Learning to live with Ilizarov, 21/07/16

So, it’s now twenty three days since I woke up with my lower right leg in an Ilizarov frame, and I think it’s starting to settle. It’s genuinely the oddest thing, and I’ve no idea how to explain to you how it feels. There was a moment where I clattered my left leg with the frame that’s pretty vivid and easy to describe: it was like both legs had been simultaneously dipped in ice-cold water and set on fire. Behind the inner howl, I could hear a very clear voice saying “we are never doing that again.” It’s been right so far.

What else? Hmmmm, on the Sunday after I was discharged I had a bit of a meltdown. The frame felt cold and I started imagining I could feel that cold in my bones and then panicked that I might never be free of it. There may have been some tears. Possibly snot. I perked right up after I ate something so perhaps it was low blood-sugar.

And the sleeping, oh, mother of grief weeping on the shores of sorrow, the sleeping. I’m not sure how much the frame weighs but it’s really pretty big. I naturally prefer to sleep on my side, and I’ve had to find a way to support all this metal so that I can get off my back in comfort. In fits and starts, I’m getting around 6 hours a night. I realise that, to many, this is a lot of sleep. I normally do 9 hours at a stretch, and I really need my sleep at the moment. I’m up, out of bed and downstairs before 07:00 every day. It’s strange.

They did a pretty decent job of tidying the frame in theatre, but there are still twenty sharp titanium ends ever so slightly proud of the rings, and they catch on everything. I’ve got two old pillows, two bedspreads and a mattress-topper to protect my furniture from the scratches and gouges.

Toenails. Oh, toenails. They’re still covered in blood and a gosh-awful long way away. And

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Blood? Where was your right foot on the night of the murder?

long, so long. They’re talons. I wish I’d cut them before the operation. With some huffing and pain and quite a lot of profanity, I clip and clean them. Touching my swollen foot is still a very odd sensation, so the blood between my toes is staying there until I sweat it off. Oh, the glamour.

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Medication time! Medication time!

I’m summoned to see the consultant at a day’s notice. It’s taken me 6 months to get an appointment before, so this a novel and alarming development. Apparently my blood tests show that there may be an infection in the bone. I have to take a course of antibiotics. The prescription is faxed over to the hospital pharmacy and I’m left waiting around 40 minutes for it. When it arrives, I understand why – it’s actually a carrier bag full of antibiotics. If you need clindamycin for anything in the near future, I’m sorry – I have all of it. I’ve got 504 capsules to get through, on top of my pain control medication, calcium supplement and vitamin D. Gosh, I’ve got a lot of pills.

The first time the pin site dressings are changed, it takes two districts nurses over an hour (this isn’t a complaint – there are forty pads to replace). The second time, we’ve got a system going. I strip the old pads off while they cut up new ones and clean the pin sites, then they re-dress with new pads. We’re down to 45 minutes. They say they’ll take my four sets of stitches out on the next visit. It’s a completely different nurse on the third visit and she bottles it on the stitches. To be fair, if you’re not confident with it, I don’t want you down there with a stitch ripper and tweezers. If I get my dynamic duo back next visit, then they’ll take them out. Failing that, I’ve a clinic appointment with the surgeon the following day and they can go then.

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That’s where they took out the intramedullary nail.

My first visit to physiotherapy gets me prodded and poked a bit, and I get some exercises to build up mobility in my ankle. I’m not using crutches in the house any more, and then I’m getting up and down stairs without crutches and then I’m going up the stairs with a reciprocal gait (still leading with the bad leg on the way down). At my next visit, they have me working like a (lame) mule. Damn them, they can look right into me and see the bit that wants their approval, and they exploit it  It’s like I’m caught in some strange, therapeutic Stockholm syndrome. It works, mind you. The next day I walk into Bingley and back. It’s a 1km loop – it takes me 50 minutes. My ribs are aching from using crutches for so long. It’s a massive thing, though, a huge weight off my mind. If I can get to Bingley then I’m on my way back to independence. A small triumph but a triumph nonetheless.

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