I had been really looking forward to day 17 – Thursday 20th July was my first appointment at the fracture clinic at Frimley Park. I say looking forward; I suppose there was an element of trepidation mixed in with the curiosity. I hoped I’d find out how my arm was progressing, if the bones were lining up, and above all that I’d be offered a more robust brace of some kind to give my wobbly arm more protection. I was also slightly nervous that there would be pain, that they’d try to manipulate my arm in some painful way (why, I have no idea?) or that fitting a new brace might hurt. Also that they’d look and say ‘I’m sorry, your bones are not going to meet up’. Totally irrational but that’s the nature of fear and the unknown!
We arrived in good time, not really sure what to expect. There were signs up warning people that if they needed both x-rays and plastering they could be in clinic for two to four hours. I knew I wouldn’t be getting plastered but settled in with a puzzle book in my bag, ready for a lengthy visit. The other clinic visitors appeared to be ankle and lower leg breaks at different stages of repair. One lad and his mum emerged smiling from the consultation rooms and went to the desk to hand in his crutches and leg brace. Job done! A few ladies with lower leg fractures were in wheelchairs. Once again I thanked my lucky stars.
In the event it was all quite quick. We were called in promptly and the doctor took a quick look and organised a chitty for an x-ray and a brace to be fixed (relief!), promising we could come back to ask questions afterwards. We moved into the plaster room as instructed but a nurse asked me to climb into a chair with a raised armrest and I stared at in fear, saying “I don’t think I can lift my arm onto there!”. She quickly realised we were in the wrong place and the consultant came back to see us again to explain he’d only been at Frimley a week and he’d got it wrong – an x-ray today was too early to see improvement. I needed a moulded plastic brace fitting though – so we were sent off to occupational therapy to get one sorted.
Before we left I checked a few things with him – pain relief, swelling, likely timescales. I don’t think we learned anything new. He said we’d have to experiment with the pain meds to get it right, and gave 10 to 12 weeks before I’d be able to have the brace removed. He said there was a possibility the union wouldn’t be perfect but up to 30% displacement was normal and my arm would regain full functionality. I was to return in two weeks to get the update x-ray.
Getting the brace
In occupational therapy we walked past the rooms full of crutches, stools and wheelchairs and found our way to the therapist, Jane, who was to fit the moulded plastic brace to my arm. She was very calm and gentle and put me at ease. First she measured and cut the plastic to a paper template. Then she put the plastic sheet into the warm water machine (like an electric bain marie) to soften it up. She pulled the tube stocking carefully up over my upper arm. It hurt at first with the pressure, but then felt snug. Her colleague Fiona came out to pull my elbow downwards in slight traction while they wrapped the plastic sheet warmly round my arm and then fixed the velcro round. The two velcro straps were pulled tight in opposite directions. It felt nice and secure and reassuring.
Jane suggested I try from time to time removing my wrist from the collar and cuff and gently lifting my hand up and down, supported, to ‘oil’ my elbow joint and stop it completely stiffening up. I also need to squeeze a ball and flex my wrist up and down.
I’ve spent two nights in it the brace now and it feels fine. We’ve only had to loosen and readjust it once so far. Tomorrow we will attempt to shower with it ON, but covered by a plastic bag or shield. In future we can try removing it to shower.
Today is day 14, two weeks on from splat day. Where does it go, eh?
I can report that things feel a little better in some ways, but are just as bad in others. There are still a great many things I can’t do – see below. Things that have improved or changed:
• I can move about more easily. Standing up, sitting down, stepping up and down are all more natural. I even managed to carry a cup of tea upstairs to my husband this morning.
• The involuntary spasms in my arm are fewer and painless now – a few sudden twitches. My arm still ‘clicks out’ from time to time but is less painful when it does.
• I’ve cut down a bit on painkillers. However my arm is getting heavy and achey. I guess the painkillers were masking that but I’m trying not to take any in the middle of the day, especially codeine which I am leaving to 3 times a day – evening, bedtime and early waking 5 to 6 am.
• I can put on my own proxy sling made out of a cotton scarf and tie it with my teeth. I can take off and put on my own dress and underwear.
• I can bend a little lower to pick up things from about knee height, as long as I bend my knees and keep my back quite straight. So crouching slightly with one foot in front of the other, or squatting in a ballet plié – style move. With ninja moves I can plug something into a wall socket by sliding my back down the wall. I can pick up things from the coffee table using kitchen tongs!
• I can lightly grip things in my left hand if careful.
Things that are still difficult
• I can still only sleep in my monster chair
• I can’t stand up from the normal sofa without assistance
• I cannot pick up anything from the floor. I’m sure somewhere I have a litter-picker-upper that I got as a prop for work but it can’t be located right now.
• My arm is in the sling 24/7. I don’t dare release it except supported by a cushion while I swap to the makeshift sling. It feels very vulnerable.
• I am still very wary of others’ movements near me.
• I can only type one-handed…. Slow and full of typos which keep needing correcting. I can’t type accented letters using the number keypad because the alt key is left of the space bar. I have to gently hold a pen in my left hand to keep ‘alt’ depressed. Tricksy. Scrolling and selecting on the laptop touchpad is challenging.
• Washing under my left arm. Still can’t lift my arm away from my side so poor left armpit only gets a gentle wipe with baby wipes – no chance of deodorant!
• I can’t completely close my fingers on the left hand yet – they are too swollen.
How’s it all looking?
• My upper arm still looks a bit concave
• Some bruising – it took a week for any to show and it wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be – but I noticed this evening it’s a bit ugly and green underneath my elbow, where the blood pools I guess.
• My left hand isn’t as swollen but I still can’t make a fist or grip anything
• My feet, lower legs and upper legs are still rather swollen but much better if I spend time with my feet raised. I’m not looking forward to having to wear shoes.
• My tummy is still bloated. I’ve gained 6 pounds, wah!
The other thing to report is itching. Argh, the skin is dry and it gets sweaty under my elbow where my arm is resting. One good time to not be wearing a cast. At least I can have a gentle scratch.