I’m about ten days post-surgery today, and this is the Frankenleg that emerged from my bandage at my post-op appointment on Friday. Luckily, there’s no chance of this thing rising from the table to stumble through Boulder terrorizing people. A six-year-old could fight it off with a balloon sword.
But actually, it looks pretty good, according to my doctor, and that’s the only opinion I care about right now. I have to say, though, scars don’t bother me so much as how wasted my leg has become. It was significantly shrunken even before the procedure, so this is no surprise. Get this: my doc says that seven days of non-weightbearing can cause 60% muscle loss. Damn!
I’m certainly the poster child for that sad fact: I can barely lift my own shriveled limb onto the couch. I stare at it and think….how the hell did I get here? My legs used to be used so muscular that it was a huge pain in the ass to buy jeans. Now I could probably get into those fixie-hipster pants that are (please tell me) going out of style. But thank god — my muscle will come back, hopefully unlike those jeans.
At any rate, the surgery, known as patellar debridement, is an uncommon procedure these days. Most people are able to get their tendonitis under control and avoid being cut open. The doc tells me my tendon was in pretty bad shape, which makes me think…I don’t understand what I did wrong. As you all know, I stopped riding six months ago, and have done nothing but ice, stretch, take prescription-grade anti-inflammatories, and avoid stairs. I tried cross-friction massage, physical therapy, and a Platelet Rich Plasma injection. It’s a huge unknown why none of the things I did were able to help… and I’m now on the couch staring at a leg I don’t even recognize as my own.
My doc looks at me sympathetically when I ask this question. She’d like to be able to give me a solid answer, but sometimes the body is just a mystery. Maybe, she says, the tendon was simply on a trajectory of degeneration that couldn’t be turned around. But still, I’m left with this uncomfortable feeling that I did something wrong, or else didn’t do something right.
But the doc has done what she can: cut out the worst of the tissue, “roughed up” the rest (to stimulate the body’s healing response), packed the whole area full of more platelet-rich plasma, and sewn me back up. Now I swing around on crutches while all of this takes hold. Even though my hands, armpits and spine aren’t too happy about it, I find myself clinging to the crutches, almost dreading the point late next week when I’m supposed to ditch them. I don’t want to do anything to risk the healing of this tendon. I can’t possibly face this situation dragging on past the three-to-four month timeframe she’s given me. But what can I do? She’s the expert; I have to trust her guidance.
It’s obvious I’m bogged down in a bit of fear about all this, isn’t it? I’m having trouble letting go of the unanswered questions… why couldn’t my body heal itself? Did I do something wrong? Some people who have had this surgery report that their tendons are forever hypersensitive. What if I can never mountain bike to the level that I was before? I didn’t even have the nerve to ask her that question, and she probably would have avoided really answering it. It’s probably too early to say.
But, the way I figure is, this has to be rock bottom. Right? There’s nowhere to go but out of the proverbial gutter? Besides, worrying has never done anyone one damn bit of good. I have to consider every negative thought a bad choice. And I do have a choice, difficult as it is, sometimes.
So I have to stop watching everyone else enjoying their rad summers and pay attention. I have a long, solitary walk (or hobble) down the road of healing, and it’s going to require focus to make sure it gets done right. But that’s okay – sometimes it’s good to start from the bottom. A lot of small things can feel like progress. And when you finally make it back up to the light, everything seems more beautiful after you’ve been in the dark.
If there’s one thing that’s been mind-blowingly, incredibly awesome about all this, its what an amazing group of friends of I have. So many people have gone out of their way to help me – to drive me to my appointments, bring me food they made themselves, take me to movies, push my cart through the grocery store, make ice and/or chocolate deliveries, send me cheerful messages — the list goes on and on. It is truly humbling how fantastic my friends are to me, and that, of course, guides my other mission: to be as good a friend to them as they have been to me.
And if you’ve read this far, you too are deserving of thanks! I hope to repay you all with future posts that grow our collective stoke in the sport we love.