My Broken Ankle Recovery Story
This is the story of how I broke my ankle and recovered from this fracture that should have left me limping for life, according to the doctors. It was originally published on a blog called MayJer Tales that we kept for a few years with Jerry. That site is not online anymore, but this accident was a huge turning point in my life, so I wanted to keep the story on my website.
It was written in 8 parts as I progressed from freshly injured, to surgery and finally recovery, and the biggest reason I absolutely wanted to share it here is because of the response I got from people going through similar experiences – people who were dealing with bleak prognoses and finding mostly horror stories online. If you’re one of them, this story with a happy ending is for you!
It’s here to show you that it is possible to have a positive recovery – and that it’s really within your power to create it.
(update for all of those who want to know if I’m still based in New Zealand: no – even though the accident happened in New Zealand, where we lived for almost 5 years, we left that country at the end of 2016.)
PART 1 – A Different Kind of Halloween (November 2012)
Wednesday, the last of October, started off fantastic. We were running full-steam from early morning, having breakfast while arranging the last details for our upcoming book 88 Kitchen Tales over Skype, and even managing to cook lunch in the meantime. Chaotic, but we were doing great. Jerry started work at 9 and I was meeting some friends for climbing around 10. Considering that the last time I went climbing with these girls we spent most off the day outside, I packed some lunch to take along (otherwise I’d spend the whole day on bananas). A little past 10am we[ were in the car and heading towards the Hospital Flat climbing spot. It was shaping up to be a nice day, with some wind but plenty of sun, meaning the temps would be in the 20s if all went well. After two months of indoor climbing, this was supposed to be my second time on a real rock. It’s totally different, I admit. More adrenalin, but falling can hurt a bit more as well.
The car is parked, our backpacks ready and we reach our destination after a few hundred meters of walking. Sarah gets out the routes guide and we decide on an easy thirteen to warm up a little. I put on my shoes and I’m on the rope and climbing first. After a few moves I start wondering how this could possibly be a thirteen, especially since the route begins with an overhang that still baffles me (very few good grips anywhere). First try; fail. I hang on the rope for a bit and think about where I’m going to put my feet, then go for it again. I almost get it when my foot slips, I fall, swing on the rope and crash against the wall. If it had been completely vertical, this would have caused a bruise at the most. Unfortunately, my right foot lands on the ledge. I feel a sharp pain, I yell out and they’re immediately asking me if I’m OK. The girls are used to me yelling out every time I fall on the indoor wall. But I’m not OK. Sarah asks again. I feel confident that I can continue climbing, but after a few seconds it becomes obvious that my ankle disagrees. Sarah lowers me down, I get a bit nauseous along the way and after two minutes my ankle is swollen up – it’s obvious I won’t be climbing anymore today.
The swelling doesn’t look too good and I’m still wearing my climbing shoes, which need to come off. I somehow manage, taking deep breaths and meditating on not feeling pain. After a few more minutes it’s only getting worse, so the plan is to go see a doctor. There’s a narrow path leading to our car, which is about 200 meters away. There’s a wire fence alongside it, luckily not electrified, so I can lean on that while I hop to the car. My good leg and left buttocks are immensely glad of the hopping and start cramping up along the way. We get in the car and in 15 minutes we are at the medical center, where Jerry is already waiting with a bag of ice and a worried look on his face. I tell him it’s probably only a sprain and he winces when he sees the egg-like swell on the outside of my right ankle. Ahhh… it’s only a sprain! I should probably mention now that I was planning to go to Dunedin in a week with Sarah and Claudia for the Circulation Festival. I was beginning to worry that I couldn’t go, but I told myself that it’s only a sprain after all, so it should be alright in a week. I’m going to Dunedin! (Well, I was right about that part, anyway.)
Wheelchair and a few minutes spent in the waiting room; I can be a bit clumsy when I put my mind to it, and I managed to spill the bag of ice that Jerry brought all over the floor. An elderly lady helped him pick the ice cubes up. Her comment? “All you need now is a little vodka to go with your ice!” Kiwis can be really amusing. Sally and Sarah come and join us. A few minutes later, the nurse comes to get me. Me and Jerry are both expecting to say goodbye to the girls, but we get a surprise! The nurse asks if my friends want to come along – the more, the merrier! We roll into the room, I’m moved to the bed and my entourage gets chairs while we wait for the doctor. There’s a sign hanging by my bed saying that each every patient has the right to a chaperone during his consultation. If you happen to come in alone, one can be provided on request. Ha! Voila, instant friend for you!
I’m really happy the doctors don’t wear white coats around here. No matter how you look, those always put a person into a certain kind of mood, and it’s not a good one. A very friendly doctor takes a look at my ankle and sends me for x-rays. They do the front and the side view. When the nurse comes back she says “I’m sorry, but something seems to be broken.” I’m shocked and can’t hold back the tears. She immediately feels sorry for telling me before the doctor could look at the images, but I tell her I’m grateful. At least this gives me a few moments to process the information.
When I get back to the room Sarah and Sally notice at once that the news aren’t good. They’re just as shocked about my broken ankle as I am. The doctor repeats what I’ve already learnt and tells me I might have to go to the hospital, so she will ring them up and send my x-rays over to get their opinion. We wait. (Not very gloomily, though. I believe that laughter is the best medicine, so we crack jokes to pass the time.) The doctor comes back in the meantime, just to let us know she’s still waiting for a reply from the hospital. A few minutes more, and she’s back again:
“They want to take a look at you in Dunedin – you’ve fractured your talus and the break looks slightly misaligned.” Here we go! I’ll be in Dunedin a week earlier than I had planned! Just as I’m getting the news, the elderly lady from the waiting room passes my bed on her way out, tells me that she’s sorry about my ankle and goes: “Grab the chance to get some good drugs!”. Yep, Kiwis.
PART 2 (November 2012)
The trip to Dunedin wasn’t exactly pleasant for me. The adrenalin which had flooded my body after the injury was slowly wearing off and my ankle was beginning to hurt more and more. I was determined not to take anything for the pain. I managed to last about half of the journey before it got too bad. I could feel all the hills and bumps in the road and braking or accelerating was a nightmare. After some paracetamol and almost 5 hours of driving we finally arrive to Dunedin where I’m put on a stretcher in the ED. The pain had intensified and I just want the doctor to come over as fast as possible.
A young doctor finally approaches and decides my ankle needs to be aligned at 90 degrees. I get a lump in my throat and beg him to anesthetize me for the procedure. They grant my wish and as I’m drifting off to sleep I beg them again not to make it too painful. A moment later I’m waking up feeling heat on my leg, but they tell me it’s just the cast setting. I’m transported to Ward 3B, changed into hospital clothes and I’m in pain.
Luckily, I get some morphine so I can fall asleep. The night is rough. I wake up every two hours to call the nurses and ask for more morphine. I’m in a room with three other women – one of them has nightmares and keeps talking in her sleep. Let’s just say she’s not very happy in her relationship and I hear things I didn’t really wish to hear.
At about 7 in the morning my little toe starts to hurt. The cast has hardened and it’s apparently pressing on a nerve somewhere. An hour later the toenail starts hurting as well. It feels as if someone was putting a blowtorch to it and the pain is getting unbearable. I ask the nurses to help and they try to spread the cast a bit, but it’s like a drop in the ocean. I talk to the doctor and tell him about the plaster problem. After about 3 hours, they finally cut and spread the cast so my leg can breathe. Finally! That’s cast number 2 open. They still don’t know how bad is my fracture so I’m sent for a CT scan. I’m left hanging for a while because they don’t seem to be sure whether to operate or not. I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything in the meantime. Considering I usually drink at least 3 to 4 liters of water a day, the dehydration is already hitting me heavily and they only put me on a small IV drip after about 24 hours.
I spent most of Thursday numbed by morphine. Jerry comes and goes to my room and tries to make me as comfortable as possible.
Friday’s rounds: the surgeon, Dr Birks, comes to my bed accompanied by two other doctors (one of them the young one who saw me on Wednesday). They had a look at the CT scans and the fracture doesn’t look too good. The talus is not only broken; I’ve also skillfully managed to crush it so my ankle joint currently has about 4 or 5 extra fragments inside. Dr Birks tells me he’s not even sure whether an operation would help or not. The joint might be permanently damaged, but they could simply put a plaster on it and let it mend as best as possible. The pieces of the talus are only misaligned by 2 millimeters, which shouldn’t by a big problem and if the fragments begin to bother me they can always be removed later. I can’t hold back the tears anymore. After a five hour drive and waiting in the hospital for two days they are telling me that surgery might not be necessary and that I might never regain full sideways mobility in my ankle?!? That’s too much for my Friday morning. I cry and the three men by my bed have no idea how to react. Well, I guess every male knows the uncomfortable situation when a woman is crying and you can’t do anything to help. Looking back, the situation was a bit comical. They leave and the duty nurse comes to comfort me. Jerry is on the way to the hospital but he seems so far away at the moment. They also tell me that even if the surgery does go ahead, it wouldn’t happen this weekend because the surgeon is not available. I try to calm down and succeed after a while, when Dr Birks returns to tell me that he’s decided to operate anyway. They’ve had another look at my CT scans and surgery seems the best solution. Next week, that is. The plan is to put another cast on my leg and send me home, then I can return next Thursday for the operation. Ha! I can also decide to stay in the hospital if I want to, but it would probably be best to go home. Jerry arrives again and finds out about everything. We are both shocked. I’m leaning towards staying in the hospital and he would like to take me home so he can look after me. Because the operation is only next week I need a new plaster to immobilize my ankle.
They take me down to the fracture clinic around lunch time – Jerry is thankfully by my side. Because my leg has been free for more than a day the ankle has moved a bit and has to be reset to 90 degrees. Sick of the pain and scared of it, I almost break down and cry again, asking if they can put me to sleep. The funny nurse offers me laughing gas instead. I reluctantly take the mouthpiece and start breathing it in. After a few minutes I get a bit dizzy and the pain subsides. And since it’s laughing gas, I’m starting to laugh at things as well. I think they know that the patient is ready once she gets to this point. Jerry explains about the toe problems and the nurses promise to make this cast a perfect one. They set my ankle, I moan with a kind of pain that doesn’t feel like pain but really hurts at the same time, and I’m smiling. (Not because of the plaster, but the gas is really great). So there we go: cast number 3. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it pink, but at least I got a pink bow to take with me.
They take me back to my ward and me and Jerry sit around for a few hours (to be honest, I actually lie in bed) waiting for the plaster to set. I take a shower, before I leave they split the cast in case the ankle swells up while I’m home and I get some prescriptions. Jerry leaves about 100$ at the pharmacy, buying paracetamol, opiates, tramadol and some laxative – apparently the morphine and other opiates can cause constipation. Around 6pm we finally manage to get out of the hospital and head to Wanaka. I take 2 tramadols for the road to keep the pain down. Most of the time I spent in the hospital I was only half-conscious because of all the painkillers they were feeding me. I was dizzy and sick, or feeling that I had no control over my body. But we knew things would be better once we arrive home – around 10pm or so. Ahhh, how wrong we were! …
PART 3 (November 2012)
I’m sitting in the back of our Subaru feeling really happy we bought a big car. The leg inside the cast is supported by the two pillows I managed to borrow from the hospital with almost no hassle (I’m coming back to the same ward in a week anyway). I ask Jerry to drive very carefully, since every little turn makes me sick. I spend most of the time moaning – something between a meditative ‘om’ and painful ‘au’, which seems to make things easier for me. If you’re well, the New Zealand roads are awesome. If you’re not, they can be your worst nightmare. Let’s just say they’re a nightmare for both of us at this moment.
I ask Jerry to stop every few kilometers because I’m not sure if I’m going to puke or not. I keep asking him how far we’ve driven and it keeps being less than what it seems to me. What feels like 150kms turns out to be only 60. It’s getting dark and it’s obvious we won’t be making it to Wanaka by 10pm. Then, during one of the stops, I get an attack of some sort – I now believe it was withdrawal symptoms. Jerry looked it up online and found quite a few horror stories of people coming off morphine after a hospital stay. What’s worse: tramadol intensifies it. A perfect combination for our 300km trip back home.
When they were injecting me with morphine at the hospital it would get to my brain in a matter of seconds. I could literally feel the substance traveling up my arteries to the brain, followed by dizziness and the pain lessening off (unfortunately this lasted only two or three hours before I needed another dose). After that I would normally get very, very sleepy. In any case… in the car the feelings are similar, but much, much worse. I feel a tingling sensation shooting up my neck, dizziness and in a few seconds I’m feeling sick, I’m shaking and my teeth are chattering. To Jerry it seems like I’m freezing and he wants to turn the heating up, but I tell him I’m ok and that it would pass. I can’t even imagine how I must have looked like at that moment, but it felt like my eyes were turning up inside my head. I could feel a pounding in my leg and the ankle felt like it was going to explode. I managed to get a few sentences out through my chattering teeth to calm Jerry down. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be ok and how long the thing would last. Plus we were out in the middle of wilderness with no actual rest stops around. Luckily, I calmed down in a few minutes and we could continue on our way, but the attacks kept coming back worse and worse.
At some point, driving for 10 kilometers without stopping was an accomplishment. I went through a few of these episodes, but at least after the first one we knew that they do, indeed, end at some point. Exhausted by this trip, we finally arrived home after traveling for 7 hours. I was in bed and asleep around 1am.
Then I woke at four. My body, unused to being still for such a long time, was growing really restless. Jerry jokingly asked if I wanted the barbells and I answer that yes, they would actually be nice! A short upper body workout in the middle of the night while lying in bed wore me out just enough that I could sleep for the next three hours.
The following week was spent lying down with my leg supported and elevated. The girls from the climbing gym kept dropping by, making the time fly faster, bringing me books, bananas and ‘sweet painkillers’… and of course, everyone who came to visit and ask if I needed anything was more than happy to grab a pen and draw something on my cast. There’s just something special about plasters and people appear genuinely happy to draw on them. Just like in primary school when someone broke something and then had the whole class scribble all over his cast.
I managed to keep the pain at bay with paracetamol until Monday, then it got too bad, so I reluctantly took some opiates as well. Like most patients, I’d gotten a ton of advice about laxatives and constipation caused by opiates. Hm, I guess it does happen to ‘average’ people. Why didn’t I have those problems? I eat only plant-based food and drink plenty of water (3 do 4 liters daily on average), so it’s simply impossible. I also decided I want to stay with smoothies during my recovery, since that’s the easiest thing to digest. My body has more important things to worry about than constipation. So my digestion is perfectly normal. Why do I even mention that? I just wanted to point out it’s not necessary to take pills when you really don’t need to.
As we’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to go to Dunedin on Thursday with Sarah and Claudia for the Circulation festival. So everything turned out well: I had to be back at the hospital on Thursday and they were going to the festival. We still shared the ride to Dunedin.
PART 4 – The Operation (November 2012)
I was afraid of the trip back to Dunedin. I’ve already had a nasty experience coming home to Wanaka and for the past few days, my leg would start hurting every time I got up to go to the bathroom. I knew I would never touch tramadol again.
Sarah came to pick me up around 9am and Jerry menacingly told her she’d better drive carefully. Then we picked up Claudia and were off. It went better than I’d even dared to hope. I slept for half of the trip, we stopped for a long break when I did start feeling a bit sick, but we still arrived at the hospital in less than 4 hours.
To my surprise I got a single room with an ocean view all to myself! Well, not really – I couldn’t see the ocean from the window, but it would have been nice. Right after I arrived, some guy stopped by to ask if I’d be OK with students watching when they removed my cast (I was going for an operation the next day, anyway). I already knew by now that I had an interesting fracture. So I agreed although in the end it didn’t happen. I guess the fracture was a bit more serious than they thought.
I got a visit from a nurse that afternoon to talk about my experience with painkillers and she found it hard to believe that it could have been the morphine that caused such a reaction the week before. Hmmm… I remembered everything all too well, but I didn’t feel like trying to convince her. Then I got a visit from the hospital chaplain, but she realized after a few minutes that I have plenty of positive attitude for the operation to go smoothly without any divine backups. An hour later one of the doctors popped in to question me about my general health. We agreed that I shouldn’t get any more tramadol. Later, the anesthesiologist came by. An amusing person, we spent more time laughing than talking. He asked me how I manage to survive as a vegan in New Zealand, when their meat is so good. Easily! We also decided that I’d get a block in my ankle in addition to general anesthesia, so my body can recover faster. I wanted to avoid getting a spinal block, because that would mean getting a catheter as well. Thanks, but no thanks, unless it’s essential to my survival. “If all goes well, the operation will be tomorrow at noon.” That’s how he left me to Dr Birks, my surgeon. He explained the procedure again and told me what he’ll be cutting and how he’ll do it. The final verdict: my talus is not only fractured and dislocated, there’s some fragments inside as well (which I already knew) and it’s cracked on the other side, to boot. They knew from experience it’s better to put another screw in for the bone to heal better, so that’s what I got as well. The ankle was opened from the inner side (main procedure) and then from the other one as well so they could get in the extra screw. In any case… a very interesting fracture for the doctors!
I was nervous on Friday morning. No matter how you look at it, it was still a major procedure happening inside my body and what I feared the most was waking up in the middle of surgery or feeling pain while they operated. I got a sexy little blue “dress” around 10 to wear into theater and they rolled me out of my room around 11. Because I still haven’t signed all the necessary papers, I needed to wait for the surgeon outside the OR. Every person passing was admiring my colorful cast and the ‘happy toe’ that Sali drew on. I guess it’s not every day they get a grownup with a painted plaster. Dr Birks came and I half-jokingly asked him if he slept well. He answered that he slept great and I shouldn’t worry. Then he asked if I’d mind having students in the room while they operate. Of course not! I’m more than happy to share my interesting fracture. I signed the papers, the anesthesiologist (who seemed a bit unhappy over me getting breakfast – I guess the nurses weren’t following instructions) wheeled me in and in a few moments I was in the middle of the operating room. I really loved the energy in there. Everyone came to introduce themselves (I was so nervous I forgot their functions, but there were 2 women and a man in there in addition to the surgeon and anesthesiologist). We chatted a bit as if we were just sitting down for a drink. Then they put a mask on my face, told me to relax, and my last words were: “You’ll take good care of me, right?”. Darkness…
PART 5 (November 2012)
Pain, nausea, morphine, my room, 4 p.m. and the nurse coming in to take my pressure every hour after surgery. I slept badly that night. The nurse was coming in every two hours now and when I wasn’t sleeping, it felt like someone was trying to crush my leg between two rocks. An unpleasant pain that dragged on throughout Saturday. I spent most of the day crying – because of the pills, because of the pain and because Jerry was still 300 kilometers away. Saturday morning, around 7am, my little toe started hurting again. Same as the week before, it felt like someone was holding a blowtorch to my toenail and that the toe itself was about to die off. After a nightmarish 5 hours the surgeon came in and apologized for the pain (!), then they split the cast number 4 and everything settled down in a matter of minutes. The morning nurse was a ray of sunshine – comforting me and trying to make me feel better. Unfortunately, the afternoon nurse was more of a rain cloud. I was trying to get a wheelchair to go to the toilet, but she insisted I get up on the crutches. She finally realized I was being serious when I told her firmly that I wouldn’t move from the bed and walk around with an open cast. The night shift took a long time arriving. I asked them for some more pain killers and spent the second night a bit better.
In the morning, just before his shift was over, the same nurse from the night before came by and talked with me for a while. He told me about his own broken ankle about a year ago and his experience with opiates. He said it was strong stuff and that the withdrawal would probably make me irritable and weepy (as I was already, in any case, but at least now I knew the reason). To be honest, this talk helped me get through the days ahead!
Because my fourth plaster had been split open I needed a new one before going home. They squeezed me onto the waiting list at the fracture clinic and had me down in the plaster room around lunch time on Monday. I got the laughing gas again and so everything was funny for a while. I asked the nurses to take care of my foot and my little toe. Just like the last time, having the cast open for 24 hours had caused my ankle to rotate slightly. They had to realign it and set it at 90 degrees, but the pain was much, much worse this time. And, presto, I got my cast number 5! Unfortunately the pain in my little toe came back in the afternoon. I let the nurse know, but she told me I had plenty of room to wiggle my toes, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t think anyone understood that the cast was squeezing my foot about an inch below the toes. So I tried to get some pens inside before the plaster hardened completely so I’d have a bit more space available. That’s how I spent the third night. Waking up, sticking a pen in my cast, hoping it would get better. Jerry arrived in the evening and helped me by making some cuts in the cast with his Swiss army knife. I felt like some spoiled princess and I think the staff weren’t taking me seriously anymore. I mean, who in the world could have so much trouble with casts being too tight? I’d had five in the past 10 days! I couldn’t wait to get home because we’d already made a plan – as soon as we got to Wanaka, Jerry would cut off a piece of the plaster so my foot could breathe.
On Tuesday morning I asked for the pain killers and the nurse brought me some codeine besides the paracetamol – this was supposed to be a better option. After fifteen minutes my muscles were aching all over (like coming down with a flu) and I was starting to feel sick. The nurse took my temperature and said that I was fine. I got a pill for nausea which went straight into the waste bin as soon as she was gone from the room. Then, after a few minutes, my diaphragm (or possibly my liver) started to hurt. I still don’t know how, but I managed to curl up in a fetal position and sleep for half an hour. This helped a bit, and when the doctor came by, we decided I’d go back to the paracetamol-oxycodone combo.
I was released on Tuesday afternoon and I could go home! And what do you know, I even managed to sleep a part of the way back.
That evening, just before we went to sleep, I asked Jerry to do something about my cast. I could no longer feel my little toe and I knew I couldn’t hold on much longer. With the help of a saw, his knife and some surgical precision, he uncovered a huge, red lump underneath the plaster. Ha! I wasn’t making up all the pain after all!
Unfortunately, things still weren’t back to normal next morning and because my heel was still tingling, Jerry took off some more of the cast. We finally decided to go to the Wanaka Medical Center in the afternoon. They made no fuss about taking off the plaster and leaving my leg in the open for a while. They made me a new one after about 30 minutes and told me to come back the next day if things don’t settle down. Luckily, things did settle down – about 7 hours later, the tingling was gone and cast number 6 (in 14 days) turned out to be the lucky one.
PART 6 – Project: Recovery (January 2013)
I finished my ankle tale a month ago with cast number six. Things weren’t looking very bright back then, but the human body is capable of withstanding quite a lot, and mine did just that.
Two weeks after my operation I was due back in Dunedin for a check-up. Both of us knew the road by heart by then. It was funny, the way I remembered it – mostly, I could recall all the turns where I suffered on that first trip to the hospital. And I’ll admit I was looking forward to a pink fibreglass cast that was promised to me. Dr. Birks decided otherwise, to my disappointment, but also good luck – I received a moon boot. He felt sorry I suffered so much with all the tight plasters they put on and decided a moon boot would be a better option. So after a quick look-over, they put one of those on my leg and off we went, back to Wanaka. The good thing about a moon boot is, you can adjust the tightness yourself. No more pains, squeezing, numbness… a great way to start a new period.
I began physiotherapy in the beginning of December (one month after surgery). Getting the foot out of the boot for the first time was horrifying, to put it mildly. Not because it would hurt, but because my whole lower leg just felt powerless. After a month of no use, the muscles simply stop working. The therapy began so gently, though, that I’m still grateful to Sheryl – it was just a gentle massage to wake those muscles up. We continued a few days later with some mild exercises and stretching… I started going to the pool as well, just to move the leg around while standing in the water. I could already see progress after two visits – the tendons started to relax a bit and the ankle got more flexible.
I took Project: Recovery very seriously. I massage my leg twice a day (at least thirty minutes), do my exercises and stretch it well daily. I felt the biggest improvement in the first week, then it slowed down a bit. Actually, I sometimes feel like it’s standing still, although Jerry and Sheryl think I’m doing great. I’ll have to take their word for it, I guess. Right before I started physio, I also read up on other peoples’ experience. A lot of them complained about the pains and having to take pills for that, and about their foot swelling up. Sheryl actually told me to be ready for it. What seems to be the reality of my recovery? No pain and practically no swelling of the ankle (it just changes color whenever I get up). Awesome, no?
It’s also great that I never found out about certain things, and Jerry, who did, felt it was wiser not to share them with me as I was waiting for my operation. A talus fracture, it seems, can be one of the nastier things that can happen to a human foot. Blood is supplied to this little bone by three different arteries, and a fractured talus might never regrow properly due to this supply being disturbed – the broken part can die off, putting the whole bone, and, ultimately, the entire foot, at risk. The internet is apparently full of stories of people who waited too long to have it surgically fixed, had three or four operations, received a bone graft from a corpse and are still suffering years after the initial injury. If I’d heard something like that before my operation (it was mentioned, to be honest, but I took that to be the mandatory worst-case scenario that doctors always give you), I would definitely have started my recovery feeling much worse than I did. But Jerry was right in keeping all that to himself – he only let me know about these possibilities once he saw that I was doing good and that I’d programmed myself to heal my ankle without problems.
I made some changes to my diet during this time, which I’m sure helped my body greatly. While I was lying in hospital, I decided to keep mostly to smoothies, because I felt this kind of food would be the easiest to process for my body and demand the least amount of energy that I would need to recover. The morning smoothies changed color – they became green. Why green? Greens have tons of vitamins and minerals, similar to fruit. A great way to start the day. One smoothie (usually containing 6 ripe bananas, 200 to 300 grams of another fruit and 250 to 300 grams of greens) gives me up to 50% of the required daily amounts of minerals. This seems like a good plan for a healthy organism, and an absolute necessity for one that’s been damaged. I’ve gone mostly raw and drastically lowered the amount of nuts and other plant-based fats. I may eat one cooked meal per day, but if I do, it’s usually very simple – a cup of rice, for example. This may sound very extreme to some. I’ll admit it would have sounded extreme to me as well, a year or two ago, but mostly because I didn’t have the required knowledge. Fortunately, we live in a time when all the information is freely available to those who seek or ask for them. But like the say – to each their own – I know that my own body currently feels phenomenal.
My friend Maja showed me a cream called Anaya Dermadol about a year ago. I’m a skeptic by nature, but both of us were surprised how effective it was for our various aches (strained muscles, small injuries…). When I started physiotherapy, I started using this cream on the ankle. Was it key to my recovery? Not sure, but I know the ankle is getting better each day.
I also began using an ointment called MEBO Skin Restore that Jools told me about – we found it at the local pharmacy. It’s completely natural and I use it on the surgery scars – its function is to stimulate the propagation of stem cells that can evolve into skin. It was funny, starting with it. For about two weeks I would feel something like a low electrical current running over my scar every time I put it on, which lasted for a few minutes. And after about a week of use I can already see a layer of fresh skin forming. Would this happen without this ointment? Not sure, but I think it helps.
Oh, and another thing… for 6 weeks after surgery I took a homeopathic remedy called Symphytum three times a day – it is primarily meant to aid in bone growth and recovery. Did that help? The X-rays they took of my ankle about a month ago looked great – the bone is knitting together well and, most importantly, looks to have an uninterrupted blood supply!
What next? I have another check-up at the end of this month (12 weeks after the operation) that will include a CT scan and, hopefully, the much-awaited OK to start walking on my right leg. Fingers crossed! Yaaayy!!
PART 7 – My first steps after 3 months (February 2013)
The 12 magical weeks since my injury and operation have now passed. I had another checkup last Thursday, and we were both familiar with the morning routine: get up early (4am this time), leave early (5am) and drive all the way to Dunedin. This time it went by amazingly fast and we were at the hospital just a bit past nine. Come to think of it, it might have seemed fast because I was so busy taking pictures of the sun rising, the moon going down, the clouds changing colors…
I hopped on the CT table at 10am and then waited for my appointment with Dr Birks. It was mostly great news. Everything is healing ass it’s supposed to, the main talus fracture is fine, and if it weren’t for the two screws inside the bone, it would be hard to tell I’ve ever been broken and operated on. Isn’t that great? I think the human body is simply magical. It’s capable of healing virtually anything you do, practically by itself. Of course you need to supply it with the proper “fuel” for it, but everything else, it’ll do by itself. Great!
Well, apart from all the things that are ok, there’s another hairline fracture that hasn’t knitted yet. It’s because of this one that the doctors want to keep playing it safe. They’re not the only ones, though. I have been working on my patience for the past 12 weeks and walking without crutches will just have to wait for a while longer. But (!) I did get some great news: I can start putting 50% of my weight on my right foot, provided I have the moon boot on at the time.
So next day (Friday) I started walking, feeling immensely proud of myself because I was certain I was putting at least 30% of the weight on the foot. And it didn’t hurt at all! The moment of truth arrived that afternoon at physio, when I put my foot on the scale and pushed down on it with the same force. It went all the way up to about 5 kilos. Well, to be honest, it was more like 2, but it sounds better when I say “about 5”. What?! I was barely putting 5% of my weight on it! Uff, 50 seemed really far off. Considering my weight of 54kg, I should be putting around 27 on my recovering foot, and I stopped at about 5. OK… we made a plan with Sheryl: I’ll be starting with 10 and working up to 27 within a week. Done!
I currently still feel that 10 kilos is the most my body can handle, but I’m getting better. I kept hearing that my foot might swell up, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, and the pain is mostly bearable. It seemed logical to me that the whole leg would be putting up a bit of a fight after resting for 3 months, but I only feel a slight pain when I’m walking, best described as a moderate muscle ache around my ankle.
And as I mentioned in the beginning, if you supply the right “fuel” for your body, it will respond by gratefully healing itself to full health. I am currently on a mostly raw, fruit&veg diet (loads of fruit and plenty of leafy greens) and I’ve never felt better in my life. And even though the news we got at the hospital weren’t 100% great, we still managed to go on the best food shopping spree of the summer on our way back: watermelons, apricots, apples, mangoes, pineapples, peaches and avocado… Yummmmmy!
PART 8 (October 2015)
I can’t believe this month will be 3 years since my accident! So much has happened in this time, I learned a lot and most importantly, I helped a lot of people with similar fractures.
In 2014 I started with the Instagram page @maya.novak. I had no idea that so many people would find my experience so valuable. This page has grown into a real community and not long ago one of my followers wrote to me: “To be honest the last couple of weeks have been the hardest, so it was very fortunate timing that I found you, and your Instagram postings have been really helpful. In fact, just reading through what other people are going through; stages of recovery etc, have been brilliant.“ I feel really blessed that I’m a part of these tough times for so many people.
One of the milestones of my recovery was this year’s Challenge Wanaka. I did my first triathlon a bit more than 2 years after my accident. I’m sharing this part of my recovery story with you as well…
today I want to share a story with you (maybe a bit long one, but I really want to share this). We all have some personal goals we want to achieve, right? Yesterday was a really important day in my recovery… and maybe not just in recovery but in my life!
Before we moved to Wanaka almost 3 years ago, I was checking what kind of stuff is going on here. I realized that it’s a really outdoorsy place with a lot of sport events. One of them was the Challenge. I had never heard of the name before, because I was just familiar with the similar event called IronMan (you’ve probably heard of that one before, right?). I really wanted to see the event and my mind kept saying “it would be great to do it one day”. The Challenge is a long distance triathlon and consists of a 3,8km swim, 180km bike and 42,2km run.
We moved to Wanaka and that same year on Oct 31st I broke my talus; you probably already know the story. So, January 2013 came and I knew that Challenge Wanaka is coming. On the 21st, Jerry drove me down to the lakeside and we watched the Pros’ start of the swim at 7am. It was amazing and I was hooked. Jerry had to go to work, so I spent most of the day watching the event on live stream. In the afternoon we managed to go watch the first Pro finishing. I was fascinated with the crowd and how Wanaka breathed with the event. There were so many volunteers, so many families waiting for their loved ones and so many competitors. Some were doing it all by themselves and some were in teams. And I learned that it’s possible to do half the distance as well (1,9km swim, 90km bike, 21,1km run). Because my leg was pretty sore after jumping around for too long, I decided to watch the rest of the event on my computer. And I did – to the end. The last competitor came in sometime after midnight and I actually cried watching the last one coming through the finish line. It was unbelievable. Yes, I really wanted to do this. “Next year!” I said. Oh my gosh, how wrong I was! At that moment I didn’t know that a talus fracture takes such a long time to heal and that recovery can be really long. Maybe it was even better not to know, you know. A year passed and in Dec 2013 I managed to run for the first time. Well, it was a sort of a run – I ran for 10 sec, then walked and ran again. I had a really sore ankle the next day and the day after and the day after. In a way, I felt defeated, but I knew that my time would come and that my ankle will recover. I took a few weeks off.
I knew I wanted to do the Challenge, but there was an obstacle I had to deal with – I was not able to swim freestyle. I always wanted to learn, but never had enough courage to do it. I was always a breast stroke swimmer, a “dead body” swimmer, but never a freestyler. So, I got a swimming coach. I had my first session with Fiona at the end of January 2014. Months passed, I was in the pool 2 to 3 times per week and I did some steps forward, but definitely not enough to say I could swim freestyle. In July we went on our holidays for 5 weeks, and when we came back, I realized the pool was closed due to renovations for another 5. I was a bit scared to be w/o swimming for such a long time, but took that as a sign that I had to start working on my run. From Dec 2013 to July 2014 I rarely ran, but on our vacation we walked a lot and I had a feeling my ankle became stronger (I’ll skip the details of how sore my ankle was a few times – there were a few moments when I considered crawling to the toilet on all fours.) In Sept I said “it’s enough, I have to start running”. And I did. Slowly, but steady. I didn’t push it too much, but I pushed it enough that my ankle slowly became even stronger. Oh, and I was a bit too scared to damage my tendons. I vividly remember a talk between my PT and a guy waiting for his session and he said (I think he’s some kind of pro in running) that he managed to damage his achilles and took 18 months to be totally ok. That scared me enough that I knew I didn’t want to push it too much!
In Oct I talked to Fiona, my swim coach, and told her I wanted to do the Challenge (half distance). She looked at me, was quiet for a few reeeeeally long seconds and said: “Ooooookay.” I saw big doubt in her face, since I wasn’t able to swim 50m in a row, but I knew I wanted to do it and I strongly believed that my body will follow my mind and I would be able to swim that distance. It would probably take me more than an hour, but I wanted to do it. I had no idea how this would happen, but I kept my faith. Around that time I spoke with Sheryl, my PT, and told her the same. The reaction was pretty much the same and she told me that I could also do it in a team and somebody else would do the run. No, that wasn’t my plan. I knew that if I could do THIS, I could do anything. I had no idea how I would do it – my longest distance up to that time was around 3km. And yes, the run was the scariest part of this journey!
3rd week of Nov 2014 my body gave up and I started to swim freestyle for real. I was able to do 100m in a row and I felt like a champion. Fiona couldn’t believe her eyes and a week later she told me that she would write a program for me, if I still wanted to do the Challenge. And that’s how I started to train – 12 weeks before the event my mind won and my body gave up. I think this wasn’t just a result of my stubbornness, but the combination with visualization. I visualized myself coming through the finish line and everytime I did it, I started to cry. No one knows this (not even Jerry), but on most of my bike rides I cried. I cried because I saw myself coming through the finish line and because I was so grateful that my body is finally able to be active. After 3 months spent in my bed, after my doctors predicted that my ankle would be 60-70% functional and flexible at its best, after a loooong recovery, I was outside, riding my bike and couldn’t believe it was true.
On the 17th of Dec I applied for the Challenge (half distance – 1,9km swim, 90km bike, 21,1km run). My longest run up to then was 7km, I could manage to do 42km on a bike and I was in the 2nd week of my swim program. I was scared. What if I wouldn’t be able to do it? What if my ankle wouldn’t be able to do it? What if I wouldn’t be able to swim such a long distance? What if…? I applied. I predicted my overall time would be 8 hours and 8 minutes and I felt like I was cheating. No way that I would do it in such a short time. 8 hours felt like a fairy tale and I was more prepared for around 9 hours or maybe even longer. The day of Challenge Wanaka came! Yesterday, 22nd of Feb 2015, was D-day of my life. I had no idea what to expect, how long it would take me, if I would be able to finish and IF I would be able to walk the next day. I prepared the food for the day and repeated to myself one more time: “If I can do this, I can do anything.” The day was long and tough. I swam quite easily, the first 10km on the bike I cried because I was so grateful to have the privilege to be a part of the crowd (I think there were almost 1600 competitors – combining individuals and teams) and I couldn’t believe it when I came to the last part – running. I walked much more than I expected, but I did it. On 3.35pm I ran my last few metres on a red carpet and finished my Challenge. I started to cry, because I couldn’t believe that I really, really did it. I needed 7 hours and 14 minutes. I swam 37min, I was on the bike for 3h and 17min and managed to walk/run the distance of 21,1km in 2h in 54min. I won! I won for me and for you!
Thank you for letting me share this story with you. I had you in my mind during the day and I had in my mind all people who I managed to help with my advice and exercises for their broken taluses/ankles. Thank you for letting me be a part of your recovery! Talk soon xx
P.S.: If you don’t believe that I cried at the finish line, I’m sending you some photo proof 🙂
PART 9 (July 2017)
It’s been almost 2 years since I added anything to this story and soon I’ll celebrate my 5th anniversary. You probably agree that this story was long and I bow to you for reading all the way through to the end.
I’m over the moon with the response I’m getting on this. I never imagined that it’s gonna give so much hope to people like you. And if I already made your recovery a slightly better, it was worth putting it together.
A lot of things have changed in the last few years. The injury that should have left me limping for the rest of my life (to say the least) actually gave me an amazing opportunity to work with injured people.
Now I’m dedicating my time to help injured and courageous individuals, like yourself, so they can make positive changes in their journey and recover positively from their injuries.
Their words about my work speak for themselves. I feel blessed to be a part of every single story. ❤
A few answers to the questions that are coming in constantly:
1. How is your ankle now?
My ankle is more or less back to normal. “More or less” because I still experience progress, even after such a long time. For example, earlier this year, when we were filming videos for the online program Iron-Built Flexible Ankles (the course with all the exercises you need to make your ankle(s) strong and flexible again), I was working out my ankle more than usual, and in a short amount of time, I experienced even better flexibility and strength.
Otherwise, I don’t have any problems at all.
P.S.: If you want to get a taste of the program before joining it, get access to my free online mini course 7 Essential Ankle/Foot Stretching Exercises.
2. Did you keep the hardware or did you choose surgery to get rid of it?
I still have the two screws inside my talus bone and they don’t cause me any problems. This is the reason why I didn’t decide for any extra surgery. If I’d experienced any complications, I’d probably think about it.
If you’re considering getting rid of the hardware and are not completely sure, here’s a video – Hardware Removal and Recovery – When Is A Good Time And Is It Necessary? – that can help you out.
3. Did you do any more races?
Yes, a year after the first Challenge Wanaka, in February 2016, I did another race and improved my time for almost 30 minutes. That year I didn’t feel my ankle at all, which was a super awesome surprise. But the weather was really challenging (extremely windy) which made the whole experience extra special (to say the least).
4. What ankle exercises helped you the most?
Anyone who is recovering from a broken ankle will tell you that getting back the flexibility and strength takes time and commitment. I started with very basic exercises (dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, and eversion) and slowly progressed to more difficult and advanced ones. These exercises made the biggest difference in my recovery and without them, I would not be racing and living my life to the fullest.
Here is an example of a simple but very effective exercise that you can do to improve your range of motion:
Want more? 7 Essential Ankle Exercises is a free video course that will help you improve the strength and flexibility of your ankle.
5. Do you think you were just lucky with your recovery?
I heard this one many times. If I had chosen a different kind of approach to my recovery, I wouldn’t be here today, writing this and talking to you. Of course, we will never know what would happen, but statistics for this kind of fractures are not really positive.
That being said, the approach I chose for myself and am now sharing with my clients (see question #5) does work. Honestly, I still don’t understand everything (I’m a life-long student of this process, and a teacher/mentor at the same time), but working on the mind-body connection gives great results to injured people.
6. What is the one thing you learned on this journey?
Injury recovery is not easy and only those that are going through really understand how bumpy this road can be. You truly feel like being on a rollercoaster and every day/week is a surprise. One day you can feel like everything is going great and you are standing on the top of the world, and the next one nothing is working and everything is sore.
The most important thing that I learned, especially regarding broken ankles, is to a) never give up and b) persist even when you don’t see any changes. The longer the recovery, the more subtle the changes. And when people don’t see big changes they give up on their recovery, accept that this is the end for them and that their ankle is never gonna get any better.
Talking with five years of personal experience, this is not true… unless you believe it is (see question #1).
7. I’d like your help – do you offer this as well?
Yes. I take a small number of private clients to mentor them through this challenging time. My work mostly focuses on the mind-body connection (so this is more ‘internal’ work) with additional nutrition support that is adjusted to your injury and situation. To learn more, visit this page.
If you’re looking for more self-paced injury recovery programs, become a member of my Mindful Injury Recovery Hub and get access to those.