Much later than expected, but it's high time for part two of this series. I think it's safe to say I'm mostly recovered from my broken ankle, after all... I've already backpacked to Havasupai. I'm not sure if I'll ever be 100%, but I'm probably in the 90-95% range, which is pretty awesome.
So I told you the story of how I broke my ankle, but then what?
On January 3rd, 2017 I went in for ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation) surgery. Both my tibia and fibula needed to be stabilized in order to heal correctly. Aside from having my wisdom teeth out, this would be my first "real" surgery. I was anxious to get the show on the road, but I felt nervous too. Just the idea that a surgeon would be cutting in to my body and inserting metal objects boggled my mind.
What's that on my leg you ask? That was my peg leg! For anyone with a foot or ankle injury, this device is pretty amazing. I was able to walk/hobble around fairly easily and unlike crutches, my hands were completely freed up. The iWalk device made me feel (for lack of better words) human again. I did get some interesting looks though, for as you can see, it almost looks like I had my lower leg amputated. I highly recommend it though, even over the knee scooter.
So, the surgery went well. It felt like it was over in an instant, and my sister kindly took videos of my hilarious post-anesthesia rambles. The pain set in promptly 24 hours later when the nerve blocks and anesthesia were completely out of my system, and for the next few days I was on a pretty regimented medication routine. I was taking Tylenol, prescription strength ibuprofen, oxycodone, anti-spasm meds, stool softener (yep, it's a must) and SO many vitamins and supplements. The four weeks after I broke my ankle were the worst. Sleeping was challenging, the pain and swelling was obviously uncomfortable and I greatly disliked the feeling of having staples in my skin. But at two weeks post-op, the bandages came off, the staples came out and I got to see the hardware store that was now in my ankle.
After the staples came out, my surgeon told me that I could begin physical therapy at any time. Which kinda blew my mind because I could barely move my ankle. It blew my mind even more that he wanted me to be 100% weight bearing in two weeks, when I was currently 0%. My surgeons words stuck with me throughout the entire process though. He said "the more you baby it, the longer it will take to heal" and he definitely has a "no pain, no gain" approach to recoveries in general. So I hopped on that train, while still keeping in mind that it's always important to listen to your body.
When I "walked" in to my physical therapists office, just shy of three weeks post-op, the look on his face was priceless. Not only was he shocked to see me so soon (typically patients with my injury wouldn't come in until 6-9 weeks post-op), but he couldn't believe the aggressive approach my surgeon was taking. He'd never seen anything like it, but we were both really excited to give it a go and see what transpired over the coming weeks. The first few visits were just filled with things like ankle circles and using resistance bands to increase range of motion. The biggest hurdle was trying to get my heel on the ground. We wouldn't be able to really make noticeable progress until I was able to stand and bear weight.
By four weeks post-op, to the day, I took my my first unassisted steps. Sort of diving in head first. Typically you're supposed to work up to it. People normally begin bearing more weight and walking with the crutches as support for several days, then moving to one crutch for a few days and then begin taking unassisted steps. I kinda just took off my peg leg, and went through the above process in about 30 minutes. I cried when I took those steps though. It was just such an emotional experience, plus the bottom of my foot felt instantly bruised from the weight of my body. Even though I took those first steps, it took another two weeks before I was fully walking around, but it was perfect timing. My physical therapist and I had a goal that I would walk into my six week post-op appointment and sure enough, I did. I had a mild limp, but all and all was getting around fairly well. My x-ray tech was absolutely amazed by what he saw, he told me that he sees a LOT of these injuries and that I appeared to be closer to 12 weeks post-op, not six. I had the BIGGEST grin on my face. I did this! Even before my surgery, I set the intention to have one of the fastest recoveries for this particular injury. And that day, I knew my hard work and positive mindset had paid off. I set goals, followed my surgeon and physical therapists instructions, did my exercises, pushed myself within limits, and I ate healthy and took a million vitamins and supplements.
Being injured obviously isn't any fun, but it's eye opening. It's incredibly humbling when your life changes in an instant. Luckily this was only temporary for me, but you become acutely aware of all the things you take for granted, and you think of all those things when you can't drive anywhere for eight weeks, or when you're sitting on a stool in your shower ...but I digress.
Three months after my surgery, I was staring at the most gorgeous waterfall I've ever seen. I backpacked the 10 miles down to Havasupai (no helicopter or pack horse) and felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, both mentally and physically.
It wasn't a piece of cake though, the last two miles both on the way in and on the way out were rough, and my ankle was weak... so it rolled very easily, which was terrifying and painful. But, this is how I chose to get stronger and to celebrate the entire experience. The human body and mind is an incredible thing and modern medicine is equally amazing. Be thankful for your health and when you get knocked down, stay positive and figure out what's in your control and what isn't. How well you bounce back from something is partially up to you.
Most people leave their hardware in, but I'm fairly certain I'll be having everything removed. I'm not neccesarily bothered by the plate or the screws on a regular basis, but I don't like the idea of having foreign objects in my body for the rest of my life. My goal is to have a fantastic hiking and backpacking season and then to have the removal surgery right around the holidays in either November or December. From there, it will take about 4-6 weeks for the holes in the bones to fill in, but after that... I should be good to go!
Big thank you to everyone who checked in on me, both in person and/or on social media. The support and kind words I received were very encouraging. And an even bigger thank you to my physical therapist, surgeon, my sister and Amanda and Kui, they all played key roles from the very beginning to the end.