You will be in an altered state for many moons...

If your Achilles tendon is ruptured, torn, or even simply inflamed with tendonitis, your life is about to change. Mine sure has - so I decided to chronicle these events, and create a place for others to share their experiences, advice, resources and emotions during our journey toward recovery.

Nothing in this blog is meant to take the place of the medical advice of your physician. Follow the instructions of your medical professionals, not me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Do da bump, do da bump, do da bump bump bump!

Just thought I would do a better job this time of chronicling my painful journey thru Torn Tendon Land. Here's a photo of my right ankle, with the bump where the lateral tears are concentrated and fluid has built up.  Ugh.  If your ankle looks like this, you're about to go through a life changing episode.

I'm just sayin'.  Sorry.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Hey, it's laugh or cry sometimes, right?  So I have decided to laugh - with the added benefit of occasionally offending others!  (Woohoo!)  Just ordered this terrific velcro backed patch to adorn the RoboCop boot:

I also bought the matching T-shirt!  I plan to wear this home from the hospital following surgery - and probably every day for two weeks afterwards (though I also plan to wash it during that time as well!).

Oh, and I have implemented another brain storm I had (remember, I've been down this road before...and learned from my mistakes).  One of the most dangerous trips (and that can be taken literally) for a person in a non weight bearing cast, with crutches, to make is the trek from the bedroom or sofa across the hard tile kitchen floor.  Plus, you can't CARRY much when you're using crutches.  So...guess what I just tricked out the bedroom with?  That's right - a little mini fridge and a small microwave!  We have a use for these later so I didn't feel like this was totally decadent luxury.  Before the surgery, I'm going to put a decent sized trash can in there, a fruit bowl, some paper towels and paper plates and plastic utensils, and I'm going to stock the fridge with bottled water, individual yogurt thingies, that ramen in a cup stuff, those sorts of items.  Oh, and I'm putting the Keurig in there with me as well, along with a gallon jug of water.  This should cut down on harrowing adventures into the kitchen.

I'm also going to take a set of hand weights in there as well.  And I'm committing to exercises for every part of my body other than the right leg from the ankle down. wallowing in the bed or one spot on the sofa for days at a time.  I'm going to get up, get dressed, "put my face on" every day and park myself in an uncluttered living room for part of each day.  I think it's important for our own self image, as well as for our caretakers, to get out of our gnarly funk (and pajamas or sweats) every day.

One more thing I'm excited about - a friend of mine contacted me and asked if, while I was confined, I would make some handmade cards for nursing home residents.  Absolutely!  This already makes me feel better.

Lots and lots of people have it so much worse than I do.  Let's get this over and done with!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Same song, verse two - I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!

OK, it's official - I'm a medical anomaly.  Well, I'm not sure I believe that, but that's what my doctor told me yesterday.  See...a few months ago, I noticed something ominous happening to my right ankle.  I noticed a stiffness in the Achilles tendon, pain when I got up in the morning...OH NO!  I immediately started resting it, putting ice on it, elevating it sometimes in the evenings...and for awhile all that seemed to help.  But over the course of a few months, I noticed a very familiar looking lump on the back of my right ankle...just like the one that had developed on my left ankle three years ago.  WHAT THE HECK!

So...finally I had to admit this wasn't going away, and off I went to the doctor again.  Same great doctor, same great team - and they couldn't believe it when I walked through the door again with the same symptoms on my OTHER leg.  They scheduled an MRI right away and I went in the next day for the results.  Here was the conversation:

(Door opens and PA walks in and takes one look at me and starts laughing)
Him:  "I really can't even believe this MRI.  Do you know how weird you are?  If I didn't know any better, I'd say I was just looking at a mirror image of your left ankle three years ago."

Me:  "Well, what I want to know is this - was the last surgery a Buy One Get One Free deal?"

Him:  "Uhhh, no.   Honestly, I've never had a patient with a situation like this.  Both your Achilles tendons have basically just degenerated.  That's so weird.  I talked with Dr Langford about this and he's never had this happen to any other patient either.  Do you have any other family members who have had this?"

Me, feeling like a freak:  "No.  Could it be the way I walk?  The shoes I wear?"

Him:  "No.  I hate to tell you this, but we think that your Achilles tendons were doomed from the moment you were conceived.  It's got to be genetic.  They've both just shredded from the inside out.  Anyway...the good news is, we fixed the other one and we think we can fix this one too."

Well, I got all excited, because in spite of all my angst, the results of the last surgery were awesome.  My left Achilles tendon is FIXED, baby!  But the doctor did temper my enthusiasm a little.

"Melanie, I have to be frank with you.  People make this mistake a lot with bilateral surgeries.  This is a different ankle, a different Achilles tendon, and three years later.  There is no guarantee that this surgery will be as successful as the last one.  But for all we know, this surgery could be MORE successful, LESS painful.  We just don't know.  But don't assume anything.  This is a new experience all the way around."

Well, that flattened my sails a bit, but then he did tell me something that cheered me up.  He told me that since my last surgery, they've been trying the concept of less time in the cast/splint and moving faster into the boot and weight bearing mobility.  That means LESS TIME ON CRUTCHES! Two is scheduled for February 12, and I'm back in the Robocop boot and a knee brace till then.  GOOD TIMES, GOOD TIMES!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Everybody sing along - "Feelin' stronger every day!"

OK, so you would have to be a certain age to really know most of the words to that Chicago song - or to have even heard it - but since so many baby boomers are ripping off into their 50 year old  Achilles tendons while playing at life like they were still 25, I figured it was an appropriate title.

Update - things are working out OK with this ankle bidness.  I'll tell you about how things progress through a pretty typical day for me and my tendon.

6:00 am - my two idiot dogs hear something  - probably a rabbit - in the back yard.  "ALERT ALERT ALERT!  MASTER, PLEASE JUMP OUT OF BED IMMEDIATELY AND LET US OUT SO WE CAN PROTECT YOU!  Yay, she's up, she's up, life is grand, let's see if we can hurl ourselves and her and knock her to the ground!"

The first five minutes or so that I am up walking around, well I have to admit that my leg is stiff and sore.  It doesn't help that I'm having to fight my way forward with each step because two seventy pound dogs are leaping at me.  But hey, it's good exercise.

While I am drinking coffee and net surfing before the day starts, I rather absentmindedly do some ankle stretches, rotations, that sort of thing.  Not because I am so disciplined, but because, ladies and gentlemen, this ankle hurts enough to make me WANT to stretch it out - and the stretching really does help.

As the morning progresses, my ankle and leg get to feeling fine - I mean great really.  I don't even think about tendons for hours on end.  The only time the thought crosses my mind is if I've been sitting awhile in one position and then get up without doing an ankle stretch or two.

The thing is, as my doctor explained to me, when we're lying down or sitting for a long time, our tendon draws up, due at least in part to the scarring.  That's why it's so important to stretch this baby out as often as possible, and it's also why exercising makes it feel better, not worse.

Anyway, I try to walk three miles a day.  During this walk, I'm not thinking about my ankle at all - until it sort of makes me think about it.  Usually on my walk, I will have some minor twinges and little protestations from my leg - nothing that impedes me in any way, but I know I'm working something that doesn't want to be worked.  And by that I mean, my whole leg - it's still weaker than the other one.  But - to put it in perspective, I am able to walk at 4.5 mph for three miles so life's not so bad.

During the evening after my walk, my ankle is OK, just a throb or two here and there.  It doesn't bother me at all at night.  I have noticed that when I get down on my knees or whatever, like when I'm digging around in my tupperware cabinet looking for a matching lid (usually to no avail), I have to remind myself to use the weaker leg to get back up - because now I default to the stronger leg, and I want to change that.  It's a matter of being aware of opportunities to strengthen that leg, and to give you an idea of how long you may have to think about this - it's been nearly a year and a half since my surgery and it still ain't right.

But it's better - and stronger every day!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

OK this sort of sucks

Let's see - a year ago I was rejoicing because my doctor said I could get out of that damn boot for Christmas!  Well, yes, I am a year out of the boot but  - silly me - I expected my life and leg to be back to normal by now.

I am beginning to slowly realize, and accept, that my ankle and leg may never be the same again.  I mean, my doctor basically told me that, but I think I blocked that part out of my psyche.

Good news - I can walk without a limp.  Bad news - I still limp anytime I have been sitting for awhile, or when I get up in the morning.  I limp because - IT HURTS.  However, after 8 or 10 steps, the tendon loosens up and I can walk with little or no pain.

Even better news - long, arduous walks and even hikes don't make my leg hurt any worse.  In fact, walking makes my leg feel BETTER.  So...I guess that's good, right?

Fifteen months after surgery, my calf is still a little smaller than the other one, but honestly, no one could tell unless they are scrutinizing my leg.  And if that's the case, well look all you want - I'm not ashamed of my gams!

The scar is definitely there - but it lends an aura of adventure.  It's not an eyesore.  It's just an anklesore.  OK, bad joke, but I'm serious about the pain.  Locally, right around the scar, and all up and down the tendon, it really is very sore even now.  One of my biggest paranoias is that someone will run into my ankles from behind with a shopping cart!  That, my friends, would take me to my knees, howling all the way to the floor.

I'm glad I had the surgery - I'm still much better off than without it.  But, I guess it's just difficult to get my head around the idea of a permanent adaptation, and not a positive one, to the only body that I have.

Ah well - life goes on!  And a fine life it is.  At least I HAVE achilles tendons, right?  ; )

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there IS life after surgery!

Well, it's been a few months since I posted here - and the good news is that's because I've been so ACTIVE that I haven't had time!  I finished my physical therapy in March, and continued to stretch and walk and do some of the exercises I learned there at home.  (It's July now and I still do the stretching and walking part.) 

Here's the good part - and I will post a photo which pretty much says it all:

At the Eagle's Nest summit in Germany, June 2011
We just returned from two weeks in Europe, and we walked an average of 4 hours a day - up and down mountain trails, on rocks, on cobblestones, you name it.  Not only did my ankle hold up well - it actually felt BETTER the more walking I did.  Absolutely no swelling, and very little stiffness (though it does still feel stiff and slightly sore when I get up each morning). 

Nine months out, here's my status:
  • The scar looks OK.  I mean, it's not pretty, but I wouldn't call it disfiguring.  It's obvious I've had surgery if you get to looking at it, but it's not something anyone would notice right away.
  • My left ankle (the one with drama) is 1/2 inch thicker than my right ankle.  But since the thickness is around the back, it's not noticeable from the front.
  • Due to this thickness, I have to be a little more careful about the style of shoes I wear.  For instance, those cute "Roman-style" sandals with the strappy ankle and back?  No way! But stilletos?  ABSOLUTELY!
  • My left leg is still weaker than my right, but I see slight improvement as each month goes by.  The left calf muscle is nearly back to it's original size, but it simply isn't firmed up like the right side. I can really tell a difference when I squat down and then try to stand back up without using my arms.  I mean, I can do it - but it ain't pretty. 
  • The worst thing about this whole ordeal is that I've gained about 15 pounds over the course of the year I've been dealing with this injury.  I expect to be able to walk this off, but considering that it's July in Texas, and the outside temps are over 100 every day, and start out in the muggy 80's even at 6 am - I'm probably going to put off that hot and heavy morning walk for a few more weeks.  I am confident though that I can get this weight back off.
One trick that seems to work well as I walk around - and something I did which really helped get me ready for all that vacation walking - is that instead of defaulting to that limp which seems to shorten each step (hard to explain, but it seems like my left foot's range of motion is inhibited), I make a conscious effort to push through each step from heel to toe on that foot.  Hope that makes sense.  I mean, my left foot WANTS to stiffen up and create a shortened step and consequent limp, but I make myself "roll" through the entire step - and this has really helped me overcome a noticeable limp.  Ask your physical therapist about this - don't just take my word for it.

Keep the faith!  Keep your physical therapy appointments!  And KEEP WALKING!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

26. And you thought torture was against the Geneva Convention...

Take a look at what fun I've been having in physical therapy. Imagine that you have a large, bumpy, tender scar on the largest tendon in your body. Now - imagine someone forcefully scraping a stainless steel instrument the size of a butcher knife up and down that scar, with the sole purpose of "breaking down scar tissue." Good times...

Welcome to the world of physical therapy - and the Graston Technique.

I'm slapping my jaws about it, but the reality is...I think it works.  It's a bit too early to tell for certain, but I think I can see some improvement after two of about ten sessions I'm scheduled for.

I started PT this past week and have been twice.  The first time was basically an evaluation.  Good news on that front - I'm healing very well.  In fact, my range of motion is EXCELLENT - so - that shows that all that gentle stretching I've been doing has paid off.  One less thing to worry about.

Apparently my marked limping is not due so much to the tendon as it is to my weakened calf and ankle muscles.  I can buy that.  I wore some form of a boot or a cast for nearly 8 months - that right there will weaken your leg significantly, even without surgery.

So - the great news is that the tendon itself is completely healed.  YAY!  Now - two problems still exist.

1.  The scar is very raised and bumpy, which is not good if I ever want to wear cute shoes again.  Which I do.  So - we've got to minimize that scar.  Even if it wasn't for cosmetic reasons, a scar that is swollen and uneven can cause undue stiffness, so it's gotta go.

2.  My entire left leg is very weak.  This creates balance issues, as well as all sorts of aches and pains that come with favoring my right leg.  So - gotta strengthen that leg up.

The leg strengthening thing is easy - though tiring.  Basically, it's just a lot of different exercises meant to strengthen my calf and ankle muscles.  They actually feel good and even after just two sessions, I can tell a difference.  Of course, I'm doing some of them at home as well.

That scar stuff?  DIFFERENT STORY.  The Graston Technique is, quite simply, very painful.  This is coming from a woman who had four kids without anesthesia!  When I say something is painful, I mean it.

It does make sense though.  If you've ever had therapeutic massage, you know that the therapist often uncovers sore knots in your muscles.  This is part of what is worked on in the Graston technique, and though it's tender and can be painful, you know it's doing some good.

The sucky part is when the therapist starts scraping, rubbing and bearing down on that Achilles tendon and scar.  OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH.  She kept saying to me, "You doing ok?  I need you to talk to me.  You ok up there?"

Finally I gasped, "Stop.  Listen.  I can't carry on a conversation with you going to town on me like that."  She said, "I can stop, or ease up if you like."  I twisted around and looked at her and said, "Let me ask you something.  Will this be over sooner, in fewer sessions, if you just have at it and I suffer through it?"  "Yes," she said ruefully.  I sighed.  "Then tear the roof off the sucker.  I want to see light at the end of the tunnel!"

So off we went into Agony Land.