Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Finally, I’ve graduated September 19, 2018

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The Art of Recovery (soft yellow putty, medium green putty and firm blue putty).

 

THREE MONTHS AND TWO DAYS after suffering a closed colles fracture of the left radius followed by open reduction with internal fixation of the fracture, I am done with medical appointments.

Now, let me write that in an understandable language. Three months and two days after I broke my left wrist followed by surgery to implant a titanium plate with 10 screws, I am done with medical appointments.

Yes!

But that doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. After twisting on my wrist (yes, it was painful) during my final therapy session on Tuesday, my occupational therapist sent me home with several new exercises, a container of firm putty and instructions to continue my strengthening efforts. I tested several weights before Annie decided I should work with a 3-pound weight. That’s up from the pound I have been lifting. Prior to my injury, I was lifting a 10-pound weight.

Recovery takes time, hard work and lots of patience. And a great medical team.

Following therapy, I had my final evaluation with my orthopedic surgeon. He cleared me to slowly resume normal activities with a specific example of what not to do yet. “Don’t go pulling a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator,” he said.

But he said I could use my camera. “I already am,” I said, noting that I nearly pitched forward and fell the other day while pursuing a photo at the Valley Grove Country Social. He gave me a look. We agreed that I should try to stay out of his office for awhile. A year ago I was recovering from a broken right shoulder. As much as I like Dr. Armitage, it is my intent to keep my bones intact.

To all of you who have supported and encouraged me during this three-month recovery process, thank you. I am grateful for your kind words. And I am grateful for my loving husband who helped me through this lengthy process of healing and recovery with personal care assistance and taking on extra responsibilities at home. I am blessed. Even in challenges, there are reasons to be thankful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Nearing graduation day September 7, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.

 

THE WORD GRADUATION SLIPPED into the conversation between me and my therapist. Just like that after I excelled on a weekly skills test. If I continue to do well, I expect to graduate within a few weeks.

That would be graduation from occupational therapy which began two months ago. It takes a long time to recover from a wrist fracture and subsequent surgery to implant a 4-inch plate. Not only have I gone to twice-weekly therapy, but I’ve worked hard at home doing exercises two to three times daily in half-hour sessions. I’m determined. And my efforts are showing in increased usage and strength of my healing left wrist/hand.

Every week my therapist checks my progress, measuring my range of motion and testing my strength. This week my grip strength showed incredible improvement, increasing from 17 to 30 pounds in six days. I might have shrieked in delight upon hearing that number. But then my excitement deflated a bit when I asked what my grip strength should be for my non-dominant left hand. Sixty-five. Oh, well. I’m half-way there.

But every day I’m noticing improvement as I use my left hand more and more. The other day I picked up a detergent bottle with my left hand, not even thinking. Thankfully, though the bottle was nearly full, I felt no pain.

I’m using my camera, short lens only.

I’m carrying a laundry basket.

I’m cooking.

I’m cleaning.

Life is returning to normal. There were days when I felt like I would never get there, when I felt impatient and frustrated. But I’m on the other side of that doubt now, pushing toward my goal of graduating soon.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, happy day August 23, 2018

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A selfie taken shortly after going splint-free. You can see the scar on my wrist from the incision to implant a metal plate on June 25.

 

NEARLY 10 WEEKS OUT from shattering a bone in my left wrist which required an implant with 10 screws, I got the news I’ve been wanting. I can ditch my splint. My hand, my wrist, are now free of any supportive locking device. And I am one happy person/photographer/writer.

 

After two months in this splint, I no longer need to wear it.

 

I did not expect this news from my cautious orthopedic doctor during a routine check on my healing bone Wednesday morning. During a previous visit, he’d given me a splint time-frame that would have taken me to almost the end of September.

 

This is a photo snapped with a cellphone of an x-ray of the implant in my wrist. Ten screws (count them) hold the metal plate in place. The broken bone, my ortho doctor said, “looked like gravel’ following my June 16 fall.

 

But after reviewing my current and past x-rays and asking me to pass some range of motion tests, he told me I don’t need to wear the splint anymore. I asked him to repeat what he’d just said, not believing this could possibly be true.

He qualified. “I don’t want you doing anything silly.” He knows me well, that I wanted to be doing whatever yesterday. Yet, he apparently trusts that I will recognize my limitations and not push my weak wrist. I asked about using my Canon DSLR camera. He okayed that usage after I explained that I support the lens with my left hand. I don’t expect to do extensive photo shoots but slowly ease back into photography.

Upon arriving home from my medical appointment and occupational therapy, I tested my left hand while putting away dishes. Much to my dismay, I didn’t have the strength to pull open a cupboard door or to lift a small bowl. But I could lift a small rectangular plastic food storage container. It’s not much, but something.

 

Me, several hours after my June 25 surgery to repair my broken left wrist with a metal plate. The splint and wrap in this photo were replaced a week later by a removable (only for showering and therapy) Velcro wrist splint, the one I now no longer need to wear.

 

I expect to start strengthening exercises at my next therapy session on Friday. Up until now I’ve done only range of motion exercises. I’ll work hard to strengthen and regain use of my hand and wrist. It’s a slow process that requires time and much patience. I’m determined. And that’s a good thing. Determination and tenacity coupled with prayer and the support of a really great medical team and a loving and caring husband equal recovery.

 

© Copyright 2018 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

 

Learning patience as I start occupational therapy July 16, 2018

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I got this smaller removable splint about two weeks ago. It stays on 24/7 except when showering and for therapeutic exercises. The thumb lock bugs me the most. Many times I’ve just wanted to rip the splint off my arm. My fingers and the top of my hand are still noticeably swollen.

 

FEW WOULD LIKELY TAG the virtue of patience to me. I am not particularly patient. That is evidenced by my response to a question about my goal for occupational therapy, which I started last Thursday. On the questionnaire, I wrote: To regain use of my left hand ASAP.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the surgically implanted plate, shaped like an ice scraper, in my opinion. How Minnesotan is that observation? The x-ray was taken through layers of bandages wrapped around my arm/hand.

 

Exactly the type of response you would expect from someone like me who wanted my broken left wrist healed yesterday. It’s been four weeks since I slipped on rain and moss-slicked wooden steps, fell, broke my radius and underwent subsequent surgery to insert a plate held in place by 10 screws.

After meeting with my therapist for the first time, I realized just how much muscle strength and range of motion I’ve lost. A lot. That should come as no surprise given last summer I had a broken right shoulder and weeks of physical therapy. The success of that therapy confirms that eventually I will have a healthy left hand/wrist that works like it should.

 

Four of my first exercises. If you think I can do these with any ease, you would be wrong. The “making an o” exercise and wrist circles are especially difficult. I can barely touch my thumb and pointer and index fingers. Forget the other fingers. My circles resemble minimal wrist movement nothing like circles. 

 

I am determined to get there. But on my therapist and ortho doctor’s timetable, not mine. Last summer I got in trouble for doing too much too soon. Now I need to check myself, to do only those exercises assigned to me at the mandated frequency. Patience.

My therapist approved typing with my left hand. But not for two hours, she qualified. Ah, she’s already got me pegged. It felt wonderful to have both hands back on the keyboard. For maybe 10 minutes. My body told me to stop and return to the solo finger pecking method.

After two summers recovering from broken bones, I’m learning patience. Maybe.

TELL ME about something in your life which taught you patience.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling