping and raising your pants is difficult. Even with wheelchair accessible bathrooms, it takes skill to get the wheelchair near the toilet and parked in a way to use the grab rails to haul yourself on -- assuming you got rid of your pants.

Not any bathroom I know
Taking a shower is a bitch, even with grab rails. And if bathtubs are slippery on two legs, imagine how they are on one leg (or none). Getting in, getting out? Troublesome, and in my case, I'm lucky that I can sit on the john and skootch into the tub in a 2 step process in one of my bathrooms. I have yet to figure out a way to get a bathrobe on (a 2 handed job) and keep upright, while standing on one leg -- other than to jamb my head in a corner while I do it.

Sinks in vanities (like most of mine) are unusable -- they have to be wall mounts or pedestals. I'm glad I have a pedestal sink. To get a wheelchair under a sink, the sink has to be so high as to be difficult to use when you get there (it's almost at chin height). Unfortunately, my pedestal is in a room so small I can't get my wheelchair into the room, so it's crutches or nothing.

My house isn't, nor has it ever been, proported to be wheelchair accessible. There are doors I can't get through, corners I can't get around, and no practical way I can get to any entry door in the chair. Wheel a chair up to a door -- any door, cupboard or closet or entry -- and you can't open it. You have to come in from the side.

There are lots of places in and around town that appear to be wheelchair friendly -- however...   

I have found wheelchair accessible ramps sloped so steeply I can't get up them, or that start/end so abruptly that my footrests dig in. I have found ramps that lead to doors that almost can't be opened in a wheelchair (or on crutches... like, say, my physiotherapy office's door). The grocery stores have powered wheelchair shopping carts, but I'm not sure why, because if I show up in a wheelchair, it's impractical to move to them, and if I show up on crutches, I have no place to put the crutches when I use the carts.

I personally feel bad that I take up a lot of space on a sidewalk, that I'm tough to pass, that I don't move that fast on crutches. A friend of mine asked me yesterday if people offer more "social license" to me as a result of being mobility impaired. Some do, some don't. Most adults give me the space I need to move, hold doors to help me get through, and are respectful of my plight. Most kids (under 12) don't. I have been run into, bumped on my crutches, cut off in my wheelchair and otherwise treated as a slalom gate by kids. Sometime the parents intervene; sometimes not. 

So I have learned a new respect for folks confined to wheelchairs or crutches for life. A friend of mine walks with 2 crutches all the time; another a few years ago was confined to a chair; she had a bumper sticker that said "If you don't like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk". I always had a lot of respect for both of them, and now that respect is even higher.

I am lucky. This week, I should start the process of weaning off crutches. I will not be sad to see them go. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Ancillary ouches

Day 24 of my captivity...

Over the last few weeks, I have been impressed by how little the broken part of my leg actually hurts.

  • When I stand up (or dangle my foot below my waist), the blood rushing to the break area and my foot, and the resulting pressure, certainly isn't pleasant. This goes away quickly when I raise my foot back up;
  • There's still some soreness on my ankle bone (which, interestingly, wasn't broken);
  • As we continue to try to reduces the swelling in my foot, the calf muscles feel bruised, likely clogged with the goo we're pushing out to the foot;
  • Knee stretches clear tell me area around the stitches on my knee is tight, but it's getting better each day;
  • My MCL doesn't like how I hold my leg that much.

But other than that, below the knee, things are looking OK.

Above the knee has been another matter, and in fact has attracted virtually all the attention of my physiotherapist these last 2 weeks.

It started with cramping in my quad that neither heat nor ice nor a combination thereof could make better. And given a lack of range of motion in the knee, it's not a space that can be stretched. It lives in the land of continuous discomfort.

My IT band started to feel hugely bruised a week or so ago, about 5" above the knee. No idea why.

Ten days ago, something -- likely an attempt at stretching my hip flexors -- pinched a nerve in my hip. This sent a rocket of pain (like someone injected acid into my leg) from my hip to my knee, which lasted ~5 minutes. Since that day, a palm sized area above my knee has been numb and has no feeling. And, by simply moving my leg in a certain way, I accidentally trigger this nerve at least once a day, sometimes a few times a day, repeating the "acid injection" feeling. Very uncomfortable. Last night, it happened twice in my sleep, which is a rude awakening to say the least.

Almost 2 weeks ago, I started to get severe sciatic pain, which is quite literally a pain in the butt. This peaked early last week and was downright crippling, though we found a stretch that calms it down, and it's been okay for the last few days.

When I hobble around on crutches (which isn't fun at the best of times, given the arthritis in my wrist), I get a choice:

  • Carry my leg forward, which irritates the hip flexor, and sends stabs of pain down to my knee;
  • Carry my leg back, which irritates my sciatic pain in my butt; or
  • Carry my leg in the middle, necessitating pulling my toes up with my quads, which cramp with unhappiness.

This is why I like my wheelchair, but because it does not have the ability to raise my leg, I can only sit in it for about 30 minutes before the pressure in my foot gets too uncomfortable.

Now my good leg has started cramping in the quad, too. Not sure why, but an utter lack of activity probably isn't helping.

"An utter lack of activity" is pretty accurate. I have only 4 places in the house I can sit and elevate my leg, and a very short list of what I can do.

  • I can sit and read. I've already finished Harry Potter #3 (Prisoner of Azkaban, took 2 days), #4 (Goblet of Fire, 4 days) and I'm half-way through #5.
  • I can sit and work on my laptop for a few hours, though really, really crappy ergonomics of the way I have to do that add severe shoulder pain to my list of issues if I do that too much.
  • I can sit and watch TV, though there's NOTHING on I want to watch. Yesterday, I watched the F1 Barcelona Grand Prix, the first time in ~5 years that I watched a race on the day the race was run. Boring race. If I watch TV for 30 min a day, I would be amazed, though we do watch movies every night after dinner.
It's still not really warm enough for me to get outside in the wheelchair. It was -2° this morning, and may get to 13° this afternoon in the sun. There is still snow on my lawn.

And just think, I have another 16 days to go -- at least -- before I can be weight bearing.