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Can You Relate?
Breaking a bone in your body is one of the worst experiences you can have in your lifetime. Trust me. I know this experience firsthand!
When I was eight-years-old, I climbed the wobbly, rickety chain link fence in the backyard at home and toppled over to fall to the ground breaking my left elbow. I remember passing out from the pain after seeing my mother’s scared facial expression.
At the hospital, I was given pain medication that completely knocked me out. The radiology tech had to keep prodding me to stay awake while taking x-rays of my arm. Eventually, I had surgery to realign my bones with two pins.
I remember the whole experience vividly! I was small and nimble enough to not need any home modifications. BUT I needed help with getting dressed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and brushing my hair. The pain from my arm would wake me up sometimes at night. I had to sleep lying on my back with my arm propped up on pillows.
I HATE sleeping on my back!
Luckily, I am right handed and had all the benefits of youth while waiting for my arm to heal! I was able to easily manipulate brushing my teeth, drawing, feeding, playing card games, and anything else you can think of with my right hand. Recovery took no time at all for me as a child. As soon as I was able to use my left arm, I quickly returned to dance lessons and playing piano.
I could never forget how my injury impacted my life in such a profound way. My mother was wary and extra protective while my arm healed. She made sure my sisters and cousins were careful when they played around me. Mom did not want me to be hurt again!
Looking back, I not only see the physical impacts a broken arm had on my life. I also see how I changed the way I took care of myself and how my family members and friends treated me.
As an eight-year-old, I was very independent in taking care of myself prior to the injury, especially as the oldest of four children. When I broke my arm, it felt like going in reverse needing even more help from my mother. She even tied my shoes again. I saw myself as an independent person changing into an interdependent person.
That’s hard even for an eight-year-old child.
I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was to resume my independence again after my arm fully recovered. But not everyone can experience this type of relief.
As an adult, injuries like broken bones can be more damaging and long lasting than what children experience. This is where it gets deep, people!
Adults have decades of being independent in taking care of themselves and others. A broken bone drastically changes how they view themselves. Accepting help can sometimes be seen in the same vein as becoming older or aging.
Of course, as occupational therapists, it’s easy for us to reassure adults with injuries that they are not old people (there’s nothing wrong with that anyway!). We educate them on all of the ways they can still do what they need and want to do. However, we do need to remind ourselves that when people break a bone, they are grieving the loss (temporary or permanent) of their independence and the way they used to do daily activities. Even little eight-year-old me grieved over not being able to play tag and ride my bike for a couple of months.
Whoa. Grief? Yes. Here’s an example!
Dave broke his tibia stepping off a sidewalk into the street while heading to a coffee shop. He had surgery and needed to use a walker to help balance while hopping on one leg to get around. He quickly realized he needed a lot of help with getting in and out of his house, bed, shower, and going up and down the stairs. Dave was frustrated he could not move easily around his house anymore.
Pistola squat by Workoutlabs.com
He thought, “Dang, I never thought I would need to do a pistola squat to get on and off the toilet! I don’t want my wife to help me with this every day!”
Dave even needed help picking up his dog’s bowls to put water and food in them! He felt like he had to rely on his wife to do everything. Dave started to feel depressed while his leg was healing because he wanted to do more by himself. Dave loved his wife, but he didn’t want to be soooo intimate with her while toileting and bathing.
He missed his ability to move around and take care of himself on his own time. Dave wondered if he will be able to continue living in his current house as it was. “What if I could never walk again? What will I do?”
In this situation, it’s easy to see why Dave would grieve the loss of his privacy, caring for himself, and moving around. He feels frustrated on how much effort he has to put in to simply move around the house. These emotions are very normal for any person. Have you every had this type of experience? Can you relate to Dave?
There are some things we cannot control whatsoever, like accidents. But we certainly can control our environment! Since we know breaking bones is such a challenging physical and emotional time, I am happy to say there are ways we can prevent lessen some of the pain and maintain our dignity by making changes in the home.
Yes, as a kid, I easily navigated my environment with a broken arm. However, poor adult Dave struggled to move around in and outside of his house with a broken leg. Let me tell you three things he could do to his house to make recovery better:
1) Create one entrance at home with ZERO steps. This will make it easier to use a walker to hop on one leg in and out of the house. Dave will be able to escape the home in case of emergency, see the doctor, go to outpatient therapy, spend time with friends at the ball game, etc. Dave can just enjoy not struggling to get in and out of his own house! He will not feel like a trapped prisoner!
Barrier free shower by Accessible Solutions
2) Build a bathroom on the main floor of the house. Preferably this will be a full bathroom, but a half bathroom will certainly suffice! Put blocking in the walls in order to install grab bars later if needed. The blocking will allow you to install grab bars at any height! How neat! Grab bars could help Dave get on and off the toilet by himself, but there are a lot more options I can talk about with Dave and his wife.
3) Install a barrier free shower. Dave can easily use this shower with or without a broken leg! A barrier free shower lets you walk in and out without stepping over anything! This type of shower is perfect for all ages and abilities from wheelchair users to people who walk on two legs. Learn more by clicking here or here!
If you can relate to Dave, you may want to consider planning on making changes to your current home. Life is unpredictable, but if you do it before you need it then you are setting yourself up to maintain your independence and dignity in your own home. Please comment below if you or someone you know has had Dave’s experience of grieving the loss of taking care of yourself.