It’s been just six months since I went under the knife to get my ankle fixed. I’m both, pleasantly shocked and surprised how well the recovery’s been. I was able to run the Skyline 50K five months after surgery and another gnarly trail marathon just a few weeks after. I was so obsessed over the recovery that I didn’t really spend much time writing about it. But a fair number of folks (runners and non-runners) have asked me about the road to recovery, so here goes.
Weekend after Surgery
When the general anesthesia wore off, I woke up starving in the recovery room. My wife was there next to me, a little anxious but I was smiling and generally cheerful. Maybe the Fentanyl and the nerve block they pumped into me, but I had no pain. Dr. Yurgelon came by and told me everything went well, but boy did they have a hard time drilling the holes into the bone! Eight years of running ultras, I suppose.
All that weekend, I mostly stayed in bed with the foot elevated, but diligent about alternating between Tylenol and Ibuprofen every three hours. Chose to not take the Opioid I was prescribed. Top of every hour, I would place ice under my right thigh for 10 minutes so the cold blood would flow into my ankle (in a cast) keeping inflammation down. Lots of pineapple and turmeric (curry) too. Podcasts and kindle kept me busy, not to mention the frequent trips to the chin-up bar next to my bed. Still no pain. By Sunday evening I called my doctor asking him if they actually performed surgery!
The First Week
By Monday morning, I was completely off medication and was starting to move around a little in crutches. Every morning, my wife would drive me to the park. While she walked the dog, I would sit on a bench doing sit-ups interleaved with Spanish lessons on Duolingo, watching my favorite gopher friends 🙂 The first shower with the water-proof cast cover took the longest, but slowly got used to that. By Wednesday I was moving around the house with the iWalk 2.0, but it was a little too clunky for longer walks outside. That weekend, I went for my son’s Lacrosse tournament and a Beer Walk we won at a silent auction fund raiser!
The First Month
Week 2, went back to the doctor and got my cast removed. Much to my surprise, the doctor asked me to put weight on it and walk across the room! I’m like, really? You sure? The ankle looked gnarly, but no swelling or inflammation. Left the hospital in an Air Cast boot, still on crutches but starting to walk a bit. Two days later, I took off the boot and walked across the house. Ankle felt super stiff (of course!) but slowly got comfortable putting weight on it. By end of week, I was able to walk our dog around the neighborhood (with the boot). Hey this is starting to look good!
Physical Therapy started week 3 with lots of mobility exercises including bosu ball, wobble board, proprioception (one legged stand, eyes closed and arms folded across the chest), step downs (forward and side), calf raises, heel drops, etc.. I was personally also doing toe lifts, towel crunches, lunges just so I didn’t atrophy my running muscles. At least 45 minutes of diligent work every day.
Week 4, the therapist put me on a treadmill and I ran barefoot for 5 minutes, but it felt like I just ran an ultra. Couldn’t keep my stupid grin off my face. Came home and hopped on the treadmill for half hour at 15% incline with a slow jog and walk. That Monday, with the doctor’s permission I commuted the 9-miles to work with 2 minutes of “jogging” and 3 minutes of running. Took me two hours, but oh boy, life never felt this good.
Next Few Months
After some experimentation, it was clear that running uphill had the least pain, with downhills the worst. Hey, I’ll take whatever works! I was keeping a detailed diary of mileage, what worked, what didn’t and every little niggle I was feeling. Week 8, I averaged about 42 miles, but felt a sharp pain coming down a trail with the ankle eversion. Could feel even the slightest amount of camber on the trail. Couple of weeks went by and I found that switching to Altra Superiors made the pain completely go away. It would take a few more weeks before I starting getting my downhill strength back.
Overall, I feel incredibly fortunate to have (unintentionally) timed my age and medical advances. Every run, every day, I’m still so surprised and shocked that I have recovered well enough to get back to running these stupid distances. Here’s to pavement, side walks, tracks, trails, bleachers, hotel stairwells (yes, that’s a thing), moss-covered woods, redwoods, oaks, stream-crossings, sprinklers, forest-bathing, sweat, summits, sunrises, and all the highs of simply getting out for a run.
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