One step at a time: diary of a broken ankle

By Dilys Morgan

When I broke my ankle I had no idea of the impact it would have on everyday life, but over the following months I kept a diary of my progress - as well as my setbacks
Bandaged ankleBandaged ankle

On October 24 I slipped on a small step in Leeds and crashed to the ground. On getting up, I couldn’t put any weight on my right foot without excruciating pain.

At home, I hopped from car to front door - leaning on my husband. Each hop made me nauseous as it exacerbated the pain, so progress was slow. For want of a better idea, I crawled up the front steps, up our internal staircase and into the apartment.

When three days brought no improvement, I visited our local minor injury clinic on two walking sticks. X-rays revealed a clean break in the fibula, (the thin outer bone) which would require six to seven weeks in plaster. Once in the cast, I was given a pair of crutches and sent home.

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October 27

Back home, I’m slowly coming to terms with the implications. Having two ankles that work is what keeps you stable and allows independence. Being without one is suddenly so limiting that I see doors closing all around me as I tot up all the things I won’t be able to do. Elbow crutches that you grip with your hands mean you can’t carry a thing. Even a carrier bag or handbag makes me unstable.

I can’t have my grandson to stay; keep fit; drive; shop; do housework; kneel down; change a light-bulb; get things down from a high shelf; hang washing out; carry plates or food or drinks. I can’t do anything spontaneously; everything will involve forethought and a loss of independence...

My world centres on the sofa and the low table beside it. Here – with hubbie’s help – I gather together everything I need for everyday life.

Luckily, I work mostly online.

October 28

A bad night. Earlier, the weight of the duvet on my foot was excruciating but now with the cast, it’s uncomfortable in a different way. I suppose it’ll take time adjusting to this heavy weight that goes everywhere with me.

Getting up go to the loo, I chicken out of using crutches and revert to crawling. It feels safer.

But now that I have crutches I can at least reach the basin. (I couldn’t work out how to do my teeth or wash when crawling.) But my balance isn’t good - so find anything requiring two hands difficult.

Even the smallest tasks defeat me. I can’t get clothes into or out of the wardrobe or drawers. Getting dressed involves perching on the edge of a chair or bed and takes an age.

Our apartment staircase looms large - a huge barrier between me and the outside world. Going up and down on my backside is hard work; just hope it’s giving my arms a work-out!

October 29

When I move around with my foot dangling, it quickly goes blue. I can return it to near normal by elevating it again. So in a restaurant I ask for an extra chair.

Chairs become my saviour. I’ve positioned one in the bathroom where I can perch and wash all over with a flannel. It’s not ideal but it’ll be a long while before I have the confidence to stand on one leg in the shower or lower myself into a bath.

With a chair by the wardrobe, I can carefully place the knee of the injured leg on the chair, ditch the crutches and balance enough to get things off hangers. Not that I plan much ferreting around in the wardrobe: dressing for comfort’s essential. Balancing on one leg is still scary, so I lean against the bath or basin and try not to wobble.

October 30

I’m supposed to keep the foot elevated but also keep mobile...presumably so the rest of me doesn’t waste away. So today I attempt to walk 100 yards but give up three-quarters of the way. Feel pathetic and stupid but had no strength to go on.

October 31

A new high chair for the kitchen enables me to reach the sink, hob and kettle and fridge. Can now make tea or coffee, but still have to drink it on the spot!

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  • amanda barnetson

    Posted: Saturday 01 November 2014

    The lack of independence is awful. I have gone from a busy working mum of 3 children (who have been marvelous!)to sitting in a chair with my foot elevated constantly...i am a very active person, who enjoys going to the gym, I've lost just over two stone and am devastated by this injury at the risk of weight gain. The muscles in my right leg have severely wasted and my heel burns against the cas, especially at night when trying to get off to sleep. I haven't actually slept fully since the injury.

  • Dawn

    Posted: Tuesday 28 October 2014

    Oh! thank you for writing this! I broke my ankle on August 26. the doc doesnt want my tendons to tighten up, so I have pins, with no cast. I had a split for 10 days following surgery, only. I spent the first little while nearly falling often and wound up jamming the bad foot down every few days. My husband bought a knee scooter, which has been helpful for mobility. I have about had it with being a public spectacle everywhere I go, though! your diary echoes so much of my recuperation.

  • Jessica

    Posted: Tuesday 14 October 2014

    Donna sounds like you have a similar injury to me hope this helps take paracetamol 4 times a day and exercises four times a day even if its sore you must get your ankle working .go to pool remember to ice and elivate but walking will help get swelling down .I bought ASH leather boots on line a size bigger and put in hell insoles there supportive and comfortable look like converse they ve been great good luckb

  • Jessica

    Posted: Tuesday 14 October 2014

    Hi thought I d give you an update .Its 17 weeks since I dislocated an broke my ankle in 4 places .now walking with a slight limp .The surgeon described my condition as complex ankle reconstruction. So here s a few tips on recovery get to the pool and do your exercises in the water .get a pedometer and put it on every morning and watch your steps increase every day your ankle is going to be very sore every day while you work it keep going. Repeat every day I m getting better.good luk x

  • Chris

    Posted: Tuesday 14 October 2014

    i just broke my fib, and dislocated my ankle 2 nights ago playing hockey. ive never broken a bone in my body at all. im freaking out because i feel so helpless and i dont know what im going to do. my wife is 2 weeks from being due with our 3rd child and im currently in the marines and have to fly home too see her in a week and a half. the hospital said ill need surgery which im assuming is plates and screws. im worried that i wont be able to perform at my job or help my wife. this will be hard.

  • Vena Cava Siregar

    Posted: Sunday 12 October 2014

    I'm just coming up at the end of the recovery process of having fractured my naviculare ankle bones in September 19th. Slipped on a small step and fell on the concrete at the parking lot, was excruciatingly painful. Went straight to have it x-rayed,ended with non bearing weight cast for 3 weeks and was shuffling around like an invalid using a wheelchair. Now I'm trying to put some considerable weight on my broken foot,trying to walk normally without a crutch . Best wishes everyone :)

  • Rebecca

    Posted: Friday 10 October 2014

    Thanks for posting this - it gives me hope. I'm 2 months post trimalleolar fracture dislocation. I fell down the stairs with my 2 month old baby in my arms (he was fine). It was operated on the following day and I have pins and plates. I came out of plaster 2.5 weeks ago and was given a walking boot. I've had one physio appointment but only given very basic exercises as have so little movement in the ankle. Trying to weight bear a bit but struggling. Beginning to think I will never walk again!!

  • Paula

    Posted: Wednesday 08 October 2014

    I too fractured my ankle and you describe each day exactly as I am going through it. Now at least I know what to expect as I reach day 16.

    I wonder about shoes going forward and if there are very supportive ankle shoes or boots that I should look for to wear on a daily basis because I have severely sprained & injured my left then right now fracture right again. I never ever want this to happen again.

  • Crystal

    Posted: Monday 29 September 2014

    I crashed while racing my bicycle and managed 3 brakes to the ankle, including the tibia and fibula. I had surgery just hours after the brake. Took 10 hours to find a pain med that worked after the spinal block wore off. Leg felt like it was swollen so much the splint could burst open. Very painful. Every movement hurt. Slept a lot with the pain meds. 1st Dr visit scheduled tomorrow (day 13) should get a boot. Hate my crutches. Knee scooter is the way to go! Using FMLA for work.

  • Caz

    Posted: Thursday 25 September 2014

    I broke my tib & fib on my Birthday! Slipped on my stairs and heard a crack..Had op to pin & plate on 29th Aug. I hired a kneel walker and don't know what I'd have done without it. Find crutches exhausting, and steps terrify me. Got two more wks in cast and then the rehab journey begins. I will never take my mobility for granted again. My family and friends have been very helpful and supportive. Still find it hard to get comfy at night but can see light at end of tunnel now. Good luck to all.

  • Donna

    Posted: Wednesday 24 September 2014

    I fell and had 3 breaks in my ankle April 2014. It's now sept and I still cannot walk without using a walker, crutch, or cane. I have 18 screws and 2 plates in my ankle. I go to therapy 3 times a week . I have maybe 20 % movement in my ankle. I can't stand on it more than maybe 30 min before it begins to swell. Its still quite painful. Ive become very discouraged. Im worried that i will be stuck like this for the rest of my life. Ive already lost my job.

  • Julia

    Posted: Tuesday 23 September 2014

    The diary was so good, thank you, echoed many aspects of my own experience: a bimalleolar fracture. Straight to A&E by ambulance - fell off ladder into our cellar. Bones not displaced, amazingly: non-surgery route followed, back-slab plaster for two weeks: allow swelling to subside, then fixed plaster cast,to knee, for another 4 weeks, no weight-bearing and lots of elevation above hip / heart; daytime & night. Question: is phsyio automatic? I thought yes, but Dr said no at last week's hosp appt.

  • paul b

    Posted: Thursday 18 September 2014

    Life changed in one instant. Broken fib and ankle in freak everyday accident. Wow. Never had a broken bone before or been in hospital. All firsts. Interesting and frustrating.
    The diary and every comment has been supportive to read, providing hope and a well beaten path to replicate successful recovery.
    Everyone I speak to mentions ligament damage and how that is the most difficult to recover from? Is this true? and should fib plates and screws be taken out? Main worries now

  • Tamara

    Posted: Tuesday 16 September 2014

    I came across your blog while looking up info on heel pain following a broken ankle. Great diary of the day-to-day life following such an accident. I broke my ankle 7 weeks ago. As an herbalist and alternative healer, I chose to go that route for healing. As I read through the comments, I was grateful that I didn't go with standard medical care! My break was healed after 3 weeks enough for me to only need an occasional use of a boot and I am now getting around normally! I hope you all heal soon.

  • Rose

    Posted: Monday 15 September 2014

    Broken fibula diagnosed 5 days ago after a week of thinking had sprained ankle following fall down 5 stairs. Complicated by fact that have partial knee replacement on same leg and arthritis in other knee (knees have tendency to dislocate so have to be careful). This means I can't even crawl! The diary and comments are so accurate and everyone expresses my frustration and feelings of helplessness. Strangely, reading this has cheered me up so thanks everyone for sharing.

  • Lynda

    Posted: Saturday 06 September 2014

    Cast off! It looked horrible, I couldnt wait to get in a warm bath and clean off the six weeks of skin. Xray was good and Consultant was impressed that I could walk with full weight bearing and without a stick. Ankle feels tight and it has swollen so keeping it raised when I am not walking. Five weeks and four days since the operation. I have a bruised nerve that sends little shocks to the top of my toes otherwise they are numb.. Exercises to "floss" the nerve keep me busy.

  • Bee

    Posted: Monday 01 September 2014

    I broke my ankle (tib and fib plus dislocation) on 19 July in a high speed ski collision with another skier. My second cast comes off on 4 Sept. Your story and timeline pretty much mimics mine. I feel lucky as I have no ongoing pain. My biggest issue has been non-independence plus the shrinkage of my leg (from a vanity point of view). From what I've read here I think I am kidding myself that life will resume as normal once the cast comes iff, driving, walking etc. now I need to prepare for that.

  • Jessica

    Posted: Sunday 31 August 2014

    Hi again ..I started to drive today and was surprised how easy it was no pain so happy with that .I be started doing yoga won t be able to teach it for a while ,what a difference its made to my flexibility after being immobile for so long is getting back to normal oh and my Spanish is getting better so keep positive you all get there ..

  • Renee

    Posted: Sunday 31 August 2014

    Wanted to share a few tips : Keep things simple and together . For a sponge bath use hand towels to rinse with. Wear easy clothing. Nightgown with no under wear . Kitchen trash bags with duck tape works good to keep cast dry. My husband made a shower for me on our deck ,turn our swing and put canopy down and hung blankets . used my outside chair and 4 watering cans for flowers. Feels wonderful ( until it gets cold out. Try to stay happy . Best wishes everyone .

  • Renee

    Posted: Sunday 31 August 2014

    5/30/2014 step on uneven concrete broke my fibula,tibia and a small in small crack in the talus. Had surgery 6/5/14 a plate and 7 screws. Non weight bearing for 12 weeks in a cast. At 11 weeks they put me in a boot , but no weight bearing for 3 more weeks . My skin couldn't take much more of the cast . It nice to soak my leg and foot and oil it. Said I could sleep with out the boot. OH WHAT A FEELING . Better it happened in the summer , less clothing, no ice to deal with. I used a wheel chair

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