Animals get better prosthetic limbs than humans, warns Supervet Noel FitzpatrickScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.57.17

This is Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, specialist and innovator in animal prosthetics.  He is also in a plaster cast, which strangely wasn’t mentioned in the feature published in The Telegraph UK newspaper on May 28 2016 by Sarah Knapton:

My own trials with plaster casts; orthopaedic pins, plates and screws began back in 1984, when I fracture dislocated my ankle joint in Southern Spain.  I was holidaying in the Almeria area and sauntering along the golden beach, ahead of my flight home to the UK the following day.

I decided to take one last look into the beautiful sapphire seas, this glorious sunny day, across to North Africa.  I walked away from the coastline, down a concrete jetty which culminated in a T-shaped platform, surrounded by a low wall.  I stood up on the walk, which was only about one metre high, to drink in the vista.

Tsunami, Mojaca Playa, Fractured ankle
Mojaca Playa and the walkway

I didn’t feel an earth tremor, but I do clearly recall seeing an extremely high wave, rolling towards me at great speed.  Better get down, I thought.  I crouched, knees bent to descend but was instantly inside the wave.  All I could see was white foam and jade green streaks before the pain of my ankle smashing into the concrete wall consumed me.

I came round, horrified to see that my foot was facing not forward, but to the right of my lower leg.  (Sorry I should have warned the squeamish earlier).  I absolutely knew that should another wave wash over the barrier, I would not be able to save myself from beings swept into the swirling ocean to my right.  I would not be able to swim because my foot was useless and I would drown.

Onlookers had rushed down the jetty to see if I was ok.  Two burly men in swimming shorts were just standing, staring at me, unsure of whether or not to move me.  My survival instinct kicked in.  I had no pain, but plenty of adrenalin, which translated into ordering the men to form a “bosun’s chair” with their hands and get me the ‘quake out of there.  They hesitated.  I promised not to scream or cry in pain.  They did as I asked.  Thanks to them, whoever they were.

The next few hours were painful as shock set in and adrenalin subsided.  I was seen by an excellent doctor at the nearest hotel.  She splinted my leg and called for an ambulance to take me to the nearest hospital in Almeria.  They turned out to be experts in motorcycle accidents and fixed my ankle under general anaesthetic, before lots of arm flapping (indicating that I was booked on the flight to Manchester the next day) meant that I was only in hospital overnight, before getting the VIP treatment and admitted to hospital for further surgery the next day.

Fast forward thirty years, past a career in Stage Management, Event Management at the Royal Albert Hall many nights out in high heels and much dog walking.  Combine this with no knowledge or interest in the eighties, nineties and naughties of orthotics (supportive insoles for my shoes) or exactly how flat my feet were and how hyper mobile my joints had become and…. you have the pain I suddenly began to experience in 2011 when I thought I had tendonitis which refused to get better.

I saw many physiotherapists, podiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons.  Just ahead of any appointment to pour over the latest MRI scan or X-ray, eternally optimistically, I would expect a verdict of: “more exercise, take care, it all looks fine.”  Instead, they would each in turn shake their expert heads, take a sharp intake of breath and say: “well, it’s a bit of a mess in there Caroline.”

One closed arthroscopy, a great deal of chanting for an ankle replacement instead of a fusion, and a change of surgeon later and I found myself in the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, looking down at the sorry sight you see in my first photo.  I mention chanting because I did not want my ankle to be fused.  I wanted an ankle replacement instead:  Ankle fusion, in plaster for nearly 4 months; ankle replacement, in plaster for about 4 – 6 weeks.  You see my point?

I researched who, I believe, is the best ankle surgeon to look after and hopefully fix, my ankle problem. I came to see that  Mr Andrew Goldberg OBE is an extraordinary man.  I emailed him and he replied, saying he was happy to see me at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex – a centre of excellence.

After the now familiar: “well it’s a bit of a mess isn’t it?” consultation, he agreed to prepare my ankle for a replacement, with the proviso that I also consented to a fusion if it became unavoidable for clinical reasons, when I was under anaesthetic.  I felt at once that he cared about all of my body, and my lifestyle (lots of dog walking and an active life); he cared about his work, to the point of it being a true vocation and he was personable, knowledgeable and very experienced.  In this field, he has pioneered ankle replacement in the UK and is respected by his peers.  In spite of multiple surgeries and numerous irritations with non-union, the discovery that I had osteoporosis (the major cause in my case, of the non-union), I still  trust Andy Goldberg to listen, to do his best and to treat the whole me, not just my size 3 flat feet and several buggered ankle joints.

I awoke from the operation to see Mr Goldberg standing next to me with a look on his face which spoke of sadness and understanding that he was about to impart the news I didn’t want to hear.  He had prepared the smallest ankle replacement available to be used, but it was 4mm too big.  He couldn’t fit it, because it would have overhung my tibia and fractured it.  My ankle had to be fused.  A tear rolled down my cheek, but I knew he’d done his utmost to give me pain-free joints and as much movement as could be retained.

This is how I now looked on the outside:

Orthopaedic Ankle Surgery
Snow Boots and No Boots

And on the inside (Squeamish LOOK AWAY – explicit X-RAY, but no blood):

X-Ray from ankle fusion

Here I am in 2016 and after more surgeries to remove those large screws, but not the rod as that has to remain, I’m still struggling and still receiving great care from RNOH.

I decided to explore all the coloured leg casts that the RNOH have to offer.  Here are a few of my fashion statements:



Blue cast

And especially decorated for Christmas:

Thanks to Martine Cochrane for the decoration
Thanks to Martine Cochrane for the decoration

Since January 2013, I have spent a total of 221 days in a plaster cast, 37 days in bandages and not to mention the travelling I’ve done, limping along in my trusty old “Storm Trooper” boot:


At times, I’ve wished for ruby slippers that would take me back to Oz and away from Oz-teoporosis (one of the many reasons for my complications, leading to multiple surgeries).  My husband even bought me a pair, but I couldn’t click my heels together hard enough!


Due to the multiple surgeries, arising from the extensive damage to my ankle joint, I have nerve damage, neuropathic pain, achilles tendonitis and I’ve put on 7kgs due to lack of long walks with the dogs and constant pain.

One emotion I don’t experience, alongside the frustration, irritation, sadness and total amazement at my wonderful support network of friends and family I experience on a weekly basis, is anger.  I couldn’t have received more care and better support from Buckinghamshire NHS practitioners, my GP and the fabulous experts in Stanmore RNOH.  When I had to stop writing my novel, Faber and Faber academy supported me and are holding a place open for me to return to their mentoring programme in due course.  My family and  friends rallied around when I couldn’t drive for a year.

Now I have a different life from that which I imagined when I thought I’d be up and about in a few weeks, three and half years ago.  I discovered that making stained glass and silver jewellery has reduced the pain in the joints of my hands (caused by fibromyalgia), having to stop writing commissioned feature articles and my novel, has led to this blog – which I just love!

The main lesson for me in all of this, is that you can’t dodge the curved balls that Life will throw at you.  But if you grab them with both hands, hold onto them and count your blessings, you just might discover a wealth of new opportunities.

I still want an ankle replacement.  Which is why I keep a close eye on the work of Noel Fitzpatrick and his custom made prosthetics.  The sooner our orthopaedic surgeons can trial some of his amazing techniques on us humans, the better.  Fitzpatrick Referrals here I come!


A Cast of Thousands – My Trials with a Tsunami and Orthopaedics
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One thought on “A Cast of Thousands – My Trials with a Tsunami and Orthopaedics

  • June 9, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    A great piece Caroline! I agree with curved balls – starting Mindfulness has helped me deal with my curved balls!

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