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Crutching Chest Pain – What They Don’t Tell You About Using Crutches
My midweek ski winter with my seniors ski pass came to a halt when I moved carelessly at the top of the highest point. I fell hard on the frozen surface of Mt. Lincoln atop Sugar Bowl, my favorite ski resort near Lake Tahoe, California. Sliding headfirst downhill, I grabbed my right ski and rolled over to let my ski go downhill. I lightly experimented with which ones moved and which ones didn’t. I had my ski buddy Harold call the ski patrol and tell them I needed help.
The ski patrol arrived and checked on me – “what day is it, what’s your name, did you bump your head, where did you hurt”, etc. I told them I couldn’t move and my right hip and leg hurt.
What skill and courage these guys have! My position was fairly steep and there wasn’t enough loose snow to drive a pole, let alone find a foothold to load me into the sled dump. But they did, my legs and butt stayed in place. They tied me up, covered me, and off we went. My ski buddy later told me he couldn’t keep up with us. That was quite a journey!
Shaking all over, I was taken to the resort clinic and laid on my bed. Since it was mid-week and they didn’t have a doctor on hand, they couldn’t take x-rays to confirm my injuries. I can’t put weight on the leg and don’t want to move it. They loaded me into my SUV and Harold drove me to Truckee Hospital.
I was admitted through the emergency department. More questions. “No, I don’t have any insurance.” I hope for a pulled muscle, and it’s low cost. The x-rays were inconclusive, so they did a CT scan and confirmed that I had a fracture to my right femoral neck – where the leg bone meets the pelvic bone. The doctor told me I had no choice; I had to fix it immediately. This is the point where I break down and hide my face in my hands.
“Any other options, doctor?” I asked, just in case.
“No. You need surgery tonight,” he replied.
About six hours after the fall, I was ready for surgery. I was told it would take about twenty minutes, and there was an option to be awake with a spinal block, or to have general anesthesia. I woke up and they had finished cleaning and sent me out of the OR to a room for the night. I’m glad it’s done.
Postoperative patients receive the best possible care. In this case, that meant lots of attention from a handsome young male nurse, and lots of companionship from staff. How many blankets do I want. More painkillers. excellent! Then the day nurse came. That’s a different story. Time to let go of my clumsiness and start walking. The occupational therapist came, the physical therapist came. It’s time to get up.
The pain meds made me nauseous when I got up. They brought crutches and made sure they were the right height. The occupational therapist helped me to limp to the toilet, so I thought I was doing fine. She tried to get me to take a shower, but I wasn’t interested. I just want to lie down and get some sleep. I didn’t realize these were the little “life skills” tests that a person needs to complete in order to get a good report on the medical record leading up to discharge.
A physical therapist worked with me to teach me the proper use of crutches. Don’t hang on the crutches under the armpit, prop up your body with your hands. I had two classes that day and if I failed the stairs test I had to stay another night. The thought had dollar signs flashing through my mind, along with images of larger hospital bills. Realizing the fact that I didn’t have insurance, I had to get out of there!
Through the haze of drugs, I had an idea. The meds are making me sick, change the pain meds so I can stand up and walk with a cane, up and down the stairs, out of the dodge! This worked out great and was just in time for my second physical therapy session. I limped down the hall to the therapy stairs, still not feeling well, passed my stair exercise test, and called my friend to take me home.
Thank you to my ski buddy for being my 24/7 caregiver after surgery. If it wasn’t for his patience and generosity, I would be home alone in the snow, unable to drive. A week later my sister also came and stayed for a few days. If it weren’t for those two, I’d have walked the proverbial creek.
About ten days after the surgery, my sister and I felt fine, were fine on crutches, and went out to eat hamburgers. I started to feel a little pain on the left side of my ribs, under my left arm. When we got home, I felt the need for a cold or hot compress, so I tried cold first. That didn’t relieve the pain, it affects my breathing now. I tried heat and immediately felt increased pain and shortness of breath. The pain it caused was enormous. I didn’t think a broken bone would cause so much pain. To avoid causing more pain, I breathed shallowly and limped into bed, finding a position I could live with. I thought my ribs were broken, or my lungs had collapsed! I’ve never experienced these situations, but I think something like this must be the cause. When Peggi recalled experiencing the same type of pain she suffered from a broken leg two years earlier, I was relieved to know that this would all pass.
“I remember needing crutches after breaking my leg. Within a week I was up off the couch and I couldn’t take a deep breath. I wondered if I had hurt elsewhere. The pain was barely manageable and I got through the rest of the day Time spent shallow breathing on the couch and taking aspirin. It was an uncomfortable night, and I moved very carefully the next day,” says Peggy,
“A few days later, I found out that my left upper back area was cramping from overuse of the muscles, I also pulled the rib head in the chest area, I was relieved when my physical therapist, who knows what happened, adjusted I’m still going to have to be careful for the next few days. It’s weird that no one in the medical community has mentioned that it might be a problem. I’m sure I’m not the first!
Trying to use my crutches properly, I pressed the crutches into my ribs causing tenderness, muscle tension causing muscle spasms. The instructions for using crutches do not mention this side effect. I’m glad my sister is with me and knows what the problem is. I had to breathe shallowly, not move around, and wait for it to end. I was in bed for 18 hours before I could get up and move around. It took a week for the pain in my rib muscles to subside.
About a week later I called the doctor’s office to ask about another thing and asked if they had a patient with my rib pain and shortness of breath. The nurse sounded alarmed and said I should come in, it could be something serious like a heart attack. She has not heard of other patients with this problem. I find this weird because my sister and I have both been through it. Later, I searched the Internet for similar experiences, but I couldn’t find anything similar to our sternocostal pain.
Researching my injury, I learned:
· Significantly fewer cases of leg injuries (skiing accidents). “Over the past forty years, overall injury rates have fallen by 50 percent, and leg fractures have fallen by 95 percent since the early 1970s. 1
· The femur or thigh bone is the largest and strongest bone in the human body. It is surrounded by many tissues, such as the quadriceps muscle and the large “femoral” artery that carries a lot of blood. Because of this, a femur fracture requires a lot of strength and can be dangerous. 2
Four weeks after surgery, I was able to use a cane to climb stairs and drive. I feel better every day. Overuse can cause pain and limited movement. I’m planning on golfing in a few months!
Since I am unemployed, I have been growing two businesses that I promote online. My work is done at home. While on pain medication, I couldn’t think effectively or sit in front of the computer for long periods of time. I expect it will take about six weeks to get back to being able to work from home full-time.
Hospital and doctor bills were over $33,000. The hospital has a financial aid program and I have applied for it.
I wrote this article to share my experience with others who have had injuries that require the use of crutches. I would like to know if anyone else has experienced this sternocostal pain, how they have dealt with it, and what their doctors and professionals have said. My contact information is in the resources box below.
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