39 is Too Young for a Hip Fracture

Post Surgery

Recovering from a hip fracture was not something I expected to have to deal with this year. Life is full of surprises, not all of them good.

It’s been a week since an innocent fall off my bike put me in the hospital, and I’m happy to report I’m well on my way to a full recovery. It won’t be quick or easy, but I’m making steady progress and am in good spirits.

And because it’s what I do, I’ll be taking plenty of photos and videos along the way and keeping a detailed account of my adventure.

Friday – Accident Day

Ad Hoc Spinal Board / Bathroom Door

On Friday, I went grocery shopping but forgot to buy ramen noodles – a key ingredient in the soup Astrid requested for dinner. Emily suggested using spaghetti noodles, but I wasn’t willing to compromise, so back out I went. The grocery store was close, and I considered walking, but my foot was bruised because I dropped a couch on it in the morning (it was a rough day), so I jumped back on my bike.

As I was leaving the parking garage, I briefly took my hands off the handlebars to adjust the hood of my jacket and my front wheel jackknifed before I could regain my balance. I fell hard on the concrete floor on my right hip.

As I lay on the ground, stunned and embarrassed, I realized I couldn’t move my right leg. I tried to stand once but quickly collapsed to the ground. Luckily we have fantastic neighbours and within minutes someone was making sure I was ok. They found Emily, made sure I was comfortable, and even immobilized and transported me to the hospital when 911 said ambulances were overwhelmed and I would likely wait 2-3 hours.

I couldn’t put any weight on my leg, and moving it caused extreme pain. My neighbours managed to find an old door that they used as a backboard, slowly sliding me on it and then lifting me into the trunk of an SUV.

We tried going to an urgent care centre first, but the staff said I would need imaging, so they sent us to the hospital. When we got to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), 2 paramedics on their dinner break kindly helped find me a stretcher and transferred me onto it (using my belt for leverage).

The Emergency Department was packed (try not to get hurt on a Friday night), and many people were complaining that they had been there for 6+ hours without seeing anyone. Emily went to buy me a phone charger and some snacks while I waited. Luckily, I got an x-ray within an hour and soon found out that I had managed to crack my femur where it enters the hip joint. An intertrochanteric hip fracture.

Hip Fracture Diagram

An orthopedic doctor visited me and explained that I would need surgery. Hopefully, the next morning depending on how busy the operating room was.

Pee Jug

They gave me a jug to pee in and I tried to get some sleep.

Emotional State: Anxious and upset. For most of the evening, I had no idea what was wrong with my leg but knew I had screwed something up badly. I was worried that whatever I did might not be fixable. I kept running through all the small decisions that led to me getting hurt and wondering why I hadn’t made a different decision somewhere along the way. I decided that if I could have one superpower it would be a 5-second rewind – powerful in the right situations but not life-altering.

Saturday – Surgery

I woke up to find out I was number 4 on the operating list. I had already been bumped once, but as long as no other high-priority patients came in, I should be in surgery that afternoon.

I had to fast before the surgery (no food or drink). Since I arrived at the hospital, the only thing I had was an energy bar. I was too nervous to eat anyway.

At 2 pm, I got word that I was going in for surgery. They decided to put a sliding hip screw into my femur to keep the bone together while it healed. It took 4 hours in total. 30 minutes of prep, 90 minutes of surgery, and 2 hours in the recovery room.

Sliding Screw Diagram

The anesthetist gave me a choice of general anesthesia (I would fall asleep and wake up when it was done) or a spinal tap (I wouldn’t feel anything from the waist down but would be conscious). I ended up choosing the spinal tap as it had the smoothest recovery post-surgery.

So I got to listen to the whole operation – I missed the first 15 minutes as they knocked me out to transfer me to the operating table and hook up the spinal tap. The procedure went very smoothly. I’m grateful to my surgeon Dr. Guy, his team, and the fancy operating room at VGH. I think there were 7 people attending to me and they had a fancy imaging device pointed at my leg that showed how everything was aligned.

Listening to the surgery wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be. The drill was surprisingly smooth and quiet. The weirdest part was when they had to hammer a few times, shaking my whole body.

Post-surgery, I lay in the recovery area waiting for the spinal tap to wear off. I couldn’t move my legs or sense much below my stomach. Even though the nurses assured me it was normal, it was still very freaky, feeling paralyzed from the waist down. I couldn’t help but feel panicked that I was now paralyzed, especially when movement returned to my left leg an hour before I could move anything on my right leg.

Every 15 minutes, they tapped a bag of ice on my skin and see where I was able to feel cold. At first, I could only feel the coldness on my ribs. After two hours, it was closer to my hip, and I could go back to my room and let everyone know I was ok.

Post Surgery with Astrid

Emotional State: Feeling awesome and optimistic. The surgery went well. My hip was all screwed back together and 100% weight-bearing. The drugs (mostly hydromorphone) had me on a pain-free high. Astrid and Emily came to visit, and I was convinced I would be home with them soon. At this point, I’m thinking it won’t be long before I’m out running and biking again.

Sunday – Recovery Day 1 – Exhausted

Reality set in overnight. The pain meds wore off, and I was in agony. I got more hydromorphone overnight, but I still didn’t sleep well.

I could barely move my right leg at all. I expected to have more mobility post-surgery, but everything is inflamed, and the muscles scream in pain whenever I try to use them. I can’t do much more than wiggle my toes all day.

Visitors and Entertainment

In the afternoon, Emily and Astrid visit with fresh olive bread and a Switch to keep me entertained, but I don’t have much appetite or energy. I fall asleep, and they go out shopping. They come back, and we eat dinner together.

Emotional State: Pessimistic. This is not going to be an easy recovery.

Monday – Recovery Day 2 – Trying to Stand

The physiotherapist comes to see if I can stand. It’s not easy, but I manage to get my legs over the edge of the bed. After a few seconds of standing, my vision starts to go black, and I get nauseous. They quickly sit me back down.

My muscles are starting to return, but the most I can do is move my knee up a few inches.

I try to stand again in the afternoon and immediately get nauseous. A nurse took my blood pressure, and it plummeted to 80/50. I need to lie down until it returns to normal. Sitting on the edge of the bed feels like a nice stretch on my IT band, so I do that as much as possible. On my third attempt, I managed to stand for 5 minutes with a bit of weight on my right leg. It’s not much, but it’s a significant improvement from yesterday.

Learning to stand

Emotional State: Cautiously optimistic. I’m basically a baby that can’t walk, stand, or poop. But I’m learning quickly.

Tuesday – Recovery Day 3 – Trying to Walk

I sleep well and wake up to gurgling in my guts. The laxatives are finally kicking in.

Bedpan

When the physiotherapist visits, I’m able to stand this time, and we go for a short adventure with the walker. It’s liberating to have some mobility. No more pooping in a bedpan for me. I can shuffle to a toilet now.

I also roll around for a while in a wheelchair. It’s a good workout and it feels great to get my heart rate up to 115 again. While I’m gone they change my sheets and I get a fresh gown. They even give me a shower curtain hair shampoo treatment. I’m feeling a lot better today.

Shower Cap Shampoo

I get some new visitors. Steve comes by in the afternoon and we have a great time catching up. And after dinner, David comes by to play board games. I’m asleep when he arrives but the sound of rolling dice wakes me up and I’m ready to play.

Hospital Board Game Night

Emotional State: Refreshed. My legs are moving again and I’m feeling clean and energized.

Wednesday – Recovery Day 4 – Going Home

Wednesday is a whirlwind day. It starts with a 7 am phone call from Trail Appliances (our new induction stove is early and arriving at 7:30) and a lot of scrambling on the phone trying to help Emily remotely and find a plumber to cap our natural gas line.

The physiotherapist has me try crutches and, after I fumble my way up and down 3 steps, declares that I am ready to go home, and the discharge procedure begins. I’m shocked but also excited. I meet with occupational therapists, doctors, and nurses. I get drug schedules, follow-up appointments, and strategies for making my home easier to navigate.

My surgeon Dr. Guy stops by to see how I’m doing. I ask him about something I overheard in the operating room – that my bones were strong and hard to drill into – because I have been worrying about brittle bones since I fell. He confirms that my bones looked good and there is little chance of osteoporosis. I was just unlucky and hit my hip at the wrong angle.

Released

Emily comes to get me at 3:30 and I stroll out with the help of a walker. It’s hard to believe that 2 days ago I had trouble standing and today I’m going home.

Going Home

Emotional State: Shocked and nervous. When I first went in for surgery, I expected to be home the next day. But then reality set in and I realized how frail I was. It feels sudden to be going home now, but I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, eating my own food, and wiping my ass with softer toilet paper.

Thursday – Friday – Crutches and Stairs

Crutches and Stairs

Our home has a lot of stairs. I’m getting better at using crutches to go up and down, but it’s a slog.

I didn’t want to be a burden on Emily when I came home, so I’ve been trying to find ways of contributing. I reluctantly ask for help when I need it, but I try my hardest to be independent and helpful. Some activities are easy (doing dishes, chopping vegetables, reading Astrid bedtime stories). Still, others are shockingly hard (moving a dirty bowl from the table to the sink, tidying the living room, putting on underwear).

Walker Transport

On Thursday, I went over to Mairy and Martha’s to use their accessible shower. It feels good to be clean again. I shaved off my patchy facial hair, but I had to be very careful as I’m on blood thinners right now, and any nick would have bled for a long time.

I’m slowly easing back into work and managed to put a few hours in on Thursday and Friday. My head’s still a little foggy, but working hasn’t been too hard. I just need to move to a new position every 30 minutes.

Takeaways

  • It was important for me to remember who I was getting better for. Emily and Astrid’s visits kept me focused on my family.
  • You never know when life might change quickly, so you should do things now when you can. We all know this, but it’s good to have another reminder.
  • It was great to have social visits from friends while in the hospital. Thanks Steve, David, Michael, Cynthia, and the others who offered to come but I was released too soon. We need to plan some get-togethers this summer that don’t involve hospitals. Board game night?
  • While in the hospital, I got a visit from the internal medicine team (the detectives of the medical world). They reviewed my past lab results and interviewed me. It was cool to have doctors piece through my medical history and see if there are any interconnected trends that I need to pay attention to. They noticed some abnormalities in an echocardiogram I did years ago that no one ever mentioned to me. Nothing immediately alarming, but they said it was worth re-testing every 3-5 years to ensure my heart is still healthy. So I’ll be going for a follow-up test soon.
  • I think I’m through the most challenging part of the recovery, but there is still a long journey ahead. I’m determined to be mobile enough to attend Folk Fest in July and go hiking and camping in August. Beyond that, I want to get myself back into running shape and sign up for a half marathon next spring. I don’t know if those are ambitious or achievable goals, but I’m going to try my hardest to make them happen.

More Updates

Hipsters

Day 8 – I’ve now gone on 2 long walks with a walker or crutches. One trip to Trout Lake for David and Martha’s birthday party. I also walked Astrid to school one morning. It’s weird being slower than a 5-year old. The hip feels very sore after long walks but it’s a good pain.

Walking Astrid to School

I’m taking a little bit of acetaminophen to control the pain, but nothing stronger. Usually, a tablet before bed and sometimes one when I wake up. I also have to take daily vitamins (loads of calcium, D3, and a multi) and blood thinners. The blood thinners are the worst (I have to jab a needle into my belly), but I don’t want a blood clot.

I Hate Blood Thinners

Daay 10 – I’m doing my daily exercises to strengthen the muscles. Every day it’s a little bit stronger, and the range of motion is slowly improving. 10 days post-surgery and I can do some shuffle steps on my right leg without crutches.

I’ve been getting through the injury by focusing on problem-solving and learning opportunities. I love new challenges. But some days aren’t new challenges to solve, and there is just the reality that things are harder now.

Day 12 – I had my first follow-up doctor’s visit. Everything is healing well and looks good. They removed the staples, and the incision site is healing nicely. I just need to give the bone time to mend and keep doing my exercises and stretches to help the muscles bounce back.

Day 14 – I’m gaining more strength and flexibility in my hip flexor. While laying down, I can do 10 reps of straight leg raises. Everything is getting a little bit easier now – like putting on clothes, showering, sitting up, and standing. But my energy levels are still very low. Short walks wipe me out and I need more time to rest and sleep.

Day 21 – More strength is returning to my right leg. I can do short walks without crutches, but there is a very noticeable limp. Around the house, I can get around without the crutches. I can put full weight on the right leg. I can even dance a little. Time to increase the difficulty of my daily exercises.

@cdnveg

3 weeks post surgery for a hip fracture, with a sliding hip screw in my femur.p.s. Happy Birthday Lisa #strongerthanyouthink

♬ Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson

Day 28 – I’m no longer using any mobility aids inside the house – stairs are easy, and there’s a barely noticeable limp when walking around. I’m happy to have my hands free to carry things. If I go for long walks outside, I’ll use a single crutch or a hiking pole. I walked to the store and carried the groceries back all by myself. The hip is feeling stronger, but I still wake up with stiffness and pain some mornings.

Scar
My cool new scar

Day 29 – Weekends tend to be highly active and I pay the price on Monday morning. Today I took the bus to Kitsilano and met up with Astrid and Emily who biked. We checked out the farmers market and played at the splash park. When we got home, we made our own splash park in the courtyard with pools and water guns. I tired myself out getting into an epic water fight with 8 kids. Luckily no injuries. It really felt good to be able to move again without too much trouble.

Day 42 – 6 weeks after my accident and I’m biking again. I started with some small trips and it felt really good. It’s a lot easier biking than to walking (it’s a smoother motion without much lateral strain). I biked downtown twice (14 km roundtrip) without any problems. I’m also ditched the hiking pole even for long walks. I still have a limp but it gets less noticeable each day. The physiotherapist says I have about 10-15 degrees less range on my right side and some muscle weakness in my abductors and glutes. Hopefully a few weeks of stretching and exercises will fix that. I might even be running again within a few months.

5 comments

  1. Oof, that is awful. But it sounds like you’ll be 100 % once it’s all said and done, so that’s a great result.

    Like

    • Fingers crossed, but yes I’m hopeful for a full recovery. Things are progressing really well so far.
      There will be a hard decision about doing a 2nd surgery to remove the hardware, plus more rehab. We’ll have to see how it feels running with it first.

      Like

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