Five weeks post-op

Holy shit. One week left. It’s a bit hard to believe it’s “already” comin’ in hot, but it still can’t get here quickly enough. A guy on campus blew past me on his bike today and told me to watch where I was going. I almost cried. (As if he would’ve won that case had he actually hit me — not a chance, bro.) So yeah. I wouldn’t mind being through with the whole ordeal. Here are all the things I’m gonna do on repeat when I unleash myself to the world again:

  • PULL WEEDS!
  • Swim til I drown
  • Cook dinner for myself for a week straight
  • Brew kombucha
  • Go on a walk
  • Do ANY exercise that isn’t abs
  • Shower standing up
  • Clean my house of ALL evidence of humans and animals alike
  • Go to the bar. Yeah.
  • Relearn how to drive my car
  • Stand exclusively on my left leg for six weeks

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It took about 2 weeks for the scabs to fall off after my stitches came out. Pretty minimal scarring. I’ve had shaving accidents worse than that.

I’m not really sure what to expect at my review next week. I assume I’ll be going in with crutches and leaving without them. I’m seeing the Laramie equivalent of the Fort Collins surgeon who actually performed my surgery. I don’t have the resources or time to travel to Fort Collins during a school week for appointments, so I had all my records released and transferred here.

And then it will be back to PT the next day to commence with the real work of restrengthening and retraining.

In the end, no, I did not attempt to swim and will not until I am walking. Most of the feedback I received from friends and family was to listen to the instructions I was given. Which seemed reasonable. As time passed, I also felt less angsty about the lack of exercise and a month hasn’t felt as long as it seemed initially. I have such a long road ahead before I can run anyway that there is little point in rushing anything, and I think the total rest will pay off.

That being said, I’ve very diligently done core and glute activation exercises every day for the past five weeks. Among other causes, I think lack of functional core strength was a major player in this injury, and I had really been neglecting it last summer when everything presented itself. If only runners could actually be counted on to take care of the small things before disaster strikes. We’d put surgeons and therapists out of business.

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Credit to bodybybodde.com (Google search) for this crude representation of a prone glute raise

As a point of reference, when I first began physical therapy a year ago, I couldn’t perform this somewhat basic glute exercise ^^ that I have now mastered. And it only took about four weeks! ON A LEG I’M NOT EVEN USING! Runners!! Do your damn core work. It’s cheaper than surgery.

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.)

How to lose your mind in 2 weeks (warning: not a chick flick)

This has been my most difficult post to write, for some reason. I blame the entirely depressing circumstances that surround surgery recovery. My dad went home a week after my procedure, and the last five days without him have been really sad. The first morning I woke up, several hours after he had gone, I cried and cried, feeling totally helpless, useless, pathetic, and lonely.

There isn’t much to do while waiting for a joint to repair itself. There isn’t much I can do. For a week my dad stock-piled my freezer with home cooked meals, watered my gardens, cleaned my house, did my laundry, and moved my laptop from the table to the couch and back again every hour. We ran short errands together so that I could get outside for some fresh air. Now my house is quiet and lonely, just me and the cat — who is decent company but has so far proved to be quite useless at putting dinner on the table and bringing in the mail. I didn’t even unlock my front door for the entire day once. If it sounds sad, it’s definitely worse.

Anyway, four days after surgery I visited my PT to have the bandages removed. He was pleased to see that the swelling around my ankle was minimal. Just some bruising and orange iodine toes. We worked on some range of motion exercises, and then agreed to revisit once I’ve had my stitches removed. Working on PT and some core exercises is about the only thing I actually have on the schedule every day. So, once I get tired of spending the whole day on the couch reading, scrolling, and snacking on reheated food, I crawl into the garage to do my routine.

I start with ankle circles and passive stretching on a wobble board to regain my ROM. The first couple days were really abysmal — it’s amazing how much you lose after only four days. But slowly things improved, and I no longer felt like I was pulling a muscle when I stretched. I also self-massage by rolling my calf on a field hockey ball to loosen things up. At this point, I’d say ROM is probably almost back to normal. There hasn’t been any pain inside the joint, just some tugging at the stitches if I overdo it.

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Staying in shape

As far as core, anything where I can stay on my back or off my foot is fair game. I’m still expanding the foot-free possibilities, but a short list of doable exercises includes:

  • Bicycle, dead bug, scissors, row boats, Russian twist
  • Firehydrant, donkey kicks, bird dog
  • Clamshells, leg lifts/hip lifts, hip circles
  • Hamstring curls, superman/locust/swimmers
  • Anything that can be done lying on my stomach while clenching my butt cheeks that feels like it requires effort
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It might be ugly, but it’s mine. Stocking a home gym has been a total game-changer, and not just after surgery.

I also have a set of small weights that I can use for some arm exercises. It’s not as fun to me as heavy lifting, but I can save that for the gym… whenever I get back in one. At the very least, doing 20 reps of arm lifts in as many directions as I can think of burns off some fidgety energy. I have nothing else to do, I might as well get ahead on my strength.

^thanks to Internet compatriots I now have Amy Winehouse stuck in my head forever. What would we do if we couldn’t mistake famous runners for IRL friends? At least he also looks sad. 

I’m ready to be done wallowing in self-pity and get back to life. Somehow the school year crept up on me and classes start literally next week. It’s been over a year since I last took a class on this campus, and I’m feeling that rushing anxiety that comes on when something is coming so fast, so inevitably, and you’re completely overwhelmed by your to-do list. There are dishes in my sink I can’t do, weeds in my yard I can’t pull. I keep stressing about getting back to work, and then I have to just stop myself. There’s nothing I can do to rush the recovery process. Work will be there when I am able to go back. The weeds… will definitely still be there. The things will get done that need to get done, it’s just hard to imagine that while I’m currently staring at the ceiling for a living.

Breathe in, breathe out, and be patient.

Setting intention

“Do you think you’ll run again?”

My attention is pulled from staring out the window. I suddenly can’t remember what we were just talking about.

“After all you’ve had to go through, will you even want to?” my dad asks.

Bless him.

For someone like me, this is a question with only one answer. But many runners get asked this all the time — and in fact, it’s not the first time I’ve had this question (suggestion?) posed to me while dealing with a major injury. It’s akin to the fabled non-runner doctor trope who suggests that you might as well stop running forever because your knee is hurting a little bit ergo running is bad for you. I admit to not being entirely appreciative of the fact that, for much of our population — including our parents, partners, friends, all of whom merely put up with us — running for pleasure is so absurd that most would happily take the get-out-of-jail-free card to never have to do it again. I wouldn’t run unless a bear was chasing me! (a terrible time to opt for running, IMO.)

Asking a die-hard runner if she ever intends to run again is like asking a mom if she’s still interested in momming when her kids come home from summer camp. I can’t imagine life without running. And while I intend to get back out there one day, I am fully aware that it may never be the same again. Training for competition and logging “high” volume mileage might be a thing of the past. And, sure, if I quit the sport today, I’d be reasonably satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. But running is my lifelong pursuit, as personal and purposeful as running a business, or writing a book, or traveling the world. Whether I can run 5 miles a week or 50 does not matter.

But I didn’t have surgery just to come out the other side assuming that I might not have a chance. To say it feels like a new beginning might be a stretch, but the future looks brighter on this side. Many runners have come back from far more invasive and serious procedures to resume their practice stronger and smarter than before. I have to believe that I have a place within that narrative.

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?