Advice for a Broken Ankle
January 1, 2019 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I broke my ankle on New Year's Eve and will be most likely discharged from hospital tomorrow. I will have two weeks off work and will be non weight bearing for six weeks. I'm looking for advice and product recommendations to make life easier for myself during my recovery.

I live a double storey house with the bathrooms upstairs. I intend to spend most of my time up there so I don't have to climb up and down stairs just to go to the toilet.

My husband is planning on setting up a temporary kitchenette upstairs so I have access to food and drinks when he's not around.

I imagine I will be given some equipment to make my life easier such as a shower stool and toilet frame.

Do you have any advice or product recommendations to make my time at home easier?
posted by poxandplague to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are able to rent a knee scooter it will make your life markedly better. Crutches are exhausting and you can’t carry anything while you use them. A knee scooter is fun and has a little basket. It makes you much more independent.

You will need a little backpack to be able to carry anything on crutches, as you won’t have a hand free to do so.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:19 PM on January 1, 2019 [16 favorites]

You'll need much more Saran Wrap than you think to wrap your leg while you're bathing.
posted by sacrifix at 8:25 PM on January 1, 2019

If you're wearing a hard non-removable cast, these things are absolute miracles which allow you to take a shower without fear of getting your cast wet. It's a little awkward to get on the first time or two until you get the hang of it, but it's a really fantastic thing to have.

also: this isn't necessarily something to buy, but make sure you have the stuff you'll need for the next few hours of each day within arm's reach. It's only when you have no mobility that you realize how much you use your mobility every day and don't even think about it.

Keep a water bottle handy so you can get some water easily (and keep your meds bedside if you have those), have snacks to hand in case you get munchy, and keep books/magazines/kindle/whatever reading material close if you're a reader, because there's nothing worse than thinking "Wow, I'd really like (small trivial thing)" and then realizing what a pain it will be to get up and get said trivial thing. Because it will absolutely be a pain - not necessarily physically, but logistically - to get up, and you'll probably want to do it as little as possible in those first couple weeks.
posted by pdb at 8:28 PM on January 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was stuck in bed for weeks after having surgery, and one thing that really helped me was having a couple of those backup battery packs for my phone. I liked having the phone with me at all times, and it was easiest for me to just charge the phone from the battery pack, and my husband would swap the battery out on the charger.
posted by radioamy at 8:36 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ow! Feel better soon.

I have had multiple lower limb injuries requiring crutches. My advice is;
Get a 10 foot long phone charger cable!!!
Multiple water bottles at hand
Kleenex, baby wipes, moisturizer, lip balm
Stool or chair anywhere you would be standing (bathroom, kitchen)- either sit or at least rest on your knee so your foot is elevated and your balance is helped while you stand
Small backpack or fanny pack for carrying things through the house
Many Mefites including me have given useful crutch advice here
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:48 PM on January 1, 2019

More crutch advice here
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:54 PM on January 1, 2019

I'm sure the hospital showed you this but PLEASE PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR CRUTCHES ARE THE CORRECT HEIGHT. I know this sucks. Having crutches that are the wrong height and getting your radial nerve entrapped, making half the muscles in your arm go floppy and essentially rendering your arm(s) useless will suck a whole fucking lot more. Your elbow should have a slight bend in it. The axilla pads shoul be 2-3 inches below your armpit. CHECK THIS, please.

A shower chair may may showering easier. I would strongly encourage you to temporarily remove any throw rugs or any other obstacles that you may trip over. Again, I know it sucks, but the crutches are going to throw off your center of balance and the last thing you need is a fall on top of a fall. Consider lowering essential items so you don't have to reach too far to get them. I know your arms are fine, but if you're on crutches trying to balance while reaching overhead may pose a challenge. It will help to have all essentials, whatever they may be for you, easily within reach. That means that you may need to move your favorite snack lower in the cupboard. Stuff like that.

I'm sure other commenters will have good ideas. If I come up with more I'll pop in and add them. Good luck! Feel better!
posted by Amy93 at 9:03 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts for when it's time to leave your second floor aerie... I found it both easier and safer to go up and down stairs on my butt, using the good leg and my arms to lever me from step to step while keeping the bad leg straight. For later, after the cast comes off but you're still healing, you want to lead with the good leg going up and the bad leg going down when you do the toddleresque single step shuffle. The mnemonic for this is "The good leg goes to heaven and the bad leg goes to hell."
posted by carmicha at 9:19 PM on January 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

First, that's terrible but good luck! Tons of other good advice linked. One trick I did when I had crutches was to turn one (and sometimes both) into carriers. I'd cut off the top of a half gallon plastic OJ jug (this was a long time ago, a 1.5 liter water bottle might do well now) and duct tape the bottom 6"-8" to the side of my crutch a bit below the handle(s). I could just drop whatever in there. It made a racket sometimes, but a paperback, household thing, or whatever could travel there with me easily. (And, being young and stupid they also functioned as pretty decent portable drink coolers with a little ice in them when standing around at bbqs or parties.)
posted by Gotanda at 9:42 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

This might be a little paranoid, but it might be worth setting up a potty or something downstairs so that you can be down there if you have to.

Will you have a way to answer the door from upstairs, in case you want to order something while he's at work?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:54 PM on January 1, 2019

I'm in the same boat but 5 weeks ahead. Nthing the kneewalker. I's actually a lot of fun and much faster than crutches. But it's not idiot proof. You need to have smooth floors to get around safely. Really be careful when going across rugs, thresholds, or any even slightly uneven surfaces. Today I tried to clean up a spill on the kitchen floor. Since my kneewalker has hard rubber wheels, I almost went down when the kneewalker slipped.As my wife said, "Sit down before you kill yourself !!"

Let others help you. When you do ask, stacking your requests is always appreciated. There will be sighs and eye rolling eventually
posted by Hash at 10:16 PM on January 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't needed one, but the iWalk always seemed like a good alternative to crutches or a knee scooter.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:15 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

An acquaintance with a ankle injury had a thing you can strap to your lower leg so it’s like you have a peg leg, which she said was better than th scooter because it didn’t require level ground and you can carry stuff. (No idea if the one I linked is any good. Apparently “hands free crutch” is a plausible search term.)
posted by leahwrenn at 11:16 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're sharing a bed, you might consider some extra bolsters or pillows to guard your ankle and/or prop it into a comfortable position at night. My last break was my wrist, and while my sleep was crappy, some new memory foam pillows helped me and my partner avoid any accidental clashes. During the day, they were useful for keeping the injury elevated.

Also, be kind to yourself and don't expect much. I found each break so traumatic and upsetting, and spent at least the first two weeks substantially just crying or semi-sleeping, and finding it really stressful to be outside where people were going to bump into my injury. Audiobooks were nice as a low-key entertainment when I was just drowsing between painkillers.

Good luck, and sorry you are going through this!
posted by carbide at 2:16 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

A kitchenette upstairs will be helpful in time, but for at least the first few days when just getting out of bed and moving around will be a struggle, put a cooler by the bed with some of those hard ice packs and whatever drinks you'll want to keep cool and some squishy ice packs for when you get to the point that you need to ice your ankle periodically.

Get way more pillows than you think you'll need so you can prop your foot up in bed and other rooms you visit without having to cart them around.

Strongly seconding the advice above about adjusting crutches to avoid pinched nerves, and make sure you have enough back support when you're lying in bed or lounging on the couch that your neck is in a good, neutral position even when your leg is up.

Drink lots of water - hydration is important for healing and itch-prevention.
posted by bunnysquirrel at 3:02 AM on January 2, 2019

Wow that iwalk thing linked above looks great - might have averted some issues that i think came up for me after 8 weeks on crutches. I had a more complicated ankle fracture than you - i had surgery (minor hardware to stabilize, somewhat regret the surgery but, long story) then complications (CRPS) caused (I think) by an overly tight post operative splint. I'd say try to stay fit if possible while you are non weight bearing, and keep a lookout for the affected limb having any color/temperature/swelling/pain changes that seem extreme (if you have any, act quickly and be a squeaky wheel! But more than likely/hopefully this will not come up.)

Even if i hadn't had complications, it is a big deal to have an injury that immobilizes you , emotionally i found it pretty tricky. If you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to memail me. Apologies for typos, wrote this on my phone.
posted by elgee at 3:52 AM on January 2, 2019

Buy a ton of washcloths in bulk and a few little plastic basins. Use a washcloth to wash your face, etc. every morning, even if you don't take a shower. Sponge baths with hot soapy water in a basin and a few washcloths (a couple soapy ones, then a couple ones with just water to rinse off) are a lot easier and safer than trying to take as many showers (and risking a fall).

I'm also a huge proponent of using a walker over crutches at first. It'll increase your arm and core strength, but in a more steady way than crutches, and then you can graduate to crutches as you are able to do partial weight-bearing in a few weeks. If you get a walker, also get a walker bag. I basically lived out of my walker bag, with all my basic toiletries, a million hair ties, medication and vitamins, almonds, etc. always at arm's reach. You can also use the walker bag to move stuff from the refrigerator to the kitchen table.

Plan out your movements in chunks. In the morning, I would get up and head to the bathroom, pick up a clean washcloth there, then the kitchen was my stop for a whole lot of the rest of my routine: wet washcloth, wash face and do makeup and brush hair and brush teeth at the kitchen table, spit into paper towels or a cup, get up and get caffeine water, a yogurt, a spoon, sit and eat and take medication, throw away trash in one move, then go back to the room where I was sleeping, collect laptop and headphones in walker bag, go to office and hook up laptop, put my feet up, etc. I work from home, so I went back to work very quickly with this routine.

Don't do what I did and wear a shoe on your non-casted foot all the time, for fear of falling in cases where one has to urgently get up in the middle of the night. There's a reason the armed forces developed entire sections of textbooks on the effect of continually wearing shoes on your foot health. It's OK to take off and put back on your sneaker before getting up.

If they aren't sending you home with one, there are foam channel things you can use when lying down to elevate your ankle while keeping it stable.

Seconding the advice to go up and down the stairs on your butt!

Have to go now, but I'll drop back with more as I think of it! Good luck! I went through this in May/June, and it really sucks, but you'll get better!
posted by limeonaire at 7:05 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're sharing a bed, you might consider some extra bolsters or pillows to guard your ankle and/or prop it into a comfortable position at night.

This. When I broke my knee, sleeping was difficult. I couldn't use my normal sleep patterns of rolling over. Make sure you have lots of pillows to adjust when you need to adjust. You might never be happy finding a position.

Also: don't be afraid to take a lot of naps. Your body will tell you what it wants, and if it wants sleep, grab onto that. And in general, you don't need to push things. You've been given a timeframe, and that timeframe is accurate -- you're not going to beat it by forcing things.

Good luck. It sucks.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:45 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get well soon.
Ms. response used an iWalk and truly enjoyed the freedom it provided her.
She also bought some very swanky lightweight crutches, Mobilegs I think, but she's kind of a gear fanatic.
One nice thing about these higher-quality slash trendy supplies is they have a strong resale value, at least they did for us.
posted by Glomar response at 9:07 AM on January 2, 2019

Thanks for the advice so far. I think I would kill or maim myself within an hour trying to use one of those iWalk thingies but the knee scooters look doable.

I do have quite a complicated break and had surgery late New Year's day to insert a plate and screws. It sounds like I'll be back in a few months to get some of the screws removed.

Thank you for sharing your stories as it's given me an idea of how life will be for the next few weeks (i've never broken a bone or had a serious injury so haven't really known what to expect).
posted by poxandplague at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since this is your first significant injury and surgery, some thoughts about mental health. Being injured and recovering can be significantly and deeply isolating. Please start reaching out now to have people come over and watch movies and hang out, yes even though the house isn't perfect and you are a mess. You are going to be foggy and emotionally vulnerable from anesthesia and pain meds. It will make you feel depressed in unanticipated ways. Being dependent, solitary and inactive is incredibly emotionally grueling.

Read and watch funny things like your life depends on it. Do not watch the news. Do not engage in topics that bring you down. You need the emotional resources for buoying yourself. Talk on the phone with people you care about, even if this is not your normal habit. You need things that you find pleasurable for your mental and physical health. Gentle touch (on non-injured parts of your body) is so good for you. Having your hair brushed and soft massages are a couple ideas.

Your brain will come back out of the fog, don't panic.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:42 AM on January 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Get a tray. You can't carry anything, but you can put what you wish you could carry -- including, you know, a sandwich or a cup of tea -- on a tray and gently push it before you with one crutch so you can get from the kettle to the couch.

Nthing going up and down stairs on your arse. Do not attempt to do it on crutches without a companion. You 100% will fall.

Use all of the disability services you can get access to. Being temporarily disabled doesn't make you not disabled. Yes to the grocery store electric scooter, yes to the loan of a wheelchair, yes to everything.

And do your PT religiously!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:25 PM on January 2, 2019

carbide wrote: [I found] it really stressful to be outside where people were going to bump into my injury.

Even after you think you've regained mobility, consider:
  • taking a walker with you when you're out and about. You'll tire more easily and can lean on it, but it's real purpose is to keep people away from your injured leg.

  • using one of the provided mobility scooter at the supermarket and whatever big box stores you frequent. Don't exhaust yourself running household errands. You can bring your crutches/walker along too if you feel the need for an alibi. Again, it's a device for keeping people away from you.

  • quantifying your ability to walk and how it feels, even if it's akin to something like Monday: walked to the mailbox and home; Tuesday: walked to the mailbox plus one house and then home, ankle twinged going down the curb at Main Street etc. You'll see progress more clearly and you'll be able to tell your physicians how you're doing in concrete terms.

  • swimming for some non-weight-bearing exercise.

    Take care, and may your recovery exceed your most optimistic expectations.

  • posted by carmicha at 5:25 PM on January 2, 2019

    Ask your orthopedist for a letter for a temporary handicapped parking permit. They are usually good for 90 days if your are here in the US. You just take it to your local police station and they will issue one to you (it's red instead of blue).

    Also, depending on where you live, please, please be careful if you have to go out and the weather is wet. It's no joke coming in from outside and the bottom of your crutches are wet. I've wiped out more than once because of this (I've had several ankle and knee surgeries). Your immediate instinct is to put your foot down - and you *will* see stars.

    If your cast gets itchy, a hair dryer set on cold blown down the inside of your cast helps a lot. No hangers or knitting needles shoved down there! Also, you will be totally grossed out when they change out your cast by the amount of nasty dead skin and hair on your foot and leg. Ask the doctor if you can wash your foot before they put the next on one (they usually say yes as long as you avoid the incision).

    Head to Target or wherever and get yourself a couple baby hats with chin ties. It's the best way to keep your toes warm and your cast clean.

    Finally, once you are able to come downstairs in a couple weeks and kind of resume a little bit of mobility, I found an office chair on wheels really helpful to move around the kitchen. I couldn't get between rooms because of doorways and differences in floor heights, but it made the kitchen work SO much easier.

    Good luck and feel better soon!
    posted by dancinglamb at 9:22 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Well I'm now three weeks on from when I wrote this question lying on my hospital bed and thought I'd share with you what I have learnt:

    The first two weeks will be absolutely awful but each day is a little better than the last.

    My back slab cast was awful once the swelling went down and the cast started moving when standing up. My life immediately changed for the better when I got my boot at my two week appointment. I felt my ankle was more supported and comfortable and it was lighter to move around.

    My knee scooter changed my life even more. Get one if you can. They're not perfect but I can cook, get my own drinks and can go to the cafe down the road with friends.

    Take painkillers before appointments and any time you're doing a lot of movement in the first few weeks. Especially if you have a back slab on.

    Take the non addictive painkillers as first line of defense against the pain. Take the addictive ones if you need extra. Keep on top of the pain in the first week by taking the non addictive ones every time they're due.

    The shower cast cover (Seal Tight) was great but it was a two person job to get off. Now my stitches are out and I don't have to wear a bag, I feel almost normal.

    Get properly fitted crutches. I leave mine upstairs unless I'm going outside and use my knee scooter downstairs. I'm working on how to attach them to my knee scooter. Crutches are awful though.

    Have multiple drink bottles within reach and handy snacks like muesli bars and grapes.

    Sleep when you need to

    Use all the pillows. All of them.

    I found that using a cotton hospital/ baby blanket was more comfortable on my leg than my regular duvet. Layering as needed (although we're in the middle of a heat wave filled summer).

    Thanks for all your advice - it really made a difference.
    posted by poxandplague at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

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