Peter looked so pale and fragile lying in his hospital bed after surgery. I later learned that the fracture had been so complicated that repairing it had been something like piecing a puzzle together, resulting in the long surgery. Because of how much blood he lost, they almost gave him a blood transfusion, but his cautious surgeon, wanting to avoid the potential complications of that procedure, wanted to wait to see if Peter could pull through on his own. His blood test results weren’t in the danger zone, so it was possible that his body would be able to replace the lost blood by itself.
Peter didn’t feel like eating and drinking at all the next day, and Daddy didn’t really know how to make him do it. In our family, Mommy is the one who knows how to get the kids to do things they aren’t excited about doing, but I hadn’t even been to the hospital to see Peter yet. However, my husband is much better at coping with the Ukrainian medical system than I am, and he finds it really challenging to be home alone with the kids, so we agreed that it made most sense for me to take care of the kids at home while he stayed at the hospital with Peter. On the second day after his surgery, Peter was dehydrated and so critically anemic that they had to give him a blood transfusion. After that, he began to improve slowly.
When I was finally able to go visit him, thanks to a kind neighbor who came to our apartment to watch the kids while I went to the hospital, I was shocked by just how weak Peter was. He was almost unable to move either of his legs because the muscles had atrophied so much in just a few days of not being used. Even his upper body strength had been affected. The physical therapist had suspended a handle from a bar above his bed, and he could barely pull himself up to a sitting position using it. And despite the pain medication he was taking, he was in significant pain. Just the thought of someone moving his broken leg made him start to wiper, and the actual process often caused him to cry out in pain.
A physical therapist came to his room every day and had him do exercises in bed. She was very patient and gentle, but it was painful to watch and even more painful for Peter to do. Even bending the knee on his broken leg the slightest bit was painful, and bending it more made him scream. After about a week, the surgeon approved Peter’s discharge from the hospital. In preparation for going home, they showed us how to continue Peter’s physical therapy and taught him how to use crutches. The latter was a torturous experience, as Peter had not moved from his hospital bed since the second surgery. It was immediately clear that he would not be moving much after he got home.
Getting him home was an ordeal. We used a wheelchair to get him to the hospital parking lot, where we had our church’s van to transport him. Somehow, we managed to get him up the high step into the 9-passenger vehicle. My husband drove as carefully as possible. The streets in Kyiv are better than in the rest of the country, but they still have bumps and uneven portions that caused Peter to whimper. But once we got home, we faced the real challenge.
Our apartment was on the second floor, and there was no elevator in our building. Peter had only learned how to use crutches a few hours before and was so weak from lying in a hospital bed for a week that he could barely manage to get himself across the sidewalk from the curb where we parked the van to the entrance to our apartment building. My husband has a bad back, so he couldn’t offer any physical help in getting Peter up the stairs. Theoretically, I might have been able to carry him in some fashion, but even if I had been able to muster the strength, it would have hurt his leg too much by forcing it to bend. In the end, I had Peter go in front of me, using his good leg and the crutches for balance. I stood one step behind him with my arms wrapped around his chest and hoisted him up under his armpits, one step at a time.
It seemed like a long way. The apartments in our building had really high ceilings, and so there were 22 steps from street level to our floor, and each step was painful for Peter. By the time we got to step 12, I was thanking God that we lived on the 2nd floor and not the 3rd or 4th!
We finally got Peter inside our apartment and settled on the couch, where he would live for about the next month. It was wonderful to have the whole family back together again, but immediately the domestic routine—which normally just feels like a full-time job plus significant overtime—became completely overwhelming. In addition to everything I normally do to care for my family of eight and our dog, suddenly I was also helping an invalid to and from the bathroom several times a day, preparing separate meals high in iron and calcium for said invalid, and trying to carve out time to do physical therapy with him three times per day. Three physical therapy sessions was my goal, but it never, ever happened. The best I ever managed was two per day, and that only happened once or twice. The result was that I constantly felt like I was coming up short, letting Peter down, and jeopardizing his recovery. The stress was suffocating.
After about a week, God sent me salvation in the form of another kind neighbor. She offered to come once a day to do one of Peter’s physical therapy sessions with him! She was very attentive and competent and gentle, and her visits to our home were a daily bright spot during an extremely challenging season. After she finished working with Peter, George would make her a smoothie, and the three of us would sit around our dining table chatting until she had to leave.
Peter gradually got stronger, requiring less and less of my hands-on care, and eventually he moved from the couch back into the boys’ bedroom. The day he started leaving the apartment again, getting himself up and down the stairs on crutches, was a major milestone. He ended up becoming really fast on crutches, and by the time his surgeon gave him the okay to begin to put weight on his leg by walking while supporting himself on the crutches, Peter didn’t want to do it, because it slowed him down too much! Many times per day I’d catch him swinging himself quickly around the apartment on his crutches, and I’d say again, “Peter, WALK.” Eventually, he was allowed to put all his weight on the mended leg, and we hid the crutches from him, because he still preferred them to walking! He had a painfully awkward limp accompanied by a flapping motion with his elbows that made him look something like a lanky lame chicken, but he was walking.
Peter started new physical therapy exercises, and slowly, his gait became more natural, but the limp persisted. I hoped it was just a result of atrophied muscles and would disappear once he regained full strength in his leg, but the physical therapist told us that there was always the possibility after a surgery like his that the length of the leg had changed, resulting in a permanent limp. I was deeply disturbed by this information but was trying to trust God’s plan for Peter’s life. Thankfully, Peter didn’t seem at all bothered by his limp, even when other kids at school pointed it out.
God had mercy on us, and by the seven-month mark, when Peter had his third and final surgery, to remove the plate from the bone, his limp was completely gone. As I write this today, the only lasting effect of that memorable accident is a long, red scar on Peter’s thigh—and the ability to win a race on crutches against practically anyone!
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