The Radial Fracture Survival Guide: Ow, Oi, Ouch!
November 11, 2006 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Any advice and anecdotes for a college girl with her first broken arm?

I got into a car accident yesterday. It really sucked. Luckily, I managed to survive with only a seatbelt-shaped bruise running down my chest--and a broken arm. Ouch! I'm on Vicadin right now, but my wrist feels like its being pulled in two; my fingers are tingling like mad.

I've never had a broken bone before. This is completely new to me. Does anyone have anyone have any advice? Any fractured bone tips and tricks? Does anyone have any ideas on how to soothe the savage beast that is my (flush-to-the-wrist) radial fracture?

Ideas on bathing (I used a garbage bag and blue painter's tape to cover my cast), bras (the bruise pains me!), pain relief, and surviving college dorm life would be appreciated. If you know of any freeware voice-to-text programs that actually work, I'd love to know about them. I have six papers due in the next two weeks, and my typing speed has slowed dramatically.

Lastly: what should I expect in the next few weeks? When will this annoying pain dull?

Thanks, guys. It was hard to type this question one-handed. :)
posted by ElectricBlue to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have experience with both those things (awful seat belt bruise and radial fracture, but not from the same thing.)

Fortunately the bruise and the associated pain will go away pretty quickly, but until then, you might want to try to find some bras that don't have underwires. If you have small breasts and can get away with it, maybe some camisoles that have bras in them.

Arm-wise, you may be able to talk to your professors and see how you can work around your papers. You might be able to get someone to type for you as you dictate, in fact.

The pain will subside...I seem to recall about 2 weeks until it wasn't really noticeable.
posted by nekton at 6:12 PM on November 11, 2006

Two suggestions about school:
Talk to your profs immediately, if you haven't already. Tell them what happened and that you're trying to work around it but things might be slow for the next week or so as you try to figure out how to type and live with the broken arm. They will almost certainly be very understanding. Don't wait until the day an assignment is due to say "By the way I broke my arm a week ago and couldn't get this done on time"; they'll be less sympathetic if you approach it that way.

You may be able to get extra time during exams if you have any; you may need to talk to your college's Office of Disability Services for this. Again, better the sooner you do it, if there's any chance you'll need it then do it now. They may also be able to connect you with someone who can transcribe papers for you, or know of voice-to-text type programs if nobody here has good suggestions.

Be in touch with counselling services if you think it would be useful to talk about the accident with someone. These things can throw us off in ways we don't expect. Good luck!
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2006

I broke my hand last year (I'm a student). Typing sucks hard, but I managed to get extensions for some projects - one professor basically saw the cast and said 'how long do you want?' so it's definitely worth checking. Also, have a reasonable estimate of how much extra time you need, and be able to explain it ("it takes me twice as long to type stuff up, and I've just had to spend two days at the hospital queuing in emergency and getting a screw inserted in the bone, so could I have an extra week?"). Remember to take into account that everything else in your life will be taking way longer than normal too, so ask for more than seems reasonable and you can always hand stuff in before the new deadline.

The annoying pain went away pretty soon. In my case I had to be operated on a while later, but the pain after the operation and proper casting only lasted several days (I think).

As far as bathing goes, I used the plastic bag and basically held my arm up so that water couldn't trickle down onto it, but the cast gets heavy fast. If you can, try a bath, where you can rest the dead arm on the side while washing with the other, or try and rest the arm on the soap holder or something (especially to wash your hair, which for me took ages). In other situations too, if you don't have a sling, try and rest your casted arm on things, because it wore my shoulder out.

That's all the tips I can think of for now. Good luck! It was a hassle but not as bad as I expected.
posted by jacalata at 6:21 PM on November 11, 2006

"Broken bones heal, the sponge baths are great, and chicks dig scars" -Lance Murdoch, The Simpsons

One piece of concrete advice from those with broken bones is to find a nice little stick to slip under the cast to scratch that which itches.
posted by plinth at 6:41 PM on November 11, 2006

Re the pain, call your doctor and tell him/her the Vicodin isn't working. He/she may phone in a new script to your pharmacy, or tell you to take more of what you have. Basically, you shouldn't be sitting there going "ow, it hurts. ow, it hurts." if you don't want to be.

My fracture responded well to generous dosing of acetaminophen (Tylenol), and poorly to generous dosing of ibuprofen (Advil). But, DO NOT MIX VICODIN AND TYLENOL. Bad for yer liver. Call the doc.

freeware voice-to-text programs that actually work

posted by trevyn at 7:00 PM on November 11, 2006

Oh, also, when you get your cast off, make sure you get into physical therapy, if you don't have that already planned out. You want to be doing range-of-motion exercises so you don't walk around the rest of your life with a wrist that doesn't bend all the way.
posted by trevyn at 7:04 PM on November 11, 2006

Just need to second trevyn's point: physical therapy is an absolute must. I sprained my ankle 6 years ago, three days before moving to NYC. Just "didn't have time," and "oh, not so bad." I couldn't walk more than 2 blocks for a year.

Sorry about your arm. Enjoy the Vicodin. But not too much.
posted by davidinmanhattan at 8:00 PM on November 11, 2006

A friend of mine in Memphis just broke her left arm [and she's left handed!] in a trip and fall accident. She's in her '50s, and she's a breast cancer survivor, so her bones don't heal nearly as quickly as yours will. Still, here's what I advised her.

1) Don't break the other arm. Seriously. Your balance and gait will be subtly affected for the next couple of weeks, and you need to slow down walking, getting into and out of the tub, going up and down stairs, trying to carry things, etc. You've got one limb in a cast, but that doesn't mean you are 25% disabled, it really means you are something like 40% disabled. If you don't want to be 90% disabled, slow down and take life real easy for the next few weeks. 'Cause if you think life sucks with a broken arm, imagine having two broken arms, and not being able to go to the bathroom on your own, or scratch your own nose...

2) Give some thought to sleeping arrangements. If you are an "active" sleeper, used to turning frequently, you'll not be doing that so easily for the next several weeks. Get yourself some extra pillows, and consciously work out ways to prop yourself in bed so that your cast is wreaking havoc on your ribs, etc. Plan on getting less straight through sleep at night, and maybe taking a nap in the afternoon to compensate, etc. Pain killers can also play havoc with sleep cycles, dreaming, etc.

3) Don't try to carry stuff. It's definitely time to lighten your load, to the absolute minimum. Partly for balance reasons, as per #1 above, but also because trying to haul stuff around with 1 good arm sets you up for dropping stuff a lot, and becoming a hazard to navigation for others. Leave the iPod in your room, and see if classmates will share their books, copy class notes, let you "look on" if they are using their laptops, etc. You can't schlep your usual stuff in the usual way, so don't try, and don't have others schlepping it for you, if you don't have to do so. Just be a six week minimalist. You'll learn a new perspective.

4) Pay attention to nutrition. It's hard to eat with one hand, especially using knife and fork. But don't let yourself drop into eating stuff that is easy to one-hand, just because it is easy to eat. You need your veggies, you don't need as many calories if you're not moving as much or as quickly, etc. And you have to be careful of comfort food weight gain, if you're "treating" yourself more than usual while you're "wounded." Eating well in this time will really pay big benefits come spring.

5) It's normal to feel a little sad when you are injured. We do, most of us, "greive" a little for ourselves when we are hurt, and get angry at our limitations. Understand that, and don't displace your feelings about your poor, broken body on others. Be sad for your pain, and mad at circumstance, but don't let it bleed over to others who may be concerned for you, or even trying, however badly, to help you.

6) Practice saying "Thanks!" a lot. People told me I was a much nicer person when I was healing up from having hip replacement surgery, because I felt it was important to thank everyone that reached out to me. I've tried to remember that ever since.
posted by paulsc at 8:37 PM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Third physical therapy, with the extra advice that if the break is at all complicated you want, not just any physical therapist, but a hand therapist.

For me, the break only hurt for a few days -- but be careful how you move while it's still setting; the feeling of the arm moving in a way that's just wrong is actually worse than the pain somehow.

Re typing: for me, working the shift key was a real struggle: I see you're capitalizing, so maybe you're fine in that respect, but if that's a struggle, Sticky Keys lets you hit shift, then the letter you want to capitalize; great for one-handed typing.

On preview: second paulsc on sleeping -- it may be some work to find the right way to prop pillows around your arm to make it possible to sleep, but just keep trying -- you'll get it.

And oh, yeah -- now's the time not to be too proud to ask lots of people for help with things.
posted by escabeche at 8:40 PM on November 11, 2006

I just got the cast off of a broken hand. The biggest piece of advice I can give:

When you get yours removed, part of your brain will know your bones are still healing and not ready for total action yet . . . and part won't. It's really, really easy to do something you're not ready to do yet. Keep it in mind while you're still healing. :-)
posted by Mikey-San at 9:17 PM on November 11, 2006

I got the best piece of advice from QIbHom when I asked the same question "Slow down. Then, move a bit slower."
posted by tellurian at 11:28 PM on November 11, 2006

Just broke my arm (again) last year, and I'm a computer programmer for a living, so typing... was an issue.

First off, how big is the cast? is it just a wrist cast, or is it full, over the elbow cast? If it's just a wrist cast, try out a split-key ergonomic keyboard, especially one that is raised in the front. You might find that the little bit of tilt gives you enough lee-way to type (worked fine for me at least). Another option is one-handed typing. I've never tried it, but it might be somewhat of use to you.

As for the pain, as a warning, the major pain will fade quickly, but that thing will probably bug you from time to time for a real long time (I think they say it takes a year for a break to fully heal). As an aside, you're arm is going to feel VERY WIERD when they pull the cast off, it's going to feel very naked and weak, so you have that to look forward too.

Oh yes, the itching, definately, find something to do about the itching, else it will drive you mad.

Ask any sexual partners to avoid grabbing at your arm. You'd be amazed at how quickly people forget that (and how much that hurts).
posted by KirTakat at 12:30 AM on November 12, 2006

It was hard to type this question one-handed.
I was wondering about that the whole time. good job.
posted by krautland at 2:26 AM on November 12, 2006

My mother swore by a nice, slender metal knitting-needle to get at itches under the cast. Just try not to damange the skin because having a lesion of any sort under plaster is Not Good.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2006

college? get an art student to do a full-cast illustration. brush-tip markers are good for this. this has the added benefit of giving people something to talk about other than "so... how'd you break your arm?" and believe me, you will get sick of answering that.

for scratching: plastic coffee stirrers, not those cheap wooden chopsticks that come with delivery. splinters under the cast are pure hell.

you can blow a pinch of baby powder in there if things get too clammy/itchy, but try not to overdo it. this also helps when your cast starts stinking.

showering: garbage bag and a big rubberband is easier than taping it off every day.

keep your arm elevated whenever possible -- it really does help with the pain.

definitely physical therapy after you get the cast off!
posted by sonofslim at 2:13 PM on November 12, 2006

Thanks so much, everyone. Your advice is great. :)

I bought a rolling bag for my books, but my friends have all been really supportive. They're all willing to carry things for me. I'm trying to go the minimalist route if at all possible.

Pride's going to be my biggest issue; I don't like being dependent on others! Still, I sucked it up and now my roomie's going to tie my hair back in the morning. Yay!

I didn't think about physical therapy afterwards, so thanks to all who mentioned it.

If anyone else has suggestions, I'm all ears. My Vicodin queasiness is starting to wear off, so I'm feeling tons better than when I asked the question. ;)
posted by ElectricBlue at 5:10 PM on November 12, 2006

Here are some things that I noticed after I broke my wrist (left scaphoid, I am right-handed)
- My cast shifted after about a week so that I could type two handed. Before the cast shifted, I was typing with the fingers on the broken side by rotating my arm at a very awkward angle for short periods of time. The initial awkwardness may put you off trying to type two-handed, but it may reap big rewards!
- I agree with the people that said ask your doc for more/better drugs. Don't worry, you will probably only be in major pain for a week or so.
- Once you've recovered and the cast is off: do NOT use the broken side to hold the hand rail on stairs! If you slip a bit on the stairs, you will subconsciously use the hand to help break your near-fall. I painfully wrenched my wrist this way, learn from my pain. Also avoid wearing platform shoes while under the influence of mind-altering chemicals while recovering.
- Ask about the rules and procedures of the fracture clinic for follow-up visits. Getting to fracture clinic appointments was the biggest annoyance of the entire broken bone experience. The outpatient fracture clinic I used had extremely obtuse scheduling rules for appointments which caused me to miss entire days of work because I had to show up on day X at exactly 1 pm with no flexibility whatsoever. Fortunately I could still drive with the cast on.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:53 PM on November 12, 2006

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