I Used to Be An Adventurer Like You: Reflecting on a Year Dominated by Injury Recovery

When I think about what this year brought me, one thing dominates it: having ACL reconstruction surgery. It felt like everything fell to the side or was simply an accessory to it, and I have to wonder if I have let it define my year. I am sure I will forget what this has all been like to a certain extent. It has changed me physically and also mentally as well. It has brought a massive emotional challenge and has redefined the kind of person I thought I was. I can’t understate how life changing this has been.

Prior to the injury, I felt a certain sense of invincibility. It felt like serious injuries were things that happened to other people. Now that I am ‘one of the fallen’, I hope I can share what I’ve learned and assist others in both preventing and recovering from similar injuries. So I would like to make this a bit of a recap post, but first a quick update of where I am at 19 weeks post operation.

I have had a couple of visits to my physio since my last post including today. When asked, I reported that I would rate my diligence at sticking with the routine as a 6/10. When I gave myself this healthy B-/C+ score I am probably being a bit of a harsh assessor, but he felt like I was doing reasonably well considering my lifestyle. After all, I am not being paid to do rehab, like an elite athlete would be. I am not too willing to spend any longer at the gym than 1 hour a session around full time work, and I haven’t been making it every day, especially in the past couple of weeks. But I have definitely been going regularly, at least 4-5 times per week. I usually spend about 20 minutes on the stationary bike, consciously attempting intervals of different resistance and speed, and then I do a pair of upper body exercises followed by a 3-5 sets of the prescribed exercises. This usually goes for a total of around 65-70 minutes, and when you add getting there, getting changed and finding a bloody parking spot, it takes around an hour and a half out of my day.

My current routine of exercises for my ACL baby include things like lateral hops, a variety of jumps, knee extensions, and some other various things that focus on balance, proprioception, and strength. My physio has encouraged freedom to incorporate some roller derby specific cross-training I did prior to surgery into my routine. If people are interested in specific exercises, I’m happy to post some of them. Let me know.

As per my last post, I am not cleared to run, let alone skate, until my next surgical review which is at the end of February, which is over 7 months post operation. This feels unusual and quite conservative compared to other recovery programs I’ve seen online, but I would rather follow my surgeon’s advice and be safe rather than sorry. The physio indicated he would have had me jogging and trying out a bit of skating by now. But we better listen to the man with the bigger qualifications. He made my knee, after all.

Personally, I have started to feel pretty normal. My walking gate is normal and I am not walking slowly any more. My VMO muscle has come to the party and my leg muscles are looking fairly even. My physio says this is thanks to the effort I’ve been putting in. I can sit cross legged comfortably on the floor with a pillow tucked under my leg, which is the same as pre-surgery/post injury at this point. I have dabbled in some yoga practice thanks to my old friend Adriene on YouTube. I plan to increase all of my routine to a good 2 hours every day now that I am on a holiday break, and get myself set up from a strong position to kick off 2020. The past few weeks in particular have had me feeling so good that I have even had dreams fantasizing about running. This is hilarious because I fucking hate running. But needless to say, the first thing I’ll do when I am cleared for it, is go for a jog.

So now the recap is done of the past weeks, here is a recap of the year for those who don’t know…

My Magical Journey Timeline!

  • I sustained the injury 11th of April. I felt a terrible pop and it was very painful, but I was able to walk and then drive home. The next morning I fell over brushing my hair, and then I cried at work and was sent home. I saw a GP who cleared me for concussion and diagnosed me tentatively with a mild knee sprain. RICE and maybe come back if I was still concerned. I wasn’t.
  • In the next two weeks, I flew to the eastern states to visit family (I live in Western Australia). I was slightly limping the whole time, walking all over both Sydney and Canberra like a madwoman, and was also dizzy/nauseous the whole time. I suspect now I had a moderately bad concussion caused by perhaps a series of falls at the scrimmage that was missed by diagnosis. My walking improved after my knee ‘popped’ again (which may have been the tear fully ripping all the way?) and I thought that was that.
  • When I returned I attempted to return to skate in a scrimmage. Surprised, I realised my knee couldn’t do any lateral movement during the warm up and had to sit out the game. The next morning I cried at work again. I made a chart for crying at work because this was becoming a joke. My colleagues joined in to tally their crying. Fun. (We cry a lot in the Arts Department).
  • In May, I went to a physio who worked with me to rehab my ‘sprain’. Not once did he suggest I had an ACL tear and he suggested it was my LCL. I worked hard on my rehab, wanting to make rosters on my team.
  • 2 weeks later my physio cleared me for skating, non contact.
  • 2 weeks again I was cleared for contact skating. As soon as I could do lateral movements, my knee said no. I was stronger than before, but there was something not quite right in my knee. I couldn’t perform deep cutting motions with contact, which my skating style and my sport relied on.
  • I went back to a different GP and she gave me a referral for an MRI. The report registered a partial thickness tear of 1/2 a centimetre, and no meniscus damage.
  • My MRI was taken to an expert in sports medicine and knee reconstruction. I was diagnosed with a full ACL tear. My rehab, now prehab, slumped and I felt bewildered by the news.
  • My surgery was scheduled a few weeks later, on the 8th of August, to accommodate my work schedule better.
  • I sought out a new physio, and have seen a total of 4 different physios this year.
  • Now, 19 weeks later I am doing very well with my recovery and writing bullet points about it!

Documenting the Recovery

In addition to my little rehab journals, I’ve been writing lengthy, gif-laden diary entries here.

What have I learned?

If I could shout certain things I have learned from the rooftops, for anyone who plays a recreational contact sport to hear, it would be these things:

  • GET A SCAN. Don’t be tough. No one can see inside your knee. Not even that charming rookie physiotherapist with an ultrasound machine. He can’t see. The MRI can. GET. A. SCAN. MRIs are bulk billed in Australia if you are between 18-55 years of age and you have sustained an acute injury. Just get a freaking scan.
  • We don’t know anything about brains. Take concussion seriously. It’s sad to sit out games and practice. But your brain is your life. Don’t toy with it. Get a good helmet. No, a better one. Is it on properly? Did you bang your head bad? Maybe stop playing? No recreational sport is worth brain damage.
  • CROSS TRAIN. Train for strength. Train for stability. Train your core. It’s all connected.  I was slacking off when I got injured. I used to do activation exercises prior to lacing up skates for knees and ankles. I wish I continued doing this practice.
  • If you’re busy and/or tired, it’s okay to skip practice. You do this for fun. Don’t be so all or nothing about it. Or it will come back to bite you. It’s also okay to take a longer break. Rosters are temporary, some injuries are forever.
  • You will collect a range of secondary injuries during recovery and everything is all connected. I hurt my back a few times during this whole saga and my mental wellness took a blow. You just have to give yourself a break and go easy on yourself. Rehab is meant to make you feel better, not worse.
  • Sometimes, bad stuff just happens. And you will be stronger for it. I am.

I have a feeling this is my last post for a little while, at least until I am cleared for skating again. Thanks for reading about my story, in what has been largely a venting space. Like I mentioned in earlier posts, I would have loved to read something like this when I first learned about the true nature of my injury. It would have been a huge comfort. I could write more posts, about resources I’ve used, exercises I’ve done… but my attention is starting to become less on this injury, and more on my future. With two good knees.

I’ll see you in 2020, whatever it brings…

Turns out, this takes a while. But I knew that?

At 14 weeks I was due for another post operative review with my surgeon. I was getting excited for it. Things had been feeling great. Some friends have seen my even, confident gait and asked, “are you back at skating yet?”

No, I have not. (I guess you haven’t been reading this Magical Journey…)

I have been very consistent with my rehab, I felt confident with my current physio who was emphasising bodyweight balance exercise, and I had done some research.

According to Google, (dangerous, seductive, false Google) and all the delicious blog posts and websites that can be found associated with ACL reconstruction rehabilitation, at 14 weeks, I could very well be cleared for running. Jumping. Hell, maybe even roller skating. I’ve been feeling very comfortable and pretty sure I would be on track with what seemed to be ‘standard’ protocols. Delusion and a fine pair of blinkers had installed themselves.

Skating could be good for my proprioception. I could dip my toes in gently, be ready for next year. Insert a little paragraph here, about my fantasies for the 2020 roller derby season. Delusional, incorrect fantasies.

the land of make believe

In my every day life,  I have been feeling like if I kicked up from a fast walk to a little jog it could be okay. I’ve even been looking jealously at people on treadmill at the gym, while I am slogging away on the stationary bike. It’s amazing how badly you want to do something if you’re not allowed to do it. I was also getting bored of my routine, of not being able to do more, of feeling strong but not strong enough to do the things that count. I can’t curtsy lunge with my operated knee in front. I definitely can’t do a seated squat with just my left leg. Some muscles are absent from the equation, they fully checked out after surgery, and no witchy spell is summoning them back other than arduous, repetitive rehab protocols.

Still, maybe running would kick it up a notch? Maybe I could heal quicker, if I could do more…

When I saw the surgeon, as usual, it was in and out. Ever the king of Dad Jokes, he directs me to “get on the slab” as soon as I walk into the consulting room.

I lie down and the usual tests for the strength. I don’t know what these tugging on the leg tests are called, but there are a bunch of them. They are weird and they seem to vary, doctor to doctor. I am not sure everyone knows how to do them properly- but my surgeon does. I am lying down and thinking of England, my knee is getting yanked on and then he looks me in they eye and says,

“This isn’t good. This isn’t good”.

I panic. Wanker!

My graft strength was not good, but actually, excellent. And he asked what I was doing for rehab, I told him. Good, he says, excellent. I bask under the familiar glow of an approving authority figure, the Lisa Simpson aura of acing the test. This will all be over soon. Next chapter.

And then, he said, no running. Until the next time I see him. In 3 months.

Three months.

“No running?” I questioned.

“Are your ears painted on?” He said. His face incredulous.

“What about skating?” Desperation.

“NO!!!”

Oh, okay.

I left the appointment which was over in like 2 minutes, feeling deflated. He has a go at me for not watching the DVD of the surgery yet – “I put a lot of effort in!” he says. We talk about VLC player and CD ROM drives. Weirdly, I am trying not to cry. WHY AM I LIKE THIS. Again, reminded I was doing really well – everything was on track. But to not fuck it up.

So, I made another appointment for February 21, which feels like a million years away, with no other instruction other than to keep doing what I was currently doing. Paddling in the pool. Stationery bike. Whatever the physiotherapist tells me. The graft needs to be protected, the slice of my hamstring needs to be taught to be an ACL, and my muscles need to remember how to do their job. It would have been easier if I broke a bone, or got the whole shebang replaced. This is the agony of ACL reconstruction.

I know my surgeon and my physio are the best, and they absolutely know what they are talking about. They have an excellent track record and they are both at the top of their fields – the massive process I went through to get to this point have ensured that. But.

I just want to skate. I should relish this break from a sport that drains me on every level.  But all I want to do is the things that I am forbidden from doing. I want to run, lift heavy weights, play roller derby, skip, jump, dance. But I can’t.

What a lesson in patience, and gratitude. What a realisation of how I have use physical ability to define my identity in the past.

I will wait some more. I have no idea what mindset I will have by late summer. But it’s going to be a long one.

I expect the next few weeks are going to be about me regaling you with tales of me & the other bogans in the Mandurah public pool. I dunno. But this is where I am at for now. In stasis, bored with rehab. Here I am, slowly rehabbing most common, most devastating, physical injury from playing a contact sport.

Maybe I will activate upper body beast mode, and press my physio for more rigorous lower body routines.

Until then.

Week 11 – The Long Game, The Pool, & Proprioception

It’s been a bit longer since my last update, so it’s time to update how my rehab adventures have been going. Overall, things are going pretty good. I’m still maintaining good flexion & extension and have been doing a delightful smorgasboard of rehab activities which I will share in this post. But first I want to write about mindset.

More than anything in the past few weeks I have discovered, that ACL surgery recovery itself is easy. Healing the brain is hard. In the past few weeks I think I’ve had some of the roughest moments when it comes to my mindset and recovery, in terms of I actually had a few days where I didn’t do any physio exercises at all. That’s okay, but I want to muse on it for a minute.

It all started on the school holidays. I’m a teacher and we have this weird phenomenon where sometimes, if you experience anxiety or depression, school holidays can be the actual worst. You have to keep busy to stop the spiral from occurring, but you are too exhausted and just want to rest. So you stay home and rest, and the spiral hits you. Sometimes it’s because you feel guilty for not being ‘productive’, and you can’t let yourself just do nothing or play video games or stare at the wall or sleep in like you really want to. But those things are dangerous, because that means your brain meats get up to mischief. Naughty brain meats.

My strategy previously to keep these things in check is physical activity. I have other outlets like art and reading, but I really need to keep my body busy, I’ve discovered I’m just that kind of person. Roller derby had been fantastic. School holidays meant I could amp up my cross training, go to every training session, and just live a fantasy life of being a full time athlete. These blessed 2 week pockets made being a roller derby skater easy. I could sleep in the next day, fuel up properly by eating decently for a change, smash crosstraining, all usually unachievable things if you are working full time. So without this outlet, I decided I would spend some time in the garden. With my new ‘abilities’, at times I trick myself into thinking my body is just like before, and after a day of mowing, lifting rocks, planting seeds and weeding, I woke up the next day in absolute agony. LOL, oops. I could barely move and just iced my knee and dipped myself in a bath full of salt. The day after that I was still quite sore, but we went on a road trip to a botanical park, and spent the whole day walking. So I didn’t do any exercises again that day either. And then because I had skipped three days in a row and I was still really tired and sore, I decided I would take the weekend off to let myself recover. I was also spending this time watching the A team of my league play in the Continental Cup in Helsinki online, which was weirdly very emotional for me. Perhaps it was sheer pride, or a smidge of “there but for the grace of ________ go I” bittersweetness. I was feeling a mixture of pride, FOMO, love, worry and disappointment in myself. By the end of Sunday I was exhausted and I had done absolutely nothing at all for several days.

I wrote about these days guiltily in my new diary that I got for my rehab stuff, it felt like a bad start. I wish I stayed in the dodgy old exercise book I was using, it felt like my lucky charm, as I had managed two months of sticking to my rehab plan every single day and it felt awful to break the spell. But these things happen, they are all part of the magical journey.

I managed to reset with a fresh visit to the physio. He put me to work in the gym and I received the gift of DOMS again (delayed onset muscle soreness) the next day but more in a ‘good’ way, it felt like I actually got a workout, and permission to start doing more ‘serious’ exercises at the gym. I’m smashing the stationery bike, and doing prescribed activities which now include some new things like leg press, squats and lunges. I am not very good at some of them and can’t do them yet without support or modification, but it feels good to be doing weights again, as I’m really keen to get strength back into my atrophied leg muscles.

Me at the physio

I’ve also been paddling about in the walking lane in the public pool, which is a new phenomenon for me. It’s a relief to sink into the blue chlorine and get some weight taken off, and to be able to easily move around in ways that I can’t do with the full force of gravity. The company in that part of the pool is quite varied, and sometimes I look at people suspiciously, trying to figure out if they are doing exercises I can copy as I wasn’t really given a prescribed list of activities other than paddling only – I can’t do any wide kicking like for breast stroke. So I’ve used my own intuition and doing some motions that mimic skating movements, such as side stepping, crossovers and crossunders, and running underwater too for when I get tired of paddling. I’m just loving it. What’s funny is I’m so paranoid I keep waiting for a lifeguard to tell me off for being in there. Are they staring at me? Are they worried my dyed red hair might leak into the water? Am I too young? Am I allowed to have a paddleboard in this lane? HAHAHA, I love me. When I get out, the smell of vinegary chips and chlorine and the feeling of wrapping myself in a towel stiff from the sunny washing line brings me right back to being 8 years old doing swimming lessons, and I’m finding it to be an oddly comforting self care moment. Other than the wicked chafing, which I have now solved by getting some longer bather bottoms to wear to stop the chub rub.

I had to change a physio appointment this weekend due to work stuff, which meant I had a different guy. It was an initial consultation all over again, and he actually asked what roller derby was, if there was a ball. He also reaffirmed my goal of getting back to skating to officiate next season, and to play again. So it was nice he read my file. He also gave me a whole new swathe of exercises, and re-explained the whole knee thing, getting the little plastic knee model out again. I love that thing. It felt like he was really invested and excited, and his confident manner made me feel a bit bamboozled. This physio emphasised proprioception more than anything else – and explained what this was in detail. Proprioception is the little sensors in your tendons, nerves and muscles that tell you brain WTF is going on. With having a lot of them severed, diminished and one big one – the ACL – replaced, I need to retrain my whole leg to be good at telling my brain what is going on again. The exercises were quite Bosu Ball centric, and lots of standing on one leg with your eyes shut, and adding weights and throwing balls and randomness to make it challenging. He didn’t want to put pressure on me to choose between two physios, but hinted that he would like to see me again, and said I could decide at the desk. I decided to book with him again. A lot of what he said made sense to me, and I think he runs the place which came under recommendation from my surgeon. I feel like I have had rookies up until now and this guy felt like he was on top of the latest research and knew a lot about ACLs even if he knew jack about roller derby.

My physio’s visualisation of roller derby

What I do need though, is a more solid rehab plan. I need to know exactly what to do each day, and how many times to do it. I now have two lists of exercises from two different physios, plus the things my surgeon said, so I am combined all three in my head and I’m a bit confused. I can’t have freedom, looseness doesn’t work for me. I work best under conditions with clear goals, so I will figure out a rhythm of my own and ask for something more solid in my next appointment. And maybe I’ll show him some clips of roller derby.

In the last piece of news I went along to a roller derby game to bench coach the other week. It was fun and I really enjoyed it, I wouldn’t mind doing more bench coaching and learning to be better at it. Being in a big league, the variety of people went from some who had read every one of these entertaining posts and knew exactly where I was at (aw🥺) to some who were shocked and expected to see me in a full leg cast (ha! 😂) and others who didn’t know there was anything wrong with me, and why wasn’t I skating? (sigh 🙄). Others saw me walking around without limping, and asked if I would play in the final. As much as I’d love to! It made me think about how no one can understand an ACL injury if they haven’t had it themselves. It is different to a bone break, for example – another really common injury. You can go from breaking a leg or ankle to going back to play within the same year – the same can’t happen for ACL surgery recovery. It’s the long game, and I’m going to be lucky if I get back on skates for the beginning of next year without contact. I’m going to be luckier still if I see any play time next season – I don’t expect that this will be the case, and I will be 37 before I play my next roller derby game, potentially. If my pathway leads in that direction. A lot of intensive hard work would need to go in, if I ever want to hit someone on roller skates again. I’m not sure if I will definitely return to play, but I am taking my rehab very seriously anyway regardless of my skating future. We see high level athletes in top sports out for a whole year, and they have a whole team working with them. I’m not a high level athlete, I’m just some schmuck who really wants so sit on the ground with her legs crossed again.

Until next time!

 

 

Weeks Six and Seven. Ups and Downs.

Well my knee and me have hit something that feels like a steady, pleasant plateau. Each day my mobility increases, to the point that at times, I catch myself forgetting there is something wrong with my knee. I can walk at a ‘normal’ pace. My incisions are sealed and on their way to not being too sore any more. The big mother incision is still numb and a little swollen still, but I anticipate that to calm down each week. The swelling in my knee in general is down, and I haven’t felt the need to ice every single day. I can go up and down the stairs at home without too much fuss. But everything is done with an extra set of careful thoughts behind it. This new ACL friend is expensive and I don’t want to break her. At this time, blood is going through the graft as it comes more alive, and is at its most fragile stage even though I am feeling stronger.

For funsies, I looked up on YouTube what ACL reconstruction surgery is like.

Don’t… don’t do that. I am so glad I didn’t watch that before my procedure! They say that ortho surgeons are the chippies of the medical world. And, um. That seems to be true. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. There is nothing more traumatic that could happen to your leg other than sawing it off, I am sure of it.

Speaking of, last week I visited the surgeon for my 6 week review. He is happy with my progress. I have full extension still, decent flexion, I don’t have a limp, and the swelling is not too bad. I can do some more things now, like use some machines at the gym, and go paddling. So I joined a new gym this week, as my old gym membership is nearly expired anyway and the new gym, is actually my old old gym, which has lots of new equipment, gentle yoga classes, and a pool. Yayness. I even bought a paddle board, and I am trying to figure out the maths of going to the gym and using the pool in the same visit: I don’t think that will happen. I will alternate a ‘gym’ day with a ‘pool’ day and then follow up with exercises at home if I only do pool. Even though I like going to the gym, I hate losing more than an hour of my day there.

Today I went to a new, Mandurah based physio (I just had a few appointments with a Perth one before) and he reinforced what I was already doing and only added a couple more things on. I’ll see him again in two weeks, and my surgeon next month.

My current prescription of exercises from the surgeon and physio peoples is as follows:

  • Clamshells with resistance band
  • Bridges with resistance band
  • Single leg deadlifts
  • Mini lunges using a step
  • Half squats with fitball
  • Next week I’m allowed to do calf raises, but I reckon I might sneak those in this week because they are something I’ve done idly without pain anyway
  • Stationery bike or elliptical machine
  • Paddling in water with a kick board (not butterfly kick)
  • NO RUNNING.
  • I am also throwing in some upper body and core strength stuff with weights at the gym.

Exciting stuff. My surgeon finished our appointment with a “don’t fuck it up”. Haha I love him.

But it made me wonder… what has he seen people do post surgery? Have people fucked it up? I want to know what they did. And how, or why.

What’s not exciting is. I am not doing the bestest mentally.

It is sort of bizarre how optimistic I was when I first embarked on this surgery. I was a little high on the novelty of it all. Now I can sense that I might be boring people with me fussing over what is now an invisible ailment. I am not strong enough to get a decent sweat on or any of those good cardio endorphins. I feel emo and sulky about being forced to leave roller derby as a skater. I’m hiding from the community because I would probably cry the whole time if I went to anything. I am working on this. I cried like a baby at the end of reffing the last tournament. WHY.

I am trying to think of something new I can grab onto to feel better about things, but I haven’t come up with it yet. My brain and heart loves big projects and challenges to focus on, novelties to dive into. Slow burns are not interesting to me, and I spiral. I am getting impatient with my mental state, so I thought writing this post might help just to draw a line under it. Move on.

I am going to try to focus on two of my other loves, art and gardening, for the next two weeks while I am on holidays from school.

And of course… I will do my physio. Every day.

Gotta get stronger.

Until next time!

Weeks Four & Five: Baby Steps

So after my last post, things have gotten better.

There have been little milestones: moving ‘back in’ to my own bed upstairs and being able to go into my upstairs sanctuary again was a big one last week. While I enjoyed my little downstairs nest, it was time to exit the twilight zone and re-enter my old routine.

Last week I learned to just slowly walk through class and pace myself. I felt like a stately captain surveying their pirate ship deck. It was sort of fun. Except when things started to go to hell… sometimes putting out fires were a little harder when you had to slowly limp towards them and poke your crutch at students to get them to do your bidding.

This week, I graduated to not using crutches any more at work. Yesterday, I managed to climb the full flight of stairs ‘normally’, and today, I managed to drive around the block in my manual car without any huge pain (my fresh tendon is in my left knee, or my clutch leg).

So this now means I have my independence back, and in the last week or so I have felt my mood lift, as being able to walk around normally has made me feel like I have made some visible progress. In the last few days something has ‘unlocked’ in my extension, which means it has been easier for me to walk with a normal gait, and I can sit in a hanging extension (with my knee stretched out & ankle on a towel) without overt pain for prolonged periods of time. The hanging extension has been emphasised as possibly the most important exercise to keep doing & maintain. Gross alert: in the last few days, the last little weird bits of stitching ‘popped out’ of my wounds – they look like tiny pieces of fishing line – which has meant the incision sites can now fully close over. Cool stuff.

The slower parts of my recovery have been getting flexion back in my knee – I am not able to measure it, but I think I can achieve around 80-90 degrees. I wish this was faster as one of the main things I have not been able to do since the injury is sit or kneel with bent knees. I really, really want to get this back. I know I will have full flexion again and this won’t be a problem, but waiting & working on it is a long game. With the extra mobility, I have also noticed that the muscles in my left leg are WEAK AS FUCK. The nerve block and effects of the surgery cause major atrophy. It’s icky. My legs look different. I feel like my butt muscles are different sizes, and when I sit, I’m on this little angle. So the mission will be over the next year to EVEN THAT SHIT OUT. Sigh…

I am also needing to make sure I measure out my activity and I regularly use ice to keep the swelling down. If I don’t do this, things get tight and I limp more. I keep an ice pack at work which has helped for those moments when I’m able to sit with my leg elevated. And in the afternoons and evenings, I ice it for a few more sessions. I think ice is just a part of my life now. I’ve had “Ice, ice, baby” stuck in my head for 5 weeks now.

Things to look forward to in the next few weeks:

  • Going for a walk in the pool – I’ll do this when I am sure my incisions are definitely, properly closed up.
  • Continue working on evening out my gait, including up stairs.
  • Being able to walk a little faster each day, and wearing my Fitbit again to track my activity.
  • Going for a walk around the block with the dog for the first time, even if it’s a short walk.
  • Adding other exercises into my routine (upper body only).
  • Seeing the surgeon and the physio clinic for my next review in a couple of weeks.
  • Having a mother flippin’ BATH.

Longer term things to look forward to:

  • Being able to walk downstairs.
  • Going to see a PT & going to the gym.
  • Starting yoga again.

You’ll notice skating isn’t on that list, because I have hit a mood that is a little “I never want to skate again and roller derby ain’t so great”.

The thing is, I’ve really enjoyed life after derby in a way I didn’t experience last year when I took a break. I’ve noticed a general improvement in my quality of life. I’m getting more sleep, I’m less stressed, and I don’t miss some of the toxicity that the roller derby community can have. Hermit life has been really nice. I’ve been hugely creative and I’ve been able to spend more time at home, getting reasonable meals at reasonable times and not basically living in my car. It’s tournament and finals season and I don’t really want a part of that pressure cooker again. And I am remembering the lows, rather than the highs, of officiating, so that doesn’t seem appealing right now either. I am sure this mood will shift. But the fact that this mood is a staple of my personal experience of roller derby is not lost on me. And to add to my old, mostly mental and emotional hang-ups, the fear of injury is now a much more tangible and unpalatable threat. I still think about roller derby every day. I used to interpret this as being bad at retirement. Maybe it is a bad habit, like smoking, that I need to break for my health?

An interesting development has been that I’ve been asked to coach a junior team in Mandurah by a parent of a skater who moved from Queensland. I am considering this, but the implications are huge on my brain-meats, and I haven’t chased that up yet. I have ancient fantasies of having a roller derby team right here in my own home town. The false promise of such a dream is what lured me into roller derby in the first place, back in 2011. Maybe that dream can be realised through the children of the future?

That’s all for now – I will probably update in a few weeks after my next review.

Week Three is Officially the Worst

So the spell of being in the Twilight Zone was over, and after I talked to my doctor last week, he said I could go back to work this week if I wanted to. So I did.

Don’t Do What Eris Don’t Did.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that. But it’s done now. Take my advice, and don’t be me. Take every minute of the days on your sick leave note the doctor gives you. It will feel bad, it will feel hard, but so is going back to work earlier than you should.

The thing is, even though I felt quite happy about the prospect last weekend, the full reality of moving at an absolute snail’s pace, and having limited mobility, and what that would mean for a high school teacher, didn’t quite fully click for me. I had visions of sitting in my chair and pointing my crutches and getting kids to fetch things for me and that would be absolsutely fine. And it sort of was. But…

But the thing is there is an emotional weight to teaching. And there is a social aspect that I took for granted, especially after not really socialising for a couple of weeks. It takes it’s toll, and my reserves for even the faintest whiff of bullshit, which is rife in the classroom, was at a zero. Also, a decent percentage of students are unhelpful and selfish, and even though there are some helpful and lovely students too, it sort of hurts your heart to beg a teenager to come to you to show you their work so you can see what they’re up to, or to pick up their rubbish, or to Please Stop Putting Your Friend In a Headlock, or Please Don’t Throw Clay. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. Some of my classes had a whiff of dishevelment about them due to having a couple of different relief teachers, and clawing back the levels on the Respect-O-Metre that you lost due to your absence is hard. On one of the days, I sort of lost my shit and the Teacher Tearz flowed, so I waved the white flag and went home at lunch. But overall, I did okay.

Me, this week: the grumpy snail

What was worse, I’m fucking slow. It takes me F O R E V E R to walk anywhere, to get anywhere, to do anything. I’m one of those people who normally jigs about impatiently behind that person in front who is walking too slow, waiting for my moment to take over. And now, I’ve become that slow person, striking ahead carefully with one crutch and one gammy leg.

It’s been a lesson of patience that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

I’ve been to the shopping centre a couple of times, and you have to really, really, want anything you buy. Because it takes an age to go to the shop or the shelf that it is on. Just a casual browse in any of the major chain stores is off the cards.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t accessed something like a mobility scooter, a wheelchair or just sent someone else to get these things. Or why I went to work (or the shops) at all.

The reason is I’m freaking stubborn, and once I’ve got an idea in my head that I’m doing something, I like to see it through until the bitter, stupid end. I wanted to regain a sense of normality. I wanted to see if I could do it. And it felt like writing more relief lessons, or trying to figure out how to access said mobility items, would be harder than just plugging on. And, and, and.

The other thing I’ve discovered is that the world is generally inaccessible. Doors are heavy and hard to open when you only have one good leg. Strangers will watch you struggle for a little bit before they decide to help you, if they do at all. This includes every student who has waited in the training pathways office foyer before the heavy side doors of my classroom – not a single one offered to help with the door over the whole week. Walkways are narrow and people stand in the middle of hallways to have a conversation. These are not things I’ve especially noticed up until now, but again, I will probably remember some of these things for the rest of my life. All of these things wear your patience and your good spirits to a wafer thin veneer that is easily broken.

I’ve found myself keeping my head down and not making eye contact, because if you do, an acquaintance type person will ask you a question. They are stupid questions. “Are You Okay?” is one of them, the other one is “How’s the Leg?”. This is in place of the normal smile or hello, which I would have preferred.

Unfortunately my impulse answer when I’ve been tired and struggling is FUCK OFF, but I haven’t used that one yet. Because obviously I’m not okay, and my left leg is experiencing an extreme low point in its overall career in leggydom. (My students rarely asked these questions, but when they did, I did take the time to give them an honest answer. Because this was maybe twice a day, I could deal with it, because I felt like it came from a place of genuine, sincere interest rather than small talk. One student who asked, actually used to play roller derby back in Queensland, and I think it horrified her a little bit. Oops.)

On Monday, I had some great, jovial responses. I joked that I’d been at pirate school and I’m practicing my wooden leg skills. I said I had an accident playing for the Socceroos. I joked about making up stories. By Friday my jokes had run dry, and my main strategy was to keep my head down and pretend I couldn’t hear people if they were far enough away. Also, I stopped putting makeup on which made me look really haggard and I felt like my appearance was striking fear and pity in people, which is sort of funny.

The next great thing I have observed is at shopping centres or in public. A particular demographic of person, let’s call them old white men, love to look, laugh and smile at me while I’m making my way around the place, or sitting at a table or bench with a brace or a crutch. The first time I joked with them about it. But after the third time I found this to be mildly shitty, especially when I thought about it. A few of them wanted to talk to me about what happened to me. I get it… but at the same time, when I am using a lot of personal effort and small amount of humiliation to slowly get a cup of coffee, the last thing I feel like being is the butt of a joke for someone. Apparently it is hilarious that a younger person, especially a female, can injure themselves. More reasons to hide away at home and not leave the house when you’re in this state… which is not my preference either.

So there you go. I know this has been a whinge fest.

What I do want to note is how lucky I am to have so much support at work. My colleagues know me enough to help me when I need it because I won’t bloody ask, and leave me when I don’t want it or I’ll burst into tears again. I am so, so grateful for their support and constant assistance, and I don’t know how I will repay it. I hope some of them are reading this so they know, the rest I will thank with cake, because they like cake.

And once again of course my patient boyfriend has been my personal chauffeur all this time, and he never complains about it. Without him I’d be stuffed.

I am feeling pretty great today, have been keeping up my PT, but I can’t help but wonder if there is more I could be doing. But I will stick to the protocol and keep learning to be a patient patient. And to ask for help.

Until next installment…

 

Practical Tips for Recovering from ACL surgery – the First 2 Weeks

It’s Day 15, and I am looking at going back to work next week. The first leg (ha!) of my magical journey is almost over. I mentioned earlier that I am writing this blog for my past self – or for anyone else who has found themselves in the same situation. And there are a few things I’ve done that have really helped me to keep a positive mindset and good spirits during this time period, and a couple of little things that have made my life on a practical level a little bit easier. So I’d like to share them.

If you’re reading this because you are currently recovering from, or you are about to have, reconstructive surgery in your knee bits, it’s important to note that this type of procedure is different for everyone, and you may have been given different advice. For me, I was in a brace for the first 10 days and on crutches, with advice to rest as much as possible.

But the main commonalities seem to be that you will be having a period of time where you can no longer work and/or simple tasks around the home will be so much more challenging. I was very lucky in that I was able to take time off, and that I don’t have to worry about looking after kids, AND I also have a partner who works from home who has been able to care for me. But hopefully these tips will be useful.

1.) Create a home base where everything will be within easy reach.

For me, this meant I set up a bed downstairs in front of the TV (my couch isn’t conducive for sleeping on), with a power outlet, and a small basket and backpack both filled with things to keep me busy. In the backpack I kept crucial things that might also go out with me if I left the building – wallet, phone, chargers, medications, pen, journal, paperwork, bottle of water and a book and magazine to keep me occupied. Backpacks are great because they are hands free – I have also seen people recommend ‘fanny packs’ or ‘bum bags’ that are good for carrying little things if you’re on crutches. In the basket I set up a stack of art supplies, my laptop, tarot cards and journals, but you could customise this to anything that keeps your interest. There could be knitting, Lego, colouring books, sudoku puzzles, anything that promotes mindfulness and keeps you busy, especially if you’re not the sort to watch Netflix or scroll on your mobile device all day. I also had some DVDs and video games at the ready, but I never ended up using these. I had a big ‘Watch Later’ playlist set up on YouTube, some podcasts lined up, and Spotify playlists. You never know what you’ll be in the mood for.

I’m not going to lie, I’m going to miss my ‘nest’! But all good things must come to an end…

2.) Get a small step or footrest for the bathroom.

Seriously. My leg was in a full brace and for the first week or so and I needed something to prop my leg on for when I needed to go to the toilet, and it also came in handy for other things in the bathroom.

3.) Keep a daily journal.

I started a journal which recorded whenever I would use ice, when I took medications, or when I did the rehab exercises and how long for. This helped establish a sense of routine, and I could also record how I was feeling and little milestones such as going down to 1 crutch or leaving the house for the first time! This is a practice that I plan to continue on for the rest of my recovery, and perhaps beyond.

4.) Lots of pillows. ALL the pillows.

Pillows have been my best friends during this time. You’ll need pillows for raising your leg for ice, you’ll need them to tuck under your knee for comfort, you might need them for your rehab exercises, and they helped me get to sleep – I have one either side of me in bed which allows me to feel supported when I turn to either side. Towels are also useful for rehab exercise. I also started using a stable table in the past few days which I wish I used earlier for eating meals and other things.

4.) Establish a daily mindfulness practice.

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For me this has manifested in a gratitude diary entry (yeah, you have probably figured out I’m big into journaling) where I write down 3 things I am grateful for – one for yesterday, one for today and one for tomorrow. For you, you could try meditations, and there are apps for that such as ‘Calm’ or free videos on YouTube. If you’re used to exercising regularly, it can be really hard to not have this any more as an outlet or giver of endorphins, so anything else you can do to remind yourself to be present in the moment, even if it is just a simple breathing exercise such as triangle breathing. This may help to settle your anxiety, and it may help with pain management.

5.) Don’t be ‘tough’, take the drugs. Do what your doctor says.

Pain management and keeping the swelling down are two crucial steps in the initial recovery process. I made sure I took all the medications I was given as instructed and it wasn’t until I hit the 8th day that I began to reduce the dosages. I also kept up my RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) routine, and am still wearing a compression bandage.

6.) Get some nice, comfy shorts. And leggings.

I’m not really a big shorts wearer, but I bought myself two pairs of men’s workout shorts beforehand that had nice wide elastic waists, a good mid-thigh length, no buttons, breathable fabric and they are quickdry so easy to wash and re-wear. Cheap from Kmart, and I’m so glad I did this, as I didn’t want to wear anything under the brace in the first week other than the compression bandage, but needed to wear something on my butt! I transitioned to leggings after a few days, which also worked really well. If you’re going to be lounging around all day, it’s good to be comfortable.

That’s all I can think of for now! If you’ve got any good tips for surgery recovery, feel free to post them in the comments.