Betrayed by a Vacation (my origin story)

Two years ago I had the audacity to think I was capable of walking 6 miles and I have never been the same since.  I was walking in Philly wearing some high ankle boots and suddenly I could no longer stand.  One of my legs was just dragging. There was no twist or pop involved and I did not fall down. In normal circumstances, I would have gone to see a doctor but I was in a strange city and a freak snowstorm hit that night while I was icing/resting. I seemed to recover over the course of my vacation at least partially after purchasing an over the counter ankle wrap but I never got full strength back. I tried to slowly increase my activity but every time I would walk more than a few miles my leg would respond in the same manner. Due to work demands and a general fear of the diagnosis I knew I would get if I went to the doctor, I continued on this way for about a year (mistakes were made).

After a year of pain bouncing between a 2-4 level, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was running a big event at work and could barely walk and was in a ton of pain. I went to my primary care doctor (Doctor A) and she ordered an x-ray. I was diagnosed with an ankle sprain and some arthritis.  They also noted I have something called Os Trigonum syndrome which is an extra bone in your ankle that usually causes no issues but can get crunched like a nut in a nutcracker in rare circumstances. I was given crutches and RICE, as they did not believe my bone spur or extra bone was the issue… which did not work at all.

After a few months of no improvement, I was referred for an MRI and spoke with a podiatrist (Doctor B). This doctor recommended some very random surgery which I was not convinced I needed when I asked what next steps for me where.  He also said  “oh yeah, I guess you’re still young” when I wasn’t willing to limp around in pain forever. At the ripe old age of 31, it had never occurred to me that any doctor would imply I wouldn’t want to walk again or that I wasn’t a candidate for any kind of corrective procedures. Needless to say, he wasn’t my favorite. I wanted a second opinion so he referred me to a sports medicine specialist (Doctor C).

At this point, I began to feel the complete lack of communication in the medical community. None of my records were forwarded to this specialist and no one told me to request it.  Having never needed multiple doctors in my life I was utterly confused and had no idea which way was up anymore. This left me trying to explain to Doctor C what was going on (having little to no idea myself). Doctor C laughed when I told him Doctor B’s suggestion of surgery. I have never felt more concerned about my physical health and less reassured by a physician.  He did at least acknowledge that it was hard to know who to listen to when doctors disagreed.  Without ever seeing my files, he recommended physical therapy.

My physical therapist was delightful and while I didn’t ever see an improvement from my work with her, I think I can credit her with the recovery from my ankle sprain.  I was diligent in my exercises to the point where I would do them every morning and evening and often some on my lunch break.  Standing on my bad ankle never stopped hurting and I eventually found a routine that seemed to ease some of my symptoms.  I would have gone back to the doctor after a few months since my pain was still present but there was a horrific tragedy at my place of work in which a person lit themselves on fire and burned alive in front of us.  the consequence of this was that I was in no fit state of mind to do anything but try to get through the day and go to therapy for depression for several months.

Finally, I tried to get back into physical therapy but was told I needed to be referred by a doctor again.  In a fun twist, my primary care doctor had just retired so I found a new doctor who referred me to Doctor D, who was a physical medicine doctor.  He was by far my favorite physician at this point.  He took a lot of time diagnosing my issue as Os Trigonum syndrome and explained my options with a lot of compassion and kindness.  Unfortunately, he did not do surgeries so he referred me to Doctor E  who is a podiatrist and does surgery.

Doctor E took new x rays since it had now been over a year since my last one.  I had my left ankle x-rayed also because the same symptoms had begun there to a much smaller degree (I am not kidding you).  The new x rays showed my bone spur was much bigger and it was rubbing on my Achilles tendon.  I also had developed another small spur on the front of the ankle (joy), likely from all the continued inflammation.  Because I had tried everything conservative already Doctor E. recommended surgery.  They would have to cut my Achilles tendon to get to my largest spur and could do a keyhole surgery on the front one.   I mentioned my Os Trigonum bone and Doctor E did not think it was the source of my pain and did not want to remove it.  I said “ah, but while you’re already in the area maybe we should just take that thing out just in case, right?”.  He did not agree, haha.  There is apparently a heightened risk of nerve damage around the Os Trigonum.

Despite having surgery scheduled which I felt pretty sure was needed, I did not feel great about this visit.  I was scared I’d just be back again for another surgery after the long road back from Achilles tendon surgery to get my Os Trigonum out.  It is also just incredibly frustrating to hear from so many doctors and have so few agree on diagnosis/plan of action. I never really got an answer as to what caused all this damage to begin with aside from being overweight and apparently old (I’m 31).  But anyway, that’s how it all began 2 years ago.

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