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Crutching Chest Pain – What They Don’t Tell You About Using Crutches
My ski season in the middle of the week with my Seniors ski pass came to a halt when I made a careless move at the top of the highest run. I went down hard on my hip on the frozen surface at the top of Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl, my favorite ski resort near Lake Tahoe, CA. Sliding down first, I grabbed my right ski to flop myself over to get my ski down. I’m slowly experimenting with what will move and what won’t. I asked my ski buddy, Harold, to get the ski patrol and tell him I needed help.
The ski patrol came and checked me – “today, what’s your name, did you hit your head, where did you hurt”, etc. I told them I couldn’t move, and that my right hip and leg hurt.
What skill and courage they have! My location was pretty steep, and there wasn’t enough snow to plant a pole, much less get a foothold to get me up to the sled dump. But he did, and I kept my legs and hips. They strapped me in, covered me up, and we left. My ski friend later told me that he could not stay with us. What a ride!
Trembling and shivering, I was admitted to the resort clinic and put to bed. Because it was the middle of the week, and they didn’t have a doctor right now, they couldn’t take an x-ray to determine the injury. I can’t put weight on my legs, and I don’t want to move. They loaded me up in my SUV, and Harold drove me down to Truckee to the hospital.
I was accepted through Emergency. Another question. “No, I don’t have insurance.” I hope for the muscle tension, and the cost is low. X-rays were inconclusive, so they did a CT scan and confirmed that I had broken the neck of my right femur – the place where the leg bone joins the pelvis. The doctor told me there was no alternative; I need to fix it right away. This is the point where I broke down and hid my face in my hands.
“Is there an alternative, Doctor?,” I asked, just in case.
“No. You have to have 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 could choose to wake up with a spinal block, or have general anesthesia. I woke up and they finished, cleaned up, sent me out of the OR to the room for the night. I’m glad it’s over.
Post-operative patients receive the best possible care. In this case obviously a lot of attention from young, handsome male nurses, many companies from the staff. As many blankets as I wanted. Other pain medications. Great! Then the nurse’s day came. That’s a different story. It’s time to get out of the duff and start running. Occupational therapists come, physical therapists come. Time to get out of bed.
Pain medication makes you nauseous when you wake up. They bring crutches and make sure they are the right height. The occupational therapist helped me go to the toilet, so I felt good. He tried to take me to shower, but I wasn’t interested. I just want to lay down and go back to sleep. I don’t know if this is a little “life skills” test you have to take to get a good report on the medical chart leading up to the discharge.
The physical therapy technician worked with me to teach me the proper use of crutches. Do not hang your armpits above the crutches, hold your body with your hands. I had two sessions that day, and if I didn’t pass the ladder test, I’d have to stay the night again. The idea sent dollar signs through my brain with the image of a bigger hospital bill. Realized I was uninsured, I had to get out of there!
Through the drug haze I had a thought. The meds eased my pain, replaced the pain meds, so I could stand up and walk on crutches, go up and down stairs, and get out of Dodge! That worked well enough and in time for the second physical therapy session. Down the hall to the therapy stairs, still in pain, I passed the stair exercise test and called my friend to take me home.
Thank you to my ski buddy who was my 24/7 caregiver after surgery. If it hadn’t been for their patience and generosity, I would have been at home, in the snow, alone, and unable to drive. My brother also came a week later to stay for a few days. If it hadn’t been for the two of them, I would have gone up the proverbial river.
About ten days after the operation, feeling good and crutching well, my brother and sister went out for hamburgers. I started to feel pain on the left side of my ribs, under my left arm. When I got home I felt like I needed a cold pack or a hot pack, so I tried that first. That didn’t take away the pain, which was now taking my breath away. I tried the heat pack and immediately felt pain and difficulty breathing. The pain it caused was excruciating. I didn’t think the fracture caused this much pain. Breathing shallowly so as not to cause pain, I hobbled to the bed to lay down and find a position I could tolerate. I thought I had broken a rib or a collapsed lung! I’ve never been in that situation, but I think that’s what happened. I let go knowing it will pass as Peggi remembers her experience with the same kind of pain two years earlier for a broken leg.
“I remember taking crutches after I broke my leg. In a week I got up from the chair and I couldn’t take a deep breath. I wondered if I was injured somewhere else. The pain was almost unbearable and I waited. Another day in the chair breathing shallow and took an aspirin. It was an uncomfortable night and the next day I moved cautiously.” Peggy said,
“I found out a few days later that I had caused my upper left back area to spasm due to overuse of the muscles, I also pulled the rib head out of alignment on the chest and felt relief when the physical therapist, Who knows what happened, adjusted my back. I still need to be careful- heart for the next several days. I’m curious that no one in the medical field has mentioned that this could be a problem. I’m certainly not the first!”
Trying to use my crutches properly, I have pressed the crutch to my rib cage resulting in tenderness, and tense muscles causing muscle spasm. The instructions for using crutches do not mention this side effect. I really like my sister with me and know what the problem is. I had to take shallow breaths, not move much, and wait to get out. I was in bed for 18 hours before I could get up and move around. It was a week before the pain in my rib muscles subsided.
I called the doctor’s office a week or so to ask about something else, and asked if they have patients with rib pain and difficulty breathing. Sister sounded worried, and said I should come, it could have been something serious like a heart attack. He has not heard of any other patients having this problem. I think this is strange, because my sister and I have been through the same thing. Later, I searched online for similar experiences, but did not find anything like chest-rib pain.
Examining the injury, I learned:
· The incidence of leg injuries (from skiing accidents) has decreased significantly. “The overall rate of injuries in the last forty years 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 lot of tissue like the quad muscle and a large “femoral” artery that carries a lot of blood. Because of this, it takes a lot of force to break the femur and is also very dangerous. 2
Four weeks after surgery I was using one crutch, going up and down stairs, and driving. I feel improvement every day. There is pain with overuse and limited range of motion. I’m going on the golf course in a few months!
Since I am unemployed I have developed two businesses that I promote online. My work is done from home. I can’t think effectively while on pain medication, nor can I sit at a computer for long periods of time. I expect it will take about six weeks to recover enough to return to my home full-time.
The hospital and doctor bills were over $33,000. The hospital has a financial assistance program, and I have applied.
I am writing this article to share my experience with others who have an injury that requires crutches. I would like to know if other people have experience with this chest-rib pain, how to deal with it, and what doctors and professionals say. My contact information is in the resource box below.
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