It was a beautiful day at the Westchester Country Club . . .

The Initial Injury

I used to play tennis all the time before I moved to New York from Australia over two years ago.  But dancing flamenco 6-12 hours a week is easier to do here than play tennis, and so I filled in much of my spare time stomping and clapping and generally making a lot of noise.

I jumped at the opportunity to play tennis at my firm’s outing on July 21, and perhaps I became a little competitive at deuce on my serve, and went a little crazy on the court, reaching for what was going to be a stellar crosscourt backhand, when someone hit the back of my left ankle and I fell to the ground.

“Did someone just hit me?”

Everyone looked at me like I was crazy.  No, I had just fallen down.  I was assured that it was just a slight sprain, and so I iced my left foot for an hour before making my way to the pool to hang out and go for a little paddle.  In the evening, I stayed for drinks, standing in my friend’s flip flops, and at home that evening I iced my foot some more.

The Initial Diagnosis

Upon seeing me walk the next day, the doctor told me that he was pretty sure that it was just a minor sprain, but that he would have a physical therapist check me out.  It was the physical therapist who broke the news to me that I had indeed torn some of my achilles and that I would need about 3 months of rehabilitation before I could dance again.  This was quite devastating.

We asked my insurer for an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, but they refused.  In the meantime, we worked on rehabilitating my achilles.  I was practically escatic when I had a workers compensation claim approved and was granted permission to get an MRI.  We had a few mix ups with the MRI place, and the first time I went there, they would not see me. 

Finishing the Job

After being rejected by the MRI place, I decided to visit my husband, Pete, at work, nearby.  As I walked, reading an email from Pete advising me to go home and rest my foot, I rolled my ankle and felt a much tinier slap than the one I felt when my achilles was first torn.  But I realised that I had just aggravated the situation.   It was not a happy day.

The Second Diagnosis

When I next saw my doctor, he sent me to a surgeon.  The surgeon advised me that it looked like I had torn my achilles in two, and it was his opinion that I had done most of the damage 8 weeks earlier.  He scheduled me for surgery the next week, and in the meantime, had his diagnosis confirmed with an MRI.   I liked the surgeon; he actually had interpersonal skills, which I understood was quite novel for an orthopod.

Surgery - Day 1 - September 24

I was given a local anaesthetic and sedated, which I highly recommend, even if you, like me, happen to wake up as soon as they’ve cut your leg open.  It was a little disconcerting to note the silence, only punctuated by sighs, amongst the doctors as they had the first chance to look at my poor achilles.  My surgeon then piped up, “well, it’s very old”.  I then listened as they worked out a strategy for how they were going to sew my achilles back together.  Towards the end, the anaesthetist assistant realized that I was awake and asked if I wanted more drugs, but I declined; it was kind of reassuring listening to the doctors.  I was glad to be awake at the end, when a person who I was guessing was a surgical registrar, gave the surgeon compliments such as, “awesome!” and “cool!”.

I was put in a splint and sent home once I had feeling back everywhere and could walk on crutches.  I then climbed two flights of stairs and watched Lipstick Jungle with my husband, Pete.  I felt ok.

Recovery Begins

I was sick the next day and the day after that, until I realized that it was the pain killers which were making me nauseus.  So I stopped taking those, preferring to deal with the pain with the help of over-the-counter tylenol.  The pain went away after a few more days, anyway.

I just elevated my foot for a week or so (my instructions were to elevate for a couple of days only!) and didn’t leave the house until a week after the operation, when I went for a ‘walk’ around the block to dinner.  I’m 34 years old and was fairly fit prior to the injury, but I think that the two months of inactivity prior to the operation rendered me pretty unfit, and just travelling the length of two houses on crutches was tiring, and I had to stop for about 30 seconds every so often.

From that day, I ensured that I went outside for a ‘walk’ every day, in order to get used to the crutches.  It worked.  My strength built up pretty quickly.  My arms are quite nice, now.  Pity about my disappearing calves and jello thighs.

Why this is a hassle

By great or terrible timing, depending upon which way you look at it, we had planned to move apartments 10 days after my surgery.  The great thing about this was that we were moving to a ground floor unit; the problem was that I wouldn’t be able to help very much with the move, and further, I wouldn’t be able to be of much help with unpacking, either.  It’s been a month already, and I still don’t know where a lot of my stuff is.

Each new leg immobilizer is a step forward

Anyway, recovery.  I saw my surgeon two weeks after the surgery, and he removed the splint, told me that my leg didn’t look as nearly as bad as he thought that it would, took out the staples that were holding my wound together, and put my leg in a fiberglass cast up to my knee. 

Back to Work

On Day 13, when I was put in the fiberglass cast, I was told that I could go back to work, and that while ideally I should elevate my leg, it wouldn’t hurt to keep it on the ground.

That, I think, isn’t the best advice I’ve received.  I know that elevating your leg is one of the best things that you can do to reduce swelling, and that even having my leg at right angles to my body for 8 hours a day is better than having it on the ground, and that having it resting above my heart is even better.

So, I decided to work from home for a day a week, and limit my time to work to regular business hours, taking work home with me to do in the evening on those occasions when I would have normally stayed at work.

Liberating my leg and learning that an achilles is not an elastic band

After 3 weeks in the fiberglass cast, my surgeon removed it, put me in a removable boot, and referred me to a physical therapist, with the strict instructions that there be no weight bearing, and that my visits be exclusively to stretch out my achilles to 90 degrees, prepping me for my next step, putting my left foot on the ground to attempt walking with the support of crutches.  I am seeing my surgeon at the 8 week mark, on November 18 to get the all clear to go ahead with this stage of the plan.

Day 44 Status Report

So, today, at Day 44, this is my status:
- I am not to allow my foot to touch the ground.
- I walk with crutches, wearing a boot for protection.
- my ankle is still swollen, but it is slowly getting better.  My foot doesn’t look so ugly, really.
- I go to physical therapy 3 evenings a week, at a wonderful place specializing in getting dancers back to dancing.
- my achilles will not yet let my foot go to a right angle to my leg, and has made little progress since my second physical therapy visit, last Friday.   My PT was going to ask my surgeon if he could apply a little more pressure to stretch it out; I will find out the answer tomorrow.
- my right achilles hurts sometimes from the extra strain.  My surgeon told me not to worry about it.  My physical therapist wasn’t so reassuring.  I am trying to not hop too much on it and rely on my crutches as much as possible.
- I do “point and flex” exercises every morning and evening (and sometimes during the day) , and foot strengthening exercises with a band.  I ice-heat-ice-heat-ice my achilles and ankle each evening.

What I should expect from my recovery

My surgeon advised me that due to the significant lag between the initial injury and my surgery, my recovery would be longer than usual, but that it would be complete.  Eventually.  He advised that I should be ‘pretty much’ healed after 6 months, but that I could not expect to run or do flamenco dancing until about a year after the surgery.  The litmus test will be single calf raises that scare the crappers out me just thinking about them.

Why I go a little loco every so often

I am usually a very active and social person, and not dancing, not walking about the streets, needing to avoid crowds and being reluctant to go to bars has been detrimental to my emotional well being.  I miss the buzz of exercise, I miss breathing fresh air in the park, and I miss just feeling free.

I have not been as productive at work as I usually am; it is difficult to work between home and the office, and half the time the material I need is not at hand.  I do not have the luxury of just working for 16 hours straight if that is what I feel like doing.

I dislike not being able to do housework, and I am frustrated that doing something very simple turns into a major operation, if it is going to happen at all.

I try not to dwell on the bad advice that I received when I first injured myself.  I cannot believe that I described to my doctor and my (then) physical therapist the large thud I felt at the back of  my foot, and that I was not referred to a surgeon.  My foot was enormous.  In the first week, I could hardly walk at all.  As it turns out, I was rehabilitating a few strands of achilles for 8 weeks.

Why I need to get a grip and get some perspective

But then I tell myself that it will get better, and that I should be grateful for the fact that this is not a permanent condition.  It is just temporary.  It’s time to catch up on the news, on reading, on writing.

These are the things I do to keep my mind off what has happened, and where I am right now, and what I am missing out on.  I’m just looking forward to each step towards recovery.

8 Responses to “It was a beautiful day at the Westchester Country Club . . .”

  1. Hi Despina! I had my surgery the day before you so were sort of on the road to recovery together. Don’t get too down on yourself. I look at it this way: I’m not the first person this happened to and I’m not the last.

    I know what you mean about housework and such. I have gotten used to asking my wife for help. Actually, I used to refuse to ask anyone for help opening doors or getting things for me, but then I realized that those people really wanted to help, and I was denying them the good feeling they got from helping someone (or something like that) anyway, I let lots of people do things for me that I can do for myself.

    The way I see it, the trick is to divert your energies from what you used to do to what you can do now. Did you ever want to do something but never had the time? Sketching? Learning a new computer program like Excel or Powerpoint? Scrap booking? Cataloging old photos you have in a box? Learning to knit?

    Anything?

    I never thought I would start a blog and I have some books from the library so I’m learning HTML and how to make web pages. Of course I want to get back to being active again but I think finding things to fill your “down time” might help.

  2. sgtmo: Awesome post!!!!!

  3. I would have to agree, awesome post. Just know that you are now among friends. We can all relate to your situation. I know for myself this injury was pretty devastating. My job requires a lot of walking and being fit. So I’m out of work until at least Xmas. Taking care of myself at home was a bit of problem too at first. I absolutely hated asking people for help and having to rely on others but I had to because there were things I just could not do. But as you continue along you will adapt to your situation and find that their are some things that you can do. I would suggest reading some of the blogs here. There is a wealth of information here. It’s been a big help to me reading everyone’s story and it can be to you as well.

    So to sum it up you are not alone. Continue to record your thoughts in this blog. Believe me it’s very therapeutic.

    When we are ALL fixed up. We’ll get our ATR tattoo and meet at the TOP OF THE ROCK to celebrate!

  4. Thanks so much for your sugestions and advice; I really, really do appreciate it.

    I stumbled across this site through a google search a few days ago and spent quite some time reading some of the posts, and found not just some useful achilles rehab information, but also, that this is quite a warm and fuzzy site, full of supportive people.

    It’s beautiful to see people in a common predicament come together to share stories and help each other, and I thought that it would be a good idea to join in.

    From what two of you say, and from how I feel, I gather that a reluctance to seek help or even receive unsolicited help is common amongst people who all of a sudden find themselves temporarily disabled. I like the idea that we shouldn’t deny others the good feeling that they get when helping someone else out of their own free will. Very nice thought. Isn’t it nice to be able to do someone a favor by letting them do you a favor!!

    Asking for help from a busy spouse is a different matter, however, and while I know that it’s my husband’s duty to help me, and while I know that he wants to help me, the man is not a mindreader and so I need to ask him for what I need help with sometimes, and I feel bad about it. I have to get over that.

    And like a lot of people in this situation, I too have seen it as an opportunity to do things that require me to sit still. I had the pleasure of watching the last 6 weeks of election coverage, I read more widely, and started to write again. I used to play several instruments, and, having failed in my quest to convince my husband that we can fit a drum kit in this apartment, I’m working on getting a piano. In the meantime, I bought a cajon (south american box drum) which I’ve learned you can use to simulate a bass, tom toms and a snare, and I started to play my husband’s electric guitar.

    Really, this is just procrastinating from working, but you get the drift.

    Anyway, I will try to share ideas and take note of those of others’ during this healing process. And yes, let’s have a drink at the TOR to celebrate (jury still out on the tat - I know it sounds ridiculous given our situation, but I dislike pain. A lot.).

    Cheers and good luck with your recoveries!

    Despina

  5. Well said. Agreed that this is a great, informative post. Thanks for sharing and your honest account. Every Doc should read this honest story.

    Access of stories like this will only improve the Health Care Quality for us all, and make all members of the team:
    Doctor, Nurse,PT,MRI Tech,…more accountable.

    Great job Dennis, as your resource here continues to unfold.

    Please keep us updated Despina!

  6. Maestro,
    An ATR tattoo? What a great idea! Most of my upper body is tattooed, but some sort of rendition of Achilles with possibly “ATR” in Greek letters on my left calf would be awesome!

  7. sgtmo & maestro: ok, you should by no means take this comment as any indication that I might get a tat, but if we were to get one, I love the idea about the greek letters, but the problem is that a Greek “R” actually looks like a “P”!

    (And, in case anyone is interested some pretty useless information, the Greek “B” actually sounds like an English “V”, and the Greek “V” actually sounds like an English “N”!

  8. I injured my Achilles 23 July. It took my insurance guys until about 10 September to send me to a “real” doctor! After the original urgent care doctor said I tore my Achilles (& put me in a boot), my insurance guys turned around & sent me to a hand specialist! I ended up seeing his partner who told me I just tore a muscle & I could get rid or the crutches & boot. Right. So, long story short- 6 weeks after the original injury, my doc did the surgery. I was so ready to start healing instead of just limping around waiting for my insurance guys to get their act together. You can check out my saga on my blog.

    You’ll get better. I’m in PT 8 weeks after surgery & my PT is trying to get me to do heel raises already. My doc was totally happy with the surgery. I go back to see him this Wednesday. He ended up having an ATR just a week or so after he operated on mine. So we’re both on a more aggressive PT therapy.

    Hang in there! Before you know it, you’ll be up & around, thankful to be rid or your boot & crutches! Just wanted to let you know there are some of us out there who were operated on weeks after the original injury and are recovering well!

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