Returning to work after ankle surgery

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This post just documents my experience in returning to a desk job wearing a cast after ankle surgery. When in doubt, always ask your attending physician.

I am a software engineer which means that my job is spent 70% sitting at my desk, 10% attending meetings, and 10% snacking or socializing. After spending nearly a month off work while recovering from an ankle fracture, I finally made it to work last week.

Although I was excited to get out of the apartment, I felt intimidated and nervous for my first day out. My mobility was quite limited because I was still wearing a cast, and was non weight bearing. Since the injury, the only outings I’d had were to the orthopedist or the hospital. I had a few days to prepare myself for success. Below is the approach I took to make sure I had a successful and safe day at work. I hope this post will help someone in a similar situation.

Jump to

  1. Prerequisites
  2. Getting to work
  3. During work
  4. Heading home
  5. Misc

Prerequisites

1. Doctor’s all clear

Before even considering going back to work, you must get the ok from your attending physician. Depending on your workplace, you may need a return to work note from your doctor. Make sure to ask both your work’s HR department and your doctor about what is required.

2. Some way to get around

Whether it be crutches, a wheelchair, or a knee scooter, some sort of indoor transportation is required if you are non weight bearing. I went with a knee scooter; it’s much more comfortable than crutches. Whatever mobility tool you choose, make sure you practice some basic motions. For example, opening and closing doors, sitting down, standing up, going to the bathroom, etc.

Getting to work

1. Solo, or getting a ride?

Figure out how you’re going to get to work. Are you driving yourself? If so, you need a plan to get your mobility tool into your vehicle before you can drive off. If someone drives you, they can help you to get from the car to your mobility tool and back as needed. The easiest way of doing this is to have someone drive you, but that doesn’t mean you cannot do it on your own.

Crutches should fit in the front passenger seat of most cars. If you are using crutches, just sit in the driver’s seat, and stash the crutches on the passenger seat. Remember that the length of crutches can be adjusted if they are too long to fit in the car.

If using a knee scooter and self driving, a cane can be an good intermediate tool when getting in and out of the car. Most knee scooters can fold, so they should fit on the rear seat. Beware that knee scooters are ~20lbs, so they maybe be difficult to lift in and out of a car on your own. In my case, I lifted my scooter on the rear seat, and using the top of the car for balance, slowly shimmied my way to the driver’s seat.

2. Parking

You may qualify for a temporary handicap placard because of the injury. To get a temporary placard in California, you and your physician must fill out a form. The form must then be turned in to the DMV along with a small fee. Having the placard is a huge advantage while recovering. Ask your physician for more information.

Note that the form for the placard can also be turned into AAA if you are a member. I was able to get the placard from AAA the same day I turned in the form.

During work

1. Keeping the leg elevated

To avoid swelling, the injured leg must be kept elevated such that the foot is at least at the same height as your hip while sitting. To keep it elevated, you can use a portable outdoor stool, an ottoman, a sturdy box, or even an upside down trashcan with a pillow on top. The advantage of the portable outdoor stool is that it is light weight. I recommend that you find what you will use to elevate your leg before returning to work.

2. Remote into meetings if possible

Joining meetings via a conference call may be a good idea when the meeting is crowded, or the meeting room is particularly inaccessible. If joining meetings remotely is not a possibility, then getting to the meeting room early is a good idea to ensure you obtain a comfortable seat.

In my case, I have two recurring meetings. The first is a 20 person meeting in a room with 20 seats. The second is a meeting with 5 people in a room with 10 seats. I join the earlier via our company’s video conferencing software and attend the latter in person.

3. Stay in for lunch Going out to eat everyday may not be the best idea while healing from ankle surgery. Bringing some leftovers with you for lunch will save two car trips.

Heading home

1. Driving yourself

If you drove yourself, try to avoid the rush of people leaving the office. That may mean leaving 15 mins before the usual rush (5:00 pm in my case), or at least 30 mins after. See the section on getting to work for some advice on getting into the car.

2. Getting a ride

If someone is giving you a ride, determine where you will meet after work before you get dropped off. Getting into the car will take longer than usual, since both you and your mobility tool have to get in the car. Avoid high traffic areas if possible and use the hazard lights if it cannot be avoided. If you got a handicap placard, I recommend that the driver keep it and you meet at the handicap parking spots.

Misc

1. Have an escape plan

Be prepared in case you feel ill, or uncomfortable and need to go home early. On my first day back, my foot started to hurt 1 hour before my usual quitting time. It was most likely irritated due to the increase activity of the day. I was able to leave early and get back home to my comfortable spot.

2. Work from home

The ability to work from home is something that more and more workplaces are adopting. If you have the opportunity to, it will be a good idea work from home a couple of days a week. For example, I work home from on the days I have follow up appointments with the doctor to minimize the number of trips for that day.


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