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Many retirees get injured, whether in traffic accidents, from falls, or from other mishaps. Falls happen a lot in the home, with bathrooms, stairs, and transitions from one type of flooring to the next being hot spots for falls. This post will be about getting over an accident with broken bones and getting home as soon as you can.
I am working from observations and interviews here and am not a medical professional so this is not a source of medical advice. Please consult your physician about any injuries you have incurred.
For more about falls, check here.
Not as much plaster
Plaster casts, like the ones you used to get as a child after a skiing accident, are not too common any more. People don’t flock to sign the boot they put on you for a broken ankle. And some places may just get a brace–like fractured vertebrae–or nothing at all, in the case of pelvic fractures!
All this means that for a while you may be in the hospital so the medical pros can get images and such, and you can get some pain management. But as soon as the medical team has a plan, you’ll be getting more active. Hospitals don’t let you lie in bed for most things any more; it’s not healthy for you, they say.
And increasingly the broken bone doesn’t get a cast, but a brace, a boot, or even less. How could they put braces on your pelvis? They can’t. So you learn to heal it without.
That said, a broken hip will lay you low, no doubt about it.
Why the broken bones?
In addition to the event itself, you may have had medication side effects whittling your bones down. People with respiratory problems such as severe asthma and COPD who take prednisone repeatedly may have bone thinning as a side effect. Likewise, people with GERD who take some antacid medications could have bone thinning after years of use.
Other medications attack your balance, your alertness, even your nervous system, to make accidents more likely. It’s important to talk to your doctor about side effects you notice in your everyday life before they get you into trouble.
Then there’s lack of exercise to keep the bones challenged, hormonal changes, lack of calcium in your diet–the usual ones.
If your bone scans show thinning, talk with your doctor about what to do about it. There are injections you can take to help your bones recover mass but you can get good results from lifestyle changes if those aren’t indicated.
Why is this so hard?
Having broken bones is no fun. After all, bones are supposed to support you and what you are doing. But now you have muscles and connective tissues pulling at broken bones when you try to move. Sometimes, if you are exercise-averse like me, they pull unevenly and try to rearrange those bone pieces. That will hurt a LOT.
Physical therapists and occupational therapists figure out how to get you back in action, a little at a time. They do it by having you do common things like sit up in a chair, get to the bathroom, walk around. Not only do these tasks promote healing, they also get you ready to go home safely.
Keep in mind, you only have the body you have to work with, and it’s broken. Give yourself time and remind the people you work with that you are having pain so they don’t push you too far. Expect some pain as you work, though. The medication is meant to dull it but not to eliminate it. The days of euphoric opioid fogs are largely gone, especially for those who are a fall risk.
Can I go home now?
Once you show you can get around without being at terrible risk of falling and rebreaking things, the hospital generally wants to send you home. If it takes a long time to get to that point, you may be looking at a stretch in a rehabilitation facility to build up.
That doesn’t mean you are up to doing cleaning, laundry, cooking and taking out the trash. You may not be driving yet. Your capabilities may be limited to getting up and going to the toilet. (You may even need a special toilet.)
The hospital social workers should set up supports in your home for the things you can’t do on your own or get other people to do while you are laid up. If you have a spouse to drive you to appointments, vacuum and take out the trash, and order in food, you may be all set. But if you’re going home to be alone, some services might be ordered so you can get by till you’re able to do more yourself.
Another thing you might find helpful is in-home physical therapy if you are supposed to continue after the hospital. It beats having to dress up and go out twice or three times a week, especially if you’re home alone.
Oh, no! A walker!
Oh, yes. If your injuries leave you weak, wobbly and at risk of falling, expect to use one as directed. Be careful of changes in surfaces as you go from place to place, and learn to use it well. But try not to stay dependent on it as you heal. Following the advice of your medical team, work your way off it if you can.
A walker, by the way, is a simple frame with wheels on the front legs and rigid back legs that often drag. You see tennis balls impaled on the back a lot. This lets the used drag the back legs easily without tearing up the surface. These things are very stable, much more supportive than just a cane, and easily controlled.
A rollator is the thing with 4 wheels, hand brakes, and a seat. They’re handy for unsteady folks who go for long walks around town, but they’re not a walker.
Your healing bones will knit back and the muscles around them will be toned up at the same time, if you will work at the exercises you’re assigned and take care of yourself. And once you’re all back to your everyday routines, you may want to take a look around and do some prevention work so you don’t have another accident!
Have you had recent experience with broken bones? What did you to do get better?