Monday, November 26, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 3. Week 2

1 week down on bathing daily with a sponge... rotating my cyro cuff throughout the day.. almost daily trips into town for physio or massage appointments (and gingerbread lattes from Starbucks)... naps.. reading by the fire... hobbled walks down to the water... home cooked meals from mum... it was a lifestyle so distant from any of my normal routine... and for the most part, I was loving it! As the week went on, however, I expected this to be a long haul... (hence the "trying to be positive" photo... the counter to my facebook profile pic).

I had an appointment with my surgeon on the 7th day following my surgery.. a Friday. I was pretty excited actually as I wanted to hear what he had to say... I was hoping he'd fall over in amazement when he realized that wolverine really was real.. but also I sooo wanted my dressings removed so I could shower with something other than a face cloth and a sink full of water. Sadly, I never made it to that appointment. Half way down to Toronto, mid-conversation my dad went silent.. "Hmm" he said "I just pushed the brake and it went all the way to the floor and nothing happened..." at least he didn't panic! Anyway, it was not something you mess around with. So we stopped at a gas station, he checked the brakes.. did a few tweaks... and we decided to keep going. It was less than 5 minutes on the highway before that happened again. Worried for both our lives, we turned around and proceeded cautiously home. Fortunately we made it, no problems.

Anyway, I had to wait another 4 days to see him.

In the meantime, things were going well. My physio said I could start riding my exercise bike.. "do little half circles" she said, just to try to start the stretch and try to go all around when you can. And you know what? That night I went home... managed to go all the way around in 2 minutes and spent the next 20 minutes on the bike. It felt soooo great! And I've been biking 30 minutes a day since :)

The splint.. also referred to as my "roboleg" ...was becoming more of a nuisance.. that was probably the biggest hinderance. You have to velcro this long metal tube pretty much to your leg, that keeps it straight all the time. You're left no choice but to hobble. It slides down persistently which is sooo annoying! Going for a walk is not easy more because the splint won't stay up than because of the knee pain! Anyway, I was told it would be 6 weeks until the brace comes off so I bit my tongue and summoned patience.. and started to think of ways I could MacGyver something to hold it up.

I had my surgeon appointment mid week.. at this point it was 12 days post surgery. Well past the 5-7 days he prefers. My dad and I drove down to Toronto again, this time with the brakes fixed, and sadly got a speeding ticket on the way (funny, it's like the universe didn't want me to see him for some reason!).. but I finally saw him. I walked in with my splint and optimism, got excellent feedback from him and my progress, and walked out holding the splint in my arms - I was "free-walking" again! (very wobbly mind you.. but I was freeee!) News was great... knee flexion was well beyond the 90 degrees they need within the first few weeks... wounds healing... I could even start swimming at the end of the second week!! He had done a great job and I was motivated.

Anyway, since... I've just finished my 2nd week and have started into my 3rd. I have to say, at this point I feel great. It's such a rush to learn to walk again after you've been deprived... humbling. I have an appreciation for something so basic.. something so fundamental.. something I had never given a second thought and it feels amazing. Incredibly enlightening. I also feel a strange special connection with my body.. like I've stepped into a damaged temple and my only job is to protect and rebuild it. Crazy huh! It's like everything outside doesn't matter other than my body and getting it back functioning. In thinking of day to day life where we place so much energy worrying about the things we can't control, it's nice to be in a place where the energy and worries are placed on something we can.

The physical feeling is pretty good too. Knee is tight still... it feels like you have duct tape over your knee and you're trying to stretch it. Yet with each day it gives a bit more. Walking.. for a while it feels like you're still wearing a phantom splint... for the first bit I walked the same without the splint as I did with. It's recommended to wear the splint at night every night for another week.. as you can't control how you move when you sleep - so night times are still a bit tough.. hard to sleep. 2 more days and no more splint in bed though :) It's strange every day brings new pains and new strengths... parts of you are sore that aren't even close to the knee! My glutes in particular are sore pretty regularly with exercise now.

In hindsight, I definitely think pre-hab is just as much or even more-so important than rehab. To be able to do the exercises, as well as just manoeuvre the tasks of life like going the washroom... arm strength is key to be able to push your body up off the floor... leg strength is essential... as every trip to the bathroom involves 2 one-legged squats!

It's also interesting that the mental / cognitive functioning aspect definitely suffers. Post drugs... and with the pain.. I have noticed it incredibly difficult to connect thoughts... or even carry on conversation. I feel much quieter than usual. Don't have much to say. Recently, thanks to a great friend, I learned there are actually links between pain and language - it's common that as physical pain dominates language diminishes temporarily (See Private Language Argument). Interesting. And it's so true! I feel so brain dead. And to this day.. I'm still feeling it big time. You'll probably notice too in there are most likely many spelling mistakes / grammatical errors in my write-up!

Anyway, I'll wrap up for this week. Everyone told me it is so tough going in... and I was prepared (well not so prepared) but I have to say.. so far it's been totally fine and I've loved the opportunity it has created for life to slow down and take a breath. Stay tuned for the update end of week 3 - hopefully the spirits are still high.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 2. Post-Op / Week 1

So, I made it through... safe and sound.

I won't deny I wasn't crying like a baby going into the hospital.. because I was. The anticipation was literally killing me. I pictured getting doughy.. hobbling around ...knocking things over in my path.. being a burden to everyone.. everything being so difficult..

But! In reality? The picture I had in my mind compared to the what I'm actually living now.. is drastically different.

The pre-operation period went incredibly smooth. No long waits. No rude nurses or hair-brained doctors. I was incredibly impressed. I passed along the assembly line of the hospital from running shoes to slippers, greeted and cared for by friendly face after friendly face along the way.

It was two hours before my parents and I split ways and I entered the symbolic "do not enter" misty windows doors to enter the operating room area. The experience was to be expected I suppose.  ...waiting in the stretcher up against the wall hearing the bustle of the medical team between operating rooms... simultaneously dreading and hoping that the doctor would approach shortly to take me through the final stages...then finally when he does he tells me that there was going to be a delay and proceeds to hands me a newspaper. Waiting. Waiting. Trying to enjoy the article on beard competitions meanwhile distracted by the unknown of the moments to come.. then the nurse comes.. checks me twice.. then the surgeon comes... autographs my knee for operation.. and then pulls down the stretcher bars and instructs me to follow him into the operating room. I walk behind him and enter THE ROOM. Then there you are... IN the operating room. The green walls. The big lights. The surgical masks and the cold.. sterile.. equipment. Instructed to take off my outer gown and feeling the cold brush of air against my backside as it was exposed to the room. Lying down and covered with a heated blanket, strangers hands sticking electrodes on my body... my neck.. my ribs. The anesthetist enters the room, introduces himself, and makes a dry joke. The sedation begins. Lying in silence watching the team prep themselves for their work to come. Waiting. Waiting for the feeling to come.. waiting... then starting to feel it.. "Wow" I said "It hits fast." "Yes" the anesthetist said. And then I woke up.

It all happened so fast. The next thing I remembered was waking up in recovery to a man vomiting uncontrollably across from me. It felt like the deepest sleep I'd had in ages.

The process post-operation in the hospital was pretty smooth. The nurses were incredibly kind and helpful and I had a big window to look out of. Morphine, that was a nice touch. The food? Not such a nice touch.

I had a roommate who cried uncontrollably for the first hour I was there. Claiming that she was bipolar and sometimes just cried... so she cried, a lot. The rest of the time she moaned in pain. Poor woman.

I dozed in and out pressing the morphine button anytime I approached consciousness.

In the middle of the night, however, the machine malfunctioned. Each time I pushed the button the machine would beep to say I received the injection but then default into error and beep non-stop. Each time I had to call the nurse, they'd come and unplug and plug it in... over and over. This went on for hours. I felt more pain, and more like a high maintenance patient needing ongoing assistance. At the end of the night, however, another nurse finally came and uncovered that problem - there was a clasp blocking my IV tube! Meaning.. I had not been receiving morphine ALL NIGHT! What a gyp.

Nonetheless, in the morning I felt pretty great. The physio came, I did all the exercises with ease. I could wiggle my toes and move my ankles. I could lift my leg even! I got to see the dressing change and was nicely surprised to see 4 little incision holes instead of a sight resemblant to a scene in a SAW movie.

I felt so good in fact that when we returned back to my parents home town we did errands around town.. for hours. I hobbled around on crutches and felt great.. for a while! We got my pain killers.. and I decided I wasn't going to take them until I needed them. I AM wolverine I thought. We continued around town.. until it started to hurt a bit more. I pushed it. It started to hurt more. Pushed it. Hurt more. Ok, it was time to go home and time for the meds.

Bad BAD idea not taking it easy that day and not taking my meds 4 hours after I should have. I was in excruciating pain until 2 in the morning. Lesson learned... (after I phoned Telehealth Ontario) when you miss a dose of pain killers... you have to play catchup when you need to startup again. The pain killers take a lot longer to kick in this way. Seems simple really. I felt stupid. I also was slightly disappointed that I wasn't wolverine.

Anyway, since! the recovery has been coming along great! I'm doing my exercises regularly.. resting lots... catching up on movies and books. I've been able to walk the last few days without crutches! I have pain only when I move certain ways. I've been going for short walks around the neighbourhood and they feel "slowly" great. My knee bends almost to 90 degrees with assistance. I still have to sleep with a splint every night for the first while (docs orders), so that part kind of sucks. I'm using a cryo cuff  (circulating ice knee cuff device) which really helps with the inflammation! I've seen physio and had a massage already (the massage was glorious).  I learned that if you lie on a heating pad under your hips, the liquid moves upwards away from the site and gives relief.

All in all, I'm feeling positive and driven while also feeling relaxed and sleepy... which is a nice change of pace from life.

Let's see what week 2 brings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Story of Surgery | Part 1. Pre-Operation

So it was approximately 10 months ago where I experienced the thrill of a complete ACL tear. It was amidst a soccer game where I got tackled from the side, heard a snap and went down like a push button toy.

The only difference was that I didn't spring back and hit the pitch again minutes later.

After delaying the surgery... twice... the time has come for me to brave it out and do the ACL reconstruction. My surgery is on Friday November 9th, two days away, and I've decided after the experience of going through the motions trying to anticipate exactly what to expect that I would blog about the whole experience... treat my journey as a case study. Although I can't deny writing will have cathartic benefits, I wanted to offer my story to the ACL veterans wishing reminisce their way down memory lane and to ACL up-comers looking to demystify the process.

So, the lead up?  ...I must admit it has been emotional.

When it happened it was painful. But! I was able to walk off the field by the time the game ended, and within a few months I was running again. I was determined that I could "will my way" to a fully healed knee. And now, here I am, almost a year later... and I'm running, cycling and swimming regularly. In fact, I might be in the best shape (or close to it) I've ever been!

...So, why have the surgery? Because I can't play any pivoting sports... pivoting...?! really? Had you ever thought before how many sports involve pivoting? Almost ALL of them! Anyway, I decided to have the surgery to get "back to normal."

Since making the decision, it has been a roller coaster.

There are the good days where I think - oh wow! I'll be able to play soccer again!... squash!! ....snowboard!! ...I'll be able to run and not experience pain in my hip after half an hour!!

But then there are bad days where I'm overwhelmed with the pending isolation that awaits, the lack of independence, the frustration with a body that "doesn't work like it used to" and the lack of motivation that I'm assuming is accompanied with rehab.

In many ways I feel like I'm approaching an abyss where it's impossible to emotionally and physically prepare myself for something I have no idea how to relate to. Not having experienced surgery before, I can say, however, that it's quite something to experience your body break and realize that it's not going to miraculously heal itself like wolverine... the youthful dream of invincibility dies pretty quick.

It's also quite something to be going about your daily life before hand.. and realize the things you're doing at this moment you won't be able to do for the next 6 months. Simple things like going for a run, biking to school... I went for a swim this morning and couldn't help but think.. it would be a while till I would be in that pool again. Tough. Hopefully all worth it though.

Two more sleeps and then the big day - and I'm as ready as I'm going to be. I have crutches booked for rental (way cheaper than buying), my brand new splint awaiting its unveiling from the box, an exercise bike, cryocuff (cold water circulating unit) borrowed from a friend.. and books... a couple of them. Apparently it's a long wait in the hospital before... and after. They also make you stay over night just in case.

On the day leading up.. I can eat until midnight tomorrow night and then the day of no food or water prior to the surgery, no gum as well. Apparently you need to get there two hours before your surgery for all the prep. I'll be reading Stumbling on Happiness through the process... I was inspired by his TED Talk.

Cheers to smooth sailing. Stay tuned.