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The Long Game

Last year this Sunday, I ran the Tallinn City Half Marathon. It’s a gorgeous day for today’s runners as well.

I’m both optimistic and not right now. I can see the progress I’ve made in the last months, but at the same time it’s terrifying to think about how far I still have to go.

I guess the good news is that I might run again. Some day in the future. As my doctors put it, it’s now out of their hands and in mine.

At the beginning of this week, on Monday, I was sitting in hospital again, this time waiting for knee surgery.

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So let’s rewind.

After the first weeks in a wheelchair, I started hobbling around for short distances on underarm crutches. Just stable enough to support my dizzy, concussioned head.

I spent weeks doing magnetic therapy (that is lying under a big sheet of electric magnets) to try to get the swelling down from my leg. At one point my leg looked almost even the entire length. 😮

The muscles in my thigh and calf started atrophying, leaving only skin and bone behind. The ankle and knee were still horribly swollen. To be honest, my leg looked alien to me.

I was still wearing a full-length leg brace, couldn’t take any weight on the leg, my knee joint had locked into a position of moving between 5 and 15 degrees, never getting completely straight and impossible to bend any further.

This was in the middle of August and around that time things were really scary for future walking prospects.

Mid-August was also the time when I started spending my time at different traumatologist and orthopedic surgeon offices. Over August, I had three different MRTs of various strength.

Late August is also when I started physical therapy while we were waiting for MRT results. Both my doctors considered it to be of utmost importance that I try to get my knee joint moving again. They figured that the bones, ACL tear and various ligament micro tears in my knee and ankle were healed enough in the nine weeks since the accident that we could start working on getting the leg functional again.

This was insane.

Painful as anything I’ve experienced. No pain pills were helping, in the months prior I had already developed a minor resistance to Vicodin and nothing seemed to be taking the pain away when the PT trying moving my knee mechanically. I was also having completely horrible legs cramps and severe soreness everywhere where my leg muscles used to be.

Nothing got my knee moving again. There were points in physical therapy where the pain got bad enough that I passed out for a couple of seconds.

This was a weird period of a couple of weeks. While wearing my leg brace, I was now allowed to put up to 50% of my body weight on the busted leg. I mimicked regular walking with elbow crutches, compensating for lack of knee movement with my hip. When I didn’t try to move my knee, I was not in pain and I went cold turkey on Vicodin. (That was a bit nasty for a couple of days there.)

Ridiculously enough I was coming to terms with this new reality of being semi-self sufficient, of getting to go places on my own, but slowly.

But nothing got my knee moving. Time for another MRT. My strongest yet.

And lo and behold! Not only was my lateral meniscus torn (which we knew, but the doctors considered minor compared to the other stuff going on with my knee) but the tear was actually quite a bit bigger than the previous MRTs had shown.

It went right to the center of my knee, with a piece mechanically stopping my knee from moving.

Now my English is lacking the correct terms, but in addition to that, in the months of no use and the huge amount of soft tissue swelling, bone swelling etc around it, my joint had also developed these bony growths that were locking it in place even further. (If anybody knows the English medical term?)

So, just ten days ago, I was sitting in a doctors office, hearing about all of this. My prospects? Surgery to remove large pieces of the meniscus and file down the new additions to my knee as soon as possible. At this point my orthopedic surgeon couldn’t stress enough how important it was to get my knee moving again right the fuck that moment.

Long term consequences? Months of painful physical therapy, and no more running. In fact, no sport that could take time away from my new knee life span, the prediction I was given was 10-15 years without walking aids.

I had a couple of days to come to term with this reality.

And then I was in hospital again.

I woke up nauseous, rediscovering that with me, painkillers either a) work and make my puke or b) don’t work at all. No middle ground.

I also got some good news (that’s a first, right?) the day after surgery, when my the surgeon stepped into my room. 🙂

The surgery went above all his expectations, and they got to take out a lot less of my meniscus than he’d originally expected. He also showed some photos of my surgery on his phone (gotta love modern technology) and how while I was under, they’d bent my leg entirely. They’d gotten rid of all the mechanical things that were stopping it from moving and it was physically possible.

In a week and a half when I go back in to have the stitches removed, I’ll bring a flash drive with me and get the pictures for myself as well. I need the motivation of seeing that my knee is capable of bending.

I had my first post-op PT session two days after surgery and only passed out twice from the pain. So there’s that.

My knee now hurts constantly, but I guess that’s a part of the healing process. The breathing exercises I picked up from pilates and yoga help with that a bit.

Most of my time is spent in bed, reading.

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With the cat to keep me company.

Every couple of hours, I do exercises to build up my muscle tone. Three-four times a day I do knee mobility exercises followed by a good cry and and an ice pack to bring down the considerable swelling.

I’m now able to straighten my leg completely. (This is a very very good thing according to the doctor.)

My pain free motion range is between 0 and 30 degrees. Enough to for a believable pretend walk without engaging my hip too much.

Yesterday I was able to take two steps without crutches. My knee gave out on the third and I fell, but it’s progress.

Going very, very slowly and doing breathing exercises through the pain, I’m able to bend my knee up 70 degrees. After that it feels like it’s forever physically impossible to bend it any further, but this is how it felt at 50 degrees just two days ago. Patience.

My PT says everything is possible. It’ll will be a painful, sucky journey getting there, but considering how little of my meniscus they finally did take out… even running can be back in my future. As long as I’m able to get through all the steps on the road there.

K.

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