How to shower alone in * easy steps

So hubby went away for a few days. I still had to shower. Arm was feeling a bit better and slightly steadier in the brace by day 23 so I thought – ok, let’s do this. But… how am I going to do this? Step by step was the answer. It was long-winded but I’ve tried to detail below the steps I took, including some tips. Note – I’m not yet ready to remove my brace/splint and couldn’t do it by myself even if I wanted to… so the aim is to keep the damaged arm, brace and tube bandage dry.

  1. Make sure there’s plenty of hot water in the tank. Showering one handed could take a while with long hair.
  2. Make a waterproof arm shield out of a black bin-liner. Cut an armhole in the sealed end small enough to make it tight when pulled up over your shoulder, wide enough to fit over the brace (about 10 cm across, doesn’t matter if it splits a bit further but try to keep it snug).
  3. Get everything ready. One towel within reach outside the shower, another spread on bed. Comb beside bed (right hand side). Shampoo and conditioner in basket at reachable level in shower. Make sure bottles are unsealed and ready to use. A facecloth in the shower to make it easier to get a grip on the shower tap.
  4. Prepare proxy sling (I use a long, thin cotton scarf)
  5. Remove dress/clothing
  6. Sit on bed and remove collar and cuff, resting lower arm on lap or on a thin pillow on lap
  7. Gently work black bin-bag up over hand, arm and brace. If you pull it up over your shoulder it should make a reasonable seal at the top to stop water running down. If in doubt, you could have an elastoplast handy or some surgical tape to hold it in place.
  8. Tie on proxy sling by placing it round neck, and passing it under forearm. Tip head forward to narrow the gap between arm and neck. Use teeth to pull sling tighter so it supports wrist at the right height. Tie in a slip knot if you’re clever or just a granny knot if less so or doing this with your ‘wrong’ hand.
  9. This should feel comfy and secure enough to stand.
  10. Climb in shower and turn it on, keeping your damaged arm away from the shower of water.
  11. Squeeze shampoo onto your head directly or if you can, into the palm of your bad hand (I found this difficult as I still can’t rotate my lower arm very well). Massage in as well as you can. My friend Marjory suggested you could do this before even getting in the shower while looking in a mirror to see what you are doing.
  12. Rinse and repeat. Wash yourself/condition/rinse etc.
  13. Turn off shower and step out.
  14. Pat gently where you can reach, then sit on the towel on the bed to air dry while you remove the proxy sling, then the bin bag. Take your time and relax. Remember to drop your shoulder down to allow gravity to help your bone alignment – don’t hunch your arm up.
  15. At this point I like to make sure my limp arm is dry and put my collar n cuff sling back on for a bit of security while I take my time combing the knots out of my hair.
  16. If it’s still too difficult to wash under your broken arm, you can use a baby wipe now to gently clean there. It’s easier if you lean forward slightly to create a gap between your arm and side, then slide your hand in against your side rather than pressing against your arm, even when it’s in the brace, because pushing your arm away from your side hurts! Use a tissue to dry in there and (if applicable) under your boob/moob on the sling side.
  17. Apply roll-on deodorant – this is quite fun to do (chimpanzee impression) on your good side, and if you are careful you can use it under your bad arm too.
  18. Get dressed etc
    Ta daaaa!

Bracing myself…

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!

Waiting room

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.

20108301_1907254362822331_8367183052961138024_nGetting 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.

Two weeks on

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.

Showering and dressing

When you’re incapacitated it only makes things worse to feel dirty, sticky and unkempt. I started to tackle this on day 1 by requesting a pack of disinfectant wipes in the downstairs loo. Not for me, but for the radiator, tap and flush that I am touching with my single functional hand. It feels good to clean up after yourself! Washing your one hand is tricky too. I do my best with liquid soap, but also have wet wipes to hand. I asked hubby to get some so I could keep wiping my poor swollen left hand too – it was feeling  left out. Feeling cleaner is a bit of relief.

Note – cleaning under your broken arm is too sore at first but it eases off. Within a week I was able to lean forward slightly to create a gap between my arm and armpit, and if you very carefully wipe with a flat palm, pressing mainly against your chest, not your arm, you can do it. Forget putting deodorant on for a while. Maybe try deodorising wipes? I also realised I would have to face having a hairy armpit for a while until that arm can be raised enough for a shave. Meh. Whatevs!

So far (day 12) I’ve had four showers in all. It’s been a bit of a trauma tackling each one but it’s getting easier. It’s so worth it to feel fresh again, and apart from that it feels lovely and soothing having warm water flowing over your sore arm. My goal is to be able to shower alone, maybe the shower after next. I appreciate some people don’t have anyone to help them, so here are a couple of hacks to help.

  1. Baby wipes. Time to imagine you’re at a music festival living in a tent! Best way to keep clean? Wipe where you can reach!
  2. Dry shampoo. OMG – revelation. I remember the dry shampoo my mum used in the seventies – kind of like fine talc in your hair. It’s come on leaps and bounds, I am SO impressed! I’m blonde, so I’m using the Batiste blonde spray shampoo. It’s so easy and works like magic.

2017-07-16 11.50.24

3. You shouldn’t shower in your regular sling, it would make it heavy and uncomfortable and lead to sores on your skin where you leave it wet. It’s probably bad for bacteria and stuff as well. The first two showers I had, Geoff removed the sling for me and I used my right arm to support my limp lower left arm – which gave me a slight feeling of security but left me unable to hold anything for balance, wash or do anything with the taps. You need someone to help you if doing it this way.

The third time we made an improvised sling. I read somewhere about using a pair of tights to make a proxy sling for in the shower. I grabbed a little cotton scarf that would dry quickly. My husband ties it round my neck so it is tensioned to the same length as my collar and cuff, then removes the proper sling. This provides enough support and security to allow you to use your other hand to assist in the showering process.

  1. Getting the sling back on. It’s really scary taking it off at first – but it’s getting it back on that’s miserable. My left hand is swollen – sausage fingers – so the gap is narrower, you’re pushing the lower arm back towards the elbow, which hurts, and if your skin is still slightly damp it makes it all the trickier. I was almost in tears, yelling ‘No, no, wait!’ and having to deep breathe and relax and get a grip on myself. We tried talcum powder the second time, which did help. The secret is to make sure your ‘broken’ hand is as dry as possible to make slipping it through the loop in the cuff as frictionless as can be.

Time three, I was sitting air-drying on the bed (nicer if it’s summer!!) and asked husband to give me a pillow to rest my arm on. With my sling hanging ready round my neck, I was able to put my own wrist back through the cuff – progress! The fourth time this was even easier. We’re getting there.

  1. Don’t neglect your teeth. You can face life and other people better with a fresh mouth, and, lord knows, toothache is the last thing you need right now. But how the hell do you rinse and spit if you can’t lean forward over the sink? Simples! With a glass or mug in front of your mouth. Brush (carefully at first, the jiggling wobbles your arm and hurts…), then spit your foam into the mug, tip it out, rinse, sloosh, spit, tip. It’s long-winded but it works without getting foamy saliva all down your chest.


The clothes I had come home from hospital in had to be cut from my body the next morning. Only an old t-shirt and stretchy netball dress. I knew I was going to be housebound for a few weeks so only comfort would matter. The problem is, what can you wear that doesn’t involve having to lift your arm? Putting on a bra is out of the question for now. Luckily for me it’s summer, and the ideal solution is to wear stretchy strapless bandeau-style summer dresses which can be pulled on upwards, under your arms, and helps get round the bra issue. I already have one maxi-dress in this style and put out a request on Facebook for others to borrow from friends. One friend popped round later that day with two perfect shorter examples she’d bought on a beach holiday, and I’ve been cycling through these three dresses since then. You can buy them very cheaply on ebay so I might order a couple more.

Another thing I hadn’t expected at all was the swelling and bloating. My tummy has billowed out as if I’m six months pregnant. Rock solid – I’m sure this is a reaction to the pain relief meds, but I’m swollen in my legs and hand too so who can say? My friends have suggested it’s nature’s way of providing me with a little shelf to rest my broken arm on. Anyway, I’m glad I have these sundresses as they are nice and loose – not sure I could bear anything with a waistband right now!

When it got cooler, I needed a cover up, so the ideal thing, as I’d read online, was an oversized man’s shirt with your good arm through the sleeve and the other held inside, with one button done up to keep it in place. This feels really nice and snug. Also it acts as a bib when you spill food down yourself!

I haven’t been worrying much about underwear – but actually it has been OK getting pants (as in knickers) on and off. It’s my feet I need to think of next. I’ve been totally barefoot for 12 days. It feels safer and is no hassle. But now they’ve been getting chilly at night. Not sure I want socks on, so I’m going to ask hubby to look for my duvet slippers today. Stylish!!

Oh – and I haven’t bothered changing at night. I think some people might struggle with the idea of not separating day and nightwear. But this is only for a short while. Comfort is the main thing – I don’t mind getting a bit grubby and crumpled. I’m changing outfit every three days when I shower.

Really would like to hear from other people their tips and tricks for day-to-day living with a broken arm. What clothing have you been able to put on? Wearing normal t shirts and tops is going to be an accomplishment – how long did it take you to be able to do that? Ladies – what about bras? I’ve got a couple of front-loader sports bras which I think are going to be very handy once I’m ready for that.