I did not expect to learn about how to deal with injuries with low vision during my senior year of high school. I was getting off the bus for a band performance, and didn’t notice there was a pothole right in front of the bus door. The chaperone told me that I shouldn’t need help getting off the bus, even though I always receive assistance from a friend. I walked down the first step, and then the second step. Then, I missed the last step, tripped, and fell into a gravel pothole. I heard a weird crunch sound, but figured it wouldn’t be anything. I turned to one of my close friends after they got off the bus, and said “my foot just made a crunch sound, isn’t that weird?” This friend had watched me fall, and then said “yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re hurt, I’m going to go get someone.”
I was confused, because I didn’t feel any more pain than usual, but when another close friend (with EMT training) inspected my foot, they noticed how swollen it was. X-rays and MRIs later confirmed that I had broken my left ankle in four different places, and strained it in two. Go big or go home.
Dealing with injuries with low vision and chronic illness is somewhat challenging. Here are my tips for dealing with short-term injuries while also balancing other conditions. Please note that Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has been ruled out as a cause for my chronic illness and injury.
Document what happened to cause the injury
Right after it happened, one of my friends took a picture of the pothole I fell in, and explained that I had tripped over a stair as well, essentially falling off of a school bus. Other friends immediately alerted the band director and other staff members as to what had happened. This is especially helpful if paperwork needs to be filled out documenting what happened.
Tell the doctor you have low vision
When I fell off the bus, my parents had to come get me and then take me to the local urgent care. We made sure to remind each doctor, nurse, and technician that I have low vision. This helped them with trying to figure out how I had injured my ankle in such a weird way. We also mentioned I had suspected Chiari Malformation and that I had balance issues as a result.
- Explaining Chiari Malformation in Seven Words or Less
- How I Explain Chiari Malformation
- Medical Emergencies in College
Knee scooters are better than crutches
Crutches can be a bad match for someone with existing balance issues and low vision, as it can be difficult to see paths ahead. My parents rented a knee scooter for about two weeks from a pharmacy so that I wouldn’t break my other ankle trying to use crutches. I had another close friend who would walk slightly ahead of the scooter and help guide me, as well as open doors for me. This friend would also try and make sure I didn’t crash into a wall.
Make sure the brace is on correctly
The first nurse we worked with after I broke my ankle put my brace on incorrectly. I had trouble learning how to put on the brace as well. Have someone confirm that the brace is a good fit, and then have them teach you, kinesthetically, how to put the brace on and take it off. When I had issues with my wrist earlier this year, the nurse at Student Health had me demonstrate to them how to take the brace on and off. This was so they could make sure I wouldn’t cause myself further injury. I had another friend confirm that my brace was for the correct hand.
Be prepared for elevated pain
Even though I have a very high pain tolerance, I found that even minor things could cause unbearable pain for me while I was recovering. My migraines seemed much more intense because I had the additional pain of my ankle. I spent almost all of my free time on my Yogibo Max, elevating my ankle, and trying to manage the pain.
Find a physical therapist who works with your conditions
My physical therapist from when I broke my ankle was not very familiar with low vision, and even less familiar with Chiari Malformation. Some of the exercises were more difficult than they should have been and caused pain. I switched to a different physical therapist later on who was very familiar with Chiari Malformation, and was able to work with my low vision as well.
Find supportive pillows
Elevating the injured body part is very important. When I hurt my wrist, I had this miniature Pillow Pet that I was always resting my wrist on, even while I was sleeping. For my ankle, I often rested my foot on top of my backpack at school, or on a set of pillows while I was at home.
I recommend having several different ice packs ready to go at any given time. My favorite ones are the flexible gel bead ice packs, because they do not feel super hard and I can easily conform them to whatever is hurting.
Add this to your medical history
Make sure to add the injury to your medical history for when you travel to doctors. Believe it or not, my broken ankle was a factor in my diagnosis for Chiari Malformation, because my balance and leg spasms at the time were consistent with the condition.
Laugh about it
Not long after my injury, I was laughing a lot about the circumstances that had happened, as I really thought it was funny that I had fallen off a school bus and potentially broke my ankle. Same with when I badly bruised my wrist after falling down a flight of stairs on my way to band practice. While they are very lame injury stories, this is another day for me with low vision, Chiari Malformation, and occasional bad luck. It’s just another part of life!