Break A Leg, Take #2

Roving retirement has its ups and downs. The next few weeks will challenge our ability to recover from surgery in a timeshare and basically make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Recap Of The Fall

We were in good spirits as we strode into Victoria Falls National Park that fine Friday morning in November. Diana was a few minutes away from ticking another UNESCO site off her list. Fate had other plans when she stumbled on an uneven walkway and landed hard on her left side, fracturing her femur near her hip and terminating Our Big Trip after four and a half months. You can read about her evacuation experience in detail here.

The Road Back

Diana’s medical evacuation from the national park in Zimbabwe to Johannesburg, South Africa occurred late the same day. She was taken to a hospital where a recommended orthopedic surgeon practiced and was operated on the next day. Her leg was broken all the way through and a rod and a pin were inserted to stabilize it so the bone could knit and heal.

Ten days after the surgery, she had recovered enough to fly back to the States where she could recuperate and begin rehab on her leg. A follow-up X-ray after Christmas looked a little suspect to us. A gap was visible in the bone, even with the new hardware. Still, we are not radiologists and both doctors we consulted said this was normal for the timeframe of recovery. Her persistent pain was not considered unusual.

Stuck In 2nd Gear

The doctor said recovery would take a few months, which would preclude her ski season this year. We had planned to ski in France and Italy. In retrospect, the fall might have saved our lives as we would have been in the Italian Alps as Covid-19 raged through the slopes. Fate isn’t always cruel.

Instead of skiing, we chose to repair to Playa Del Carmen for February. A month of warmth and light physical therapy (PT) would do her well. The free-flowing margaritas wouldn’t hurt, either. From there, we flew to Nice to begin our French adventure in early March. Lockdown started 8 days later and we stayed in south-central France for the next 7 weeks. We hunkered down and walked for about an hour most days. We came back to the States to see/help the family in early May.

Through it all, Diana’s leg was stubbornly painful. The pain emanating from her pin was growing, not subsiding. Moreover, she was still limping on her left side and the limp caused her to compensate on her right leg, causing more pain. Her recovery was not converging and it was time to find out what to do about it.

The Reveal

Another X-ray of the fracture was taken and it confirmed what Diana suspected, her break was not healing. The new X-ray looked nearly identical to the X-ray from December. Nothing had improved. Diana was suffering from a “non-union”, where pieces of a broken bone fail to form a union. Worse, it appeared the pin was slowly working itself out, leading to further pain and destabilization. Something had to be done.

Plan B

Surgery would be required to get her healing back on track. We knew it would be a challenge to get back to France before September, but we also knew we didn’t want to spend the whole summer in the Bay Area (we are roving retirees, after all). Additionally, we needed to find a place where Diana could convalesce in some comfort after surgery.

After some research, Diana found an orthopedist in Scottsdale, AZ who specializes in traumatic injuries and non-unions. She had an email and information exchange with the doctor who agreed to take her case. We arranged to travel to Scottsdale and we settled into our timeshare for the duration of her treatment.

Two surgeries are required. The first to remove the existing rod and pin and test for bone infection. A few days later, a 2nd surgery would be performed where they had to re-break the bone and put in a new rod and five screws to secure the pieces of her femur. Both of these happened last week. The doctor was very happy with the outcome. I’m hoping Diana will be able to say the same.

Next Steps

Diana returned from the hospital yesterday. She already feels better than before in some ways. The original pin no longer hinders her movement (it was too long). The geometry of her left leg prior to this round of surgeries was messed up, leading to her left leg being shorter than her right. Also, because the hip joint was out of alignment, her leg was slightly twisted out.

Now comes the task of rehab. Diana is no stranger to PT. If there were a PT rewards club, she would certainly have some freebies she could use.

We are still planning to head back to France in early September. We have some work to do to renew our long-stay visa for next year. The plan to go will serve as a goal for Diana to be ready. The drive comes from within. It is a trait I respect and admire in her.

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  1. I know some thing about nonunion fractures! I am so happy she found a surgeon who could repair it successfully. It will be a long painful journey, but I’m sure Diana is up to the task! Best of luck in your full recovery!

  2. Mike,
    I had no idea that all this had occurred. I guess the good news is that she has had the surgeries in Arizona and is improving. Give her my love and tell her I know she’ll come through to get back to France

  3. Thanks for your kind wishes. I’m already on the mend and I can tell that my leg is working better than it has since the original break.

  4. Oh wow – TWO surgeries in a week! So glad to know those are both behind you now and to hear that the doctor is pleased with the outcome. Even better that Diana is already able to notice a difference! I have complete confidence in Diana meeting plan! 😉

  5. Oh no, this is terrible news! But glad it’s fixing the problem. Wishing you quick recovery!

  6. Glad the surgery(ies) worked out. Hope for full recovery and no infection. I don’t envy her rehab, but the good news, the best shape I’ve been in since I was in high school was during my various surgical rehab stints. Be well, and enjoy your world wherever you end up.

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