One misstep and down the stairs I went, landing on a suitcase I was carrying. Breaking eight ribs, four in two places with displacement. With the wind knocked out, I yelled for help. Neighbors came to my aid and called 911. First an EMT arrived then an ambulance, taking me to the ER at Brigham and Women’s in Boston. It was all a painful blur. After several hours in the ER, I was moved to the ICU, due my age and the severity of injuries.
The next day, the head thoracic surgeon stopped by to discuss the options. He explained how X-rays showed roughly 15% of my lung capacity was lost due to the collapsed ribs, technically called flail chest. Suffice it to say, as a runner, this caught my attention! He described a fairly new surgical procedure, developed only in the past ten years, called “plating.” This procedure is offered only in situations where ribs will not heal on their own, due to multiple breaks and/or displacement. Prior to the development of plating, one had to remain in the hospital on a respirator relying on mechanical ventilation for several weeks to inflate the lungs; in hopes the ribs would reset and heal in place. Another technique was traction. Suffice it to say, these methods are painful and uncomfortable, requiring significant rehab. And the rate of success was not high. I was hardly encouraged thinking about these forms of treatment. So two days after falling, I had 4–inch titanium plates screwed into my four displaced ribs. After three more days in the hospital I was homeward bound.
This was two weeks ago. The first week was really tough. Anyone who has had bruised, cracked, or broken ribs, knows that every move hurts and sleeping is problematic. A life-long side sleeper who shifts positions during the night, I’ve had to rest in place on my back, and have not adapted well. I’ve yet to sleep longer than three hours at a stretch.
Pain medicine has been a must, though I am now able to take breaks. Walking and moving around helps the healing process and seems to lessen the pain. The past week I went into the office every other day. Another important step is regular deep breathing to ensure the lungs are cleared of phlegm that can result in pneumonia. Obviously, anything that triggers coughing would be painful.
My appointment with the surgeon next week, 19 days after surgery, will tell how the healing is going and whether I can begin some basic stretching and light lifting. I have to be careful – 10 days after surgery, I felt good and overdid it in the gym. And this set me back a few days.
While my blog is about running, this post and the next several will discuss what to do when not running, with a focus on this particular malady. I hope to be able to provide insight on an optimal path to recovery.
I’ll end this post with a word of deep gratitude for the many friends and co-workers who have supported me through this process. Clearly things can change in a flash. And as we know, while we can learn from our mistakes there’s no turning back – we can only move forward!