“I did abs every day for 6 weeks and here’s what happened!”

Well… if you think any program like that can get you ripped, think again. My pelvic floor may be stronger than ever but otherwise it offered few benefits except a routine. One leg is shriveled and saggy, the other is only slightly stronger. I have zero aerobic capacity to speak of, and I don’t have a six-pack. But, of utmost concern to everyone going through a similar situation, no, I didn’t really gain any weight. My secret is… I ate normally, didn’t drink for about a month, and was in fairly good shape to begin with.

It’s been almost 72 hours since I kissed my crutches good-bye and limped out the door of the Laramie orthopedic center. I have four and a half months until I’ll be running again, so my goal is to provide the inside scoop on how to get from here to there over that time. I’m pretty immersed with school these days, but I should be able to add updates once a week.

And now to answer that burning question: what is it like to walk again?

I almost barfed on my way out from the doctor’s the other day. All the blood that was pooled in my foot went squirting out in a sharp, unpleasant way, like walking on a limb that’s fallen asleep, plus my leg about collapsed. (It really makes me revisit that unsolved mystery from a month ago; I don’t know if adrenaline is powerful enough to overcome the sensation of walking on an unused leg.) Later that day I walked to the end of my street and back, and it took a whopping ten minutes.

My surgeon’s office told me to wear an air cast boot until I feel comfortable walking regularly in a shoe. I had already come to that conclusion on my own and was glad I’d kept the boot stashed under my bed for the last few months. I wear it when I run errands or have to spend prolonged time on my feet. I just get around a little faster with it. But most of the time I’ve been walking barefoot at home, trying to regain full function.

It actually comes back faster than you’d think. By the end of the third day, walking felt almost normal again. Going up and down stairs is the most difficult. And I can’t walk super fast, but it’s much better than day one when I clocked 40 minutes per mile pace on my neighborhood walk and had to take an ibuprofen.

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I don’t really have any photos to add, but look how much my hollyhocks grew while I was sitting around on my ass repairing a joint!

My left calf has been so sore in the mornings it reminds me of college when we could barely make it out of our lofted dorm beds after the first spike day of the track season. I spend a couple minutes in the evenings rolling it on a hard plastic ball to keep the fibers loose. And the first day both my heels were excruciatingly painful by bedtime. Rolling helps with that, too.

I’ll be seeing my PT twice a week for the next four weeks to do “blood flow restriction” training. More on that when I’ve actually witnessed it in person. This week I went in the day after I started walking, and we literally just practiced walking. Which was exhausting and made me feel like a newborn animal. I was still limping heavily at that point, and my PT had me break down the stride cycle by focusing on toe-off and then heel-strike. My muscles were so tired at the end I could barely walk all over again.

This weekend I’ve been visiting the rec center to walk around in the pool. Next week I’ll try aqua jogging on campus, but I’m honestly not quite there yet. For now, I walk back and forth a couple laps, sideways and zig zag, and do leg swings and hip circles. Then I breaststroke a couple lengths (like 10 max — remember when I could do 60?) very slowly. That’s about it and I’m ready for a nap.

I’m still doing my core routines, but now I can add a couple things, like a proper pelvic tilt, bridge, and standing on one leg. I’m not ready for anything resembling yoga, but I got the green light to cycle on zero resistance. No word yet on the elliptical, but realistically I don’t expect to add it until about 10 or 12 weeks post-op.

Let the countdown to running begin! Eighteen weeks to go.

One month later

Jeeeezus, I have written and re-written this post about a zillion times because I can’t think of anything to say. I’m coming up on four weeks post-op, with just over two more weeks to go on crutches, and I suppose my lack of heart-warming content is due to the fact that I have literally nothing going on. I’ve become the human form of my own cat.

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Cute but lazy

Just waiting and napping and reading and waiting some more. No advancements to be made with PT, no new doctor’s appointments. It’s like the third lap of the mile. Everything got off to a rolling, panicky start and now we’re stuck in the longest, most agonizing lap. Startin’ to feel that burn…

I enrolled in classes at the university again, because ya know, there’s nothing more fun than being 10 years older than the freshmen. I’m cobbling together an Interior Design minor and trying to reconcile that with a yet-to-be-declared Kinesiology major, which mostly still exists in its previous form as a minor from my undergrad days. Which I got somewhere else. If you need an example of someone who has no fucking clue, you found her. My future looks like a Pinterest board.

Basically, what’s gonna happen is I’ll end up going all the way through a PhD here in Kinesiology and then decide to go into real estate.

While selling homebrewed kombucha at the farmer’s market because I haven’t made any money in 25 years.

Anyway it’s such a beautiful fall afternoon that I think I have to to throw my book in a tote bag with some snacks and drinks, sling the whole thing over my shoulder, and crutch out to the porch for a while.

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See ya in two weeks.

Q&A for the realities of recovering from ankle surgery

It’s already been two weeks since surgery. Where does the time go? Yesterday I had my post-op review and got the stitches taken out. Here are the questions I took with me, and the answers I received.

How much longer am I restricted to non-weight bearing?

I have been sentenced to the full 6 weeks. Which means I have one more month to endure crutching, hopping, crawling, and pit chafing. I will probably rent a scooter or a peg leg before classes start next week. How I plan on actually getting to campus is still TBD.

Why do I require 6 weeks instead of 2, or 4?

The way it was described to me was to think of a jelly donut. The fibrocartilage needs time to lay down and become strong, or the first steps I take will squish all the jelly out of the donut. Ya feel? It’s disappointing, especially because there isn’t any pain and it seems perfectly possible to walk. But for the sake of healing properly, I’ll take the advice.

When can I start running again?

In 6 months.

Hoooooo, that’s not what I was expecting to hear. I was hoping like 12 weeks. By the time I can run again, a full year will have passed since I last considered myself “healthy” enough to run. A full year since I knew I had to make a change and get help.

My immediate thoughts: at least I won’t be tempted to run over the winter on slick or frozen surfaces or over snowy terrain, and I won’t risk damaging a post-op ankle in an accident. It’ll give me time to really make sure I am healed and strong, and I can spend that time learning to love any form of cross-training I can get my hands on, like it or not.

Can I use the pool?

So… I was told not for four more weeks. But the reasoning was only that getting into and out of the pool may pose difficulties, and “how are you supposed to crutch across a wet pool deck?” Touché. But I’m already eyeing those disability chairs at the rec center, ya know, that dunk you into the pool and lift you out again when you’re done. Methinks I can take advantage of that opportunity, yes? I have to wait for my incisions to be 100% healed, but I’ll probably go for it earlier than four weeks unless I am strongly convinced not to. I am stubborn. Should I swim or no?

What kinds of PT and exercise can I do right now?

Pretty much what I’ve been doing. Core, upper body weight lifting. Nothing that requires applying weight to the operative area. I visited my PT this morning, and he gave me a set of band exercises to try. Gotta keep my intrinsic foot and calf muscles awake. There’s not much else I can tackle for now.

Anything else?

Continue to keep the foot elevated if I am sitting for long periods of time, and ice if swelling occurs. I can switch from bathing with one leg sticking out to sitting on the floor of the shower in three days.

Okay. I can do it. I’ve been on crutches longer than this before. And then what’s another six months. This will finally give me the downtime I’ve always wanted to try some spin classes. I say that with only mild sarcasm. Who wants to run outside in December anyway?

(I do.)

Surgery notes and 48 hours later

Morning of Surgery

On Thursday, August 9, my cousin, dad and I loaded up my car and embarked on the hour-long trip down to Fort Collins, CO, for my arthroscopy procedure. My cousin had been in town visiting for several days and was on her way to Denver. My dad came all the way from Florida to gladly be my nurse for the next week.

We left Laramie at 6:30 am. I had to be at my appointment at 8:00 am, and surgery was scheduled for 9:30. Much to my surprise, I wasn’t particularly anxious. Just thirsty. I had been allowed to eat solid food up until 11:00 pm the night before, and clear liquids until 5:30 am that morning, but I hadn’t actually had anything to drink since I woke up.

My surgery was scheduled with Dr. Houghton at the Orthopaedic and Spine Center of the Rockies in Fort Collins. Both he and another surgeon in Laramie had reviewed my MRI and provided the same diagnosis and treatment options. My insurance better covered the procedure in Colorado, which is why I traveled.

I was called back to the pre-op ward shortly after we arrived. I changed into my surgery gown and a hair cap, and had my earrings taped. Then I was put up in a bed to wait for my procedure and was administered an IV. My dad and cousin were then allowed to wait with me, which eased my anxiety and passed the time. At this point, I was mostly hungry. The nurse offered a relaxer drip and I gladly took it — “It’s gonna feel a little bit like you just had a couple margaritas.” It helped quiet the anxiety in my mind and stopped my extremities from shaking.

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I do like a good margarita or two

The doc was running a little behind schedule, so 9:30 came and went before he briefly appeared to initial my operative leg. It was around 10:15 am when the nurses collected me. I left behind my glasses and waved goodbye to my crew. The margaritas had worn off, but I was ok. At that point, you know you’re in good hands and that you’ll be unconscious in a minute anyway.

It was a short and blurry trip to the OR, my only impression of which was that the lighting was excessively bright. In about two minutes, I was moved onto the operating table as an assembly of people I couldn’t make out repositioned me, placed a gas mask over my face, and told me the anesthesia was coming. I could hear the beeping as my heart rate shot up, but the slow fade was right there waiting for me.

I woke up with that groggy confusion where you know vaguely what’s going on, but you feel like you’ve been asleep for years. I immediately asked what time it was, and wondered whether the surgery had happened yet. It was about 11:30 am. The nurse asked me how I was feeling, and I blurted out that I’d really like a bagel.

She helped me change back into my clothes and wheeled me out to meet my dad in the ward. She gave me a pain pill and briefed him on the next steps. I was still a bit too groggy to follow along. Eventually, my dad went to retrieve the car, and the nurse wheeled me outside. I remember smiling as I left, and feeling an easy, blissful happiness.

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Tip #1: wear a skirt and pack extra pillows.

24 Hours Post-Op

Once we got home, I spent the afternoon on the couch feeling very satisfied with the whole day. At the surgery center, I was provided a small walking shoe to wear with my surgery dressings and a pair of crutches. No boot! The wrapping and bandages will come off on Monday, four days post-op.

I was in very little pain and great spirits upon arriving home, which had nothing to do with drugs. For the first 24 hours, I took a pain reliever every four hours, and now I’m just taking it as needed. My foot was almost entirely numb until about 3:00 pm the next day, and when that wore off I could finally feel a dull aching sensation near the incision.

The surgery nurse instructed me to keep my leg elevated and do ankle circles and “calf pumps” as needed. I don’t have much range of motion due to the bandages, but I’ve been keeping pretty limber. I’ve also been doing calf massage manually or with a stick.

My throat was pretty sore from the anesthesia, but drinking water and echinacea tea helped with that. The first morning after surgery I opted for green tea instead of my usual decaf coffee, and my dad crafted a green smoothie for me to have with breakfast, using kale and mint from my yard.

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Tip #2: bring a buddy

48 Hours Post-Op

I am not one to enjoy mandatory bed rest, so the last 48 hours have slowly gotten boring once the novelty wore off. Lots of reading, naps, and endless scrolling. Sleeping has been relatively easy once my nighttime anxiety about blood clots settles down.

The hardest activity by far has been bathing. I might not try it again for a minute. It was mild chaos — just, like, flailing around while keeping one foot above water in a plastic bag. And I have pretty good balance, but that’s a lot of faith to put in my right leg while maneuvering out of slippery porcelain. Ya know, hygiene is overrated anyway.

To recover from something like this requires a sound nutrition plan. I’ve been eating well and with intention. Lots of veggies, grains, and protein. I know the prospect of immobilization scares a lot of neurotic runners, but you have to respect what your body is going through, and retaining your runner physique is far less urgent than repairing the injury completely. Now is not the time to pass judgment. There’s not much you can do about being restricted from bipedal movement; don’t make things harder by restricting your diet as well.

I don’t know how long the non-weight bearing phase will last. Could be 2 weeks, could be 6. The shoe makes me optimistic that it’ll be on the shorter end. I am ok with not knowing. I am ok with trusting the process. I am ok with the temporary loss of physical activity if it means I can have it all back eventually. Embracing the unknown is hard, but remaining positive that your patience will pay off is the only way to see this stuff through, in my experience.

Do you have advice or tips to share?