Chest Pain – What They Don’t Tell You About Using Crutches

My winter of midweek skiing with my Senior ski pass came to a halt when I made a careless move at the top of the highest piste. I fell hard on my hip on the frozen surface at the top of Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl, my favorite ski area near Lake Tahoe, CA. As I slid head down, I grabbed my right ski to throw myself forward to get my skis downhill. I carefully experimented with what would move and what wouldn’t. I asked my ski buddy, Harold, to get the ski patrol and tell them I need help.

The ski patrol arrived and checked me – “what day is it, what’s your name, did you hit your head, where are you hurting”, and so on. I told them I couldn’t move and my right hip and leg hurt.

What skill and courage those boys have! My location was pretty steep and there wasn’t enough loose snow to plant a pole let alone gain a foothold to load me into the sled box. But they did, and I kept my leg and hip in place. They tied me up, covered me up and off we went. My ski buddy told me later that he couldn’t keep up with us. What a ride that was!

Shivering and trembling, I was admitted to the resort clinic and placed on a bed. Because it was the middle of the week and no doctor was present, they were unable to x-ray to diagnose my injury. I couldn’t put weight on the leg and I didn’t want to move it. They loaded me into my SUV and Harold drove me to Truckee to the hospital.

I was admitted through Emergency Department. More questions. “No, I don’t have insurance.” I was hoping for a pulled muscle and low cost. The x-ray was inconclusive, so they did a CT scan and confirmed that I had broken the neck of my right femur – the place where the leg bone meets the pelvic bone. The doctor told me there is no alternative; I need to have it repaired immediately. This is the point where I collapsed and hid my face in my hands.

“Is there an alternative, Doctor?” I asked, just in case.

“No. You need surgery tonight,” he replied.

About six hours after the fall, I was prepped for surgery. I was told it would take about twenty minutes and I could choose to be awake with a spinal block or go under general anesthesia. I woke up and they were done, cleaned up, sent me the OK to a room for the night. I was glad it was done.

Postoperative patients receive the best nursing care. In this case it meant a lot of attention from a young, handsome nurse, lots of company from the staff. As many blankets as I wanted. More painkillers. Super! Then the nurse came in. That was another story. It was time to get off my bag and start walking. The occupational therapist came, the physiotherapist came. Time to get out of bed.

The painkillers made me feel sick when I stood up. They brought crutches and made sure they were the right height. The occupational therapist helped me hobble to the toilet, so I thought I was fine. She tried to get me to shower but I wasn’t interested. I just wanted to lie back down and sleep. I didn’t realize these were little “life skills” tests that one must complete to get a good report on the medical card leading to discharge.

The physical therapist worked with me to teach me the proper use of the crutches. Do not hang with your armpits on the top of the stool, but hold yourself up with your hands. I was assigned two sessions that day, and if I failed the stair test, I would have to stay another night. That idea sent dollar signs through my mind with images of even higher hospital bills. Conscious of being uninsured, I had to get out of there!

Through the haze of medication, a thought came to me. The meds make me sick, change the pain meds so I can get up and walk on crutches, up and down stairs, and get out of Dodge! That worked well enough and in time for my second physical therapy session. I stumbled down the hall to the therapy stairs, still feeling ill. I passed the stair drill and called my friend to take me home.

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Thanks to my ski buddy for being my 24/7 caregiver after surgery. Without his patience and generosity I would have been home, in the snow, alone and unable to drive. My sister also came a week later to stay for a few days. Had it not been for those two, I would have been up the proverbial creek.

About ten days after surgery, when I was feeling pretty good and well supported, my sister and I went for a burger. I started to feel a little pain on the left side of my ribs, under my left arm. By the time we got home I was in need of a cold pack or hot pack so tried the cold first. That didn’t relieve the pain, which was now blocking my breathing. I tried a warm compress and immediately felt an increase in pain and difficulty breathing. The pain it caused was immense. I don’t think the breakup caused as much pain as this. Breathing shallowly to avoid causing more pain, I hobbled to bed to lie down and find a position I could tolerate. I thought I had a broken rib or my lung had collapsed! I’ve never experienced those conditions, but I thought something like this must be the cause. I was relieved to know it would pass when Peggi remembered her experience with the same kind of pain two years earlier for a broken leg.

“I remember getting crutches after breaking my leg. Within a week I got up off the couch and couldn’t take a deep breath. I wondered if I had been injured somewhere else. The pain was barely manageable and I spent the rest of the day on the couch breathing shallowly and taking aspirin. It was an uncomfortable night and the next day I moved very carefully.” Peggy said,

“I found out a few days later that I had caused my upper left back to spasm due to overuse of my muscles. I had also pulled the rib heads out of alignment in the chest area and felt relief when my physical therapist, who knew what had happened, adjusted my back. I still had to be careful for the next few days. It’s strange that no one in the medical field said this could be a problem. I’m not the first!”

I tried to use my crutches properly, but I had pressed the crutch into my ribcage, resulting in tenderness and tense muscles causing muscle spasms. In the instructions for the use of crutches, this side effect was not mentioned. I’m so glad my sister was with me and knew what the problem was. I had to breathe shallowly, not move much and wait. I was in bed for 18 hours before I could get up and walk around. It took a week for the pain in my rib muscles to subside.

About a week later, I called the doctor’s office to inquire about another issue and asked if they had any patients with my rib pain and difficulty breathing. The nurse sounded alarmed and said I should have come in, it could have been something serious like a heart attack. She had never heard of other patients with this problem. I found this odd as my sister and I had both experienced it. Later I searched online for similar experiences but found nothing like our chest-rib pain.

When I researched my injury, I learned:

· Cases of leg injuries (due to skiing accidents) have clearly decreased. “Overall injuries over the past four decades have dropped by 50% and broken legs have decreased by 95% since the early 1970s. 1

The femur, or femur, is the largest and strongest bone in the human body. It is surrounded by a lot of tissue, such as the quad muscles and a large “femoral” artery that carries a lot of blood. Because of this, it takes a lot of force to break a femur and it is also very dangerous. 2

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Four weeks after surgery, I use one crutch, walk up and down stairs, and drive. I feel improvement every day. There is pain with overuse and movement is limited. I plan to be on the golf course in a few months!

Being unemployed, I have developed two businesses that I promote online. I do my work from home. I haven’t been able to think effectively while on pain medication, nor have I been able to sit at my computer for long. I expect to need about six weeks to recover enough to return to my home work full-time.

The hospital and doctor bills are over $33,000. The hospital has a financial aid program and I applied.

I wrote this article to share my experience with others who experience injuries that require the use of crutches. I’d like to know if others have had this experience with chest-rib pain, how they coped, and what their doctors and professionals had to say. My contact information is in the resource box below.