That was the sound my achilles made as I turned to run another 10 meters.
I wasn’t even running fast, let alone sprinting. It was death by 10 meters and I felt great, was at the head of the pack, keeping up with the men. I knew I could go further and faster when I had to, had hardly broken a sweat and can be a little speedy when I have to be. I am better at speed than distance.
So I turned and heard a loud pop.
For the first few seconds I thought I had just stood on the cone, or kicked it. It wasn’t until I pushed off my foot and realized there was something wrong with it, all floppy and not working the way it was meant to, that I linked the popping sound to my ankle.
I tried again, before realizing I couldn’t put any weight on my heel. I knew then it was my achilles.
I was at the game when Jaryd Roughead from Hawthorn did his. What looked like a seemingly normal move resulted in him hopping a few seconds before sitting down and putting his hand up in the air to call for the stretcher.
I think I did similar. Poor Leasa, her face all stricken and not quite understanding what I was saying as I hopped over to her waiting shoulder.
Everyone thought I had just kicked the cone, a few thought I was opting out of the challenge gone hard too early and was now just a big failure. I struggled on Leasa’s shoulder to the front of the room and sat waiting for the pain to kick in.
Strangely, it never did.
A bit of a dull ache and throbbing but no shooting pain to let me know a major injury had just occurred. Nothing like the horror stories of feeling like I had been kicked in the back of the leg or the pain being so bad people have passed out.
Not much swelling either when runner came off. A slight concave ball at the back of my ankle and my toes curling forward a little but nothing that would suggest a full ligament had gone wrong.
If it wasn’t for the pop to begin with, I would have thought I had simply jarred my ankle or something. I could still point my toes, just not flex. But when I tried to walk it was clear I was missing a crucial something that could help me bend my foot – my right foot – my driving foot – my I am right sided foot – and allow me to walk. Instead I had what felt like a dead fish at the end of my leg.
Someone pointed out to me if I had no pain it was most likely due to the fact I had torn my nerves off. Thanks David, not helping in this moment.
Leasa and I turned to Google to self diagnose, but were a bit put off by one helpful website who encouraged us to find a 10cm needle and inject it into the back of the foot to see how much damage had been caused…
Both a little nauseous we shut Google and put the phone away.
I had to ring Joel to get me. He eventually arrived, flustered and coming across more troubled by the inconvenience than by my injury. Shaking his head he entered and hardly looked at Leasa or me. I knew this look. It was his ‘I’m shitting myself and very worried but trying not to show it look’.
It’s the look he gets when he is stressed and overly concerned, so of course I flew into fixing mode and all on the way home in the car ride tried to reassure him it could just be nothing, but we better go to the doctor just in case.
The next seven hours I spent being pushed around in a shabby second hand wheelchair that we had ‘borrowed’ from the first doctor’s office by my father in law. It was uncomfortable, I could feel its metal prongs stabbing through the thin material I was sitting on and it didn’t quite steer straight.
Overall however it was better than having to hop everywhere on one foot, which is what I had been doing before we decided it was easier to take the wheelchair with us for the xray and the ultrasound appointments and deal with the questions later.
I was just going through the motions. Still no pain, but I knew what I had done and had already resigned myself to the fact that my achilles was broken, or if still there, literally hanging by the thread.
I saw it in the doctors face as she pinched my ankle tried to move my toes and looked at the indent above my heel that used to hold a muscle.
I saw it in the xray technician’s face as she told me nothing was broken, and almost said it apologetically – for if it was a broken bone the recovery and rehabilitation would be much quicker and easier.
But it was the ultrasound assistant who confirmed it for me as she rubbed cream on my dead foot before placing the camera on it and sighing the moment my missing muscle was displayed on the screen.
A full rupture of my achilles tendon, just as I expected.
My father in law and my husband were devastated. Shaking their heads and rubbing hands through their hair, the same scowl on their faces.
To be honest, I was devastated too, although I locked up my little parcel of grief and anger and hid it deep inside of me to deal with later. It was more important at the moment to try and stay positive.
Plus we still had the surgeon to see.
I called in a favour before hobbling up the stairs to see the stranger who was set to fix me. My friend Laura, who works in orthotics and prosthetics and knew about these things helped me to stay focused and on track
“Often with achilles repairs they immobile ankle in planer flexion (foot pointing down) to promote healing and gradually bring it back to natural (90 degrees) over a number of weeks. Make sure you ask if you are allowed to weight bear, and time frames for whatever treatment they prescribe Surgeons often don’t explain things in much detail.”
I took her advice and my notebook into the meeting with Dr Raphael Hau, and was glad I did. He took one look at my films, a quick glance at my ankle and sat back in his chair.
So, surgery, 3% chance of you doing it again after recovery compared to 15% if you don’t have surgery. Three months in the cam walker and with crutches, should be walking unassisted between 4 and 6 months, no weight for two weeks while stitches in. Can’t take the cam walker off at all, between 6 and 12 months for full recovery. Don’t expect to run again before 12 months. 6 weeks of injecting medications to reduce the chances of getting blood clots. I can do you on Thursday morning.
Back the truck up.
Laura was right when she said Surgeons don’t explain things in much detail – what was this crazy business of injecting daily for six weeks to prevent blood clots??!!! I can’t even look at a needle without feeling woozy and have never been able to give blood thanks to my irrational fear of something sticking in my arm that hurts.
Who is going to inject me daily?
You will, in the stomach.
For six weeks?!
Raised eyes behind glasses as if not quite comprehending my fear based questions.
Yes, for six weeks. It’s only a small injection. Nothing to worry about.
I swallowed, and tried to regain my composure.
Ok. Do most people my age have surgery?
Yes, it is much better. If you don’t it is still the cam walker and then it might not heal properly.
And how long is the operation?
About half an hour. We keep you overnight, cut you at the back of your ankle and go in, tie the ends up. It’s like a mop, the ends of your tendon like spaghetti, I go in and grab the two ends and tie them up again.
So she’ll have a scar? Joel asks.
Yes, of course. Dr Hau looks at us as if we are mad.
Of course she will, only a small one, between five and ten centimeters depending on how much I have to cut to find the tendon.
Joel looks more shocked at the fact I will have a scar than anything else he has heard so far.
She can wear socks to cover it.
Not sure if it was an attempt at humor or not, but nobody finds it funny.
Ok so, no weight for at least two weeks, and then I’ll be in a moonboot for at least three months.
The cam walker, yes, and you will have physio every week as part of your rehabilitation.
So no running, no exercise nothing for at least six months maybe 12?
Again Dr Hau looks at me as if I am mad. If Joel’s biggest worry is the scar, why is mine exercise?
That’s right. We see this injury a lot in people your age, or weekend exercises. Those that don’t do anything Monday to Friday and then think they are still in their 20’s on the weekend.
But I’m not like that. I wanted to yell at him. It’s Monday! I did this on Monday! I exercise everyday!! I’m not like that.
Instead I nodded and tuned out when he told me that exercise could be bad and that maybe I was overdoing it. That is was quite common he does this operation all the time, but the first few weeks were very important to prevent infection, swelling and setback.
I was still adjusting to the “no exercising for at least 6 months” comment along with the “inject yourself daily” comment and the “three months in moonboot” comment.
A little bit of sympathy would not have gone astray!
Instead I went through Laura’s checklist, signed a few forms, told Dr Hau I would see him Thursday and hobbled out of the hospital feeling more deflated that I had prepared myself for.
Not sure if it was the surprise injections or reality finally coming crashing down. Maybe my parcel of grief was floating to the surface, begging to be unwrapped.
Maybe I was just naïve to being with, but all I could think about was it could be 12 months before I got back to doing what I loved. No crossfit, no yoga, no completion of yoga challenge, no running. Nothing.
Then what on earth was I going to do with myself…