My midweek ski winter with my senior ski pass came to a halt when I made a sloppy move to the top of the highest slope. I fell hard on my hip onto the frozen surface atop Mount Lincoln in Sugar Bowl, my favorite ski resort near Lake Tahoe, CA. Sliding downhill on my head, I grabbed my right ski to drop down and carry my skis down the hill. I gently experimented with what would move and what would not. I asked my ski partner, Harold, to call the ski patrol and tell them I need help.
The ski patrol came and checked me: “what day is it, what’s your name, did you hit your head, where does it hurt?” I told them that I couldn’t move and that my right hip and leg hurt.
What skill and courage those guys have! My location was pretty steep and there wasn’t enough loose snow to plant a pole, let alone get a foothold to load myself into the sled garbage. But they did, and I kept my leg and hip in place. They tied me up, covered me, and we left. My ski partner told me later that he couldn’t keep up with us. What a trip that was!
Shaking and shaking, they admitted me to the resort clinic and laid me on a bed. Since it was midweek and they didn’t have a doctor present, they couldn’t take an X-ray to define my injury. He couldn’t put weight on his leg and didn’t want to move it. They loaded me into my truck and Harold took Truckee to the hospital.
I entered by Emergency. More questions. “No, I don’t have any insurance.” I was hoping to have a low-cost, stretched muscle. The x-ray was inconclusive, so they did a CT scan and confirmed that I had fractured the neck of my right femur, the place where the bone in my leg meets the pelvic bone. The doctor told me that there is no alternative; I must have it repaired immediately. This is the point where I collapsed and hid my face in my hands.
“Is there an alternative, doctor?” I asked him, just in case.
“No. You need surgery tonight,” he replied.
About six hours after the fall, I was prepared for surgery. They told me it would take about twenty minutes and that I could choose to be awake with a spinal block or receive general anesthesia. I woke up and they finished, cleaning, sending me out of the operating room to a room for the night. I was happy I finished it.
Postoperative patients receive the best nursing care. In this case, it meant a lot of attention from a handsome young nurse, a lot of company from the staff. As many blankets as I would like. More pain relievers. Great! Then the day nurse came in. That was a different story. It was time to stop my nonsense and start walking. The occupational therapist came, the physical therapist came. Time to get out of bed.
The painkillers made me nauseous when I got up. They brought crutches and made sure they were the right height. The occupational therapist helped me hobble to the bathroom, so I thought it was okay. He tried to make me take a shower, but I wasn’t interested. I just wanted to lie down and sleep again. I didn’t realize that these were little “life skills” tests that need to be done to get a good report on the medical history leading up to discharge.
The physical therapy technician worked with me to teach me the proper use of crutches. Do not hang from the armpits on top of the crutch, get up with your hands. I had two sessions assigned that day, and if I didn’t pass the ladder test, I would have to stay another night. That idea sent dollar signs buzzing through my brain with images of even bigger hospital bills. Aware of the fact that I have no insurance, I had to get out of there!
Through the haze of medication, I had a thought. Medication is making me sick, change pain medication, so I can get up and walk on crutches, up and down stairs, and out of Dodge. That worked quite well and in time for my second physical therapy session. Limping down the hall to the therapy stairway, still feeling ill, I passed the stair exercise test and called my friend to take me home.
Thanks to my ski partner for being my 24/7 caregiver after surgery. If it weren’t for your patience and generosity, I would have been at home in the snow alone and unable to drive. My sister also came a week later to stay for several days. If it weren’t for those two, I would have been at the proverbial creek.
About ten days after surgery, feeling pretty good and on crutches fine, my sister and I went out for a hamburger. I started to feel a little pain on the left side of my ribs, under my left arm. When we got home, I needed a cold pack or a hot pack, so I tried the cold one first. That didn’t alleviate the pain, which was now affecting my breathing. I tried a hot compress and immediately felt an increase in pain and shortness of breath. The pain it caused was enormous. I don’t think the fracture caused as much pain as this. Breathing shallowly so as not to cause more pain, I limped off to bed to lie down and find a position that I could tolerate. I thought I had a broken rib or my lung had collapsed! I have never experienced those conditions, but I thought something like that must be the cause. I was relieved to know what would happen as Peggi recalled her experience with the same type of pain two years earlier from a broken leg.
“I remember being put on crutches after I broke my leg. Within a week I got up off the couch and couldn’t take a deep breath. I was wondering if I had injured myself somewhere else. The pain was barely manageable and I spent the rest of the day in the couch breathing shallowly and taking aspirin. It was an uncomfortable night and the next day I moved very carefully. ” Peggi said:
“I found out a few days later that I had spasmed my upper left back due to overuse of my muscles, I had also misaligned my ribs in the chest area and I was relieved when my physical therapist, who knew what had happened, adjusted my back. I still had to be careful for the next few days. Funny no one in the medical field mentioned that this could be a problem. I’m sure I’m not the first! “
In trying to use my crutches correctly, I pressed the crutch into my rib cage, causing tenderness and tight muscles that caused muscle spasms. The instructions for the use of crutches did not mention this side effect. I am very happy that my sister was with me and knew what the problem was. I had to breathe little by little, not move much and wait. I was in bed for 18 hours before I was able to get up and move. A week passed before the pain in the rib muscles disappeared.
I called the doctor’s office a week later to inquire about another matter and asked if they had patients with rib pain and breathing difficulties. The nurse looked alarmed and said she should have come in, that it could have been something serious like a heart attack. I had not heard of other patients with this problem. I thought this was strange, since my sister and I had experienced it. Later, I searched online for similar experiences, but found nothing like our chest rib pain.
Investigating my injury, I learned:
The cases of leg injuries (from ski accidents) have decreased markedly. “The overall injury rate over the past four decades has dropped by 50% and broken legs have decreased by 95% since the early 1970s.” 1
The femur, or thigh bone, is the largest and strongest bone in the human body. It is surrounded by a large amount of tissue, such as the quadriceps muscles, and a large “femoral” artery that carries a lot of blood. Because of this, it takes a lot of force to fracture a femur and it is also very dangerous. two
Four weeks after surgery I am using a crutch, walking up and down stairs and driving. I feel an improvement every day. There is pain with overuse and movement is restricted. I intend to be on the golf course in a few months!
As I am unemployed I have been developing two businesses that I promote online. My work is done from home. I have not been able to think effectively during the time I have been using pain relievers, nor have I been able to sit in front of my computer for long periods of time. I hope it will take about six weeks for me to recover enough to go back to work from home full time.
Hospital and doctor bills exceed $ 33,000. The hospital has a financial assistance program and I have applied.
I wrote this article to share my experience with other people who suffer injuries that require the use of crutches. I would like to know if others have had this experience of chest rib pain, how they managed it, and what their doctors and professionals said. My contact information is in the resource box below.