What to Expect When You Break Your Ankle

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I broke my ankle getting out of my aunt's car. She was deep into a story about an article she'd read about cholesterol levels in different meats, and -- half listening, half absentmindedly stepping out of the car -- my chunky platform boot got stuck on the wrong side of the curb and I lost my balance. I fell. Unfortunately, my foot didn't come with me and my ankle snapped.

I ripped my boot off immediately, trembling with the shock of the worst pain I'd ever felt in my 29 years on this planet. I got right back into the back seat and tried to elevate, feeling as if every bone in my foot had popped out of place and was now swimming loosely inside my skin. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) -- let's call him J -- heard the commotion, came outside, and hopped in the car too. In the ER they gave me ice, an X-ray, and a big shitty cast replete with paper pants (yes they cut my jeans off of me)... oh, and crutches.

I was sent home and told to take Tylenol, and had an appointment with some bone doctor for the following week so my swelling could go down. J eventually had to cut me out of the wretched paper pants. I don't remember much else from this day, except that I craved strawberries.


The fall was on a Thursday, and my appointment with the bone doctor was for the following Monday. The three days in between were debilitatingly painful. I did basically nothing and ate basically nothing and didn't sleep at all. It was fun.

Monday morning at the office arrived. Wearily, I filled out a bunch of paperwork, then crutched clumsily into a back room where a woman removed my cast. She saved it on the back counter for later (they do that? It struck me as peculiar). There's no way I'll need surgery, I thought to myself. "I won't need surgery, right?" I posed to J, a question that was mostly rhetorical. "Probably not." he said. The ER doctor had told me it was a fracture in my fibula and there was no displacement (whatever that means). The bone doctor eventually came in after having a look at my X-rays. "Well, you definitely need surgery." he told me dryly. A little too dryly for my taste.

He listed the risks of not getting the surgery and it scared me a lot -- arthritis, the bone never healing at all, blah blah. Then he talked about a big nerve they'd be operating around that controlled my outer foot and that "we know where it is and we'll do our best to avoid it." He asked if I had any questions and I did not. I had no thoughts. Oh wait I had one thought: OMG, I'm on Grey's Anatomy.

Eff you bone doctor. But okay whatever, I'll get your stupid surgery. We scheduled it for three days later, a Thursday (one week post-break). The assistant then took my old cast, put it back around my leg, and proceeded to affix it back together with ace bandages. MOST PAINFUL. The days with that pieced together piece of shit were the worst of all -- no circulation in my leg or foot and it caused major swelling and bruising. I wasn't thrilled with this doctor or his team.

But guess what I didn't know? People in the medical world get second opinions like women buy tampons: ALL THE TIME. With my family and their friends on board, I got hooked up with an incredible ankle specialist, Dr. Gellman. I went in to see him on Wednesday -- two days after I saw the lame bone doc, and one day before my scheduled surgery. They took off my oppressive Nazi cast and had me do a CT scan, which showed that the fracture was way more complicated than the X-ray had shown (thanks for nothing other doctors for not doing that, WTF). This team knew more, they talked more, and they were friendly and sympathetic. I dropped the other dude like a bad habit. Luckily Dr. Gellman could fit me in for my original surgery date -- the next day.


Up until that point I'd never had surgery -- never stayed in a hospital. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd been in a hospital. I had to be there at 7 a.m. on an empty stomach since midnight the night before. They gave me a backless gown (and made me take off my undies so my tush was completely out), checked my blood pressure, weighed me (when did I lose 10 pounds?? whatever, not complaining), and asked me millions of questions. In between each phase of tests and questions, J and I watched the Today Show. I mean, I looked at the screen blankly, petrified -- too many thoughts running through my overly-tired mind. I felt very down, outrageously sorry for myself, and couldn't stop thinking about Grey's Anatomy.

The nurse came by with a cocktail of pills -- she explained each one, but I can't remember what any of them were, except for an anti-acid for somethingIcan'tremember. Then she asked if I was in pain... UM HELL YES I'M IN PAIN I HAVE LIKE THREE FRACTURES IN MY ANKLE AND THE E.R. GUY SAID IT WAS ONLY ONE AND GOT MY HOPES UP AND NOW I'M ABOUT TO HAVE SURGERY AND SO THE SHORT ANSWER IS YES I'M IN PAIN. She hooked an IV up into my hand. It stung. At that point only J had been allowed in the room with me because it was such a small space. Once the IV was in they let my dad in, and when I saw him I began to cry. "Daddyyy," I whimpered like an injured puppy.

The nurse told me that the anesthesiologist said she could give me some morphine. Though I relished in the idea of not being in pain, the notion of "hard drugs" scared me. She syringed it into my IV and I gasped with a fierce tightness in my chest. I was dying before I even got to surgery! Could morphine cause a heart attack?? The nurse sat my bed more upright and the tightness subsided. Ugh. Eventually the anesthesiologist came in, asked me a whole bunch of questions (P.S. how am I expected to know what meds I'm allergic to if I've never had surgery? Seems like a flawed system), and he prepared me for how I'd feel after. My throat might be sore if they have to stick a tube down it to help me breathe (which they did, and it was). The leg-numbing shot they'd give me after surgery would wear off in 8-12 hours and then I'll be switched to oral and IV drugs. The numbing shot they give me could paralyze me. Standard stuff, you know.

Eventually they wheeled me off -- I kissed my dad, kissed J -- I was frozen with fear. What if I don't wake up? What if I wake up but have no use of my foot because the nerves are fried? "Are you scared?" the anesthesiologist asked me. "Yes, very." I responded, my voice quivering. "Well if it helps, I'm not at all." That helped, and it's the last thing I remember.


To find out about my surgery and recovery, get tons of healing tips for an ankle surgery post-op (what to buy to make your life easier, how to exercise while non-weight bearing, what to eat), and to get the inside scoop on hardware removal surgery, check out my eBook here. Chances are if you've recently broken your ankle (or broken your toe/foot, torn your Achilles/ACL, or are non-weight bearing for some other reason) you'll find this guide extremely useful. If you haven't, you probably won't care and should use the money to buy yourself a fancy cup of coffee and a scone.