Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Wake Up Call

Here describes the rise and fall…and hopeful rise again of the long long long long road to recovery.
I’ve been steadily improving over the last couple of weeks.  Each time at PT, I’m treated with tougher challenges, more weights, and new machines.  I had finally graduated to the arc trainer, which was a nice change of pace from the bike.  The leg presses are up to 70 lbs, which is a giant improvement from the 0 lb presses I started with just a few weeks ago.  (Seriously, zero pounds!)  I was driving a little more comfortably, and even started walking more confidently in the woods.  Early last week I walked over 2 miles by myself in the woods.  Just me and my handy ski pole.  I started feeling – dare I say – athletic again.  By last Tuesday I was feeling pretty confident at PT.  In fact, I was feeling so confident that I got in a little horse race with the lady on the arc trainer next to me.  I can’t help it, what was I supposed to do?  This trim, athletic looking lady hopped on the arc trainer next to me and ran her little legs off at a sprint.  My competitive juices boiled, and I couldn’t let her outrun me.  I pushed the pace up so I was stride for stride with her.  The best part was when she dismounted (she was doing 5 minutes, I was doing 10) and she was completely and totally out of breath.  I smirked in quiet satisfaction as I breathed steadily for the remaining 5 minutes.
                Since I was feeling all confident and athletic again, I decided to push my therapist a little harder about riding my horse again.  She wasn’t ready to budge, and said I still had a ways to go before I could ride.  Instead, she told me, I could take my horse for walks.  Walks!  Clearly she doesn’t know how fast my horse walks.  I said I’d think about it, but I was a little disappointed.  I felt certain I could sit in a saddle even if for just a short ride. 
                On Wednesday I had my six week evaluation with the surgeon (the surgeon with the movie star looks and charisma to match).  He seemed genuinely pleased with my progress and had me moving my leg certain ways to see my range of motion.  He gave me the okay to start doing some additional exercises and more walking.  When talk turned to running, he stuck with his start date of March.  He said it was going to take until then for enough healing to take place, and for my hip to be able to sustain the impact of running.  I nodded in agreement, saying I wasn’t going to push anything too soon and risk undoing all the work we’ve put into it.  As much as I hate this long sentence of non-running, I know it’s necessary and I’ve made peace with it.  I think part of the reason for this is that I’m still in a lot of pain.  Even though I brag about all the progress I’ve made, there’s never a time when I think, “hey maybe I’ll just jog a few steps”.  Even though I’m almost two months out from surgery, it still feels new and raw. 
                Kevin Costner – I mean – my surgeon and I then discussed my race calendar for 2012.  I had mentally committed to running the Chicago Marathon in October but he said absolutely not.  I would not be in any sort of condition to start training for a marathon, and he reminded me that when I finally do start running, it’s going to have to be very lightly for the first couple of months.  Instead, he said he highly recommended – of all things – the Disney marathon in January, 2013!  This was very ironic, since I was thinking of running this one as well.  While I was initially bummed about missing Chicago, his recommendation of Disney really brightened my mood.  Finally, I asked about riding my horse.  Again, he said absolutely not.  He emphasized that this was still too new, I didn’t have the right range of motion, and I couldn’t risk any heavy impact or unexpected movements.  He said he didn’t want me riding until March.  I protested, saying I really didn’t want to let it go that long.  His solution: take my horse for walks.  What is it with these people?  He then reminded me that when he fixed my hip, he fixed it for life.  This is just a hiccup, and I needed to keep the bigger picture in mind.  Okay…but…ugh.
                On Thursday, back at PT, I told my therapist all about my meeting with the surgeon, including my disappointment about riding my horse.  My therapist explained that the surgeon is right, but he is being very careful.  I might not need to wait until March, but I need to be realistic about my healing, and that ultimately I will know best when it’s time to get back in the saddle.  I liked his explanation better, since I was feeling pretty confident at this point and thought I would be ready to sit in that saddle in no time.  I chirped on and on about how good I was feeling, and that I was ready to start going to my gym again.  Now that I have a number of exercises I can do at the gym, it seems worth going to.  I think mentally it will make me feel just a bit more athletic and focused to be doing my exercises at the gym.  Yes, things were finally all starting to come together.  Slowly.
                And now that you’ve heard the rise, rise, rise… I bet you know what’s coming.
                On Friday afternoon I needed to pick up some horse supplies with the pickup truck.  I stopped at the ATM, and if you’ve ever driven a pickup truck to an ATM you realize that ATM’s weren’t designed for pickup trucks.  In hindsight I should have parked the truck and walked in, but of course I didn’t realize I was going to run into this problem.  At the ATM I strained and stretched out the window, trying to reach the money.  With one final super-stretch I simultaneously reached the money and felt a sharp and nauseating pain in my hip.  Immediately I knew something was wrong.  The pain was familiar.  It was the unmistaken pain I had when I first injured myself on that ill-fated day in April.  I tried to deny it, shake it off, convince myself nothing was wrong.  But throughout the day the pain continued to get worse.  On Saturday I was in so much discomfort I could barely walk, and had to skip two parties I had been looking forward to.  Finally I took a Vicodin, sat in the recliner, and contemplated my fate in a slowly increasing fog.
                By Sunday the pain was just about as bad, despite keeping my hip as still as possible.  I was sore, terribly worried, and between the pain and the anxiety I could barely sleep at night.  So many thoughts were going through my head.  I cannot possibly be back at square one.  There’s no way I can start over.  How am I going to explain this to my surgeon that in one stupid move I unraveled everything we had done.  Mentally I don’t think I can handle going through this again.  I will never forgive myself.  I felt myself going through the five stages of grief.  1. It’s not really that bad.  See?  If I don’t move it’s not that bad.  If I don’t tell my surgeon then it won’t be real. 2. How can this be happening to me? AGAIN?! 3. I swear, God, if you’re listening, I will never never ever ever ever hang out a truck window again.  I won’t even stretch.  I’ll be a better person.  I’ll do volunteer work and go to church.  I take back all those jokes I made about Tim Tebow.  Just please please don’t let this be happening. 4. I want to fall asleep and never wake up.  5. Okay, I actually never made it to this stage.
                On Monday I was still in a lot of pain, but I will say I don’t think it was quite as bad as it had been on Friday or over the weekend.  All day I tried to decide if I should call the surgeon, but I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting.  Finally I decided to wait until my PT appointment.  That night, I spoke to my therapist.  I explained precisely what happened (despite the risk of him dope-slapping me for hanging out a truck window).  He watched me walk, then put me on the bike with no resistance.  (Yes, I got demoted from the arc trainer).  Several of my strengthening exercises were removed, and others had the weights reduced.  I was back at where I had been weeks ago.  After careful observation, my therapist assured me that I hadn’t done any permanent damage.  He said that the motion I made of hanging out the window was simply not severe enough to tear my joint apart.  It’s not like I fell out of the truck, slipped on ice, or did any other sort of damaging movement.  He said I’m extremely sore because I strained the joint by stretching it way past its maximum motion.  That’s all.  He said it would take more time for it to calm down, but within a few days I should start feeling better.  Being the dismal skeptic that I am, naturally I’m not 100% convinced at his answer but still very relieved. 
                Today, sure enough I’m starting to feel better.  My hip is so tender and sore, but I did manage to go for a walk for the first time since Friday.  On Friday when this first happened I felt like I was back at the beginning.  Now I feel like I’m about 4 weeks post surgery instead of 7.  Hopefully in just a couple more days I’ll be feeling like I’m back on track.  If nothing else, this setback comes to me as a huge wake up call. Although I had been vigilant in doing all my exercises and had vowed to do everything by the book, it made me realize just how fragile my hip still is.  All it took to set me back weeks of progress was to reach out the window at the ATM.  If I can’t do basic everyday tasks, then I have no business sitting in a saddle or pushing the doctor to let me run sooner.  Not only is this a wakeup call, it has really made me think about all the instinctual, automatic movements we make every day that are taken for granted.  This recovery isn’t just about healing my hip.  It’s about keeping awareness of the most basic movements and instincts and being able to control them in order to protect my hip.  It’s a work in progress, but after the scare I’ve had over the last few days, it’s definitely work worth doing. 
                My goal will continue to be adhering to all doctor’s orders, sticking to my exercise plan, and protecting my hip from any sudden, instinctual movements.  And of course, I will start scoping out Disney hotels.  After all, doctor’s orders!

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