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Sunday, June 16, 2013


Steve Cole muses: On Friday, 15 February 2013, I slipped in the shower and broke my leg. This inspired several thoughts.

1. I knew when my foot suddenly moved that something BAD had happened, but I thought it was a torn ligament or tendon. Turns out it was the large bone in the lower left leg that had suddenly crushed and developed a vertical crack. People in show business say "break a leg" because it's bad luck to wish people good fortune and I can certainly understand that a broken leg is not something you want. I might comment that, near as I can tell, I did nothing "wrong" or unsafe, and nothing I had not done a thousand times before in the same spot. Statistically, every now and then, doing the same thing results in a problem.

2. The big problem with my broken leg is that being as fat as I am, I can barely stand up with two good legs without using my hands on some solid surface. With that broken bone, standing up was (for the first two weeks) a major operation involving both hands, something really solid, a lot of pain and screaming, and often someone to help. In theory, I could just sit still for three months and it would heal, but in reality a human animal has to get up now and then for something (going to work or the bathroom). Laying motionless doesn't cause pain. Standing up to get in and then out of a wheelchair (and doing it again when the reason for getting up is attended to) meant (for the first three weeks) being in pretty serious pain for most of an hour. My leg also swelled up during that hour and the swelling stayed around for a while. (Fortunately, this situation pretty much ended in three weeks. After that, it was just annoying that my leg didn't work right and getting up and down was a bother.)

3. The person really hurting in all of this is Leanna, who had to take over all of my household chores, help me stand up and sit down, and wait on me hand and foot (bringing me anything I could not reach, which was just about everything) for the first two weeks. I have promised her a major present as compensation and she wants a new refrigerator. I have no idea how people who are not deeply in love and totally married survive in this cold, cruel world. I have tried to make things easier for her, delaying requests that just don't matter. When I noted her having trouble tying my shoes, I suggested we buy a pair of velcro shoes which at least eliminated that one tiny inconvenience for her. The big problem is her picking up the wheelchair and getting it into the car. One of the guys does that for her whenever possible, and I have figured out a way to brace against the car and use my one good leg to help lift it. We eventually bought a second wheelchair (one at the house, one at the office) so that she didn't have to load and unload it.  As time went on, and I got a little stronger and the pain and swelling a little less, I could manage to get my own shoes and socks on (Leanna cheered the first day I was able to dress myself), and to feed the cats. (Leanna had to take over my duty of cleaning their litter boxes as I cannot reach that far down from a wheelchair.)

4. The medical industry is pretty good about broken bones. They've seen plenty of them and for them it's just no big deal. You usually don't even get to see a doctor on the first pass as a cheaper physician's assistant or nurse practitioner can do everything a doctor can do. That includes a prescription for pain pills, a general examination to make sure your leg isn't turning funny colors (meaning broken blood vessels or blocked circulation, which results in a real doctor walking into the room), X-rays, an appointment to get an MRI (which can detect torn ligaments and tendons and some breaks X-rays cannot see), and an appointment with a specialist. The specialist in my case only sees patients two days a week (he does surgery the other days) but there was really nothing that a few days of waiting hurt. On the second trip, I saw his assistant, not him, and his assistant took the time to tell me a lot more about my knee (including the future surgical replacement of it if I should live another decade).
5. I posted some stuff on the BBS, FC Forum, our page on Facebook, and the industry mailing lists, but my point was to warn publishers to have a plan for "key man down" and to explain to customers and others why I wasn't at my desk. I did appreciate all of the good wishes from everyone. I still wonder if the one thousand people who "liked" the announcement on our page on Facebook regarding the fall were sending good wishes or happy I was out of the office.

6. The doctors gave me pain pills but frankly they didn't do much and the pain pretty much quit after three weeks. If I hurt, the pills don't make the hurt go away. I did some (painful) experiments and found that the hour of pain that results from a bathroom expedition goes away just as fast without the pills as with them. So, I'm not going to risk getting addicted to them. I broke the small bone in the same lower left leg back in 1969 by falling off a roof (while working). Somehow, that did not hurt as much as this. I never took any pain pills for it and the pain was gone by the end of the first two hours. I was on crutches for two months.

7. Being fat, we had to get a heavy-duty wheelchair, which won't go through most of the doors in my house. So moving from my recliner to the shower involves getting up whenever I come to a door, going three or four feet on crutches, and then sitting back down once Leanna folds up the wheelchair, gets it through the door, and unfolds it again. If you're building a new house, insist on three-foot doors everywhere instead of the standard 32-inch bedroom and 24-inch bathroom doors. Many builders already use these wider doors because seniors really need them for their walkers. We ended up buying a narrower wheelchair for the house (the doors at the office were plenty wide). Learning to drive a wheelchair without scratching up the woodwork is a real challenge. After my leg heals I will have to hire a painter to come repair the stained door trim scratched by the wheelchairs.

8. The doctor said I'd be fine in 8-to-12 weeks. I made the trip to North Carolina after 10 weeks, and wasn't really fine at all. After 15 weeks, I can walk, but slowly, and not much in any give day. Physical therapy helps as I have to strengthen the muscles, but I'm still spending most of any given day in the wheelchair and am having to arrange to have a wheelchair brought to Origins. That's going to be no end of fun.

9. The change in mobility has forced me to learn new ways to do things I have done for years. (Muscle memory is not my friend.) I used to get in a car by balancing on one leg while the other one went into the car. With a broken leg, that no longer works, so I have to sit down in the car and then somehow hoist my legs over the door sill. I simply cannot get into my own (lower) car and have to drive Leanna's Honda (which is higher, and we pretty much have to stick together anyway).

10. I felt seriously annoyed, hurt, and inconvenienced by the whole affair. Then one day at lunch I spoke briefly to a military veteran who had lost both legs in Afghanistan. That established a sense of perspective.