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Gabrielle’s Story: Overcoming Obstacles and Making Progress Every Day

Gabrielle Sholes with Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch

Every scar tells a story. And behind every scar there is an untold story of survival. In my case, as of last Thursday, I have about 40 new scars, which all share the same story.

Days leading up to leaving for my appointment in New York this past week I was a nervous wreck!  Life for me isn’t easy these days. It’s not just a matter of waking up and going about my day. Unless you spend an entire day with me it’s very hard for an outsider to understand and know exactly what it all entails. I am on a very strict schedule for everything, and adding flying into the equation of my rigid schedule was quite unsettling. Since the couch is my go-to spot I find that eating dinner on my lap is quite the struggle, so I bought one of those medical rollaway adjustable tables, and wow let me just say, I’ve been missing out! As of right now, I am what they call Homebound, so I am not able to go out and be a part of society. I spend my days at home, which can be quite depressing at times, especially for someone who was always on the go. Cooking, cleaning, pin care, lengthening, taking a shower, even making a cup of coffee or a glass of ice water are all just some examples of what I am totally reliant on someone for. It’s hard to transition from total independence to complete dependency. Some days I’ll do my hair and put on some makeup to at least “feel” pretty. I lay around in sweats all day and have lost the feeling of being a woman. I know that must sound silly, but it’s true. But when I start to feel that way, what really seems to help is reminding myself this is only temporary (a very long temporary) but this isn’t forever!

That all being said, I am still continuing my PT (physical therapy) 3x a week, and this past week I hit some impressive gains and can even work on my limb lengthening exercises 3x a day! On day one of my physical therapy, my physical therapist conducted an assessment, which included Sit to Stands and Timed Walking. This would give us a starting point to where I was and as we went along show how I’m progressing. So I had 30 seconds for my sit to stands. On day one it took me 16 seconds to do this. On day five it took me nine seconds! Then a timed walk from point A to point B. On day one it took me 39 seconds. On day five it took me 19 seconds. I couldn’t believe it! I had to ask if her timer was broken. I may not be there yet but I’m closer than I was yesterday – the key to my success is knowing i have two options – give up or fight like hell – I choose to fight. I often find myself feeling like I don’t have a sense of purpose, although the reality is my purpose is even greater now than it ever has been.  It’s to wake up every day and make it a better day than the day before. It’s to push through the pain and to give it a little extra during my PT sessions, to undo 14 years of walking the wrong way and finally learning the right way on a fused ankle and overall to heal and get back to normal (whatever that means).

Fast-forward to last Thursday and my appointment with Dr. Rozbruch was great. Prior to, I was scheduled in the radiology department for x-rays. While heading over, we ran into my other doctor, Dr. Levine, in the hall. What are the chances!?! It was a pleasant surprise, and it was good seeing him again!  After my images were done, I made my way over to Dr. R.  He walked in with his smile, which lights up the room. I was shown my images and it was amazing to see the inside. He thoroughly explained what everything was. He walked me through all parts of the x-ray, showing me where my tibula was broken, to where the screws are, where the rod was in my bone, and even explained where I saw some cloudy coverage that was actually bone growth. It was so neat to see what everything looked like internally and to obtain a full understanding and view of what the surgery entailed. Dr. R was pleasantly surprised by the amount of or lack-there-of regarding swelling of the area. He said that the stitches were healing nicely and were ready to come out, and the pin sites all checked out to be perfect. A tightening of the external fixator was done, which helps continue to mold the ankle fusion together. Range of motion was checked and again Dr. R was happy to see how much I was able to bend. I then expressed the concerns I was having and asked all my questions, and as always Dr. R was so patient with me and really took his time to answer all my questions fully until he felt that I was comfortable. He was very happy with my progress, and asked to see me again in two weeks.

Overall I felt my first pre-op appointment went great! I received the green light to continue with physical therapy with no restrictions but still with only 50lbs of weight-baring. That makes me happy because this means I could start working on other exercises which will help increase my range of motion and mobility. I still need to continue lengthening 3x a day, which will continue for another three months. I look forward to these next two weeks because now I will really be able to push a little more through physical therapy. I also feel I have a little bit more of a sense of what my recovery life consists of. Some days are better than others. There are days when it’s raining and I don’t want to get out of bed because I can really feel the change of weather, and then there are days I wake up and feel great!!

I think the biggest obstacle is a sense of purpose and really engraining it in that my sole purpose is to care for myself, to heal, and do everything necessary to gain a full recovery. I truly believe that attitude is everything. There are days where you will just need to create your own sunshine. Life was not meant to be lived perfectly. It’s meant to be lived by making the effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s when transformation happens, and that’s how change occurs. At the same time it’s just as important to acknowledge that you are human and it’s okay to have bad days, it’s a part of life. Don’t suppress those feelings. Acknowledge them. Feel them. Accept them as a chapter in your journey.

Unfortunately we can’t fast forward through the bad parts of our life. We need to live them and learn to understand why certain experiences are significant to our overall story. And although I’m an advocate for remaining positive, I also believe that being positive isn’t the absence of pain. We need to find meaning to the struggle and see the light in the distance no matter how far away it may seem. Have faith through those bad feelings are just temporary visitors.

Remember ~ the struggle is all part of the story.


This series is by Gabrielle Sholes, a patient of Dr. David Levine and Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch, at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). This weekly series documents her experience  as she experiences a unique ankle fusion and limb lengthening surgery that will allow her to walk pain-free and improve her quality of life.

Topics: Orthopedics
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.