Stacey! You really need to cut your toenails…

IMG_0839

I had my first moonboot mani pedi this weekend.  I had a wedding, and while I always planned to get my poor feet, left who is swollen due to excessive hopping and body support, and right, dry and shriveled from being secluded in Velcro darkness for too long, scrubbed and trimmed, my plans were cemented when a colleague looked down at poor righty and with a disgusted look on her face, crinkled her nose and told me I was long over due to get a toenail trim.

Well actually she said it much ruder than that, and from the look on her face I thought she was going to vomit at any moment, but ill let that slide. Mind you, she also took the prime opportunity of telling me after I had successfully managed to hobble almost a kilometer down the street with her for lunch and was sweating and uncomfortable. One would think given I have been strapped into a moonboot immobile for two months she would have let my slightly long big toenail slide also, but hey, each to their own phobias.

Ok, so I should back the truck up. It’s been weeks since I have bothered to write. I know what you are all thinking, I should have loads of time on my hands to sit in front of the computer and think of slightly humorous stories about my recovery.

In truth, my days are shorter thanks to sleeping in, my nights longer thanks to not sleeping, and I am tired all the time. The voice in my head that commanded my attention for the better part of this year has been silenced. Both of them. Pitchfork holding and prodding me has taken a holiday to some dark and exotic location, and angelic me just looks at me with wide eyes and sets her mouth in a straight line no matter what I do.

Even when I fail miserably at keeping a paleo lifestyle, and worse, make excuses for why I haven’t been able to.  I try to pretend its only because people sometimes bring me meals that contain potato and defiantly sugar. Or because my non-paleo, now home husband has been doing all of the cooking and hasn’t quite mastered the against all grain mentality. Or because sometimes its too hard when I forget to take lunch to work, and the café upstairs only has a beef salad that will contain soy and most likely gluten, but its that or a burger because walking up the street is too far.

But sometimes its because I really want to eat that Tim Tam.

And the choc peanut M&Ms. And the container of strawberries. And because the Thai restaurant only has rice, not cauliflower rice and a curry isn’t the same without a base. And because, well because I just want to try a piece of that cake.

The paleo flag I was once flying with pride has been somewhat ripped and is a little disheveled due to some rough winds as I continue on the adventure that is my recovery.

I’ve given up trying to exercise. A few days here and there in gym gear and a moonboot, doing my own workouts of sit-ups, push ups, leg lifts and a few other movements did nothing to really excite me so I gave up all together.  I’m not sure if it was the boredom of exercising on my own, or the image of myself looking ridiculous with crutches and weights at once, but I soon got over it.

Just using crutches all day takes my energy away, and hopping from one place to another on my good leg has meant lefty is now well and truly double the size of righty.

Something that was well noted when I got my mani pedi.

Lefty had to be scrubbed silly and massaged with intent before the tension from standing alone for months began to soak away and the layers of dead skin finally broke away to reveal a softer, smoother foot underneath ready to be calloused and abused.

Righty sat in the footspa for 30 minutes, the longest time she had been on the ground and in water, and no sooner after I raised her in the air for a slight exfoliate, did the skin start falling away from my foot. Literally. No scrubbing, no brushing, no blade needed. She was literally wasting away.

Disgusting I know. But the poor old sod has been shielded away from sunlight and air for too long so the skin melted away like the evil green witch in the Wizard of Oz.

She turned a deeper shade of purple. Righty does that sometimes. Since finishing the self-administrating blood clotting preventative injections a few weeks back my circulation doesn’t always match up. And I’m only a week down on my new foot angle. One more purple arch to go in the boot and then I will be set flat again. My heel will touch the ground and ill be good to go.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves. I still have seven months ahead before running will be on the cards, and while the 18th of November is the date penciled in to see my good friend the surgeon again, he might only relieve me of the crutches and not the boot.

I still have a long way to go.

Which is why Righty is purple, and every few hours, despite my toe wiggling I have to massage her myself and watch with fascination as the blood moves to another part of my foot and she turns from beetroot red to casper white.

Two months down and it’s not only the colour of my foot that has changed.

My right calf is no longer there. Seemingly overnight it has been replaced with what I can only describe as an arm like version of a leg. My ankle smaller than my wrist. The calf the size if my arm – and not my bicep or my shoulder – my arm.

Here I was worried about getting tuck shop arms that would flap in the breeze, and instead it’s my leg that now jingles and jangles during my routine bio oil treatment each night.

There is effectively no muscle there. Not ‘there is a muscle I just haven’t used it’ muscle. Not ‘I have really bad calf muscles from not exercising’ muscle. But a ‘there is no muscle in there because there is really no muscle in there’ muscle. My poor old Achilles hasn’t quite stretched far enough to move my foot yet let alone to reach into my calf muscle and join it, let alone define it.

That will be another month at least.

On the bright side, at least my toes look nice.

IMG_0842

Learning the Rough Way

I spent the next two days pre operation at work. Some thought I was crazy, coming into work before having an operation. Why wouldn’t I just take the days off? I would like to say it was the allegiance and dedication I felt to the job, and perhaps there was a little of that. I probably wanted a little bit of sympathy also from my colleagues. In truth though, the main reason I went back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday was to keep sane.

I was already worried about the boredom I would find at home waiting for me on the couch; between the remote control and the mound of cushions I would need to support me for the next few weeks.

I was grasping onto the remains of normality for at least the next two days. I needed people. I needed routine. I needed to keep busy.

The Monday after we left Dr Hau, me with a fake smile plastered on myself to try and pretend I wasn’t shocked or surprised at the length of recovery he had outlined for me, I called in a bigger favor from Laura.

Time to fit me with a cam walker, or what I affectionately (not) refer to as a moonboot.

Laura paid me a home visit that night and expertly fitted me with the shoe, showed me how to use it and left me with a few compression socks and bandages to use in future. Helpful tips on how to shower with one on (cover with garbage bag and use electrical tape) on sleeping (pillowcase to keep your sheets clean) and promises that eventually I would get used to it.

Her visit saved me not only a trip to the hospital the following day to get one fitted, but also saved me some much needed cash. At this point, after paying $100 for the Dr visit, $90 for the ultrasound and $98 for the Xray’s – all before operation and post operation care – I was starting to wonder why I had private health insurance in the first place and with election time looming, was almost half interested in the ‘policies’ our ‘level headed’ governments were trying to sell.

Her visit also meant I was free on Tuesday and could go to work and given it would be the last two days in a few weeks I could, I actually really wanted to.

Plus I knew what was coming. Weeks of alone time, getting bed sores and most likely putting on a few kilos and loosing the 15% body fat I at worked so hard at achieving.

I couldn’t drive. The moonboot had seen to that – for at least three months.  So not only was I couch bound, but housebound too. I had to rely on others for everything – something I’m not really good at.

Good old Dr Hau with his remarkable bedside manner had been very stern about the first two weeks post operation and their significant in helping me to repair. Leg raised, elevated to prevent swelling that could then rip at the stitches or pull at the recently attached tendon. No moving unless I had to. And by had to, it meant unless I had to go to the toilet.

Just sit on the couch, Dr Hau had said. Like this was easy.

I’m sure for some it would be, but I have never been a couch sitter for lengthy periods, unless I have lost myself in a novel or with my notebook and have successfully managed to lock out the outside world.

Just sit on the couch.

So no crossfit in the morning, no yoga at night.

Just sit on the couch.

So no cooking dinner or preparing meals.

Just sit on the couch.

So no driving, no grocery shopping, no walking the dogs.

Just sit on the couch.

So no working, no visiting friends, no brunch on Sunday mornings, no drinks Friday night.

Just sit on the couch.

So no dusting, no vacuuming, no mopping or sweeping or cleaning.

Just sit on the couch.

I was worried.

I may have a slight obsessive compulsive nature when it came to housework and if I spot dust on my dark chocolate brown coffee table can’t relax until I remove it. Couch time was only after dinner had been cooked and dishes had been washed and dogs had been fed and the next day smoothies had been made.

My day used to start at 5:15am and end at 11pm. That was going to be a lot of couch time.

At some point during a fit of self pity I reached out to Jarryd Roughead via twitter.

I never expected him to respond, although I hoped he did. After all he had done this same injury and had come back to play some of his best footy. He was in the lead for the Coleman medal, surely if someone could spark some sort of fight in me it was him. It was a simple message, and he responded not half an hour later.

1264068_10200839875454064_905306549_o

I’m not ashamed to say, this made my day.

It pepped me up when I needed it. It also reconfirmed to me what I heard from the surgeon, the doctor and everyone else who knew me well. I needed to stop, relax, and not try to rush this or do too much. I needed to literally, once my leg had been cut open and my tendon mop ends reattached, do nothing.

So that Tuesday and Wednesday, before my operation date, I went to work. I worked hard, not leaving until late on Wednesday night. I tried to handover what I could, tidy up other things and ensure my team had what they needed. I hobbled to the disabled loos on my own with my hired crutches and yet to be named moonboot and managed to master the art of carrying my drink bottle in a bag over my shoulder every time it needed filling.

I smiled and joked and laughed and told the story of my popping achilles about 20 times over and never once minded, because I knew I would miss this, this normality, when I was alone on the couch for two weeks.

And I may have, when the cab had dropped me home and I was alone for an hour before Joel came back from his day trip to Sydney, stumbled around the house trying to dust what I could, putting away clothes where I could and trying to arrange the study in some sort of order. Because this was also normality, and while everyone hates housework, I knew I would miss this also.

Pop goes the achilles

image

Pop.

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?

He nods.

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…

image