The volleyball game that turned my life upside down

Hey everyone, my name is Savi (31/M), and I tore my achilles at the beginning of this month (June 2010). I just finished up my second year of medical school and passed my licensing examination. Since I would be spending the next several years working long hours at the hospital, my friends told me I should do the things I want to do now, because I won’t get anytime later. I decided to take golf lessons, play volleyball, and do some yoga and spinning.

I was in the process of moving into my condo in downtown Chicago, as that is where the hospitals I will be working are at. The day after I moved in (it hadn’t even been 48 hours), I did a spinning class followed by a yoga class in the morning. I then got caught up on some reading for school (the studying never ends in med school), and had my golf lesson in the evening. I knew that my health club had recreational volleyball on Thursdays, so I decided to go. I had played volleyball competitively in high school and a bit since then, and it was something that I enjoyed. I was in a dilemma though, because I didn’t have my ankle braces (I had sprained my ankles tons during my previous volleyball games).  Hmm, maybe should have taken that as a sign that I shouldn’t have played at all.  So, I was playing volleyball for about an hour when I heard a really loud snap in my right ankle.  I looked down and thought that I had stepped on something.  I suddenly couldn’t put my right foot down completely.

I drove to the ER at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago (with my left foot).  The trip itself was a circus act (security had to park my car and left the lights on), and like most urban emergency rooms, I waited for about 6 hours before I could see a doctor.  There I was diagnosed with a partial tear, and the attending physician said that conservative treatment without surgery would be fine.  I was put in a splint and sent home.  At 4AM, I finally got to my car but it wouldn’t start because security left the lights on.  Since I couldn’t walk and couldn’t ask for help (it was 4AM in an empty parking garage), I had to call information for the number to the hospital.  I got a hold of security and they came and jump started it. I drove out to my parents house in the suburbs because I knew I would have to stay off of the leg for at least a few weeks.

The next day I went to the podiatrist I saw last year for a torn ligament in the same ankle (really bad ankle).  He diagnosed a complete rupture and scheduled me for surgery the next day.  I wasn’t comfortable being rushed, and the receptionist wouldn’t even give me a pamphlet about the surgery.  Before the major surgery, I wanted to at least have an MRI and a second opinion.

The weekend passed and I had the MRI the following Monday.  The MRI showed an "almost-complete" tear of my right achilles (it also happened to show that the ligament I tore last year had healed completely).

I found an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle and scheduled an appointment with him the next day. He said that since the tendon was literally hanging on by a thread, that surgery would be a better option.  He said the rerupture rate with surgery is extremely low (lower than with non-surgery).  I had the surgery on Thursday, June 10th, 2010.

The first few weeks after surgery were, as you all know, difficult.  Just doing regular things (showering, putting clothes on) are all tough.  I’m able to do those, albeit slowly.  I can’t do laundry,  and I just did my first set of dishes today.  I felt (and still very much feel) totally helpless.  I’m completely dependent on my parents, and I feel extremely guilty about that.   I usually like to contribute to the house when I’m back home by taking out the garbage, doing laundry, buying groceries, etc.  I haven’t been able to do those, and it makes me feel even more helpless and guilty (although today I did a tiny batch of dishes for the first time, it feels good to contribute).

Well, I am about two and a half weeks post surgery right now.  I had my stitches removed at the two-weeks  post-op visit which was this past Thursday.  My doctor also said I was doing great, and I was put in the boot (aircast).

So, this weekend I was getting used to the boot, and I was getting stir-crazy having been off my feet for almost a month now.  The fact that my doctor said I was doing well, combined with the fact that I felt strong, combined with the feeling of stir-craziness, all made me a bit careless.  I was in the bathroom yesterday, had just finished washing my hands, and was backing out on my turnabout (usually a nice alternative to crutches) when my knee slipped off.  I had to put my foot down in order to stop me from falling head first into the floor.  I immediately felt a stretch, and let out a loud scream.  My parents came in immediately and helped me to the couch (btw, the potpourri on top of the toilet had gotten thrown all over the bathroom).  I was basically completely convinced that I had re-ruptured it, and phoned my doctor.  He said that re-rupture is really rare, and that he had never seen a re-rupture with the boot on (Thank God I kept it on).  I made an appointment with him for this morning, and he said all is okay.  Not even partially ruptured.  He said the tendon still looked and felt great, as it had in the post-op visit.  Huge relief for me, my family, and the friends that I spoke to last night.  Moral of this last part of the story: Keep the boot on if you’re moving around, it saved my a**.

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