“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.

Help! I walked on my foot: what to do if an accident occurs?

I am writing this because I couldn’t find the information I was desperately hunting for on the internet. Maybe it will be helpful to someone else. Always call your doctor first in an emergency or if questions arise, but if that option is not available because it is after-hours or the weekend, as was the case for me, sit tight and try to relax. Unless it’s an actual emergency; then you might wanna get that checked out ASAP. How to differentiate is probably up to you.

Saturday morning. 16 days after surgery. I blink my eyes open just before 7:30. My cat is already eyeing me from the nightstand. When she wants breakfast she is quite the attention hog, and being that she is younger than 2 years old, she has lots of energy. I roll over to ignore her for a few more minutes. But she has other plans. On this particular morning, she chooses to get her kicks by attempting to jump into the high windows above my bed (which, I might add, are obscured by curtains and don’t even accommodate her well). She launches from my nightstand, sending a stack of books flying and knocking over a water bottle, my lamp…

Half-asleep Claire is NOT having these shenanigans today. I wrench myself awake, yelling “For fuck’s sake!” as I grab my lamp off the floor, and she goes flying out the bedroom door. I jump out of bed like a rocket, slam the door shut, and throw myself back under the covers.

It took all of 10 seconds. My adrenaline is rushing. Several minutes go by, and slowly I realize…

I don’t think I used my crutches.

I panic. I can’t remember. Do my pits feel freshly chafed? Does my shriveled calf feel strained? No, no, I think I would’ve noticed if I’d landed on my left foot — my leg has zero muscle, it would’ve collapsed — I would’ve noticed! I glance at my crutches. They have slid slightly off my nightstand, as they were right in the books’ line of fire. Doesn’t seem like I would’ve just left them there, like that, though… I do not remember using them. It happened so fast. I think I would remember fumbling to grab them and put them back again… I. Can’t. Remember.

I stayed in bed another 90 minutes crying and debating what to do. Googling anything I could Google. I called my doctor’s office, forgetting it was Saturday morning. Trying to remember. And the more I tried, the less I could recall. The details slipped out of my mind like water. I circled my ankle. Became angry. Upset. Fucking pissed off at myself for what I did. Mad at the cat. But it wasn’t her fault. Why haven’t I been locking her out at night? Why haven’t I been wrapping my foot at night? Why didn’t I give her attention? How did I not think to grab my crutches? Why didn’t I breathe for five seconds before reacting?

And that’s the truth. I didn’t even think. As the adrenaline wore off, I began to notice a faint throbbing, a dull ache. There hadn’t been any pain previously. But now, this ache, and I feel like I know in my heart what happened. I have no evidence to prove that I’m innocent.

I got up to eat. Feed the damn cat. Wrap my foot. Put ice on it. Take ibuprofen. And then I returned to my room, closed the door, and went back to sleep for hours.

* * *

The verdict is that I most likely didn’t cause anything to worry about. I spoke to an aid in my surgeon’s office right away on Monday morning who reassured me. Three or four steps isn’t enough to ruin the surgery. There was never any noticeable swelling or bruising, and the aching subsided to give way to general stiffness. Over 72 hours later, I have fully resumed all my PT and ROM work with no adverse symptoms.

Here’s the thing — accidents happen, and doctors account for that. My feeling is that if they thought it was too big a risk, they could have put me in a cast. They would do more to prevent it than simply mandating compliance. The last time I was on crutches, for a stress fracture, I landed on it a couple times due to losing balance on stairs. The same has happened once or twice this time. It’s to be expected when using crutches.

Disclaimer:

I am not a health professional. If you have an accident that you are unsure of, I would advise getting help immediately. New bruising, swelling, and pain that comes on afterwards might be a sign of trouble. If you fall and twist the joint in question, you deffff might wanna get to the ER. But those little bumps and mishaps — they are bound to happen. Be smart, don’t sweat it, and calm the eff down.

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?