An Exciting Day

============= Mon 6 Oct 97 - 3rd - 3.7/257 (190#)

Michael called me at home Monday morning. "It's windy," he said, "really windy." And, yes, it was, 26g31 knots at SFO! So we went to 3rd to catch the tail of the morning ebb.

Coyote Pt was reporting 32g45 mph, 25g39 at 3rd. We rigged our smallest: 3.7/257 for me and 3.9/8'6 for Michael. We were mostly overpowered at first, thought it got to be more up and down after a while. The channel was great. Amazingly long and wide and smooth swells, mostly 6-8 feet. My jibes were nearly nonexistent. My jumps were not all that high, but very floaty - I got amazing hang time from the huge wind.

And then there was the Bad Landing. I don't think it even seemed all that bad coming into it, but I'm a little hazy on exactly what I did. I think I landed upright but off balance and fell sideways over the tail of the board. With my feet still in the straps. I heard a pop and suddenly my left ankle hurt. A lot. I flagged down Michael and then Troy(?) quite quickly - pretty good when there were less than 10 sailors out. We were about 1/4 mile into the channel right out from the marker.

I thought "Maybe it's just a sprain. Better sail in sooner than later." So I tried. I waterstarted and actually stood up on the board, "Hmmm, this might work." Then I shifted my weight a bit and OW! I was back in the water. Sailing in no longer looked like an option. We sent Troy in to call the Coast Guard. Michael got out his radio and called the Coast Guard, too, and this turned out to work pretty well, even in 8-foot swell and 25-35 knots. My radio, as it turned out, was out of juice - I had gotten a warranty replacement and put it in the charger two days, but the damn radio was not touching the charging contacts! It received for a few minutes, but could not send. I experimented with sailing in waterstart position, but it seemed that I was likely to hurt myself more this way.

Less than an hour from the initial call (10:30-11:20) the Coast Guard 41-footer showed up! Michael's accurate position report and the fact that we were now at slack tide put them less than a quarter mile from us when they arrived. They got me aboard quickly (none of the waiting that happened during the big multiple-rescue day in June) and pulled in my equipment as well. They splinted my foot on the way to Coyote Point Harbor while I promptly got seasick in the pitching 41-footer.

Michael took me to Mill Hospital ER and helped me out of my gear. He had to slice up my new booties and my brand-new wetsuit!! Oh well, I have plenty of time now to get it repaired.

Coming out of radiology, I peeked at my X-rays and could clearly see the break. "Good," I thought, "this will heal better than tendons or ligaments." The doctor soon lowered my expectations. I got two breaks at the end of the tibia (main lower leg bone) where the tendons attach, plus a spiral fracture of the fibula (small lower leg bone).

So, this afternoon, I go to Stanford Hospital for surgery to put it all together with screws and pins and a plate. Then I'm in a non-walking cast for 8 weeks.

Oh well, the season was over anyway.

Surgery took 2 1/2 hours. The doctor put four screws in the fibula (small leg bone). The inside ankle bone break turned out to have lots of small pieces; he put in two pins and a screw and wound some wire around them to hold the pieces in place. And then he found that I tore a ligament, so I got a 2-inch screw through both tibia and fibula to hold them in place while the ligament heals.

I'll be in casts for a total of 8 weeks. The big screw comes out two weeks later; they guess about two months of rehabilitation. On the other hardware, my doctor says the ankle-bone wire and stuff will probably be uncomfortable and suggests taking it out about two months later. And the screws on the other side will probably be temperature sensitive, so I may want those out, too.

Two views of my broken ankle. The foot is toward the camera, shown at two different angles.

Full-size X-rays


First cast: 0-2 weeks. I was home for a week and a few days. My leg was *very* sensitive to elevation - it would start to hurt a lot about a minute after I put it down. I spent a lot of time taking up Kate's place on the couch - bad idea for marital harmony. And once I started driving, I had to take her car since mine is a manual. Sleeping required elevating the cast to *just* the right position to be comfortable enough and sleeping on Kate's side of the bed. When Dr Hewett took this cast off, he yanked out the staples used to close the surgical incisions. Ouch!

2nd cast: 2-6 weeks. Still quite sensitive to elevation - I spent a lot of time with my cast on the desk next to my keyboard. There was enough swelling and pain at the ankle bone that I had them cut a hole in the cast to relieve the pressure there. Still on crutches. Great crutch callouses, sore hands.

3rd cast: 6-8 weeks, walking cast: Walking took a fair amount of "adjustment" of the cast to relieve pressure points around the top and bottom. It also took me several days to wean myself off the crutches.

After I got the last cast off, it was *harder* to walk. I had only about 20 degrees of up/down range of motion left, but walking tries to bend it much more. I actually went back to crutches for a couple of days to work in slowly.

3 weeks later (Dec 26) I got the big (syndismosis) screw out, and this helped my range of motion increase. Local anaesthetic, but they gave me something to make me loopy, so it went by quite quickly. This surgery only took a day of couch time.

I started physical therapy at the Carr P.T. Center in Palo Alto with Shad and Kristi - they did a great job. I started with 2 times a week, and then spread it out as I was able to do more at home. The focus was mostly on range of motion exercises, with some strengthening exercises. It took about a month to walk normally, though it still felt quite stiff. My last appointment about 2 months after the cast was off - I got to about 55 degrees motion, compared to 75 for my good ankle.

But the inside ankle bone remained large and uncomfortable and swelled after any exercise due to the wire over the bone. It bugged me enough that I got Hewett to take the inside hardware earlier than usual - he would prefer 8-12 months, but I wanted to be ready to sail in April and this was not going to be good to sail with. He took it out March 6, 5 months after surgery (this was under general). He was satisfied with the fusion of the bone fragements, so he took out the two pins in the ankle bone as well.

Two week later I went mountain biking and my ankle felt *better* the next day. Halleleuia! The next week I got the stitches out and the okay to "go for it". I have about 65 degrees range of motion now.

Apr 11: went skiing with my dad and my 10-year-old David, mainly so David would get to ski at least once this year. Oops. My ankle was *not* ready to be clamped in a vise. I only lasted about 2 hours due to soft-tissue pain over the inside ankle bone. But David and Dad quit soon after because wet snow was coming down very heavily.

Today I am still short about 10 degrees of range of motion - I do my exercises sporadically. My ankle strength is not too bad, but my balance on my left foot is still a lot worse than on my right (this is more muscle-related than I would have guessed). The swelling has gone away, but the ankle bone is still large - apparently this subsides over time. My ankle often feels a bit stiff, but no longer prevents me from doing anything.

To summarize: modern medicine is pretty wonderful at making recovery like this possible, but it's still not all that much fun. In fact, it hurt a lot longer than I expected. Also, it puts a bit of strain on your family and coworkers helping you do little things like carry food to the table all the time. So, overall, I would recommend not breaking your ankle.

============= Sun 19 Apr 98 - 3rd - 5.4/257 (194#)

First day out on my mended ankle (broken Oct 6) !!

Michael and I rigged Goofy (= usual sizes: 5.4/257 for me and 4.9/8'6" for Michael (160#) despite it looking kind of light. It turned out to be real light for what we rigged - Michael could (barely) plane but I only planed twice and otherwise spent a great deal of time slogging. By the time I got close to the channel I could see there was no more wind there (and there was a flood tide) so I just slogged back in downwind and had a lovely Walk of Shame.

But my ankle felt fine, so I was quite happy.

============= summer 98 - ankle

I went really slow on returning to jumping.

============= Sep 98 - ankle

I am now jumping some, but not as much or as wildly as last year.

Left ankle shows a small amount of residual swelling, mainly right below the inside ankle bone (medial malleous??). I can see it, but most people do not notice it.

Range of motion still about 10 degrees less than right ankle. It is also not comfortable for running in tight circles to my left.

I still get some twinges from it, and it is often still a little stiff when I wake up, but it's not keeping me from doing very much.

============= Feb 02 - ankle

In winter 98-99 I was able to return to skiing and snowboarding with no problems.

In '99 I got back to more windsurf jumping, but I remain more cautious today.

Range of motion still about 10 degrees less than right ankle. It only ocasionally feels slightly stiff.