Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An update: Stories while recovering from a broken wrist August 15, 2018

My newest exercise tool, therapy putty.


WHEN YOU’RE RECOVERING from a broken bone and subsequent surgery, little things hold significance. Like Play-Doh. I was so excited Tuesday morning when, at the end of my occupational therapy session, my therapist handed me a container of therapy putty. Play-Doh to me. Annie instructed me to, twice daily, lightly squeeze the putty with my left fingers and thumb. “Lightly,” she repeated, as she observed me manipulating the blob of yellow gunk.


Look on the right side of my wrist to see the plate, shaped like an ice scraper, and held in place by 10 screws. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


So why is this such a big deal? It’s just putty, for gosh sakes. It’s a big deal because every added exercise signals progress to me. Now, nearly nine weeks out from the fall that resulted in a severely broken left wrist requiring surgical implantation of a metal plate, I continue to regain my range of motion. Strengthening exercises have not even begun. Yes, this is a slow process requiring every ounce of patience I don’t possess.


Site of my bone break and surgery. And, yes, my hand, fingers and wrist remain swollen.


But I dutifully do my 10 exercises three times daily. Because I want to use my left hand again. I am itching to wrap my hand around my Canon DSLR camera, to cook solo, to carry my two-year-old granddaughter… I know, realistically, those goals are still a long ways from being achieved. But it’s good to have goals.


I am thankful for any time out of my wrist splint.


Two weeks ago I was much less positive as I developed a severe itchy rash on my wrist. I’d show you a photo, but I don’t want to gross you out. Picture a really bad case of poison ivy. Efforts to treat the surface skin problem with an antibiotic failed. Hydrocortisone cream solved the problem as did airing my arm while resting. You can only imagine my joy at releasing my arm from the trap of a splint for more than just exercising and showering. That made me one happy camper.


On this bill, the $4,661 is the insurance discount. The $0.00 is the amount of the insurance payment on the (incorrect) bill.


I was anything but happy, though, when I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill last week for my surgery. More than a few bad words flew from my mouth as I cried. And then cried some more. I pay $1,000/month in health insurance premiums with a $3,600 deductible. I’d already paid my deductible and now the insurance provider was refusing to pay. Are you kidding me?

I was livid and way too upset to call either the hospital or the insurance company the day I got that bill. But then a hospital employee phoned several hours later to verify my address and I broke down sobbing and eventually was connected to the billing department. The insurance company, the hospital staffer said, made a “processing error.” She advised me to burn the $15K bill. The claim is being reprocessed. I hope it’s correct this time as I don’t want another financial scare. This never should have happened. The incorrect billing caused me a great deal of unnecessary stress.


If you look closely, you can see faint remnants of my rash. The lines are imprints from the “sock” I wear under my splint.


If only I’d had that therapy putty last week to work out my frustration and anger…


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


35 Responses to “An update: Stories while recovering from a broken wrist”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    What a journey this has been for you. I know that bill would have put me over the edge without a doubt so I am so glad that it was not accurate. Whew. Your progress is slow but steady and you will have use of that arm hopefully soon. You have done everything to get healthy and I am confident that will pay off. Keep going!

  2. Ruth Says:

    I can’t even imagine opening that bill and seeing the amount. Yikes. Hope they get it straightened out quickly. The putty looks inviting. Hope you get reduced swelling, increased range of motion and rapid healing.

    • Thank you, Ruth. Supposedly the claim will be reprocessed within the next 30 days.

      I wish I could play with the putty more as it feels good to roll my fingers around it. But, I have to hold myself back and follow the therapist’s directives.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    What a frustrating time for you. I’d be the same kind of upset if I had to put everything on hold and move about at half-steam. And it certainly doesn’t help to have the emotional stress of incoming medical bills, adding insult to injury. I was aghast myself with medical bills resulting from last November’s trip to the ER for kidney stones. Now that I know what to expect pain-wise with that, I won’t be so likely to head to the hospital for help. But then I felt fortunate after I recently saw my elderly friend Hillard’s billing (which Medicare mostly paid after the “discount”thank goodness) for mediflight costs which crept up to the 100K range. I pray for good health every day. Something has got to change in the insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical industries.

    • I agree 100 percent that something has to change in the insurance, medical and pharmaceutical industries. These costs are outrageous. I have health insurance. But at $1,000/month premiums and a $3,600 deductible, I can’t afford medical care. Last year when I broke my shoulder after missing a step on a hospital stairway (in the evening while on my way to donate blood to the Red Cross), I opted to walk across campus to the urgent care clinic rather than go to the much closer ER. The decision was a financial one. People all over this country are making the same choices about medical care.

      For so many people, especially my age (in their 60s and not yet retirement age), the cost of health insurance is consuming our incomes. Unless, of course, you work for an employer that offers good benefits. I’ve found that most often to be schools and government. My husband works for a small business and I am self-employed so we are in that middle stuck place of unaffordable health insurance. Go without insurance and one major medical situation (such as your friend Hillard experienced) would destroy us financially.

  4. Oh Audrey, what a trial! I do think about you! Have fun with the play doh

  5. We make the putty at school for the kids.
    It’s good for the motor skills and brain!
    Shall I send you some?!! xx

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    Billing error, eh?

    The most outrageous medical billing story I ever heard came from my brother in Wisconsin, who got a $159,000 bill for his (miraculously successful) cancer treatment.

    His (ACA) insurer insisted that they had no record of a physician signing off on his treatment – and thus, he had to pay.

    After months of tears, wrangling and nasty phone calls, an envelope mysteriously appeared in his mailbox. His insurer had randomly mailed his complete medical file to a woman in a small town near Green Bay, who thankfully, bless her heart, put them in the mail to him.

    • I don’t even want to hear this, Greg. I am trying to be hopeful that I won’t have to go through something like this.

      I am thankful your brother’s cancer treatment was successful and that the inaccurate bill was resolved. So about that HIPPA law…

  7. Talk about insult to injury in receiving that bill and then it was in error – poo 😦 When I saw the first photo of your post today I was like what in the world is she up to now – ha! – therapy putty. Maybe we all need some of it. Looks like you are healing and progressing – YAY 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

  8. Audrey, I enjoy reading what you write. I doubt you could write about something that I have not already faced in one fashion or another. Please don’t misunderstand I am not bragging. I have far too much under my belt, and yes I wish I did not. Insurance errors are common, so the best course of action in the future is to contact the hospital/doctor billing office calmly but because I have “been there done that” for all of the above I truly do understand. Your response to that horrible although, laughable bill is, unfortunately, a lot more common than it should be. The reason I directed you to the hospital/doctor’s billing office is that most of the time the error is with a clerk in the hospital/doctor’s billing office and not with the insurance company. Errors are standard and usually happen before the insurance company even looks at the paperwork. No, I don’t nor have I ever worked for an insurance company it is just that I have, unfortunately, seen this scenario way too many time’s. Now before anyone jumps on this, I will say that insurance companies do make their share of mistakes. The worse case scenario is when the problem is with the insurance. Then you definitely do have a problem because often it is a choice rather than an error. If the insurance company decides not to pay for whatever reason, it is almost impossible to get them to change their mind. For those folks I honestly say, you have my sympathy. That’s when a go-fund-me page or a good old-fashioned Church social type fundraiser is the only solution. I am currently writing about my experience with cancer. Now, if you want to talk about a big hospital bill, well..? I will post that chapter in the next week. Blessings, Gary

    • Gary, I can only go by what the woman in the hospital billing department told me, that the bill I received resulted from an insurance company processing error. Hopefully it will be correctly processed. I didn’t call the hospital billing department right away for the simple reason that I was too upset. I know that’s not a good time to deal with an incorrect bill.

      It dismays me when so many people need to set up go fund me accounts or rely on fundraisers to cover medical bills. That shows me something is incredibly wrong with our current system. I don’t take issue with people choosing that route. I am always happy to help someone in need and recently co-led a fundraiser at my church.

      I am sorry you are dealing with cancer on top of everything else. May you be blessed with healing. You have such a positive and faith-filled attitude toward all you have faced/are facing. You are remarkable.

      • Audrey, I need to go back and reread what I wrote to you. It sounds like I must have written it in my sleep. I did not mean to imply anything negative as I felt that you handled yourself really well. I have had countless experiences with the hospital/doctors billing departments. The last one that I spoke with was so rude that I seriously considered talking to the Doctor about her behavior. The point that I was trying to make was that very often the insurance companies are merely responding to what they have been given. I have never worked for an insurance company. I have, though, had many experiences with having to go back to the hospital/doctors billing and correcting their errors, One example is that I am disabled and I now have two forms of insurance. My wife works for a school, and that insurance is rock solid and pays for everything without question. Unfortunately, the School is a small Christian school with less than 100 employees. Because of this the Federal Government forces me to take Medicare as primary and my wives as secondary. Hospitals/doctors billing offices frequently make errors because of this unfortunate arrangement. Long story short I am not a big government man. I hate being told that I do not have a choice over insurance just because of the number of employees. Whew! You get the picture. Oh, and I am a cancer survivor. My next blog is going to detail some of my 2 1/2 year journey with Kidney Cancer. Apparently, I did not communicate clearly what is going on in my life and what I am doing and about to do. I will try to do better in the future. Blessings, Gary

      • Gary, you are an inspiration. Truly. You are so positive in all situations. Blessings to you also.

  9. I am so thankful for my Dutch insurance. 120€ per month world wide coverage and my deductible is one time per year €400. If I was faced with $15000.00 bill I would cry and say horrible things too! How can the citizenship of the US continue to let Congress, lobbyists, corporations and healthcare professionals treat it’s citizens in such a way. People here think the USA is like a third world nation when it comes to healthcare. It seems to be available only for the very rich or the very poor.

    • Something has to change in the U.S., that’s for sure. I have a friend who had to stop taking medication that worked for her because she couldn’t afford it. I’ve made healthcare decisions based on financial concerns. I know people who are delaying retirement because of the cost of health insurance. I dread when my husband comes home with the new insurance rates for 2019. I laugh when I get mass mailings from area politicians or read news stories that report drops in premiums. I always wonder, “What are they talking about?” My rates have gone through the roof in recent years. A $1,000/month premium is not affordable. My husband’s employer pays half his premium. So all told, we are forking out monthly premiums of $1,500. That’s craziness.

      • That is crazy and the fact is that it can be different but everyone at the top of the government or corporate ladders are making tons of money off this entire situation in the healthcare industry. I was so mad the other day to see Congress approve a $717 billion budget for defense when it is really education and healthcare the citizens need. BTW- you are doing great with your recovery! I have known people who have taken a year to get to where you are in your recovery. Hang in there the hard work will pay off with huge benefits soon.

      • Thank you. I’ll continue working hard because I want to regain use of my hand sooner rather than later. Both my therapist and my ortho doctor have told me how well I’m doing. It’s encouraging to hear that from you also.

        I can’t even fathom $717 billion…

      • Who can except it is a lot of money!

  10. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    OMG $$$$. I think it’s all been said. You’re an inspiration of perseverance. I am so grateful our church stations “steadiers” coming off the choir risers. Now…about that curb outside my home and the 15 step stairs inside…hmm. I see Trinity is expanding. Do NOT volunteer for anything!

    • Oh, Sandra, you are making me laugh with “do not volunteer for anything.” I just finished volunteering as a crew leader at VBS last week. See my post from several days ago.

      You be careful, too, on those risers and stairs. Falls happen, snap, that quick.

  11. Wow, what an ordeal you’ve gone through, Audrey! I have an incision like yours for my thumb surgery. I remember one therapy exercise I did was to open the cloth pins, moved them, and clipped them on another board, or other things the kids would do. I’m glad the bill was straightened for you. expenses these days are unbelievable. I had a fever and infection, stay in the hospital for 3 days, the insurance was charged for $20,000.
    It will take a while for you to gain movement back. Take care!

  12. Jackie Says:

    Play therapy…. I like that 🙂 Sorry about the bill scare, yikes! I would have cried too! Audrey are your fingers really that blue as seen in the 3rd photo? I noticed that right away. The scar looks lovely. You are doing a wonderful job, it’s so hard to be patient isn’t it. I’m sorry this process of healing is so long. Hang in there my friend.

    • I noticed that, too, the blueness in my fingers in that pic. It’s just the lighting apparently.

      Therapy is going great. And the swelling in my fingers and hand is diminishing significantly. My therapist noted that this morning as did a friend last evening. I hope to start strengthening exercises soon.

  13. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Now now that therapy puddy isn’t going to do you any good if you throw it at the mail man. 😂 on a serious note that is awful that they sent you the wrong bill. You have enough stress trying to heel properly.

  14. Cindi Says:

    I am having wrist surgery next week after a fall. Plate screws and pins.
    Any pre-op advise??

    • My advice is to do everything your physical or occupational therapist tells you. Exercise at home. Don’t do more than you are told. More is not better. Celebrate each small movement. You will likely experience frustration at the pace of progress. I don’t know your age, but it takes time to heal. Patience, patience, patience. Ask for help if you need it. I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s not easy. But I reminded myself how fortunate I was that my wrist could be fixed following a fall. Take care. I hope your surgery goes well. You will get better.

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