Sunday, March 30, 2014

12 weeks and counting

It's been 12 weeks since I crashed my motorcycle, 12 weeks minus 1 day since I had surgery to put my knee back together, and 4 weeks since I last wrote anything about it.  For over 10 weeks I wore a leg brace, meaning I've been free from it for almost 2 weeks.  Eight weeks ago I started physical therapy, 5 weeks ago I started driving, 1 week ago I started boxing again.

Kneecap at T-minus 1 day of surgery and 12 weeks later
In a strange, Stockholm-syndrome kind of twist, I kind of miss my leg brace.  Not in the sense of the support it gave me, but for the physical reminder it sent to me and to others that everything wasn't A-ok in the general vicinity of my right knee.  Now I'm asked more often than not "So is your knee all healed up?"  And 12 weeks ago when I was told I'd be in a leg brace for 10 weeks, my reaction was the same: once it's off, I'll be 100% again.

But no.

My knee is still larger than my thigh because the soft tissue that was ripped apart is still swollen as it continues to heal itself.  I've come to understand this could last for up to a year.  My thigh is still smaller than my knee because my muscles atrophied (quickly) when I was be-braced and couldn't use them.  I've come to understand this can take 4–6 months to reach 80% to 90%, and up to a full year to get back to 100%.  While I used to be able to hang out at the bottom of a squat for minutes at a time, my knee currently doesn't bend far enough for me to do so, and I don't have the strength to get back up.  I have a 6-inch jagged scar running the width of my knee, I can feel knots under my skin where the surgeon tied off the plastic sutures she used to hold the 2 pieces of my kneecap together, and some skin and facia are still stuck to my kneecap where they adhered while my leg was stuck inside of its cage.

Be-scarred knee and atrophied leg
So no, my knee is not all healed up. And it won't be for a while.

I seem to cycle between good weeks and bad weeks.  The good ones usually involve realizing I've made some progress—another 10 degrees of bend, the ability to climb a step without a hand rail—which usually comes on suddenly, like "hey, look at that, I'm an inch closer to the floor and it doesn't hurt!"  That's been interesting to watch, since I thought the healing process would be more gradual.  The bad weeks involve trying and failing to do something I used to be able to do, or think I should be able to do, or try doing and then finding out how much harder it is to do than I thought it would be.  I expect these weeks to be more common now that the brace is off and I can try (and fail) to do more.   Hopefully they'll be countered by weeks when I realize that I've tried (and succeeded in) doing something, even if it's just a little more than last week.

So I still find the injury and healing process intriguing, despite the frustrating moments.   I'm hoping I might be more empathetic about both in the future, now that I'm developing an understanding of how much time it can take to heal and how difficult it can be.  I'm happy to be walking, hoping to be running (slowly) soon, and looking forward to hanging out in the bottom of a squat again.  This week I started hitting things (and got hit) again in boxing, and today I pushed a sled—not the heaviest one I've pushed before, but it felt awesome to move that sucker across the gym floor.

Tomorrow I may hurt.  And I'll likely be pissed off because of it.  It's easy to take for granted the things I could do before being injured, and it's frustrating not to be able to do them now.  But eventually I'll get there, with enough time and practice and patience, maybe just one small lunge or shallow squat at a time.   In the meantime I'll take whatever quarter-inch more mobility my knee will give me, and try to call it good.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Crash test dummy

Still in one piece
Eight weeks ago today I crashed my motorcycle, tearing open my knee and fracturing my kneecap into mostly 2 pieces.  I was geared up as best I could be (helmet; leather jacket, boots, and gloves; jeans), didn't hit my head, and never lost consciousness.  What I remember is my front wheel suddenly jerking to the right as I was traveling 3035 mph down the road, which caused me to low-side the bike and slam my right knee into the ground.  We both tumbled down the road for a ways, but I managed to get away from the bike (or it from me), so when we stopped moving, the bike was about 15 feet away from me, still in the same lane of travel.

These boots were made for sliding
From what I could tell, everyone around me stopped to help, calling 911, directing traffic around me, pushing my bike off the road.  Somebody grabbed my hand and told me to squeeze as hard as I needed to (I will forever remember this stranger).  The ambulance was there within 510 minutes.  I don't remember the crash itself being that painful (maybe between a 3 and 5 on a scale of 110, which was a question I was asked by every care practitioner who walked by me), but later in the hospital once the drugs and adrenaline wore off, it was awful.  I discovered morphine was my new best friend.

The next morning I was in surgery for 3 hours, half the time spent removing road debris from inside my knee, the other half to put the pieces back together and stitch me up (19 stitches).  The surgeon had me walking with a walker and leg brace the same day.  I was released from the hospital 2 days later after being doused with antibiotics to prevent infection from the open wound.

Forget the brace, those socks are sexy!
Within a week I traded the walker for a cane, then gave up the cane 2 days after that.  The next day I walked device-free (except for the brace, of course) into the gym, where I've been 34 times each week since.   I started working part-time from home a week after the accident, and have been adding more hours each week.

Me and Johnny Walker.  Or Walker, Texas Ranger.  Or Imperial Walker.
When I first got home, trying to be human seemed to take 3 times as long as beforegoing to the bathroom, showering, getting dressed.  But, as my leg has gotten stronger, I've been able to cut the time back to something closer to normal.  Four weeks ago I was allowed to start bending my knee 30 degrees, which meant I could finally put pants and socks and shoes on by myself (instead of skirts and flip-flops), and pretty much do everything by myself except drive.  I started physical therapy the same day.

I'm wearing pants!
The surgeon's schedule is for me to bend my knee 30 more degrees every two weeks, building up to 2 weeks at 90 degrees, at which point I can finally become brace-free (March 19!).  I've been pushing it a little, and am now past 90 degrees of bend.  A couple of weeks ago when I reached 50 degrees, I discovered I could drive again.  All of our cars are manuals, so this wasn't an option until I could fit both legs in the driver's seat.

Perhaps strangely, I've found being injured unexpectedly interesting, in part because I've never been injured like this before, so everything is new and curious, but mostly because I've had such amazing support during the entire process, so it's been easier than expected to be myself and do what I need and like to do.  My husband has been incredible, keeping me well-fed and helping me with all the daily tasks I couldn't do at the beginning.  I don't know how anyone could recover from an injury like this without having a retired squeeze at home.  My friends have been so generous in offering me rides to and from the gym and happy hour.  If it hadn't been for them, I would've gone crazy not being able to get my endorphins on or hang out with people I like.  And my coach at the gym has done a fantastic job modifying all of the workouts to something that accommodates my limited mobility while still kicking my ass.  I've made peace with the AirDyne, hang muscle cleans, sit-ups, ring rows, and anything else that doesn't require a deep knee bend.

Teaching that AirDyne who's boss

Ring rows should be easier with an exoskeleton, but no
I've also received a lot of advice and lectures over the past 8 weekswhat to do or not do while on pain medication (which I cut way back on after about 5 days and stopped taking after 10), what to do or not do while my knee heals, what to do or not do with my motorcycle.  I appreciate that everyone's concerned and I know they all mean well, but really, I'm done with being lectured.  I've also been told how lucky I was that I was in good shape before the accidentagain, thanks, but if 3 years of consistently going to the gym and lifting heavy weights constitutes luck, then I have a very different definition of the word (who was it who said "the more I practice, the luckier I get"?).  I'll chalk up the fact I was in good shape to good fortune and hard work; the good luck part comes in with the fact it was a Sunday with minimal traffic on what's usually a busy road in Tucson.  Sorry, I don't mean to be contrary, but I guess I have some buttons that are easy to push after hearing or being told the same things for the past 8 weeks.  I needed one paragraph to vent a little.

So enough of that, moving on, we still don't know the cause of the crash, because the two theories we've come up with don't explain all of the details.  One is that I was tapped by a car from behind, which would explain my front wheel suddenly jerking to the right; however, this doesn't explain the damage to my front wheel, which indicates I hit something big (like a cinderblock or pothole). The problem with that idea is that nobody was in front of me, just an open road on a beautiful day, so it's hard for me to think I missed something as big as a cinderblock (no potholes
we checked).  Of course, you always hear about car drivers who say they didn't see that motorcycle until after they hit it, so maybe I hit another motorcycle.  Other theories include something with vampires, aliens, or a drone strike.  I'm inclined to go with a combination of all of the above.

Phantom wheel damage
Ultimately, yes, I'm extremely thankful it wasn't worse, that I was up and back to the gym within 2 weeks of the accident, that I have such a great support system to take care of me, and that I have a job with enough flexibility that I can work from home.  If any of those factors were different, I don't know how things would be going right now.  But fortunately all of those things are there, and I feel good.  Granted, I have up days and down days, but I'm looking forward to getting back to 100%, including observing the healing process along the way.  I'm looking forward to getting back on my motorcycle and riding again; before doing so, I plan to purchase body armor specific to motorcycling.  And I've especially loved hearing everyones' stories about their injuries (especially knee injuries) and how they healed, because I have a new appreciation of the challenges involved with an injury and I find your stories inspiring!

So thanks to all of you who have shared your stories with me, and thanks to everyone who continues to help me as I build my way back to 2 working legs!

Thanks, everyone!  Keep the rubber side down!