Sample Article and Memoir Sketch
How to heal your fractured foot and ankle: An artist's guide
My Left Foot
Suzanne McDermott, Watercolor pencil, 4 x 6 inches
I am not a doctor. However, I've enjoyed a lifetime of learning how to heal myself and keep myself relatively healthy. It's fun for me. Herein, I'm sharing the healing measures I've taken for my own foot and ankle fractures with hopes that some or all of this information may be of help to you.
I am somewhat of an expert on ankle sprains but, after a recent fall, not only did I suffer a massive ankle and foot sprain but also a fracture of my 5th metatarsal (a Jones Fracture), a cracked my medial tibia from mid-calf straight through the ankle bone, and cracked something on the outside ankle bone. I did not have any displaced bones and did not require any surgery.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have my sympathy. My recommendations follow.
Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation. Stick to this tried and true formula for the first 48 - 72 hours to which I'll add...
Immediately apply Arnica Gel or T-Relief. or Traumeel. Begin taking Arnica Tablets internally. Take the recommended dosage of any pain medication. Apparently, Ibuprofen is "off the list for mending bones" (it interferes with process) but helps to reduce swelling in sprains.
Ask for help. Have x-rays taken so that you know what's injured. Ask for a ride to the E.R. Bring a good book. Ask for print copies of your x-rays. Why? A succession of doctors did not notice, for one month, that my medial tibia and ankle were fractured. I had to tell them that I thought I had additional breaks and ask them to re-check the x-rays.
Do not try to walk on your foot. I mean it!
Your Healing Regimen
Attitude is crucial. So, first off, count your blessings! Fractures and sprains are temporary. Become aware of any whining or complaining. Whining and complaining do you no good whatsoever. You will find that engaging in this crankiness will probably make you feel worse. People will expect you to complain. Surprise them. Be of good cheer. You won't always be able to feel chipper but make a go of it anyway. It'll make you feel better. All things considered, you're experiencing a rather minor issue. But if you do not properly care for yourself, you'll make matters worse and add to your recovery time.
Do not walk on your foot. I still mean it! I am off my foot for 12 - 14 weeks. When I first sprained my ankle at age 11, it was placed in a plaster cast. Within a week, I'd removed the cast with my father's hammer and chisel. I know you want to walk as soon as possible. Do not do so until your bones can support you. Deal with it.
Do not smoke. Trying to walk on your foot before the bones, ligaments and tendons are healed and smoking are the absolute worst things you could possible do. Frankly, I was a closet smoker. Just two or three cigarettes in the evening. When I broke these bones, and I smoked... I could feel myself compromised at the cellular level. I don't know how else to express it. I have not had a cigarette since, nor have I desired one.
Rest. And I don't mean for one or two days. You must plan on resting more than usual throughout your recovery. Your body needs to direct energy towards physical healing.
Do your research. Educate yourself. Ask your doctor as many questions as you can think of and then learn about your particular injury or set of injuries. Learning is interesting and empowering. Make it a creative project! Go crazy on Google. You're not going to be able to do much else for the first little while.
Expect a few pitfalls. Immobility, crutches, and slow going can be a pain. Like the learning curve, the healing curve is not straight up. You can pretty much plan on having a few sets of downer days. If you're mentally prepared, you can work your way through them more easily. Just relax and let it all wash over you. You are not always going to be lying around.
Accept your situation. What's done is done. Surrender. You are healing now. It's going to take some time. Be brave. You can do it! You are not actually healing your foot and ankle, you are creating the optimal conditions under which your bones and tendons and ligaments can heal at the cellular level.
Exercise. What? Yes. It's really important for your body but also for your mental state and general well being. You'll be much happier during and after recovery because of it. Swimming is your best bet and non-weight bearing yoga poses are wonderful.
Swimming: Find the schedule for your nearest pool and plan at least two lap swimming sessions per week. Ease into it. Don't force your injured foot to do anything it doesn't want to. Start with a kick board if you have to. Make it a game to increase your number of laps and time in pool per session. Be very careful with your crutches on the wet floors! Ask for whatever help you need to get in and out of the pool.
Yoga: Find non-weight bearing yoga poses or modify some positions to accommodate your injured foot and ankle. Don't try anything you are not already secure with. Challenge yourself to create a sequence that will give you a basic routine to use daily.
Soak in Epsom Salts.
(or Comfrey Leaf to make a poultice)
Grampa's Garden Therapeutic Massage Oil
Garlic and Ginger Capsules
A good multi-vitamin, Calcium supplement, Vitamin C and B-Complex.
Epsom Salts (but, of course).
Does this seem like a lot to buy? Most of these items should live in your medicine cabinet or kitchen at all times. They are fundamental ingredients of first aid and you should be taking the supplements anyway (imho). Think about doctor bills.
Regarding the matter at hand (or foot!):
Arnica acts as pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. Application prevents or hastens healing of bruises and reduces swelling and works especially well if applied immediately after trauma (though is helpful to prevent pain and inflammation throughout healing period). Homeopathic Arnica pills and tablets taken internally have same effect.
The main active ingredient in Comfrey is Allantoin which generates cells and promotes cell replacement. Bones knit themselves back together on the cellular level. An old folk name for Comfrey is "knitbone".
Juniper (especially), Rosemary, Wintergreen and Peppermint help to promote circulation. Circulation helps to promote healing on a cellular level. So does massage. Healing on a cellular level helps to knit bones. Foot bones (especially the 5th metatarsal) have limited circulation (they're far from the heart), therefore, trouble healing.
By the way, I only recommend what I consider superior products at good prices that I, myself, use and love.
My triple threat treatment!
3x per day:
Slather a thin layer of Arnica Gel over your fracture and sprain areas
Drop Comfrey tincture on fracture and sprain areas and massage into skin
Gently massage adulterated* Grampa's Therapeutic Massage Oil into foot and ankle for 15 - 20 minutes (or as long as you can -- some time is better than no time!).
*Add additional Juniper Oil and Olbas (contains juniper, rosemary, peppermint oils) to Grampa's Garden Therapeutic Oil to help further promote circulation.
I slept with a comfrey poultice on my foot and ankle during the first ten days. I could actually feel it working but the whole thing was a bit time consuming and messy so I switched to the tincture which I think is less effective but still very helpful.
Steer clear of sugar and caffeine (especially coffee).
Do I have to tell you to not drink alcohol?
Eat well. Fresh vegetables and fruit. Real food. Drink pure water. You'll feel better.
(They couldn't hurt!)
Click here for a list of semi-precious stones thought to benefit broken bones and here for a general list of healing stones.
You can find these stones in new age shops, ask a massage therapist where to buy, or check eBay. You can sleep with these stones under your pillow and carry them around in a small pouch on your person as you go through your daily life.
And one more thing! Buy yourself a good pair of knee pads. Sometimes you might have to climb, foot and knee (careful!), and sometimes you might just want to crawl. I recommend Fiskars Contoured-Fit Knee Pads. I've been using them all along and they've really helped.
©2011 Suzanne McDermott / All Rights Reserved
My Life in Living Color
memoir through one lens
Born and raised on the Main Line of suburban Philadelphia, our family spent summers at Longport, New Jersey, the tail end of Absecon Island, where the Atlantic meets the Great Egg Harbor Bay.
When I was five years old, my mother, Rosemary sat me down at the edge of the Atlantic with a brush and palette of watercolors, plunged a sheet of cold press paper into the ocean, handed that to me and said, “Here. Practice your strokes.” As she went about her own watercolor sketch, I began my watercolor practice.
She decorated the walls of our house with a large calligraphed vellum page from a bible, a reproduction of the Chi-Rho from the Book of Kells,
a George Biddle watercolor of some rural Cuban scene, and her prized possession, a large pre-Raphaelite Madonna and Child bordered with orange fruit, blossoms and leaves. In one corner of our living room she placed a trifold screen with a Chinese watercolor scene of birds, bamboo and flowers on black with gold-leafed sides and, by the front door, over the light switch, hung a series of early botanical watercolor prints.
Rosemary designed our landscaping and gardens with watercolor and
pencil on tracing paper and must have chosen most of my first books for their watercolor illustrations. I was named after the title character of Petite Suzanne, a book about a French Canadian girl who lives on the Gaspé Coast, illustrated in pencil and watercolor by the author, Marguerite de Angeli. Watercolor was ever present.
So was drawing. Both of my parents had exceptional, unusual handwriting. Without anyone ever saying a word about it, I learned that our penmanship, our mark making, expresses our individual spirit, our energy. I landed the interview for my first formal job because of my handwriting. True fact.
With such beginnings, it’s no surprise that I’ve dedicated my life as a visual artist to drawing and watercolor. It wasn’t till I started teaching the history of watercolor that I realized how many formative hours I’d spent surrounded by and pouring over watercolors while leaning across the back of an armchair or pausing by a door.
Because I've had other skills to develop and circumstances to work out, my watercolor practice has ebbed and flowed. In my mid-20s, after studying with three brilliant teachers at Santa Monica College, I made photorealism portraits of, mostly, musical friends in L.A. Filmy, multi-glazed pieces with loads of pencil work from photos I’d taken, projected and then labored over for days. I started showing as a watercolor artist and received my first professional commissions for these portraits starting in 1981.
Later, in Sarasota, Florida, I turned to architectural portraits of, mostly, historic residences. Those were all made on excursions at dawn, plopped down on curbs in front of each building subject.
During my touring years as a performing songwriter, I made small vignettes of scenes in Europe, New England and Charleston, South Carolina, wherever I would find myself with a few free hours. All of those paintings were made from a field kit of watercolors with a tiny brush on 4 x 6 blocks that I bought at an art shop in Alkmaar, Holland. The buildings, travel scenes and subsequent work were all made en plein air. My studio was a tiny backpack.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, I moved inside and made a series of 12 full-sheet bouquets, The Age of Flowers.
I built a studio in 2006, behind my home in Nashville, Tennessee, where I finally let go of what I considered the crutch of pencil, of structure beneath my color, and launched into a multi-year series called Landscape into Art, coinciding with my watercolor blogging escapade.
When I realized that the touring life as a solo musician was not good for my well-being, I started teaching drawing and watercolor workshops for guests at the Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina. In 2011, I created an in-depth, online foundation course in drawing and watercolor for beginners. After deciding in early November 2016, to read history, I evolved an intensive series of art history practicums exploring, with watercolor, the history of painting through four different lenses.
During these art history practicums, I made watercolor copies of historic paintings from about 26,000 BC to the 1960s, mostly on Stillman & Birn Beta Series hard bound sketchbooks. I like the beta paper for it’s quality and versatility, and working in a bound book to keep the project of almost 30 pieces neatly together.
Although Winsor Newton paints and Arches paper were pretty much the only game in town for pros when I was starting out, I now use a combo of M. Graham and Daniel Smith watercolors (with a few faves from the Lukas and Old Holland lines). I’m quite fond of Lana and Fabriano papers but have done loads of work on what was once upon a time called Indian Village paper that is very heavy and very rough.
Ultimately, my creative process is intuitive. I worked diligently for decades to develop my technical skills but have never followed formulas or used stylistic tricks. I have learned to bow to my relationship with watercolor, which I consider to be a living medium, and to allow the water and color to teach me.
My work is project driven. If I’m illustrating a book, making a new series of paintings, or designs, I allow my work to serve the project. That being said, there are highly recognizable stylistic elements to whatever I happen to make with watercolor, or drawing, for that matter. Some of those elements, like line and stroke, have always been with me. Other stylistic elements have developed through my practice and relationship with watercolor.
Nature, light, history and the medium of watercolor itself inspire me. I’m currently fond of working on animals, and some variant of landscape seems to come through me with no effort, model or thought.
I’m profoundly grateful that I was introduced to watercolor so early at the edge of the ocean in fresh air and sunlight. It connected me forever to the living quality of this medium that I love so deeply.
©2018 Suzanne McDermott / All Rights Reserved