post

How I Tore My Achilles: Part III

In the final part of a three part series, I talk about my mindset going into what is sure to be a long and difficult recovery from a torn Achilles. Read Part I here, and Part II here.

How I Tore My Achilles Part III: My Mindset

Objectively, tearing an Achilles’ tendon is not a good thing. The pain is real, the recovery process is long and arduous. Having limited mobility is not fun and having to rely on others is not something I want nor something I’m used to asking for. Having people look at you and not know whether to pity you or support you is awkward. I’ve never been one to seek sympathy and even putting my thoughts about this whole incident in a blog and on social media is a bit awkward for me. This is all new to me, but here’s how I’m choosing to look at it:

I’m looking at this whole rehabilitation process as an opportunity. An opportunity to slow down, take a look around, and take note of what’s really important to me. An opportunity to redefine how I approach everything in my life, from how I get out of bed in the morning, to how I take a shower, to how I cook food, to what relationships mean the most to me (as mentioned in my first blog in this series, my relationships are the most important thing in my life right now).

This is an opportunity to make myself stronger, more resilient, more resourceful. When faced with an obstacle such as this, this is where I can be creative, be imaginative, and put new ideas to use to not only help get me through these difficult moments, but also to pave new paths to use in the future. I fully intend to take this time to make myself a better version of me than I’ve ever been before.

The relationships. As I mentioned above, I’ve never been one to ask for help or sympathy. This experience, however, is forcing me to ask people for help. I’m having to get used to the idea that I can’t do everything on my own, and that I have to get help from others. I also can’t be adverse to the idea of people helping me out. It’s not a sign of weakness, and it’s not a bad thing for people to show me that they care. Even without the injury, I struggled to reach out to people and ask them for help. Before me lies an opportunity to exercise that ability, which is one that I hope will bring me closer to those around me.

I’d also like to comment on something I hear lots of people saying: “That’s why I don’t play basketball/ski/hike/etc., I don’t want to injure myself and have to miss work.” That’s a load of crap to me. I made the decision a long time ago that the small risk of injury was absolutely worth it to do the things I love to do in life, like play basketball. I want no part of diluting my experience on this earth for years because I was afraid of the off chance of hurting myself and, God forbid, missing a little bit of work. I don’t believe we’re put on this Earth to work as much as possible throughout our entire existence. I find it better to live the fullest life possible, and sometimes living a full life involves a few bumps and bruises. Without the hell there is no heaven. Without the darkness there is no light. Without the pain, there is no ecstasy.

I have *zero* regrets about playing ball that day, and I’ll do it again when I’m able to.

Part of keeping myself in good spirits is realizing this is far from the worst thing that could happen to me. People from all around the world to right down the street are dealing with obstacles much more difficult, with outcomes much less certain.

There’s a lady who walks up and down North Tryon St. in Uptown. You might have seen her before. She only has one leg. She’s homeless. Yet, day after day, she gets up on a pair of crutches, and goes about her business with her sweet white labrador leashed to her left hand. Every damn day. There’s no nine month recovery time for her, she’s stuck with just one leg for the rest of her life. No one is sending her a knee scooter, I doubt she has insurance. Yet she persists. She’s not letting her unfortunate disposition slow her down one bit. With far fewer resources than myself, she’s still determined to make the best of her situation.

Another friend I know is a quadriplegic. She’s about my age, but has been without the ability to use her arms and legs for almost five years now. I can’t move my left foot or put pressure on it, but I can’t imagine not being able to use any of my appendages. She truly has to rely on others for help with just about everything she does. Yet, every time I see her, in person or online, she has nothing but the biggest, life-loving smile I’ve ever seen on her face. She lives her life in a way that says “I don’t care about my condition, I’m alive and I’m going to live the best life I can possibly live.” I know not everyday is that optimistic. But you’d never be able to tell by talking to her.

Another of my friends suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. When I get the chance to talk to her at length, I know that part of her is resigned to the fact that she will probably lose her battle with the disease sooner rather than later. Despite that, she uses all her strength to speak out for what she believes in, and she continues to fight to make the positive changes in her community a reality. She never complains, she never uses her condition to ask for sympathy, even though she absolutely could. Instead, she channels her energy into creating the change she wants to see in her world, changes that she may not actually get to see come to fruition. But she does it anyway.

There are many others. There’s people in my community who have lost limbs due to drunk drivers, been beaten to within an inch of their life in random incidents of violence late at night, and those that have lost loved ones in unspeakable tragedies.

The point of all this is not to drum up sympathy for myself or anyone else, but to serve as a reminder. A reminder that no matter how bad of a situation you’re going through, there are others who are going through worse, and not only choosing to persevere, but to prosper and use those situations to make themselves stronger, more compassionate and more resilient.

That’s what I’m choosing to use this challenge as. An opportunity to make myself stronger, more compassionate and more resilient. That’s one of the things I believe makes this precious life of ours so worth living. When something threatens to take that life away, or make life harder to live, we step up. Overcome. Adapt. And in the process, we can meet that challenge and become something greater than what we were before.

In Part I of this series, I talk about how I injured my Achilles playing basketball, read it here. In Part II, I talk about the process of confirming the injury, and going under the knife to fix it, which you can read here.

post

How I Tore My Achilles: Part II

In Part II of a three part series, I talk about how I confirmed my torn Achilles, and the surgery that fixed it. Read Part I of the story here. Read Part III of the story here.

How I Tore My Achilles Part II: How I Fixed It

I hear when you get the "Fall Risk" label, that's when they give you the good drugs

I hear when you get the “Fall Risk” label, that’s when they give you the good drugs

As I drove away from the basketball court (thankfully I could still drive since it was my left Achilles that was injured), I knew I needed some help. One, to confirm that my Achilles was torn (although I was 99% sure), and two, to guide me on these critical next steps.

My first call was to a friend of mine who just happens to be a foot/ankle specialist. I described what happened to her and she agreed, it was most likely a torn Achilles. She immediately called in a prescription for an anti-inflammatory pain medication that I would be able to pick up later that afternoon. The second thing she did was to call in to one of her colleagues at her practice that could see me ASAP. While she was not going to be back in the office until Tuesday, she was able to set me up with a colleague of hers who would see me at 9:30 the next morning.

Let me just take a moment to say how thankful I am for my friend who was able to set all of this in motion for me. I’m not sure that if I had just gone to an urgent care center that my case would have been handled as quickly or as smoothly. If you’re reading this: THANK YOU.

I went into the specialist the next morning. It didn’t take her long to confirm what I had feared. It was clear that it was a complete tear as well, and not partial. She was so confident, she didn’t even need an MRI. Instead, she gave me a walking boot and called into OrthoCarolina to set up a pre-op meeting with a surgeon the next day. The surgery was quickly scheduled for the next day after that, a Wednesday.

I’d never had serious surgery. The only other surgical situation that I’d ever had was to remove my wisdom teeth. Certainly not a serious as as Achilles surgery, so this was a new experience for me. My roommate drove me to the hospital that morning, as I ran through a mental checklist of all the things I was supposed to take care of beforehand: no food or drink after midnight the night before, no pain meds, bring ID, health insurance card, and form of payment.

The first place they took me (in my own wheelchair – whee!) was, of course, the registrar’s office. Registrar is a term I had to that point only associated with the place at my university where I wrote my tuition check. That makes sense, since this is where I would pay for my surgery.

Let’s not make light of this part. There have been plenty of horror stories about how medical debt is what leads to two out of every three bankruptcies in this country. I wasn’t worried about this saddling me with debt for the rest of my life, but I knew It would be a significant expense nonetheless. Fortunately, thanks to a reasonable deductible and copay, the total amount I had to pay was something I could take care of in one swipe of my FSA card. Make no mistake, health care in this country is fucked. But in this case, my insurance saved my ass. I’m relieved that I have the employment that made it possible, but chilled by the thought of what my situation would have been had I been self-employed as I was from 2012-’15.

Back to the (relatively) fun stuff. After paying for the procedure, they wheeled me into a waiting room where I had to fill out a few forms, mostly about what I wanted to be addressed as during my stay, and the contact info of the person who would be responsible for my discharge. The wait after that wasn’t long, as a new nurse quickly came and wheeled me back to a prep room.

Me in the prep room. Such excietment

Me in the prep room. Such excietment

 

The prep was light and quick. A few questions (yes, I remembered not to eat or drink after midnight!), they took my blood pressure (a modest 121/81), and hooked up an IV (fortunately I do well with needles). After that, a very young looking anesthesiologist came in and explained the next steps, to which I mostly just nodded and agreed with but didn’t really understand or care about. Shortly after that, they began to put me under. This is the part that I really… don’t… re… remem…

… “So do I get the DVD of my procedure to take home with me?” Is the next thing I remember my smart ass saying to the nurse as I came back to consciousness in the recovery room. “No,” she politely said, “we don’t usually do that.”

Fair enough, I thought. Although I really would be curious to see my flesh sliced open and clamped apart while a doctor stitched up my insides. I’m weird like that.

The recovery room wait wasn’t too difficult. I regained consciousness rather quickly, and I wasn’t suffering from any of the side effects that I was warned about, namely nausea, grogginess and confusion. I certainly wasn’t 100%, which didn’t help when the nurse started reading off what felt like a laundry list of things I needed to keep in mind for the next few days: Take pain meds once every four hours, keep my leg elevated and on ice (two hours on, two hours off), no solid foods for 24 hours, just liquids, etc.

Just as quickly as I had been whisked into the hospital, I was on my way out. After picking up my prescription and posting up on the couch at home, I was truly ready to begin my recovery process.

I’ll spend two weeks in the heavily-wrapped split that my foot is in now, six to eight weeks in a cast, and another six weeks in a walking boot. It will likely be another eight or nine months before I can get back to crossing up defenders on the basketball court again, and that’s with a massive amount of physical therapy in between.

My roommate, Aaron, taking great care of me and not at all taking embarrassing selfies while I was unconcious

My roommate, Aaron, taking great care of me and not at all taking embarrassing selfies while I was unconcious

With all that time and adjustment in lifestyle, it’s given me some things to think about an put into perspective. I’ll examine those in my next blog, which I’ll post tomorrow morning. 

Read Part I: How It Happened here. Read Part III: My Mindset here.

post

How I Tore My Achilles: Part I

A week ago today I tore my left Achilles tendon. Let’s take a look at how it happened, how I got it fixed, and what my outlook is moving forward. Read Part II: How I Got It Fixed here. Read Part II: My Mindset here.

How I Tore My Achilles Part I: How it Happened

Sunday, February 25, 2018, 10:45 a.m., Weddington, NC. Yeah, first things first: I’m never in Weddington. Like, ever. It might as well be the Florida panhandle for all I know. So what was I doing so many miles from my NoDa home?

I was invited to play hoops with my good friend David. David and I have been friends for several years now, but because he lives in Weddington, we rarely get to kick it. On this Sunday morning, however, I decided to take the 35-ish minute drive to play some hoops with him, something we’d been talking about for quite a while. It’s part of my effort to make sure that the relationships I have in my life are at their healthiest, something that I decided to make a focal point after I got back from my trip to Asia in November.

After the drive down 77 and then 485 that always takes longer than I ever imagine it does in my head, I turned into the upscale suburban subdivision where David and a few friends were playing ball. The basketball court was all the way in the back, by the tennis courts and the clubhouse (like I said, upscale).

The court was pretty nice. Painted concrete (which now that I look back at it…), adjustable goals with clear plexiglass backboards and breakaway rims, the kind with a tight and firm bounce that gives your missed shots a chance for you to earn their rebounds.

The first game was definitely a warm up. I moved well, got my shots, just couldn’t get them to fall. Even layups were just slightly off their timing. Second game, I was warmed up. Jump shots coming off screens, up and unders, drop steps and layups off a quick first step all dropped. Everything’s in rhythm now.

Just before the third game, a little bit of rain begins to fall. Not a full downpour, but stronger than a little mist too. It made the already slick courts noticeably slicker. We decided to play though it anyway, all six of us making an unwritten pact to not go 100% for our own sakes.

I’ll give you one guess as to who was the one who broke the pact.

After scoring consecutive buckets (the second one coming off a tough contested running teardrop in the lane), I got the ball on the left wing. I knew I had my defender on his heels, and my quick first step is something I can always count on to get past an opponent. I take one dribble to size him up. I take a second faking like I’m going right. I cross over to my left. Ah ha! He’s shifted his weight, I’ve got him beat! I explode to the hoop to my left. I push off my left foot as I anticipate an easy run to the hoop.

I would describe the sound of what I heard next like taking a big empty cardboard box and hitting it with a baseball bat. It’s that deep and punchy bass note that I was most surprised with.

When I heard the sound, and felt the pop, my first thought was that someone threw a basketball full strength at the back of my left ankle. My initial reaction was to look behind me and see who the prankster was that was trying to mess with my drive. There was only one problem:

All six of us were on the court. No one was on the sideline. No one threw a ball at me.

As I went tumbling to the ground, and the realization hit me that no one was playing strike zone with my ankle, it hit me.

I just tore my Achilles. No doubt about it.

I laid flat on my back for a few moments, expecting a searing pain to come tearing through my leg. That pain never came, maybe because of shock, but it did nothing to assuage my fear.

Now, I’ve watched enough sports and played enough basketball to know what happened. I’ve seen the same injury take down Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay, Brandon Jennings and countless others. I knew the injury would take 6-9 months of rehab to get back to where I could ruthlessly cross somebody up again assuming my rehab will allow me to even get back to that level at all. All of these thoughts ran through my head in the five seconds since I heard that pop, a sound that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.

But I couldn’t worry about any of that at that moment. My first challenge in this long and arduous process: stand up.

Stand the fuck up.

David helped me to my feet. I dapped him up and told him not to sweat it, I wouldn’t change a thing (more on this mentality later). I was able to balance on my left foot, but I could tell it was unstable. The next step was to gingerly walk back to my car, toss the basketball I wouldn’t be using for a few months in the passenger seat, and sit down.

Now. Now is where my recovery begins.

First step?

Call a damn doctor!

Read Part II: How I Got It Fixed here. Read Part III: My Mindset here.

My injured left ankle, just hours after my Achilles tore. I was quite surprised there wasn't more swelling and bruising.

My injured left ankle, just hours after my Achilles tore. I was quite surprised there wasn’t more swelling and bruising.