Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Great Fall of 2002

The Great Fall actually happened on August 18, 2002, 10 years ago today.  My 10 year anniversary,  the Great fall was not a season but an event in my life.

That morning did not start well.  My husband had gone to 6 Flags as a chaperon the day before with a group of teens.  He left with the sniffles and a draggy feeling and returned about 1 - 2 am with a fever and chills.  He was sick.  I had expected him to stay home but because the rule is that teens who attend Sat. night activities MUST be in services Sunday Morning.  He said the rule applied to him as well.   I went to the basement to throw a shirt into the dryer for de-wrinkling.

Important to this story is that it was storming.  Our communities received 8 inches of rain in 60 minutes.  Water was standing everywhere, the storm drains were unable to handle the sudden downpour.  As I walked down the stairs, I noted that water was pouring into the basement down the walls, in through windows,from under the walk out door, and as I walked to the dryer, I saw water bubbling up the floor drain.  By the time I got to the dryer, I noticed the dryer was standing in water about an inch deep.  I'm sure it was God's intervention but as I reached for the dryer knob, I stopped.  I looked at the knob and the standing water and thought...hmmm electricity and standing water is not a good combination.  I turned to walk back and was calling my husband to "come look at this."  (EMT's would later tell us of a woman electrocuted in town because she turned on the dryer standing in water.)

photo courtesy of Lapans Waterproofing.
The water standing in OUR basement was over the ankles.
By the time I neared the bottom of the stairs the water had risen so rapidly in the basement that it was over my ankles.  I was about 4 feet from the stair when my left foot slid.  It slid out in front of me, so I tried to control the slide by flexing my thigh.  I felt a series of rubber band snaps in my knee and lower leg with pain.  I lost all control then swiftly landed on my bottom in the water. My left leg in front of me and my right somewhere behind me.  It was a hard landing that brought instant excruciating pain down my leg.  I screamed.

I'm told it was a blood chilling scream.  The pain was intensifying and again I screamed.  KJ flew down the staircase to see me lying on the ground in a good 8 inches of water while clutching my knee and moaning.  It hurt too much to cry.  He got mad for a minute.  Why was I trudging through the water in my slippers?  Why wasn't I more careful?  But his fussing did not disguise his concern.  He had never heard me scream like that.  I explained the slip, the snaps and now the pain that was running fire from my hip to my toes.    I tried to move my leg and found that I could lift it using my quadriceps, but the knee was already swollen and I could not move my foot at all.  We attempted to get up which caused the muscles in the back of my thigh to burn with such intensity, that I finally told him I needed to go to the ER.  I could not move and not really knowing what was wrong, he called for an ambulance.

The EMT would not accept that my entire leg was on fire, so I told him my hip was hurting.  It was.  I had just crashed down on it.  As he ran his hands along my knee and leg, I could only think how glad I was that I had shaved the legs the night before.  At the ER, it seemed my knee was more painful.  Until they told me it was time to leave and to get out of bed.  When I tried to move that leg, the pain shot through the back of the thigh, hamstrings - burning again so painfully that I yelled out in pain and told them I couldn't handle it.  More xrays were given, a script for pain meds and I was sent home with instructions to call someone about that knee.

It was with much sweating, crying, and the intense need to swear from pain I experienced trying to get into the house from the car.  Every hop on the right leg jarred the left.  I fell into an exhausted and medicated nap.  But I woke to intense pain in the leg again.  We could see the knee was hugely swollen and I still could not move my foot.  We still did not know why, the first ER wouldn't even listen to me tell them I couldn't lift my foot.  We decided to go to the ER where my primary doctor is and see if they could tell us more.    Out the door again with the pain, sweating, crying and need to swear as KJ helped me slide into the back seat to keep my leg straight.  Bending it caused too much pain.

This time when we left the ER, I had a consultation with an orthopedic knee  surgeon.  We knew the knee was messed up but so was the lower leg.  That ER used the words, "Peroneal nerve damage".

Over the next several weeks of scans and tests, we would learn that in this fall I had torn the LCL and ACL ligaments in the knee.  But also that I herniated a disc at L5/S1 that apparently punched the Sciatic nerve and seriously damaged my peroneal nerve bundle.  My left leg was paralyzed from the knee down, I had nerves to the bladder that were damaged.  The nerves to the foot were nearly non existent.  My hamstrings were like jelly.  2 months later, the nerves to the bladder miraculously healed and I did not require surgery to repair them.  I never had back pain in the fall, it was all felt in the leg.  When ER people kept asking where it hurt most...I answered my whole leg.  They would not accept that answer.  I learned from the neurologist this was common to nerve damage.  The entire limb will burn, sting and zing, not just a part.  But I didn't complain of back pain so they weren't looking for nerve or back issues.  I didn't have back pain until many months after this fall.

My skin had no innervation so I had no sensation to touch.  But developed a syndrome where light touches felt like razor blades.  A doctor's lab coat brushed my foot, I shrieked and jerked away.  The EMG would confirm this was a problem at the nerve level, and recommended steady pressure on the foot. Pressure did not cause the razor blades, the light touch or brushes did.  I had serious Foot Drop, the limp fish reaction of a foot with no innervation.

Articulating AFO,
a unique spring hinge in the brace would snap my foot up when pressure was relieved.
When taking a step and lifting to swing forward,
It kept the foot from dragging the ground and kept the ankle from rolling.
I learned to walk in a knee brace as well as an AFO (ankle/foot/orthotic).  I graduated from a walker to crutches to a cane.  I decided if I had to use a cane, it would be a pretty cane!  I got a brass handled, maple wood cane.  No metal granny cane was going to do it for me.  That Christmas I wrapped pine greenery and battery operated lights around the cane and tied a big red bow at it's top.  You don't have to accept only function, you can create form as well.

I was in physical therapy for a year, trying to learn to walk with only 2 knee ligaments and to rehab and repair the back.  The back surgeon did not want to do back surgery once the bladder nerves healed enough for me to control it's function.  His comment to us was "Once we start operating on the spine, it has to be done over and over."

It was about 8 months later that the orthopedic doctors told me the nerve damage was permanent.  If there had been no improvement by then, there was going to be none.  They applied electrical currents to my calf muscles and nothing happened, the calf muscle was atrophying (shrinking).

It was in 2004 that I went to the orthopedic doctor again for a check up of my still unrepaired knee.  I told the medical staff that I had been working and wanted to show them the tricks I could do tricks.  They came in and stared at my foot.  I showed them I could dorsi-flex (raise up) the foot for the first time.  I had even worked and learned to abduct the foot (move it away from the body center).  They were duly impressed,  ohhing and the ordering more tests.  The doctor told me that while he thought this was permanent damage every so often God shows him that HE is the better doctor.  Then they learned something amazing.

My leg nerves were still dead.  The EMG showed no muscle reactions to electric impulses. The big calf muscle (the gastrocnemius) was still immobile. Further tests showed that the small muscles called "auxiliary muscles" in the calf had "supersized" themselves and were now moving my foot.  My therapists were amazed by this development, they had not seen this happen before.  My surgeon told me to take off the AFO and begin trying to walk without the brace.  It took practice to learn how to raise my foot and swing it forward without tripping.   In time, I would be "mostly" successful in this and preventing repetitive "face plants".

As I stated, today is the 10 year anniversary of the date I fell. A former pastor referred to it as "water skiing" in the basement.  I still limp.  I can't just walk into a store and buy shoes.  People don't understand how all those tiny nerves work together.  When you walk in sandals, you instinctively raised your toes to keep the shoe in place.  I can't raise my toes.  So my sandals have to be strappy and fixed in place.  I cannot wear flip flops of any kind.  I can't instinctively create the suction on the sole so in flops, when I swing my foot forward to walk, I swing the shoe off my foot.  I learned that without nerves in your toes, you can't scrunch your toes to keep them from sliding on tile floors.  The first time I tried to sit on a toilet (as opposed to lay across one with my leg extended) I couldn't keep my foot from sliding on the tile.  I saw that my right foot toes were scrunched - thus gripping the floor.  I had no clue I did that.

My left foot tends to "slap" the floor as I walk, and I trip up because when those calf muscles tire, the toes tend to drag.  I stumble frequently when those little muscles tires of doing the BIG job of moving my foot up and down.  And with the loss of the two knee ligaments, I have taken several additional big falls.  One busted up my elbow that had to be surgically repaired.  The others just required a few days of rest and I was back to my routines.  My disc is better, but pressure from standing for very long causes pain at the sciatic nerve to radiate to the foot.  The damage is still there, and when those muscles and nerves tire, they fail.

But here I am today, me who was told I'd never walk without braces and canes is walking without braces.  I still use a cane for stability due to the occasional stumble.  I have several canes, including a clear one I can fill with various objects that strike my fancy and fit.  I filled it with pearls and crystals for James and Mandy's wedding.  :)  But to God be the glory.  I am still upright!


  1. I so can not believe it has been 10 years Rosie! What a journey you have been through.... I am so glad you have received healing for your leg in that you're not in constant pain. Praising God with you! :-)

    1. I knew it had to be either you or Tracy. I knew it was a WOW girl and you two are the only ones to ever comment. It has been a journey. I too am so blessed to no longer be in constant nerve pain.

  2. I love that it doesn't have to only be functional. There is so much about our bodies that we take for granted - that is until they don't work properly anymore.