Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Don't Rush Recovery: What I have Learned

The photo above is a runner's nightmare. Orthopedic surgery with a three month recovery process. And not to over-dramatize the situation, but a three month layoff to someone who is actively active feels like a life sentence. At least to me it does.

In a time where social media rules everything, it is hard to fight the urge not to exercise. Especially when your friends are constantly posting photos of where they ran, or the miles they just put in. Only the injured know how mentally breaking that can be. While my friends were hitting the roads and trails, whether for races or training, I was literally laid up on the couch. For close to three weeks my foot was propped up to keep the swelling down. I couldn't walk on my own. I was stuck using a walker, being wheeled around in a wheelchair, and stuck on crutches. Even after four weeks, I still needed crutches and a walker to get around.

Heading into the second month, I was able to put some pressure on my foot when walking around the house. Even then, I was not able to wear a legitimate shoe. I had a beautiful orthopedic walking shoe that was on my foot anytime I tried to walk. Slowly, the severe pain started to ease up, and I started getting brave. I proudly woke my wife up in the middle of the night to show her I could walk eleven steps on my own. I actually broke down and cried because I was so happy. I have learned that when you are able to walk with both feet, you take walking for granted. But when I couldn't walk, when I had to get my wife to help carry food or drink, or help me to the bathroom, real depression set in.

That's when I said enough was enough. I made my wife drive me to the C&O Canal so I could try a small walk. Granted, I was still using crutches, but only for balance that day. The next day, which was my birthday, I was on the phone to my doctor. I had broke the toe next to the incision from overdoing it. One step forward, three steps back. I found it really hard to be on social media at that point. Friends were still posting awesome photos and bragging about their pace over certain distances. Not to mention signing up for races. There were moments when I even contemplated deactivating my accounts. I just wanted to run. Heck, I just wanted to walk on my own...and I couldn't. One thing that got me through those rough times, and still getting me through, was all the love and support from all of my friends. I would read, and reread their encouraging words to keep me from breaking. Those of you that have been in this situation know exactly what I mean. Another positive point was being able to put on a left shoe. A real left shoe. I was like a kid at Christmas.

My shoe of choice was the Altra Running Olympus 1.5. With the wide toebox and maximal amount of cushion, it did not hurt my foot at all when putting it on. And even with the toe feeling better, and foot pain easing again, I forced myself not to try anything stupid. I continued to prop my foot up when on it too long. I continued to be smart and not give into the social media postings. I continued to heal the way my doctor wanted me to. On December 17th, I signed up for the C&O Canal 100 mile ultra. It was something to look forward to, and to get my head out of the funk it had been in for the past two months. I was especially stoked when my doctor gave me the green light to start up light walking on my own. I instantly went to our local towpath for a walk. I headed out alone while my wife and daughter waited in the car. A quarter mile in I was feeling good so I started to jog. That jog started for a few steps, then a few steps more. At the end I had managed to "run" an 11:37:49 mile. My wife was not as happy as I was. She knew this could spell trouble.

Fast forward to now, January 6th. I now have a stress fracture of the sesamoid bone, which connects to the big toe on the ball of the foot. This time it was just a freak accident because I was overcompensating to stay off the incision area. I am now taking it easy and stuck in a walking "boot" to be safe. Two days ago, with the help of trekking poles, I was able to walk a mile in 18:03:56. While I know not to overdue it, I plan to at least walk once a week for my own sanity. I was so excited when finished, I posted a photo to my Facebook timeline. So many friends had encouraging words for me. I was really overwhelmed by their kindness. But we all know there's always that sarcastic one that can take it all away with one comment. And whether this person was serious or not, it made me think. "That's a fast day for you", followed with some braggadocious comments. And ending with, "Gotta learn to run hurt lol."

Even in fun, these types of comments could have a negative impact on someone who is already fragile. Rushing recovery and running hurt can have a lifelong negative impact. Future surgeries to fix more problems that you caused yourself. Not being able to run again, or walk right. Running is something I love to do, but it is not my job. I have a wife and two daughters that need me. My plan is to see them both down the aisle when they get married. Regardless of what people tell me to do. No matter how much I want to run. Whatever names they jokingly call me. None of that will force me to run...until I am ready. I have learned that you can run through aches and pains, even broken toes. But you can't run through recovery from surgery. You have to be smart. You have to see the big picture for what it is. Block out the naysayers and thrive on the positiveness of friends far and wide. It's been a rough road, and it's still bumpy. But through the pain, the setbacks, the dark moments...there is a light at the end. The trail will be there. The road is not going to go anywhere. And when I am ready, I will visit them...on my own two feet. This is what I have learned while recovering. Thank you to everyone who has been there to carry me through. And to my wife, who is my everlasting support. I am forever thankful.

1 comment:

ZDeM said...

Thank you for your openness, Ray. While I'm nowhere near the level of athlete you are, I can certainly appreciate the distress and anxiety that fighting recovery can bring. Accepting temporary limitations is so different from not trying to do your best or maybe that's part of doing the best - allowing your body to heal and being supportive of your spirit.