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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hurdles in the Homestretch

This is the fifth post documenting my experiences, living in Manhattan, after I missed one step on the way to the laundry room and broke a bone in my foot. First post was here: The Fractured Fifth - Manhattan Life with a Broken Foot

After I got back from the doctor's getting my bandage fixed, I had the renewed confidence that my cast did not have to be just right, adjusted only by professionals.  I could adjust it myself, so I could get some sleep.  Therefore, later that night, I practically undid the fix that I made the last "emergency" trip out for.  Here I was, serving out the next two weeks with a really shoddy looking cast.  But it was comfortable, and it held the fiberglass splint close enough to my foot.

Those two weeks were relatively uneventful.  No slips.  Used the bone stimulator twice a day.

My boss had begun stopping by my apartment building each Thursday, likely at the suggestion of his boss, to discuss my work.  I didn't see him much during the short time I worked on site, so it was nice that he could stop by.

He initially had me focus on configuring something called "Jenkins", which was what tests and compiles software automatically, as changes are made.  Plenty to learn, and plenty to do.

I eventually ran out of my calcium supplements.  I viewed this as a milestone.  I didn't want to get more, because even the doctor wasn't convinced they'd be beneficial, but still, the last one represented a certain amount of days since I started taking them.

Another thing I was concerned with was how long the stitches would be in my foot.  I looked around the internet and I hadn't seen anyone keep stitches in for longer than 14 days, and mine were going to be in for 20 days when they're taken out at my next appointment.  If stitches are left in too long, the healing might not happen properly, and the scar might end up with a "railroad tracks" look.  I thought about trying to come in a little earlier, but decided to trust the doctor's judgement.  He certainly came through on my surgery.

Fortunately, my ride to the doctor at the three-weeks-post-surgery mark went smoothly.  I got to see my naked foot, with the skin looking a lot better than it did a week after surgery.  However, the foot was disturbingly swollen.

I knew a large purpose of the cast is to compress the foot to reduce the swelling.  The fact that I've been wearing a makeshift loose cast for so long was the obvious reason for my foot to freely swell up like this.  However, the doctor was unconcerned, so same with me.  I got the gist that controlling swelling was only really important before surgery, not after.

I also noticed callouses forming around parts of my foot.

I generally know what a callous is and have had it before, but I quickly recognized the white mesh over the hard parts of my skin because of the callous that formed before on my other foot, when I was balancing too much on it.  The other foot was fine by then, once I became more diligent using the knee walker and not balancing so much.

Dr. La Puma went to work with two metal tools, removing my stitches.  I didn't actually see what he was doing, because his hand was blocking my view, but I sure felt it.  I was a little concerned about skin sticking to the stitches, but after a quick reality check, I figured medical science must have come up with a teflon-style material for stitches that would slip out safely.  I was right, but I still felt a sequence of stings.  I forget how long it took him, but I think he was done within two minutes.  I managed to get a decent picture, but I'm glad I didn't hesitate.

Then, I could see the cut on my foot free of stitches.  The insides of the foot did not pour out of a gaping wound, so I figured the healing went well.

Dr. La Puma told me the blackened skin would just flake off at some point, so I should not be concerned.   My wound did look disgusting still, but comparing it to my last picture, it looked like it was only getting better.

 An X-ray of my foot was taken, and it showed the healing process was going fine so far.

That's the computer that I got copies of my X-rays from.  To the left is the X-ray machine that I had gotten used to at that point.  Whenever I got on the thing, the assistant taking the X-ray complimented me on being a "pro at it".  In fact, they said that about me using the crutches too.  It's good training, and made me feel good for the first couple of compliments, but afterward it was something I no longer cared about being a "pro" at.

The doctor went to work on putting the splint and cast back on me.  The theme of the day was "comfort of the heel".  Here was the start of the pillowy cushion he was building around my foot.

My next appointment was two weeks later, and when I got home, weeks four and five began.

One thing I was very nervous about was running over the cat with my knee walker.  I nearly did once, rolling around in the dark, but she made a cute noise and got away in time.  Cats are fast.  They're also silly.  Normally cats nuzzle your legs when you're about to feed them.  Here's Luna nuzzling my knee walker.

I had one more issue working from home.  The neighbor across the hall has a door directly facing ours.  They recently got a new noisy dog.  Aliona and I heard whimpering and barking echoing throughout our apartment, with nowhere to hide from the sound.  The fact that I was working at home all day did not help at all.  I would have walked over to have a chat with them, but being on one leg makes it awkward.  Sheepishly, I relayed a complaint to management.  It didn't stop, however.  On the third complaint, I saw there was a letter left at my door.

The neighbors pleaded for patience, saying their dog was working through "separation anxiety" and he never had this problem before.  It would be overcome, but would not happen overnight.  They left an email address.  They also included a photo of their dog, which I recognized as a Boston Terrier:

Look, while I'm totally a fan of cats, obviously, I grew up a dog person, and was not about to push for this canine to be kicked out.  However, I knew there were some unfortunate but reasonable options that could be pursued.  I was shuddering at the idea of a "shock collar", but I discovered there are "citronella collars", which spray the dog with something unpleasant for each bark.  I was thinking something along those lines.

I emailed the owners and expressed my sentiment, saying all I wanted to know is that they're doing everything they can, and they promised they were.

I got a call from the head of HR at my workplace.  She was suggesting, because I had crutches, I would be able to start coming into work, and I should call to discuss my options.  I told her I could not do that, because I could not rely on using crutches safely enough.  She requested a doctor's note.

At this point, I got the impression they were considering putting me on short term disability.  I worried about that, because as far as I understood, that'd mean a week with no pay, followed by 60% salary.  But my rent would not be 60%.

I wanted to talk it over with them.  I figured maybe I could come in a couple times a week for important meetings.  No one was telling me anything though.  My email inquiries were largely met with silence.  I had to assume that because the company generally bills employee time to clients, they were getting weary of paying my salary on their own dime.

My boss, on his next visit, explained exactly that, and suggested I'd not be put on disability right away, but they were leaning that way.  I told my boss that I likely would only have three and a half more weeks left.  At most they'd probably save two weeks, and losing 1.4 weeks' pay would be much more of a hardship to me than the company's hardship.  I was doing hard, valuable work for them remotely.  I was given no reassurance though.

The HR representative got back to me, saying they received a doctor's note, but unfortunately it did not say I absolutely needed to stay home, so I should call to discuss my options.  I replied with:

"This is not a joke"

and proceeded to briefly explain that the reason I needed surgery was because I had slipped twice already, and I was not going to chance doing that again.  I added that I'd get another doctor's note that has the language they're looking for.  She readily agreed.

Luna had been oblivious to all of this.  She just knew I was home a lot, and took advantage of it.

The doctor then followed up the next week with this:

Sure enough, soon I was contacted by HR, saying that I'd need to fill out forms if I wanted short term disability.  I would have two more days on the job the next week to wrap up my work.  I was thinking I'd potentially have three vacation days, a personal day, and a sick day, and could borrow five vacation days more.  I first learned I had a lot less than I thought, because the online "employee gateway" inaccurately reported my remaining sick time (I didn't get the full year of sick leave right away), and the last three sick days I took were vacation days instead.  Sure, the exact policy is in the employee handbook, but I checked their system to make sure of everything I did.

However, I figured I still could borrow vacation time, to cover the week of waiting for the 60% pay to start.  The HR rep at first said I could not do that, but after checking, it appeared I could.  I followed up by saying I wanted to take the one personal day I still had first, and also would like to use any vacation days I accrued while I was out.  I also figured out that if I had two days off available, I could get full pay on a 60% pay week.

In the back of my mind was the realization that I was being forced to burn all my time off.  I was hoping to get married, and have at least two weeks for a honeymoon.  When Aliona got her US citizenship, we were also hoping to visit her family in Belarus, seeing them for the first time in over 7 years.  This all seemed financially impossible now.

Work ended.

I went in for my five week-post-surgery appointment, and I explained the situation to the doctor, saying I was really hoping to be cleared at the seven week mark.  He said he'd check the X-ray, but didn't seem convinced I might not be ready to walk after just five weeks recovery.  I felt a glimmer of hope.  Could it be?  Well, the doctor came back saying that my healing was going great, but he was unsure of the top of the bone being fully healed.  He claimed he was 95% sure that I'd be done at my next appointment.  I never was that convinced five weeks was probable, so I didn't mind playing it safe anyway.

No surprise solution to my woes, however.  My cast was still very comfortable, and Dr. La Puma, for the first time, did not build a new one.  I did not get to see my foot's progress.  Fortunately, I was plenty safe from rush hour traffic and had a pleasantly uneventful ride home.  I realized that I could move my next appointment to 8am, and, assuming I could walk again, I could start work that very day, which would save me more.  While my vacation time would be lost, at least I would lose very little pay.  The HR rep agreed that it would be fine.

When I arrived, I had only domestic responsibilities.  Luna gave my recovering foot a comforting hug.

I don't like being out of work.  I feel I have a lot of technical expertise to offer a company, and I feel my talents were being absolutely wasted during this time.  But I still stayed busy.  The editor for a short film, entitled Sky Paradise, that I directed back in the spring was revving up progress on it.  She was doing really great work, and inspired me.  I decided to aim for the Tribeca Film Festival deadline a few weeks away.  From past experience, I've learned that film festivals do frequently reject the work of amateurs, so I wasn't getting my hopes up, but I figured I had a small chance, and I had fond memories of Tribeca Film Festival.  Why not?

Working with the editor only takes so much time, however.  I'd get a new version of the movie sent to me, then would comment on it, and wait more.  I had extra time.

I decided to get serious about a social networking web project I was working on, which used a lot of fun technologies that I now had time to learn about.  I was a computer programmer since the age of 7, so it only came naturally.

As my time at home continued, the noisy dog was still having noisy moments, including weekends.  I decided I'd have to contact the owners again.  They suggested they were home during the times when I said the dog was barking, and it was being confined while wearing a shock collar, so it couldn't be their dog.  They did ask whether or not the dog was barking on the weekend.  I said I was pretty sure it was barking on and off.  I got a reply saying "Aha! Then it could not be our dog!" and proceeded to explain that they took their dog to Vermont.  I replied saying the weekend included Veteran's Day, and I was thinking the on and off barking was likely on that Monday.  I said that either way, next time I'd make sure I knew where it was coming from.

Sure enough, the next morning, the dog was barking again.  I took out my phone and recorded it, and sent it to her.  The dog went silent.  I don't like the idea of a shock collar, but if you bring a noisy dog into a Manhattan apartment, you have to do something.  Your neighbors are paying a lot of rent, and the least they could ask for is to be spared the ambiance of a dog pound.

Aliona and I were visited by my friend Zack for the second time since my surgery.  We had pleasant conversation over sushi.  Zack's hard to be too spontaneous with, but he makes a point to include all his friends on his schedule, and I appreciate that!

We later also went to an expensive restaurant across the street.  I wasn't going out much, so I figured I'd make it count.  It was mostly uphill and farther than I'd have liked to get there, but I did get there.  I was given the red carpet treatment for a business nervous about how to accommodate a crippled patron.  A waitress exclaims "Oh wow!" as she spots me and hurries to put chairs in different positions.  I was in no way needing to use the restroom, but they insisted on telling me where the elevator was that I could use to get there anyway.  People overreact a little, but it's better than underreacting.

The food was very nice, and we spied on someone sitting alone at another table, wearing noise-reducing headphones and reading a book of poetry.  It had poems focused on "beasts", as in animals.  I ordered a Ketel One dirty martini, one of my favorite drinks, and it very much hit the spot.

One thing that was on my mind at the time was the fact that my birthday is November 17th, and I was not going to be walking until at least November 20th.  I had the foodie-style idea of touring Manhattan with others, tasting the best knishes available.  Last year I did pizza.  But I was barely able to get to a restaurant, let alone "quest" anywhere.  I invited my friend Russ, who has the same birthday, to stop by for a beer and a movie.  He seemed up for it.  But my parents called, suggesting they were going to drive into the city for my birthday, and I could choose a restaurant.  The only real option I figured suitable was the Italian restaurant at the bottom of my building and had food that would work for everyone.  I suggested Russ and his wife Anita, who happened to be my cousin, could join us.  Zack emailed me, suggesting he could stop by also, and bring cake.  Looks like I was going to have a decent one-legged birthday after all.  Aliona suggested a frozen yogurt cake, and Zack was very accommodating.  He made sure he knew what flavors I liked, and would also put Russ's name on it.

I got the latest version of my short film.  The editor was making improvements that made me so happy.  Would I actually make it into Tribeca Film Festival?  I'm sure I'm biased, like a mother's opinion of her child's beauty, but it's at least a ton better than I ever expected it could be.  Everything seemed to be falling into place just right.

Over the course of the week, I experienced some soreness in the knee of my good leg.  This certainly worried me.  You become much more anxious about anything going wrong with a leg... when it's your only leg.  I think it was because I was hopping around too much, and perhaps extended my knee a bit too much.  I made a point of not hopping, nor fully extending my knee, which also felt uncomfortable.  Within two days, it felt better.

The weekend arrived, and a realization set in.  If the doctor was 95% sure I'd be walking again on Wednesday, what are the chances he'd think I was perfectly fine on Monday?  I texted the doctor and he said I could certainly come in on Monday.  I would be walking two days earlier, and could save another day of vacation time!  It's ironic that, the day right after my birthday, I could finally walk again.  Nice belated birthday present.  Maybe this is a sign that I should have been born one day later.

On that note, it was time for my birthday.  We cleaned the place up, and I did my best to remove some cat hair from Luna's hangouts.  First, Aliona surprised me with a few gifts:

From upper left to lower right:

  • A toilet mug
  • A piggy bank shaped like an ass, that makes a wet fart when you insert a coin.
  • A card that makes cow noises when you press buttons. You can play cow songs using the five cow notes.
  • A pig that lets you grow its grassy hair, similar to a chia-pet, but more punk.

Things were looking up.  My family arrived and I showed them and Zack my short film so far.  They seemed to like it, so I'm hopeful it might be well-received at a film festival.  We had our family-style Italian meal with lots of pasta, chicken, veal, and salmon.  Since this was the first time Zack got to meet my parents and brother, he asked them a ton of questions, at times drifting toward awkwardness.  Conversation was interesting and energetic though, so I overall had a good time.  Zack suggested he wanted to go on a cruise with friends and we should join him, and it sounded great, but I didn't know how to possibly have any vacation, let alone another that additional one.

The staff started singing "Happy Birthday", but we soon realized it was for another table.  My Dad shouted out to them that it was my and Russ's birthday as well, so we eventually got our comeuppance as well.  They brought the cake out, creme-brulee flavored, and there was thankfully only one candle on it.

My next shower, that night, was hopefully the last with the cast and shower sleeve.  When I came out of the shower, I noticed there was a decent lot of water in the shower sleeve.  Parts of the cast were soaked.  There was tear in the seam.  I was about to throw away the shower sleeve, but decided to just let it dry out, and worry about it later.

I woke up at 9am on Monday and quickly scheduled my appointment for 1pm.  95% chance I'd be walking again after that appointment, that Monday!  In less than 4 hours!  I was served disturbingly steamy coffee in my toilet mug, and then I used my bone stimulator for hopefully the 98th and last time.

It took quite a bit to get to my appointment, because lots of road were blocked off, but I give myself way too much time anyway, so I was still early.  The doctor checked X-rays as I nervously waited.  He came back saying that yes, my cast could come off.

After 4 weeks of not seeing my foot, there it was.  The skin was dry and flaky all over.  Certainly there was no swelling.

I promise, no more gory pictures.  It's just interesting to see how my scar's healing was progressing.  There was still black skin there, and the doctor was very much unconcerned.  Also, my foot felt weird underneath.  It felt as though the skin on half of the sole was hardened.

Dr. La Puma offered me a "treat", and soon my foot was immersed in a warm whirlpool bath.  I was worried about getting the wound wet, as if there would be a scab that could fall off, but he was unconcerned.

I couldn't see the skin flakes, and the skin all felt normal after that.  He then applied moisturizer, all around the foot, including over the wound.  I didn't feel any irritation.  It was as though there was no wound.  It was just discolored.

He broke the news to me that I would still be using the bone stimulator, and wearing a soft cast, but only for two weeks hopefully.  I could either buy a new shower sleeve there for $25 or so, or fix the one I had so that it lasted two weeks.  I decided to save the money.

After he put the soft cast on me, I then got to try standing.  I tried with crutches first.  The more I put weight on my right foot, the more pain I felt.  I did not expect severe pain!  I only expected some discomfort and a lack of balance due to atrophy.  But there was no way I was going to keep using crutches.  I was done with crutches.  I asked for the cane.  It was bearable, and my rehabilitation was firmly in my control, for once.  Dr. La Puma was nice enough to store my crutches somewhere, but the cane would be enough.

I headed toward Grand Central Station.  At first, progress was very slow, but then I realized, the less pressure I put on the cane, the more easily I was able to walk.  I reached the subway, then was able to walk a while longer all the way to home.  I felt I had gotten my freedom back.  There was New York again.

I folded up my knee walker and posed for a Facebook pic.

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