Broken Patella

I’ve resisted writing about the broken knee experience because I simply didn’t know where to begin and it is a complex recovery.

The accident occurred on a Saturday in December 2017 as I tripped over a bag in the garage and landed on my knee on the concrete.  I could feel right away that it was broken.  I was taken by ambulance to the local ER where the x-ray confirmed a comminuted displaced fracture (right in half).  They put an ace bandage and locking brace on my leg, gave me some crutches and sent me home with instructions to call Kaiser, my provider on Monday. Thankfully, I experienced little pain and didn’t need drugs.

My surgery was scheduled for Friday and the long roller coaster ride was to begin.  I had Total Hip Replacement the year before and sailed through it  as it was a routine surgery with a standardised recovery.  A fractured patella is totally different as there are so many variables.  The anesthetic was not the same as before and I felt like I was in a boat upside down in the Perfect Storm.  Brutal.  I could weight bear immediately, but  could literally do nothing else.  Yes, part of it was fear, but I literally could do nothing with one leg being totally immobilised.

I was told this was not a specialised surgery and any surgeon could perform it successfully. Though that might be true, you really do need to have a doctor that understands the recovery process.  I had the ‘best’ doctor (did I say best loud enough?).  Though his specialty is a hand surgeon, he had recent experience in a sports clinic and clearly knew the ropes.  He gave me exercises to do (apart from PT) and encouraged pushing it and set goals for me.

Even though my leg was immobilised for six weeks, I did begin PT at 2 weeks.  I gave a new meaning to the word fearful.  I religiously did my exercises several times a day pushing it constantly to get my range of motion (ROM) back to normal.  I went back to work quickly erroneously thinking I was needed and would be missed (a boring tale) and I do not recommend this course.  Take the disability insurance; your body needs to rest.  Friends commented that they didn’t imagine me as emotional as I was or as fearful/timid. One friend even commented that my texts used to be fun. I felt catatonic, but I was simply tired and when my employment situation changed 4 months later all I wanted to do for a few weeks was sleep and then concentrate on getting my knee back to normal.I discovered early on that there is a Facebook Group (Fracture Patella Support Group) and I developed a love/hate relationship with it.  I will be eternally grateful to all of those who have posted and  who taught me so much. I was feeling so overwhelmed that I was often on the verge of tears reading posts.  But I learned my fears were real and that others were experiencing similar emotions. I highly recommend finding a group like this if you are going through anything that is new to you.

I felt like I fell into a dark hole at the beginning.  I literally could do nothing: read, watch TV, knit – nothing was appealing. Doctors were prescribing anti-depressants to those who had never used them before.  I didn’t feel I had crossed that line, but I was terribly close.  It is a form of PTSD, I learned.  You are literally a prisoner in your own body, mind and surroundings and you need to learn how to cope and to do it quickly without complaint.  The struggle is real; it isn’t easy.

Friends  and family were a blessing and I am so thankful for all who reached out.  I needed rides everywhere initially.  All encouragement and help was so appreciated.  It was fascinating that you immediately discovered who was acting via their heart and those that were just giving lip service in asking how you were doing.  It was also interesting noticing those that were totally MIA – physically and emotionally. It quickly put a lot of things into perspective for me  – both in my relationships with these people going forward as well as self insight into my own behaviour.

I am now 7 weeks post second surgery (hardware removal) and in some ways physically it is like starting over again.  My doctor didn’t want me to go to the gym for two weeks post surgery for fear of infection – it is amazing how quickly muscles disappear.  This injury definitely helps one gain patience.  I am told it will take at least a year for the knee to feel somewhat normal and up to two to regain full mobility.  I tried running a few steps recently without a ton of success, but my goal is to enter a race next year.  Stay tuned on that front.

What I learned: patience, being thankful for those genuine people in my life, exercise is extremely important, you can’t live without a handicap sticker, showers are a wonderful thing, self indulgence is  good,  Vitamin D is essential, clearing ‘all the clutter’ from your life is vital, you need to put in the work, one step at a time has a new meaning, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you must keep laughing (even at yourself)!

There is a reason that breaking knee caps (or shooting one in the knee cap) is a popular form of torture:  IT  IS TRAUMATIC AND IT HURTS!

Timeline Post Surgery:
2 Weeks: Started PT; went back to work
6 Weeks: ROM/85; no brace; first shower; started driving; pedicure
8 Weeks: ROM/107
9 Weeks: Drove to SF
11 Weeks: ROM/128
13 Weeks: Last PT appt; started with trainer at gym; ROM/134
6 Months: Second surgery/hardware removal
8 Months: Longest hike (7+ miles), first bath


5 thoughts on “Broken Patella

  1. What a lovely journey you had and still have. That garage bag changed your life. I know you too well, Stephany…… One day you will be back to your old self and this will be a hideous memory . Like all the other hideous memories we both have !

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea this had happened to you, probably because I dropped off Facebook for quite a while. I hope your recovery continues, and you get complete range of motion soon. You have the emotional strength and determination to do it. The only similar thing that happen to me was a broken right elbow. It took a lot of pain and work in physical therapy, but I did get a full recovery. What I did not have was the immobility and dependency on others which are huge challenges. I wish you the best and look forward to future posts.

  3. Steph – it is such a difficult rehab to come back to the point where it is “almost time to run a race again” that I am surprised but yet also admiring your efforts and progress. Let’s hope the years ahead will go much easier on you. Hoping for your continued recovery and getting back to where you want to be in your life – – hang in there – Jack

  4. Stephany, I thought you were going on all those hikes you posted on FB and were well on your way to recovery.
    I wish I had known this was not true. Your recovery journey is not over I see now. You will get there.
    This article was certainly an eye opener.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s