So, here I am writing this blog because I found myself going in for a third procedure related to my left Achilles’ tendon. I’ll get to the third procedure later but first let me start by explaining my story. I’m a 30-year-old male who has never had any medical problems my entire life leading up to this. I’ve been a pilot in the navy for eight years including multiple deployments and thousands of flight hours. I rely on my legs to work like you can only imagine. I am in fairly good shape although prior to his injury I found myself getting back into running more than I have been in the last few years which may have contributed to my injury. Instead of boring you with a full story, below is a timeline summary of the events leading up to today.
11 Oct 16 - I was scheduled to fly from Nashville to Corpus Christi on return training event. I am a instructor in the T-6B, which is a smaller training aircraft the Navy uses for the primary training of new pilots. When I got to the plane I needed to move it and didn’t have time to wait for the groundcrew. I decided to move it via brute force, which is acceptable but for reference the plane’s weight is about 5500 pounds. As I went to push on the wing to get it rolling and under a full load of weight my left leg slipped back sharply, quickly extending my Achilles at which point I felt and heard the snap. Now I had no clue what I had actually done. I could walk flat-footed afterwards and was in a rush. To spare the details I somehow managed to fly all the way home before I finally took my boot off and realized how bad it was. Needless to say I had some explaining to do to the commanding officer.
18 Oct 16 - after being referred to a specialist in town it was confirmed by her that I had indeed ruptured my Achilles although I didn’t really need the confirmation considering you could see it missing and no movement during the Thompson test. Had the surgery done as an outpatient procedure and was home that night.
First 3 weeks- Even though I couldn’t fly it was a busy time at work I was crutching into work basically six times a week to prepare for an inspection, obviously pushing this more than I should have as you learn later. The recovery seem to be going well with a splint and two casts before I was put in the boot.
Week 4- 7 - recovery seem to be going great and I was very confident at how quickly I’d be back to flying. After four weeks in the boot I had an appointment with the surgeon at which point she told me I could start walking in shoes and begin physical therapy. The words “it’s pretty strong at this point” were stated and I attribute this to my demise.
Week 8 - RE-RUPTURE. So I was feeling good after a week of PT and increased ROM and I decided my leg was ready for a duck hunt. Well, I was being extra careful sitting in the blind, no issues and feeling great. Decided to get up and go retrieve a duck. Stepped in some muck and felt a “pop” and flipped out. When I finally got my boot off I was gushing blood from a small hole in the back of my leg. Got the bleeding stopped and did some tests. Thinking I was an expert at this point I decided it was just a “stitch popping” and tried to convince myself I was ok. Called the surgeon just to confirm. She didn’t seem too worried and told me to come in on Monday. Spent the rest of the weekend thinking about it and feeling it out. By Monday I knew I was doomed. As the surgeon looked at it she wasn’t convinced it was ruptured again but sent me for an MRI just to be sure. Despite our wishful thinking the MRI doesn’t lie. Looked like a 75% or so rupture and she recommended surgery again. My main question every time was “what’s the quickest way?” Without question it is USUALLY surgery….USUALLY.
29 Dec 16 - Merry Christmas to me, Surgery #2 and A Happy New Year. So second surgery done. Luckily she could still attach the ends so there was no donor tendon needed She used a heel anchored bridge this time which is stronger. Kinda wish she had done that the first time. Again, I was home that night and counting down, or up, the days.
Week 1-4 (round 2) I was determined to do it right this time. I was done with busy work and did well on the inspection so I had nothing to worry about and a direct order from my CO to stay home. 1 splint and 3 casts was the plan. Cast one and two, no problems. cast two came off and it was time to get stitches out. First time she used dissolving stitches so this was a first. As they came out she stopped by and her positive attitude quickly turned to concern there was a small 1cm hole in the back of my leg where the wound had not healed. I had never been so down and frustrated about myself and I knew this wasn’t good. She had the third cast put on with an access window so I could receive wound care at home.
Today (27 Jan 17). The cast came off and I was told that the wound was endangering the tendon and that if I were to get an infection I would have major issues. She said the “quickest way” was to go in for a surgical debridement. Then get a wound matrix and hope it heals up quickly. Here I sit getting ready for my third surgery in 4 months and I needed an outlet to help me keep positive so I sat here and shared all this. If you read to this point thank you and I hope this story has helped in some way. The thing I didn’t mention yet is that I have orders to move for a new assignment and I need to leave in a few months. This has been a serious test of my patience but I know I will get back to my life and be flying again soon.
One thing I can say to this point is that advice on this site can help and not to take others stories lightly. Below is some quick advice I wish I learned the first time:
1. Ask questions and do reasearch. It’s harder not knowing what is going on when a simple question can clear all doubt.
2. If you are a active person like me get yourself prepared for a sedentary life for a while. Although enjoyable for a week that fades into sheer boredom and frustration. Find hobbies, do work from home, read, play video games…whatever you can do to keep your mind at bay.
3. Don’t forget your support system. God bless my wife, she has put up with crazy work schedules, moving, deployments and now this. She has been amazing and more helpful than a wife should have to be. I owe her a lot and she has helped me keep my sanity.
4. DO NOT RUSH or Push your recovery. I was way too confident at 8 weeks and I have paid for it dearly. It’s ok to be aggressive within recovery protocol but overconfidence will put you back under the knife.
I’ll be in for the procedure on Tuesday and due to the chance of infection they will keep me there for a few nights. I’ll post some updates as things progress and considering I’ll be in a bed for a while feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer.
Thsnks for reading and I hope your recovery goes better than mine has gone.
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