One step at a time: diary of a broken ankle

Dilys Morgan / 09 June 2015

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.

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.


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!


November 2

I manage 100 yards today: very pleased. Finally accept that because I can’t dust or vacuum I must get help with cleaning.

At least I’m sleeping well now.

November 3

Burst of energy today. Tidied up a bit, using a canvas bag slung across my body. Pockets are useful for carrying things as you go.

November 4

Could hardly get out of bed today. I now have the protein powder recommended by the nurse to build muscle. She also advised boosting protein in my diet, so I’m terrified weight will pile on. Develop nasty callouses on both hands from the crutches.

November 5

Had the new lightweight cast fitted. It goes from just below the knee to just before the toes. A much tighter fit than the previous one, therefore initially less comfortable, even if lighter. It aggravates the back of my knee too, so crawling’s out. A bit of a blow.

November 8

A trip to the cinema; turns out the lift’s out of order. Resort to shuffling up and down the huge sweeping staircase on my bottom, feeling a right Charlie.

November 12

Rain makes leaving the house difficult. I’ve tried wearing my husband’s waterproof golf trousers for going up and down the outside steps, but they leak! So now I spread the trousers out over the steps, shuffle down on my bottom and crawl up.

This tight-fitting cast leads to swelling around my knee and toes if I do too much.

November 13

Off to a wedding in Suffolk, and we stop for some Christmas shopping on the way. I had to lose the crutches and lean against counters to put my glasses on. Then I had to stay leaning - precariously - to pick up items to read prices , and then repeat the whole process at the next display. Grrr!

November 14

My nephew’s wedding. No disabled access to the hotel and the disabled loo was down six steps! Observe that after a couple of drinks, people don’t watch where they’re going, so keep my leg well tucked away. Hate being unable to circulate.

November 15

Really tired today - even though we left the wedding party early and I slept for 12 solid hours! Apparently the body heals while you’re asleep, which may explain why I sleep so much.

Notice that the toes on my right foot have shrunk. Not only are they fatter from swelling, they’re squatter too. Lack of exercise, I imagine.

November 16

For the first time was unaware of my leg during the night. Up to now, I’ve had to turn over cautiously and keep the leg up on a pillow to avoid pain.

It’s now three weeks on crutches and I can balance on one crutch and pick things up from the floor. This means I can at last move a drink or plate from one room to another – in very small stages. Not a manoeuvre for novice crutch users!

November 17

A red-letter day. I suddenly find myself able and willing to go downstairs using one crutch and the banister. So much of this has to do with confidence and timing: previously, jarring the ankle as I swung my good leg from step to step caused too much pain.

Three weeks makes such a difference... I got myself around our grounds here today. And felt confident enough to have a bath. I bring a chair right up to the bath and sit on it as I manoeuvre myself in, keeping my injured leg resting on the side. Not that comfortable, but it’s a resumption of normal activities. Don’t know if I’ll bother again though: strip washing’s very efficient and a lot less hassle.

November 21

I’m becoming much more adept at crutches. Walk twice around the gardens today.

Neighbours ask if my toes don’t get cold? I reply that there’s so much effort in even the simplest tasks that I’ve been constantly hot since October.

November 22

Much more comfortable in bed now and I don’t dread getting up in the morning.

The weather still has a big impact. Obviously, I can’t hold an umbrella, the falling leaves create hazards and the sleeves of most of my coats and jackets don’t fit through the crutches.

November 23

I start putting a little weight on my foot... just resting it on the floor.

November 24

I think I’ve reached my low point. It’s now, when the novelty’s wearing off, that the daily grind of living with a huge weight on your leg becomes boring and a nuisance.

November 26

My foot feels as if it’s swelling up inside plaster... so although the actual pain lessens daily, the discomfort grows.

November 28

Another bath and in the interests of research thought I’d try the waterproof cast cover (think giant condom!) someone had lent me. But it was a hassle, so I gave up.

November 30

Like many people, I suffer from intermittent twinges of pain in joints and muscles. The bad news is when one of those suddenly happens in your good ankle...or in an elbow or wrist as you’re leaning on crutches. This can be you worry some other part of the body might suddenly let you down.


December 1

The first frost. Stay indoors to be safe.

Manage more cooking today. Up to now I’ve only used the hob, but today I’m tackling a shepherd’s pie. I still can’t easily lift heavy pans from low cupboards and taking a piping-hot dish out of an eye-level oven is nerve-racking on one leg!

December 3

Life is a constant battle between the effort involved in going out, versus staying in and developing cabin fever! Find I’m really looking forward to a trip to Salisbury tomorrow for a retirement party.

December 4

Another hotel with no lift! Nice room, with a brand new bathroom, but could hardly fit in on crutches. The only good light was in the bathroom but impossible to do my makeup balancing on one leg.

Again the problem of navigating through a merry crowd: it’s like watching out for other drivers on the road. I keep myself safe by anticipating which way other revellers are heading and give some a very wide berth.

December 5

Hoping this wet spell is coming to an end. The steps outside our front door are easier now that I can go down upright, but still have to spread out the golfing trousers to crawl home.

December 8

Walked around the gardens three times. Much speedier on crutches now.

December 9

Plaster comes off tomorrow and can’t wait to be able to do normal things, like sitting on the sofa with my legs curled under me.

December 10

I have butterflies. I’m so keen to be properly mobile and active that I dread finding there’s a long process of rehabilitation ahead.

Plaster comes off with an amazing circular saw and my foot feels free and quite scary with nothing to protect it. Keep it off the ground until I see the doctor, when the x-ray demonstrates a beautifully normal (in other words healed) fibula.

Doctor takes the crutches away and tells me to walk. I jump up and it immediately feels very strange, as if I’m standing on a slope and very painful. He quickly shoves the crutches back in my direction and I realise he was joking.

I’ll need physio to rehabilitate the foot, but basically am supposed just to get on with learning to use the foot again.

Once home I practise walking – it’s very painful and the foot is really swollen. I’d carefully selected an old and misshapen pair of shoes to take to the hospital, which was fortunate, for none of my other shoes go anywhere near.

It seems that getting back to normal isn’t going g to be as quick or easy as I’d thought.

December 11

Bad night as the foot hurt more than it’s done for weeks.

The swelling had gone down when I got up and I quickly put the shoe back on while it would fit! Can only place my foot briefly on the mostly only skims the floor... but by walking differently now, I’m using different muscles in my back which begins to ache.

I manage the stairs, resting the swollen foot on the step but putting all my weight on the crutches. I can rest the foot happily on the floor when sitting or standing but without much weight on it.

But having two legs makes SUCH a difference. Can now reach into and find stuff in my wardrobe, and was able to hang up Christmas lights and some washing.

December 13

Despite a restless night I manage on one crutch for a while today.

December 15

A quick burst of Christmas shopping... much easier now with two feet on the ground!

Physiotherapy in the afternoon. I’m given exercises: five repetitions every couple of hours. Of stretching, lifting and twisting the foot.

Physio seemed mildly horrified that I’d been out for an hour and a half earlier! I should build up sensibly - from five minutes to 10, to 15 and rest the ankle in between, still using ice and elevation to reduce the swelling.

Apparently the break takes six weeks to mend but another six to be fully restored. So I’ve had to lower expectations. Should be able to manage without crutches in mid-Jan. But no driving until the full 12 weeks is up.

December 16

Whoever designed elbow crutches didn’t have winter in mind. If I didn’t have a jacket with three-quarter sleeves, I don’t know how I’d manage. Mind you, it’s snowing today on frosty ground... so I’m not venturing anywhere.

December 17

The arrival of snow and ice puts paid to lots of plans and keeps me indoors for days.

December 18

Managing with one crutch more of the time. A friend who knows about orthopaedics advises I strike the ground with a strong heel movement as this helps build new bone. Shuffling around like an invalid is no help at all.

December 20

I can put considerable weight on the foot now, can go up and downstairs easily on one crutch and begin to think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Christmas approaches and I’m not ready! Thank goodness for online shopping.

December 21

Woke up this morning to find I could suddenly hobble on two legs without any aids. What a surprise! I’d noticed a decrease in pain recently whilst being aware of aching muscles elsewhere... but this crept up on me.

It’s wonderful to be upright without any support. So, I’ve immediately started tidying up, moving presents around, and preparing for Christmas.

The long Christmas break

I overdid it, of course, over the holiday period, despite lots of help from the family and as a result the ankle hurt most of the time and I resort back to one crutch.


January 5

It’s quite clear that if I were to follow the leg’s lead, I’d be resting it more with gentle bursts of exercise. Instead, of course, I’ve been trying to resume a relatively normal life, fitting in odd rests when I can.

Resolve to give in now and take care of it so I can be back walking properly by 12 weeks.

January 8

The snow has turned again to ice, so I daren’t even venture to physiotherapy. Over the phone, she gives me additional exercises to strengthen calf muscles and advises it’s better to walk properly with one crutch rather than hobble with none.

She also confirmed that if I overdo it, I’ll get swelling and pain.

January 11

Things are getting easier by the day. I can climb the stairs properly now: one foot on each step. Still come down one step at a time.

I mainly use the single crutch for balance. I’m gaining in confidence about walking unaided...and not hobbling/limping so much when I do.

January 12

Just realised that I got up and went to the loo without giving a thought to taking a crutch or stick!

January 13

Small improvements every day, but a long bout of flu keeps me housebound and sets me back.

Last fortnight of January

I can drive. I can push a trolley round a supermarket and walk around town centre with a stick.

I have exercises that involve balancing on a wobble board, raising myself up on tiptoe, and stretching.

I can balance on the bad leg. I can jump up spontaneously and be impetuous! I can hurry downstairs to answer the door.

My walking isn’t perfect yet, but it’s not far off and I feel - at long last - that normal life has been resumed.

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