As my one year anniversary of the injury approached, I wanted more than ever to put this behind me.  I had some obstacles in the way, but without addressing the mental one and taking that next step, I wouldn’t know what (if any) physical obstacles were still in my way.  So, I decided that I was going to run.  After a few weeks of just thinking and thinking about it, I got on the treadmill on October 3, 2014 (353 days after the injury and 351 days post-op) and I ran.  I ran one mile and the leg felt great.  The worst part about it was my stamina.  I felt exhausted after just one mile, but I had no complaints otherwise.  The next day, I ran 1.15 miles at a full 1.0 speed faster than the day before.  I also ran the last 2.5 minutes on a 2% incline.  Two days later, I ran 2 miles.  The next day, I ran another 2 miles.  Three days later, I ran for 30 minutes straight.  I started to get in a rhythm and my leg felt.  The only issues that I had were with cramping, mostly in my right leg.  I don’t know why this happened, but I felt like it had something to do with being inactive for so long.  I’ve never had issues with cramping before, so this was a new experience.  I got through them, though, and will try to prepare better before running in the future so that I can minimize these issues.

This brings me to why I started writing this blog.  The night that I ran for the first time, I decided that I wanted to write down everything that happened to me throughout this process.  I still had a very vivid account of the past year, and I wanted to help other people know what to expect if they are going through the same injury.  Also, by writing about it, I felt like I was putting it in the past.  With it all in my head, and only there, I never really got away from it.  Now, since it is written down, I feel like it is done and I can move forward.  In three days, I leave for a hiking trip with some men from my church.  We are going to a remote area and will be living outdoors, surviving alongside one another for 72 hours.  This is a big event for me, because the hike will be 20-30 miles and there will be levels of physical strain that I haven’t experienced since my injury.  I will be carrying 30-40 pounds on my back during the hike, so I think I will be pushed to forget about my leg and the past year, and move on with my life.  I can’t wait.

Over the next several months, my leg obviously got much better.  However, I was still experiencing occasional soreness at the end of a work day, and mentally, I did not feel at all ready to start exercising.  My last visit to the physical therapist was in early February, and by the end of summer, I still hadn’t jogged or jumped one single time.  Physically, I felt good.  Even though I would sometimes have soreness, I felt like my leg was ready for the next step - I just had to convince my mind of the same thing.  Because my injury didn’t occur on a typical basketball play (I was turning to run from one end of the court to the other when my Achiless ruptured), I was much more cautious in resuming physical activity.  I didn’t want to run to my car or the bathroom because the simple task of running is what caused all of this in the first place.  So, I kept waiting.  I bought a road bike so that I could exercise, and my leg felt fine when I was riding it.  Riding a bike wasn’t quite as thrilling or enjoyable as all of the sports that I was used to playing, though, so I didn’t do it too often.  I walked a lot with my wife and son, but I just couldn’t get over the hump and start running.  Not for several months.  Not until October.  The great month of October that my leg knew all too well.

Physical Therapy

October 20, 2014 | | 2 Comments

I setup my first three physical therapy sessions at the same time so that I could plan my work calendar around them.  They told me that the first session would be the longest of the three, and that an “evaluation” would occur at that visit, and that was the most expensive part of any visit I would make.  The evaluation would basically be the physical therapist looking at my leg and determining what course of action I was ready for.  When I setup the appointments, I asked for a general cost because I would have to pay for these visits out of pocket.  My injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time, as I reached my deductible in one day with the surgery and then started physical therapy the first week of the new year, so I had a brand new deductible that I had to fulfill.  They rattled off the prices almost too quickly on the phone, and I wasn’t expecting it to be cheap, so I moved forward with scheduling the appointments anyways.  I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be able to make as many appointments as my doctor suggested, but I was hoping to do 5-7 to at least get started.  With the prices they quoted me, this many visits was realistic.  So, I scheduled the appointments and went to the evaluation a few days later.  This was a pretty uncomfortable visit, as the physical therapist massaged my Achilles area and tried to “work out” a lot of the swelling and scar tissue that had developed in that area.  This was the epitome of something feeling good enough that it hurts, because it did feel nice to have that area massaged.  However, it was also very painful at times, as my incision had not been touched to this point and it still felt very vulnerable.  After the evaluation, he showed me a few stretches that I could work on daily at home, and I was on my way.  I came back two more times the following week to do more of the same (massage, stretching, walking, etc.) and these appointments went well.  I’d be very sore after the appointment, so I’d ice my leg for about half an hour.  But, I felt better and more capable after each visit.  I setup another visit for two weeks later.  However, before that visit came, I received a bill for the first three.  They had been sent to my insurance company so that they could be “discounted” but I was responsible for the rest until I reached my deductible.  The bill for three visits was over $700 and I couldn’t believe it.  That was almost double what they had quoted me over the phone when I first called in.  All 3 visits combined, I was there for 2.5-3 hours max.  The evaluation was no more than 20 minutes, but just being able to refer to it as a specialty service allowed them to bill me a few hundred dollars for that alone.  I had many conversations with the office and with my insurance company, but ultimately, this was my responsibility to pay.  Because of this, I had to cancel my next appointment and I was tasked with going through physical therapy on my own.  This was a pretty big bummer, because I didn’t feel ready to take this on without someone’s support and I really had no idea what I was doing.  I couldn’t afford to go through a physical therapist, so that made my decision easy.  I would do as much as I could on my own, and I would continue to let my leg heal and quickly get back to 100%.  That was the idea, at least.

Per doctor’s instructions after the walking boot was installed, I was to gradually work my way from two crutches down to one crutch down to zero crutches over the next four weeks.  Because of the discomfort when I put weight on my left leg, I stayed at two crutches for about one week.  The walking boot was heavy, so I would take it off and put it back on a few times a day.  When off, I would do some stretching exercises that the doctor recommended.  It didn’t take long to notice an increase in the range of motion of my ankle as stretching continued.  At first, it was extremely tight.  It didn’t feel right to try and stretch back and forth.  But, as I did that three or four times a day, I saw a lot of progress.  Also, I had to come to the realization that putting pressure on my leg while wearing the boot wasn’t going to feel great.  After all, this leg hadn’t been used for nearly two months and my heal and ankle were still very weak.  In order to lose a crutch and eventually lose both, I had to take a leap of faith of sorts and just make it happen.  Once I got this mindset, I started to walk very comfortably.  I also started working in the office and in the field again.  I was able to maneuver myself in and out of job sites reasonably well and my conscience wasn’t going to let me stay at home any longer.  At the end of a work day, I was very sore.  I would ice my leg and relax in the evenings when I could, but I also wanted to take on more responsibility around the house and with my son.  It still wasn’t easy by any means, but my wife and I made it work.  She was such an inspiration.  She emptied herself every day so that we would be taken care of.

Four weeks after I received the walking boot, I had a final appointment with my surgeon to have my leg examined.  He verified that the progress was good and I could wear a shoe now instead of the boot.  He put a small foam insert in my shoe so that my heel would still be elevated slightly.  I put the shoe on (it took some work because of the swelling in the Achilles area) and I was on my way.  Part of the hospital was under construction at this time, so the walk to my car was much longer than anticipated.  I was just over 2 months post-op at this point, and it definitely hurt to walk this distance without the boot.  In addition to the pain/discomfort, it was nerve-wracking to walk without any support (the foam insert wasn’t really supporting anything).  But, similar to the other stages of progress, I just needed to adjust and get over the mental obstacle of walking.  From that point, there was only one major obstacle in the way of a full recovery - physical therapy.  The surgeon wanted me to start the next week and make 2-3 appointments per week for about a month, and then go 1 or 2 times a week for a couple more months.  There was one thing the surgeon didn’t take into account, though.  Cash money.

Work & Walking

October 7, 2014 | | Leave a Comment

By far, the biggest blessing of this entire process was the arrangement that my boss made with me regarding work.  The day that I called him to explain that I needed surgery, he assured me that I wouldn’t miss a paycheck and I should take my time to ensure that I get better and don’t have any complications.  I cried on the phone that day because of the love that he showed me.  I can’t imagine that many employers would have reacted the same way.  For the next several weeks after the surgery, I worked from home.  I was a project manager for interior home repairs, and this was obviously difficult to do from home.  But, it worked.  Everybody at my workplace came alongside me to facilitate it, and I was able to keep busy while staying home and resting up.  It was still a challenge, though.  I knew that I was burdening people at my job because I wasn’t able to get as much work done.  I wasn’t able to help out around the house at all, so my wife was working nonstop to prepare meals, clean the house, take care of our son, and make sure that I stayed comfortable.  Mentally, it was a grind.  I felt selfish, lazy, and scared.  Walking was just around the corner, and I had no idea what that would be like and how I would progress enough to start putting weight on my leg.

Four weeks passed, and I went to visit the surgeon to get the hard cast off and a walking boot put on my leg.  This was definitely a relief when the time came, because the cast had become quite a nuisance for a couple of reasons.  First, my leg itched terribly and I had no way to itch it.  Against the doctor’s orders, I was able to occasionally wedge something down the top of the cast to itch the area just below my knee.  But, when my calf or shin area would itch, there was nothing that I could do to relieve it.  Second, bathing comfortable was impossible with this thing.  I couldn’t afford the waterproof shell that would fit airtight around the cast, so I just had to dangle it out of the tub.  Also, I couldn’t get in and out of the tub on my own because of it’s positioning in our bathroom, so my brother-in-law would come over and help me.  He was a tremendous blessing throughout the process - always there to lend a hand, even when I was too proud to ask for it.

The doctor proceeded to cut into the cast, and that was a very strange feeling.  It didn’t hurt, but there were plenty of weird feelings to make it an uncomfortable process.  Nothing had touched my calf or Achilles area for four weeks and the doctor was being somewhat aggressive in trying to get everything removed.  Once the cast was finally removed, my leg was moving freely the first time in awhile.  It was a good thing because of the itchiness and other inconveniences, but I also wasn’t overjoyed with it being uncovered for any amount of time.  It felt weak and susceptible, and it looked about half the size of my right leg.  It was incredible to see how small my calf was in comparison to my other leg, and my ankle looked like it had every color of the rainbow painted on it.  Really studying my leg for a few minutes helped reality to set in - I was weak and the recovery wasn’t going to be short.

Just then, the doctor started to fit a new walking boot to my leg.  This was a very uncomfortable fitting.  Again, it wasn’t extremely painful or anything - just very intense.  It felt like something was going to tear with every push and pull that the doctor initiated.  He was making sure that it would support my leg and I appreciated that.  But, that didn’t make it any more enjoyable.  Once it was on, I stood up with two crutches in hand and had to do something that I hadn’t done in nearly 6 weeks - take a step with my left leg.  I took a deep breath and took one step - putting practically no pressure on my leg and leaning heavily on my crutches.  It hurt.  Did it again - it hurt even more.  Thoughts started to flood my mind (worry over a re-rupture, pain, never being able to do this), and I needed to sit back down.  This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and even though the pain was definitely there - this seemed more mental than anything.  I was scared.  After a few minutes, I stood back up and took a few more steps.  It wasn’t easy and the pain was still substantial, but I powered through.  I had confidence in the surgery and the doctor’s recommendations, and I knew I just had to get over my personal reservations.  I crutched out of the hospital putting little to no weight on my left leg, but I knew the recovery had officially started.  And for that, I was grateful.

The next day I went to an urgent care office first thing in the morning to get a doctor’s opinion.  The news wasn’t good, as she almost immediately referred me to an orthopedic surgeon and said that I should get in as soon as possible.  I visited him that afternoon, and he said that the Achilles was definitely ruptured - no MRI or other looks needed.  He recommended that I have surgery right away.  Two days later, I had surgery to pull the Achilles back up from the heel and down from the calf, and tie it together in the middle.  It was a rather quick procedure and I went back home that evening.  I was given some basic instructions on how to start my recovery (keep the leg elevated, don’t get water on the splint, take pain meds, and relax) and I was to come back in a week to have a hard cast put on.  It was a difficult week.  To begin, our son still wasn’t sleeping well, and my wife was under a lot of pressure to tend to him and me both.  Also, the pain was overwhelming at times.  Whenever I got up from the couch (to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, just to simply crutch around so I wasn’t in the same motionless position all day) the pain was excruciating.  Something about the blood rushing to that area of my leg made it unbearable.  I could only be up for 30 or 45 seconds before I had to get back down.  The week passed and I was able to get a hard cast put on.  The weirdest part about this was seeing the incision for the first time.  It felt very strange to have the leg out on its own for a few minutes, and I was thankful to get the hard cast on so that it felt protected.  The splint made it seem very vulnerable and this cast was durable.  I was told to keep doing the same things as before and to come back in a month to put a walking boot on.  I didn’t want to think about that just yet.  Sure, I wanted to walk.  But, the way my leg felt, I didn’t want to think about walking just yet.

The Injury

October 3, 2014 | | 2 Comments

On October 15, 2013, while playing in a basketball game at my church, I ruptured my left Achilles tendon.  The injury happened almost immediately after tipoff, when turning to run to from one side of the court to the other.  I heard a pop and felt like I had been kicked in the leg, and then I fell down.  I tried to stand up and walk multiples times, only to fall down immediately over and over.  I realized something was very wrong with my leg, but not having any prior experience with a serious injury, I had no idea the extent of what had just happened.  I remember sitting on the side of the court with a rush of emotions going through my head.  I knew I couldn’t walk, and being able to work and provide for my family was critical.  I was scared, worried, overwhelmed.

Six weeks prior to the injury, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our son, Wesley.  That night, he was attending one of Daddy’s basketball games for the first time.  I remember sitting there and simply not believing what was happening.  I was in shock.  Here I was, a very athletic 25 year old guy with a baby and a stay at home wife and I’ve done something to jeopardize being able to provide for my family.  I was selfish - playing a game of basketball just for fun and not realizing the implications if an injury were to ever occur.  This type of injury had literally never crossed my mind.  I thought I was invincible - I played sports 3 or 4 times a week and this couldn’t happen to me.  It only took about 12 hours for the unimaginable to become a reality.