Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some things never change

For the second time in a week, last night I went to the gym. Although I've never been a huge fan of the gym, I've always enjoyed people watching. When I was training for half marathons last winter I spent many hours chugging along on the treadmill and got to see some pretty interesting things. I wondered if my limited activity would change my perspective of the other gym patrons, so I entered the gym last night with two goals: 1. exercise, 2. intense people observation. The results: 45 minutes on the elliptical and the realization that most things never change.

For example:
  • No matter how out of shape you are, someone will always be in worse shape
  • People still read magazines while walking on the treadmill
  • Tattooed men still spend a lot of time motionless, looking at themselves in the mirror in the free weights section
  • Someone will always move to a different treadmill when they realize the television doesn't work on theirs
  • If you scan the room and see one person that you really don't want to come near you, that person will inevitably hop on the machine right next to you. They are usually dipped in a strong cologne.
  • If there's only one machine you want to use, and only one other person in the room, that person will most definitely be on that machine
Other random observations

  • People on ellipticals are madmen. Although almost an entire row of treadmills was empty, the ellipticals were roaring with activity. Nearly every machine was taken and most people seemed very focused on their performance. Naturally I had to put myself in silent competition with my strongly scented neighbor.
  • People that walk on treadmills uphill look funny. The steeper they have the incline set, the funnier they look. Especially when it's hiked up so steep that the walker is holding onto the handrails for dear life.
  • If you are "running" on the treadmill while holding onto the front handles with a death grip, you probably shouldn't be running. But keep at it, because I want to see what happens when you lose your grip.
  • Everyone in general seemed a little more focused than I remember from months ago when I was running on the treadmill. Maybe it's just because I'm slower so everyone looks faster, or maybe it's because everyone's trying to outrun the holiday hams they had over the weekend.

Next year marks the New Year, which is good and bad. Bad because a whole new crop of people will be invading the gym, making it nearly impossible to get the machines I want. Good because it's a whole new batch of people to observe!

Monday, December 26, 2011

I hereby declare myself "lightly active"

Today is the day, I decided.  Today is the day that I transition from “rehab/recovery” to “lightly active”.  This is a big milestone for me, and one thing I’m not going to do is take it for granted.  A couple weeks ago I was feeling almost as optimistic, until I made a failed attempt at hanging out a truck window and thought I might be facing a second surgery.  That was a wakeup call, and I vowed that if I came out of that okay, I wouldn’t take my healing for granted again.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t push anything too far too fast, and I would quit asking when I could ride my horse.
                After that poorly executed move a couple weeks ago, my hip was very very tender.  I had tickets to the Patriots game this past Saturday, and I really started to stress over how well I was going to handle that.  I knew there would be a lot of walking, some stair climbing, an uncomfortable seat, and probably lots of standing up.  Since I promised not to be a hero and to ignore what anyone thought of me, I brought my crutch with me.  It ended up being a great idea and I really feel that it helped save me.  As a result, instead of being sore and virtually immobile on Christmas morning, I felt surprisingly good!

Tailgating at the Pats game! Brrrrr....

                There was only one thing I asked Santa for this year, and that was a new hip.  Now, my mother thought this was a little unnecessary because my hip was fine; it just needed to heal.  So, I revised my one and only request and said I just wanted my hip to heal faster.  Now I can’t exactly prove that he had anything to do with this, but I will say I was feeling pretty springy.  And since “healing faster” isn’t something tangible that I can unwrap, Santa also brought me Zensah compression sleeves for my arms and legs!  I am so excited about this.  I remember the first time Jaimee showed up at our lunch run wearing compression socks and I nearly broke a rib laughing at her.  Wait til I show up in these…

Hot. Stuff.

The only thing that would have made Christmas better was if I could have gone for my annual Christmas morning ride on my horse.  That didn’t happen, but we did get to go for a post-dinner walk with the family!  (Confession…I wore my compression sleeves under my jeans!)
                I woke up this morning feeling really good again.  The really really bad pain I felt from the window-dangling was gone.  The normal hip pain wasn’t bad.  I did a few things around the house, waiting for the pain to show up.  It didn’t.  And that’s when I knew: Today is the first day of good things.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  I know I could face other setbacks and I’m sure I will have a lot more days of pain.  But, today was the first time I didn’t have pain every second of every minute.  Today is the day I knew I could be more active, and I wasn’t going to waste a minute of it.  Today, for the first time in probably six months, I went to the gym.
                Is there any better workout sound in the world than Florence And The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”?  No, there’s not.  Not only is it energizing, but the words seemed to be speaking to me.  I sprinted on the elliptical as I inhaled every word:
Happiness, hit her like a train on a track

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

Run fast for your mother run fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can't carry it with you if you want to survive

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
Can you hear the horses
'Cause here they come
 (Florence And The Machine Dog Days Are Over lyrics, 2011)

            I had such a good time grooving to my iPod playlist that before I knew it I had done 45 minutes on the elliptical and worked up a great sweat.  (Which caught me off guard… I was thinking, what is that weird prickly feeling on my face?  Oh…sweat!)  I took advantage of having all the machines handy and got in a full workout, including all the exercises I do at PT.  Today I didn’t feel like someone recovering from hip surgery.  Today I felt like any other gym-goer getting a good workout on the machines.  I walked out of the gym feeling really confident and immediately started planning my next activity.  And now I’m going to go home and do all the barn chores.  And then I’m going to go for a walk.  And then I’m going to brush my horse Rocco.  And then I’m going to take HIM for a walk.  And then I’m going to take the dog for a walk.  And then I’m going to ride my bike.  And then I’m going to …<<STOP!!>>  

                After mentally dope-slapping myself, I toned down my list of afternoon activities.  Well…yes, I did all the barn chores.  And I brushed Rocco, but I didn’t walk him.  I did go for a walk.  I didn’t take the dog.  And I’m not riding my bike.  (Maybe tomorrow).
                The dog days are over, people.  Today is day 1 of going in the right direction.  Now that I’ve healed enough to make the gym worth going to, I’m going to go as often as I can.  In the pursuit of health, and just as importantly: in the pursuit of happiness.
This post is dedicated to the big guy upstairs for helping my hip heal faster.  Yes, Santa, that means you!

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!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Enhanced" physical therapy

It was just over five weeks ago that I had my hip surgery, and I'm finally starting to feel like I'm making solid progress on the road to recovery.  I had my doubts for the first couple weeks.  Patience has never been my strong suit, so I was floored when, after a full two weeks, I was still in pain.  I knew that the recovery time was 3-5 months.  We went over that in my consultations.  Somehow when the doctor emphasized 3-5 months, in my mind I thought that just meant I would be perfectly fine except I couldn't run for 3-5 months.  I guess I didn't realize that it also meant I would be in pain (sometimes lots of it), I wouldn't be able to move my leg properly, I would have to re-learn the simplest movements, and I would be dependant on others for so many things.

To recap the last five weeks:
Week 1: Lots of pain.  Couldn't move my leg at all without assistance. Spent most of every day sitting in a recliner with pillows under my knee to keep my hip at a more comfortable angle.  Days passed by in a Percoset-induced fog.  Nights were uncomfortable, and I was forced to sleep on my back with pillows under my leg. Strange nerve pain near the incision made it nearly impossible to wear pants.

Week 2: Still lots of pain, but moved around a little better.  Got better skilled at climbing the stairs in the house, and figured out a way to move my coffee cup from the kitchen to the living room (gaining whatever crumb of independence I could muster). Refused to take more painkillers. Started Physical Therapy, which included some very gentle exercises to move my leg, and I was given some "homework" to start strengthening my leg.

Week 3: Progress still seemed very slow and I started running out of patience.  Since I was unable to drive and was stuck at home all day, my attitude got pretty sour. (Thus, the absence of blogging).  I hated being stuck inside all day. I hated reading. I hated watching TV. I pretty much hated everything.  I finally got up the strength to crutch my way outside, and started incorporating a little bit of outdoor crutching into my rehabilitation.  The physical therapist was skeptical and mildly amused.

Week 4: Progress seemed to accelerate this week, and every time I went to PT I had better and better news to report.  My outdoor crutching increased to a half mile, then 3/4 mile.  Eventually I was able to do part of that routine with only one crutch, and I only used one crutch in the house.  My leg had atrophed so quickly that it was astonishing.  When I flexed my quad and then felt it with my hand, my leg was just squishy.  I literally couldn't even feel a muscle in there no matter now hard I flexed.  I was shocked and depressed at this revelation, but I realized I had to measure my success by comparing it to where I was three weeks ago, not three months ago.  I knew I was making quick progress.  PT had me start riding the stationary bike for 3 minutes one day, then 5 minutes the next. By the end of week 4 I was down to 1 crutch and walking a mile a day.

Week 5: Progress continued to speed right along.  I went back to work, from home, since I was finally able to sit relatively comfortably at my desk. I attempted to drive early in the week but it was still pretty sore.  I felt pretty liberated showing up to PT with only one crutch.  I again shocked my therapist when I proudly announced I had done a 1 mile walk through the woods on my one crutch. PT added more exercises and doubled the existing ones.  I started walking short distances in the house without crutches, and by the end of the week I was able to drive a short distance comfortably.

And now...the start of week 6!
The physical therapist gave me the green light to start riding a stationary bike, lightly, for 20 minutes at a time.  I contemplated going to the gym but I just couldn't drum up the courage to show up at the gym with a crutch. Yesterday I carefully climbed up on my mountain bike and rode it around my driveway.  It was fun to get on it, but probably not too wise because of all the bumps, and the likelihood of me losing my balance and not being able to get my leg under me to stop a fall.  I stopped after a few minutes, but then went for a very successful 1+ mile walk in the woods with just a ski pole!  I also decided to give myself a bit of a workout with some kettlebell exercises, which I modified as needed to avoid too much hip strain.  As usual I probably overdid it a little (just like before surgery) and I spent some of the afternoon packed in ice. 

Late in the afternoon, my mother presented me with the most amazing birthday gift... a cycle trainer! 

This was the perfect solution to being able to safely enjoy my bike and get some good workouts in, both during rehabilitation and beyond.  In just a few minutes, the bike was locked into place, and I was itching to use it!  Since I had already worked so hard I knew I should wait, but I just couldn't resist taking it for a spin.  I did a 20 minute ride on the bike, and it was the first time in literally a couple months that I worked up a sweat.  I've really missed that!

Today I'm taking it easy, since my body is telling me I overdid it a bit yesterday.  I might do a short ride on the bike later, but I've pledged to avoid anything too strenuous.  I can't wait to see my therapist's reaction tomorrow when I tell him I incorporated hiking, biking, and kettlebells into my rehab program!