Many people have asked what was happening with my ankle injury and I wanted to give everyone an update. For those of you who do not know, I injured my ankle earlier this year during a 52 Hike Challenge and have been under the care of an ankle orthopedist since early May. After non-surgical treatment for a few months, I had surgery on August 2nd, which did not go as expected. While I am sharing my experience here, this summary should not be considered medical advice, but rather a summary of my injury, treatment, surgery, and recovery. ;)
Repeated Ankle Injuries
During middle and high school I repeatedly sprained my ankles. During that time-frame I was told that they are naturally weak and that I needed to take precautions. So I did. My coaches would wrap them before practice and I wore heavy-duty braces. Yet somehow would still roll them.
As I got older, my left ankle continued to give me problems. Over the past few years, even walking a quarter of a mile would strain it at times. This would lead to rest and physical therapy exercises to strengthen it, but it never was quite at 100 percent. I threw out my beloved flip-flops and exchanged them for Birkenstock sandals and high-top hiking boots. I stretched before activities and always tried to stay on the flattest part of the trail while hiking. These things worked for the most part. I could still enjoy the outdoor activities I loved as long as I prepared for and rested after activities.
Injuring My Peroneal Tendon
Fast forward to February 2017 when Hubs and I started our 52 Hike Challenge. The first few hikes went well. I had my high-top hiking boots on and did take any stupid risks on the trail. I watched my foot placement and maintained an easy to manage pace. However, as our hikes progressed (about 2-3 a month), I began to feel more and more discomfort in my left ankle.
By early April, the discomfort had become pain. By late April, the pain became a sharp stabbing pain up the outside of my ankle and at times would tingle. Something wasn’t right. So, I made an appointment with an ankle specialist at my orthopedist’s office. I was 90 percent confident that he would tell me I needed to do PT and was ready to commit to it in hopes of getting back on the trail quickly.
My hopes of getting back on the trail quickly were dashed when after the examination he basically told me “you’ll likely need surgery, but let’s exhaust our other options first.” Yikes! This was definitely not what I wanted to hear from him. Doc could feel the damage on my tendon, so he recommended that we go straight for isolation.
I left the office in a walking boot with strict instructions to stay off the foot as much as possible. That boot was my frenemy for months. It went to work with me, ate dinner with me, showered with me, and slept with me. Heck, it even sat in the handicap section at a concert with me (not that either of us could see the stage).
Each return visit to the orthopedist showed no improvement. We even switched boots and further reduced my “time on foot”. It was frustrating. An MRI was scheduled in the middle of my second month of wearing the boot. The results confirmed that surgery was the best long-term option.
Peroneal Tendon Surgery
Ankle surgery is a big deal. You can replace hip and knee joints, but not ankles. This means that any surgical procedure is risky. On top of that, my surgeon told me that it’s difficult to see how messed up your tendons are from scans alone. Once they you on the operating table things are much more clear. They can assess how much damage is really done and make a call on how to go about repairing it. Which wasn’t very comforting.
As someone who works in post-graduate medical education, I couldn’t help but look up the surgery online. I read personal recovery stories, looked at surgical images from other peroneal tendon surgeries (I do not recommend this if you have a weak stomach), and browsed scientific journals. This is basically how I deal with any medial issue – it’s a weird side effect of my 9-to-5. Between the doctor and my research, I had a fairly good understanding of the repair options. On the easy end of the scale, is tightening the ligaments. Then you have repairing a split or torn tendon. Lastly, you have the excision or remove of the tendon.
Going in, we thought I’d be somewhere on the easier end of the scale. However, my surgeon said that once I was under anesthesia, my foot basically just flopped around. In fact, he said that it was the “floppiest ankle he’d see in his 44 years.” [Sidebar: I’m thinking about adding this to my online bio’s. It’s almost like a badge of honor at this point.]
Can you guess where this is going after the floppiest ankle announcement? He ended up excising my peroneal longus tendon and attaching the ends of it to the peroneal brevous tendon that runs parallel to it. Additionally, he ended up tightening my ligaments.
Doc likes to describe the procedure I had done as a “career end-er” for a professional athlete. The outcome of this procedure is that I will have a very stiff ankle moving forward. Recovery will take at least a year before I can walk normal for any length of time. Doc said the two worst things I can do moving forward would be playing basketball … and hiking. I’m sure you can imaging how I feel about that last bit of news.
There is very limited recovery information out there for people who have had their peroneal longus tendon excised. So, I’m sort of shooting from the hip here. I’m going to rehab as best I can to get back into hiking shape. Even if “hiking” in the future is just scenic nature walks on short, flat trails. In the mean time, I’m going to get my nature fix from camping and maybe even kayaking.
My Recovery (AKA Staring at walls and squirrels)
The second most popular question I receive these days after “what happened?” is “how is your recovery going?” I really appreciate your concern and frequent check-ins. I have the most amazing IRL and online friends! Obviously due to the unexpectedly invasive surgery, my recover has been much more intense than expected. I’ve sent a lot of time staring out windows, examining our quick and not-so-perfect paint job in my recovery room, and watching three squirrels rush around my yard for hours each day. So, without further ado, my recovery:
Short Term Disability
How things are going with my 9-to-5 is also a frequent question I receive, so I thought I would address that first as it is easiest. I have not been cleared to return to work. I’m now seven weeks post surgery and am still not cleared for at least two more weeks. I had anticipated a couple of weeks of time off, but no where near two months. Not since I was in middle school and working seasonally between an apple orchard and tree farm have I been off work for more than a one or two week vacation. It’s driving me absolutely bonkers. I miss my co-workers, I miss the world of e-learning, and I even miss cubicle life. Now that this is out of the way, the more personal side of my recover is below.
Prepping my Post-Surgery Recovery Space
I live in a three-story townhouse and all of our bedrooms are on the third floor. The location of our bedrooms meant that I needed to get creative for a recovery space. My first option was to crawl/scoot up and down the stairs. However, with several post-surgery doctors appointments I didn’t really want to use up all my energy just getting downstairs. Also, I’m one of those no-TV-in-the-bedroom people, so it would have been a long recovery without Netflix.
My second and best choice was to create a recovery room on our first floor. It’s above ground, has a full bath, and is attached to our garage, which makes it easy to come and go. I had two options for my recovery space. The first was our small office and the second is our workout room/den. I ended up opting for the den due to the space and views to our backyard … aka, the only nature I’ll experience during my recovery.
As the den had only been used as a workout and storage room, we had to clean out some junk. Once that was done, we painted to give it a more finished look. I’m so happy we did and wish we’d also have had the time to address the horrific early 90’s teal seashell wallpaper in the bathroom. However, it’s tolerable in my current state. We also set up the den up like a dorm room (fridge, microwave, tv, etc.) to make it as comfortable as possible. I’m also thankful we took the time to do these steps as they have added to my recovery comfort.
I use the term bed rest because it best describes what I am and am not allowed to do. I’m to spend the majority of my day with my leg up to decrease swelling. Keeping the swelling down is supposed to help minimize the risk of infection as well.
I’m not allowed to put any weight on bad ankle. Which is honestly way harder and more frustrating than I ever thought possible. Imagine showering without standing… it’s not a fun task. So, I basically live on crutches and use a knee scooter to help make trips out easier.
Without work to keep me busy, I am a bit lost. In the beginning, I slept the majority of the day and night due to the medication I was on. As time has passed, I started to read and played games on my phone. Eventually, even reading got old. Which is a blasphemous statement coming from me. I’m not a big TV watcher so this is a bit of a crisis point for me. With that said, I now split my time pretty evenly between reading and watching TV. Thank goodness for Netflix and Barnwood Builders.
It’s only been in the last week or so that the ankle pain has decreased enough to feel sort of normal. Hence, this blog post. :) It’s also got me so hopeful for good news at my doctor’s appointment next week.
I actually don’t know what is next and won’t until my next assessment with my doctor next week. I’m hopeful he will say the magic words of “you can return to work” even if it is part-time and remotely. I miss my co-workers so much and could use a good mental challenge. I’m also hopeful that doc will let me bear weight on my injured foot in some, likely limited, fashion. Ideally, I’ll also start physical therapy and work towards my goal of being able to take a “hike” in 2018. However, if I’m being honest, there is just as likely a chance that my doc will extend my current bed rest. I’ll keep you all posted. :)