A Story of a Shattered Knee

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the-sarah-johnson-broken-knee-breakneck-ridgeI’m finally feeling up to sharing more about my injury. It’s been a long 12 weeks for me. April 11th  I broke my knee, or as my physical therapist corrects me, I shattered my knee. I fractured my tibial plateau in more than 20 pieces, and tore my LCL off with one of the fragments of bone. I debated sharing my experience here, but I thought maybe someone is out there with a broken bone, or has been knocked down in some way due to a sickness, injury or freak life event, and this might in some way help you feel less alone.

Aczeb and I were up at Breakneck Ridge trail for a fun filled day out of the city to celebrate his birthday. We hiked to the top of the Ridge and enjoyed the beautiful views and photo opps over the Hudson River. We rock scrambled up the river side of the hike first, and then hiked down the backside of the ridge back to the car, which was a downhill trail decent for several miles.IMG_9930

I noticed how fatigued my quads were near the end of the hike. It’s definitely harder to go downhill than uphill, it requires so much more control of your lower body. I yelled ahead to Aczeb, “I GOT JELLO FOR LEGS!” But I pressed through the wobbly feeling, knowing that each step carried me closer to a romantic dinner with him at an adorable inn located on the riverfront. We were almost to the road–about 100 feet away. We simultaneously let our gaits unfold into a run, letting the downhill momentum carry us down the trail.

My last step I placed my foot on an uneven cluster of roots as the trail dipped excessively, and at the exact same moment my knee was improperly aligned–most likely hyper-extended. I came down on it, with extra force because of the downhill momentum and immediately, my knee snapped, crackled, popped, and I crumpled to the ground. I knew it was bad. Really bad.

We waited for an ambulance for the longest 40 minutes of my life. I was in shock, and my whole body started trembling, which didn’t help to stabilize my knee. Endless hikers passed by offering help and medical advice. Most people guessed it was an ACL tear, or a dislocation. I refused to look at it, but I could tell from Aczeb’s face that it was serious. My mind raced to the endless hours of PT ahead of me. I thought of my sister, who tore her ACL and vomitted her way through recovery because the pain meds didn’t agree with her, and the two follow up surgeries she’s had to endure. I thought of #14 on my list of 101 in 1001: go salsa dancing. I thought of all the inactivity I had been guilty of for the past year. I thought of how awful my family would feel when we called them from the emergency room with the news. I was too upset to even cry. I kept asking, “is this really happening?”

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I was first taken to St Luke’s emergency room in Newburgh, where everyone seemed confident that it was a dislocation based on how funky it looked, but the doctor said, perhaps it was broken. I put that out of my mind. I had never broken a bone in my life! The x-rays came back, and it wasn’t just broken, it was broken so badly that the orthopedic on call didn’t feel comfortable touching it. The doctors warned me that I would probably need emergency surgery that night. I insisted that I wanted someone to simply reset it, so I could go home, get a good night’s sleep, and research the best doctor in the morning. They informed me that I might have to have a knee replacement that night–this was happening ASAP. So back in the ambulance I went, to Westchester Medical Center, a trauma center about an hour away. They welcomed me with open arms and more painkillers. I was told I was the top trauma case in the hospital, which made me feel weirdly special. Sister Toby and Aczeb beat me there, I was never more happy to see their beautiful faces as they wheeled me inside that ER.

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A few orthopedic residents asked me a thousand questions and then poked and prodded at my knee. They told me to hold onto Toby and Aczeb’s hands and squeeze hard while they pulled my leg down and across, trying to reset the bone into place. In the midst of this I politely asked through clenched teeth, “HAS ANYONE EVER SH!T THEIR PANTS ON YOUR TABLE??” I will never forget the image of those two residents yanking with all their might on my broken leg. (Don’t worry, I didn’t crap my pants.)

I ended up having my first surgery, an external fixation, in the middle of that first night in the hospital. First, they had to cut off my favorite Lululemon pants. Sigh. I don’t remember getting anesthesia, I just remember waking up in the recovery room to a woman who would not give me enough ice chips. And I remember looking at the 4 new rods protruding out of my leg. They drilled 4 holes all the way down to the bone and inserted steel rods that essentially re-aligned and stabilized my leg. I had these crazy things sticking out of my leg for the next 36 hours, but I was too drugged up to really mind.

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Monday morning following the Saturday night external fixation I went in for the internal fixation. “Fixation”, such a pleasant word, am I right? It wasn’t until they CT scanned my leg the evening prior that they learned exactly how many fractures there were. My doctor talked to me before under-going anesthesia, and warned me there were over 20 fractures, and the LCL had torn off with one of the bone fragments. It was going to be a long day for both of us. He operated on me for nearly 8 hours. God bless that man. It took 11 screws and 2 plates to fix my sweet little knee.

thesarahjohnson-broken-knee-xrayI stayed in the hospital until Thursday afternoon. Westchester Medical Center is the JAM. My stay was top notch, I was blown away at the stellar level of the entire staff. A few nurses in particular, Miroslava and Jumona, were two of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met. I told them I loved them, and I do. I still get overwhelmed with emotion when I think about them, and what wonderful caretakers they each are. They are truly sharing their unique gifts with the world. I’m so lucky to have been under their care during the most traumatic week of my life. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them once I’m back on my feet.
thesarahjohnson-hospital-stay-broken-kneeI arrived home from the hospital on the 16th of April. I spent the next month and a half on bed rest, aside from getting up to go to physical therapy three times a week. Time moves pretty slowly when you are laying around…a month felt like a year and a half. Now, at week 12, I’m shuffling around my apartment and neighborhood more. I’m partial weight bearing on my injured leg. I can use just one crutch instead of two. I’m doing more work. I’m cooking some meals. I’m semi-circling on the bike (can’t quite make it all the way around yet). I’m bending to 85 degrees. I’m making homemade ice cream and green juices. I’m crying less. I’m crafting more. I’m sitting by the Hudson river at sunset with my mom. Slowly…slowly, I am becoming myself again.

Some thoughts I have so far on this journey:

1) I always thought I was a patient person. This experience has taught me a whole new level of patience. I had no idea what patience was before. My doctor says I’ll finally feel like myself, and not be overly aware of my knee with every step I take in 1.5 years. Whoa. Recalibrating patience meter, now.

2) A life event like this has extreme highs and extreme lows. I’m learning if I am experiencing one extreme, the other is likely right around the corner. Staying right smack in the middle of the emotional roller coaster is unrealistic. So, I’m allowing myself to feel, express, lament whenever I need. I cried while talking to a fellow patient at PT yesterday. The tears just had to come out then and there. I watched the pilot of Friday Night Lights where the quarterback gets paralyzed. Sobbed. I googled Shania Twain lyrics. Bawled. I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream about the exact moment of injury. Weeped. It’s all allowing my body to emotionally detox from this traumatic life event.

3) There is no value in worrying about next month or next year. The most valuable thing I can do during this healing process is to be present in the hour that it is. Stop thinking about if I’ll be able to dance at that wedding in September. Stop thinking about will I ever run a mile again. Stop thinking about if they will have to remove the screws and plates in a year. Stop thinking about how I never ever want to go on a hike again.

4) I was shattered. I was drugged. I was unconscious. I was drilled. I was drugged more. I was cut into. I was hammered & plated. I was stitched. I was stapled. I was woken up every 3 hours. I was made to pee in a bed pan. And to think I made it out of the hospital alive. I think I should definitely be a stronger person once I’m on the other side of this. If I can make it through all that, a lot of things down the road will seem rather easy, am I right?

5) Simplification. The very second my knee shattered, I laid across the trail waiting for the ambulance, and thought about everything in my life that felt undone, untied, unkempt. I felt an urgent need to simplify. EVERYTHING. I believe life only gets more complicated as we press on, with new responsibilities, relationships, stresses, goals. This event has made me slow down…it’s made me HALT. I am using the time to reflect and plan how I will come back stronger and simpler. So I can spend more time living, and less time carrying around excess weight in my life. I spread myself incredibly thin before the injury, I felt like a chicken running with my head cut off for a long while. I was doing a lot of things, but none of them really well, nor was I 100% present for any of them. I’m thinking about changes around my work pursuits, my physical world (“stuff”), goals, the culture/brand of my life, and focusing on how I can feel less cluttered overall. I like this list of ideas on how to simplify. “Getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.”

6) I keep thinking about all the intense basketball drills I did during high school and college, barreling down the icy mountains of upstate New York in middle school on skis, or all the NYC late nights of dancing while drinking in awful shoes. And this happened, essentially while running in a straight line. I’m accepting that life is just freaking hard sometimes. And sometimes we are strong, and sometimes we need help. Sometimes we are prepared, sometimes the rug is pulled out from under us. The most important thing is that we have strong, meaningful relationships through the ups and downs. Healthy, loving relationships matter deeply. Going through something hard makes loving my people that much more important to me. It makes me more conscious in how I love and who I love. I accept the reason I’m here: to love, and be loved.

If you are going through something that has knocked you off your saddle, know you aren’t alone. I find comfort in being open and sharing this experience with anyone who will listen. I’m learning when I let down a wall and share something raw and honest, others will too. I’ve found the power of connection to be rewarding and healing.

Here are some of my favorite things that have helped me get to the 12 week mark a little more comfortably/happily:

thesarahjohnson-birksBirkenstocks sandals. I’m still having acute nerve pain in my big toe, foot and shin, and Birks are the only thing that I can wear comfortably. I love the white ones!

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 3.48.33 PMBliss’ Hot Salt Scrub with rosemary and eucalyptus. I scrub this from my knee down to my foot and let it sit for awhile. Not only does it help with exfoliation, but when rinsed, it creates an incredible warmth. It’s so soothing on my healing leg. I go through a whole jar per week!

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Face cleansing wipes are my new favorite little luxury. Standing at the sink and doing my entire night-time skin routine is not so easy on a leg that is healing, especially in the beginning when I couldn’t bear any weight on it. I keep these in the drawer of my bedside table, and clean my face leisurely at night while laying in bed. I love this new night-time ritual so much that I will keep using them even when I’m completely healed. Simple cleansing wipes are my favorite.81gQTC0HNGL._SX522_Turmeric capsules by Total Renu. Turmeric root has shown to be an incredibly effective way to reduce inflammation in the body. It’s especially helpful while healing a bone fracture because most doctors prohibit the use of anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen because they interfere with proper bone fusion. Turmeric’s antioxidant benefits make it one of the top-ten antioxidant-rich foods. One study has shown turmeric to work about as well as ibuprofen in reducing pain. When I first got home from the hospital my sister was juicing fresh turmeric root for me constantly to drink with some warm water, honey and ginger. It’s not exactly the fastest elixir to make, and juicing anything requires a lot of clean up. So when I found these capsules with 5 stars reviews on Amazon, I knew I had to give them a try. I am pleased with the results and my swelling and pain has decreased with a daily dose. After I’m all healed, I will continue to take turmeric daily for all its other great health benefits.51XRIPlSbrL._SX522_

Thymes lavender cologne. This scent is the best lavender fragrance I’ve come across in my life. My mom and I discovered it in the gift shop at the Naples Botanical Garden a few years ago. She wears it daily, and I finally splurged and bought some for myself too. It is lasting, yet very light. I’d describe it as a rather androgynous scent. Best of all, lavender is known for its calming and relaxing therapeutic effects. Bring on the lavender. I carry the rollerball in my crossbody bag and touch up after PT sessions.

Other little happinesses while I recover? Friday Night Lights marathons on Netflix with my sis, this bright summery Essie nail polish on my toes, snacking on heaps of dried mango for vitamin C (the candy of the earth!), watching sunsets on my rooftop, these paleo muffins that taste like brownies, and lots and lots of writing in my journal.

Oh and this thing is a TOTAL life changer too.

Thanks for reading my story. I make brief updates about my progress on Instagram and Facebook.

{ Update!! I’ve shared my thoughts and lessons learned, one year after this incredible injury, in this post here. }

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*I received free samples of Total Renu’s turmeric capsules. The opinion and review of the product is entirely my own.

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Sarah

I am a lifelong New Yorker who recently swapped the subway for the California sunshine. I'm 6'3" tall, and am always working my way through a list of creative projects that's longer than myself. I have a natural curiosity for figuring out how things are made. Currently hooked on Fabletics, dried mango, succulents and my labradoodle. When I'm not blogging here, you can find me designing jewelry, concocting new fragrances for my bath & body shop, daydreaming about one day living on a flower farm, and sourcing and shipping your jewelry supplies. Visit me at the links below if you want to connect!!

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10 Comments

  1. Reply

    Jane

    July 9, 2015

    Love this site!

    • Reply

      SJ

      July 9, 2015

      Thank you Jane!

  2. Reply

    Catherine Julian

    July 9, 2015

    Sorry that you’ve had to endure such a painful experience, but you have certainly learned what is truly valuable in life at a young age! Best of luck with your recuperation…I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog…your insight and attitude are an inspiration!

    • Reply

      SJ

      July 9, 2015

      Thank you so much Catherine!! <3

  3. Reply

    CS

    August 5, 2015

    I came across your blog through a pin on Pinterest, and was compelled to read your story of your injury — I, too, had an injury very similar to yours. Mine was a latereral tibia plateau fracture with lots of shattering and torn cartilage. In my case, I was told I get to keep all my plates and screws in my knee. They are with me for life. SOOOO glad they don’t have to come out! Going through the accident and recovery process was definitely life altering, especially emotionally. I struggled with PTSD for quite a long time afterwards. Emotionally, I am better now, five years out. My injury wasn’t completely reparable due to some extenuating problems, but I get around pretty well.

    I just thought you might like to hear from someone who has been where you are. Your marbled coasters, which are what brought me here originally, are so gorgeous. Thanks for sharing the process of them too. Wishing you the best for a full recovery.

  4. Reply

    Mymsie

    January 22, 2016

    HARROWING story but your wisdom and reflections from your experiences are so inspiring!! Best wishes in your healing journey!

  5. Reply

    Angela

    October 24, 2016

    I’m a planner addict and just came across this post from a pin on Pinterest. I’m recovering from shoulder surgery! I’m just 10 days out. I know it’s going to be a long hard road. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry that happened to you!

  6. Reply

    Biz

    April 27, 2017

    Well hello Sarah thank you for sharing your story and glad to hear your doing your best to recover with a beautiful spirit . I too shattered my tibia Plateau 10 weeks ago by a dog running into the side of my knee . (Not my dog) . I turn 50 soon and am a nurse and I agree life is short and perhaps the universe is just saying stop and live a little more quietly feed your soul . I truely know that it’s my time to just be loved and feel loved . Take care Biz

  7. Reply

    Katelyn Pretzer

    July 18, 2017

    It’s so nice to hear people’s stories and know that it’s ok to be emotional about it. I shattered my knee the beginning of my summer at age 17, I’m 4 weeks into it and I’m still miserable. Emotionally this is the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.

    • Reply

      Sarah

      July 19, 2017

      I’m so sorry you’re going through something similar. It is hard. But you aren’t alone. And this is somehow preparing you for something big and beautiful down the road. There’s no such thing as a strong, compassionate, wise person with an easy past. Take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. All the strength you need, you have right there inside you, and you will learn so much about yourself through this recovery. I hope you have a dog or cat or best friend that can hang out and watch Netflix with you. Sending love!! You got this!!!! XOXO

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