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Saturday, June 1, 2013

99 days - a story of perseverance

Date:   June 1st, 2013
Mission:  Recovery hike up Crosier mountain trail via Glen Haven trailhead
Secondary Mission:  First summit in 99 days after breaking my ankle, shattering my fibula, and completely tearing 3 major ligaments in my ankle.
Who: Solo
Length:  8.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1902 ft.
Forecast:  Temps in the 60s and partly cloudy
Warning:  Graphic images of a dislocated & broken ankle follow.

Views from Crosier Mountain, this story is about how I got here.

"Courage doesn't always roar, sometimes it's the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering 'I will try again tomorrow'” 
-- Mary Ann Radmacher
"Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat."
-- Anais Nin

"Don't give up, don't ever give up!"
-- Jimmy Valvano

2/22/2013 - Trauma day

A friendly Friday night poker game at my house turns ugly when a friend Billy and I get into an argument during a poker hand.  He thought I said "Call", I swore I said "Fold". 

There was more drinking going on at this game, more than normal for some reason, and I normally do not drink a lot.  To add to the brewing storm, when my friend Billy arrived, I could tell he was on edge a little anyways. 

Quickly this argument escalates to a shoving match, and the next thing I know I am screaming in pain, knowing my leg is broken, and I am immediately in survival mode, yelling at everyone to get out of my house.  I am not sure what happened, and yes, alcohol sometimes makes the memories fuzzy, but this wasn't a memory blocked by alcohol.  It was a memory blocked by trauma.  I have experienced this same "missing moments" memory laspe during a motorcycle accident before.

Anyhow, there I am, lying in my basement knowing my leg is broke, but still thinking there is a slight chance that it is not.  I decide to be an optimist and tell myself it might just be an ankle sprain.  I try to stand and walk, and immediately pain is the only thing I feel.  Fear is gone, worry is gone, just pain.  Unfathomable pain!

With the help from my human crutches known as my friend Joel, my wife, and my friend Richard, I make it upstairs.  Everyone is trying to convince me to go to the hospital.  After almost 30 minutes of refusing to go, my friend Joel removes my shoe and reveals to me the horrific mass of flesh that used to be my right ankle.  It's at this point I finally agree to go to the emergency room. 

How my ankle looked at the ER.

At the ER, the doctor takes x-rays and tells me I've dislocated my right ankle, shattered my fibula, and have a tremendous amount of soft tissue damage.  The doctor explains that my injury is very serious, tells me surgery is 100% necessary.  Since it is now 4am on 2/23, I will have to wait for surgery until midday Saturday.  This doctor tells me there is a chance that I may never walk normally again.

The ER x-ray

2/23/2013 - Recovery day 1

I am given morphine all day, introduced to my surgeon Dr. Jordan Stoll, who happens to be the on-call surgeon at Avista Hospital that weekend.  I wouldn't realize this til later, but this would be an incredibly lucky break for me since Dr. Stoll is an amazing orthopedic surgeon.  He's got a ton of experience and is even the team physican for the US Alpine Ski team. 

When I awake from surgery, I find my right leg in a surgical cast up to my right knee.  I am told it was a success and I'm given care instructions.  In a follow-up appointment, I learn that some hardware was inserted into my leg to keep the tiba and fibula together.  I am also told that there was major soft tissue damage, including a completely torn deltoid ligament, a completely torn anterior talofibular ligament, and a completely torn posteior talofibula ligament.  Doc repaired some of this soft tissue during surgery too.

After surgery.

2/27/2013 - Recovery day 5

My feelings since surgery have been a swirling tornado of fear, pain, anxiety, helplessness, and loneliness.  Along with a broken ankle, I think I have also managed to lose a friend in the process.  My friend Billy and I were pretty tight before this incident, but at this point I had not heard from him at all.  Even with all this, I am still trying to remain positive.  I think my facebook status from 2/27/2013 sort of sums it up.

3/7/2013 - Recovery day 13

I went back to the doc to get surgical staples removed, x-rays taken again, and to have the surgical cast removed in favor of a fiberglass cast.  X-rays showed everything is still where it should be.  There is no healing showing yet though. 

Another amazing thing during these first thirty days was my friend Richard who would just show up out of the blue with an amazing home cooked meal for my wife and I.  It's friends like these that make me thankful.

Looking rough.  This would be the last time I saw this leg for the next several weeks.

3/13/2013 - Recovery day 19

This day is a major low for me.  Pain is worse than ever, and depression is taking a toll on me mostly from being stir crazy, dealing with a cast on my leg, and feeling helpless.  I'm already growing tired of playing Xbox Live.  Don't get me wrong, it's fun to repeatedly kill people in whatever your favorite first-person shooter game may be, but do it for hours and it grows old too.  My boredom is playing with my sanity.  I reach out to some members at and they offer some encouraging words. 

3/20/2013 - Recovery day 26

I am so tired of taking one-legged showers.  In order to keep the cast dry, I have to put my right leg into a trash bag and tape it with packing tape.  Then, the fun part is standing on one leg in the shower.  Go try it.  I'll tell you the leg you stand on gets very tired.  My mental state is still not good, but I am just trying to grind away the days in the poker room, playing a few tournaments in Blackhawk. 

Some random thoughts:

  • Itching your leg is impossible when you have a cast.
  • Navigating a crowded poker room in crutches is not easy.
  • People treat you differently when you are injured.  It's almost as if people are nicer.  Go figure.

A leg that's been in a cast for 6 weeks.

3/31/2013 - Recovery day 37

I discovered I have a decent one legged golf swing, so I take my skills to the driving range with my friend Patrick, and my daughter.  I would throw my crutches to the ground after grabbing a club, and hop into position.  I was drilling balls long and straight, and for some odd reason, was the talk of the driving range. 

I leave the driving range with a smile ear to ear.  It makes me feel a bit human just to be outside doing something fun, even if it was just for an hour.

4/3/2013 - Recovery day 41

This day, I discover that this injury will cost me $6250 out of pocket.  If I did not have health insurance that would have been more than $40,000.  Makes the idea of an argument over a $25 buy in poker tournament a laughable matter for sure. 

4/4/2013 - Recovery day 42
Muscle atrophy.

This is the best day so far.  The doctor removes my cast, puts me into a removable boot, and tells me to start physical therapy for range of motion excercises.  My fibula is not really healed yet, but healed enough to start motion excercises on the ankle.

 I am still not allowed to bear weight on it though for four more weeks!  So, for now, I am still stuck with the crutches which have tortured my co-workers for weeks with the noise they make when I move down the hallways.

4/13/2013 - Recovery day 51

I spent the day golfing with a few buddies.  I hit every shot off of one leg.  I normally shoot in the mid-90s.  This round, I shot above 100, but I still beat all three of the guys I was golfing with, and they all used two legs.  :)

4/15/2013 - Recovery day 53

After watching the drama at the Boston Marathon unfold, I gain a new appreciation for my own situation, knowing it's not all that bad after all.

Physical therapy is going great so far.  I am still not putting weight on my leg, so only range of motion excercises for now and scar tissue massage. 

4/21/2013 - Recovery day 59

Frustrated big time.  Recovery is slow, and I am impatient.  My New England attitude and moodiness is at highs I haven't felt in 20 years.

4/30/2013 - Recovery day 67

On day 67, x-rays show my leg is healing well.  Doc tells me I can start weight bearing.  I am sooo excited to be able to take an active part in my recovery.  I walk crutch assisted from the doctor's office to the truck and I haven't been this happy in over two months.

Putting weight on it just means all new levels of pain too.

5/5/2013 - Recovery day 72

My sanity is slowly being restored.  I can ride my motorcycle again!  I do get some weird looks from people with the removable boot and crutches in the backpack, but what the hell. 

First ride in 72 days!

5/7/2013 - Recovery day 74

After a particularly painful PT session the previous Thursday, I made a last minute doctor appointment due to new significant pain in my ankle.  Doctor says everything checks out ok and that a spike in pain at this point (weight bearing) is just part of recovery.  He tells me to start pushing it harder.

In the afternoon, I meet again with my awesome physical therapist Jessica Slaven.  She also encourages me to push my recovery harder and gives me more challenges to conquer at home.

I go home and ride 3 miles on my bicycle.  Afterwards it mentally feels like I've conquered Everest.

5/11/2013 - Recovery day 78

I ride 11 miles on the bicycle today at a pretty moderate pace.  I again am happy at the improvements I am seeing.  I still cannot walk though.  I am still on crutches, and as we already know.... crutches suck.

5/13/2013 - Recovery day 80

I offically am down to using only one crutch now!  There is still much pain and stiffness in my ankle, and Jessica often hurts me (for my own good) in PT, but I am on the uptick.

5/16/2013 - Recovery day 83

This is the first day I managed to go completely without crutches.  I am doing a crazy amount of physical therapy and have to keep notes to keep track of all the excercises I have left to do each day.  My ankle is still painful, sore, and tight, but I am driving a stick again.  I hate auto-transmissions.  To celebrate my new stick-driving ability, I go to a mud-hole in the Jeep to celebrate.

And this is before the return trip to the mud-hole!

5/18/2013 - Recovery day 85

I spent 4 hours trying to hike Mt. Sanitas in Boulder.  My pace was way slow that a couple different people asked me if I needed assistance getting back to the trailhead.  I did not reach the summit of Mt. Sanitas.  My 3.5 mile hike was very painful and anything other than flat surface was hurting a lot.

5/23/2013 - Recovery day 90

Feeling a sense of accomplishment at my achievement of walking 1.3 miles around the block with the dogs on a flat sidewalk.  It seems that a summit is a long ways away.  Jessica, my physical therapist, is pushing me harder than ever and I have nothing but gratitude for her aggresive approach.

At this point I am riding the bicycle at least a couple times a week and doing a dozen other strengthening excercises daily too.

Memorial Day weekend

I spent Memorial Day weekend in MA with my family.  I did a lot of walking around the airport, a party and a golf course, and my brother and his fiancee offered great hospitality and ice for my ankle.

6/1/2013 - Recovery day 99

I think that Memorial Day weekend was maybe mix of excercise and rest I needed, because today on day 99, I gave myself a big challenge.  Summit Crosier Mountain.  The route from Glen Haven is 8.5 miles with just over 1900 ft. elevation gain.

I'd tell you there was a lot of wincing in pain and I'd be right.  I'd tell you I thought about turning around a couple times and I'd be right.  I can also tell you I still made the summit with tears of joy in my eyes and I'd be right about that too.

I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Snow capped peaks, fresh air, pines, meadows... I'm home again!

After this sign, the trail gets a bit challenging for a guy recovering from a broken ankle.

Summit self-portrait at 9,233 ft.
Now I can only wonder about the challenges that lie ahead.  What I learned in these 99 days is what makes me stronger.  I learned a lot about patience and perseverance.  I learned I have some amazing friends, even a few I've never met in person.  I learned that I can't do it all by myself, and that sometimes I need others to help me.  The memories I will have of these 99 days will only be of what others did to help me along the way.  Thank you everyone, especially these ones.  These ones are the heros of this story:
  • My amazing wife for too many things to list, love, listening, dealing with me at my worst, but also for the other things... like getting me stuff when I couldn't walk, fetching me water, and especially for filling up buckets of hot and ice water for my ailing ankle even though I know this is not easy for her to do with her Lupus.  Without her, I am likely still laying in the basement with a broken leg. 
  • My kids giving me hugs, bringing me drinks, playing games with me, and not driving me insane.
  • My family back east for their support on the phone and online.
  • My amazing physical therapist Jessica for understanding me and my frustrations, challenging me, and treating me to her great humor.  I do not know of a way to thank you enough.
  • My good friend Patrick, for just calling and talking to me just to see how I was doing.
  • My good friend Richard, for stopping by with meals, checking on me, and staying at the hospital til 5am that night.
  • My good friend Joel, for convincing me to go to the hospital in the first place.
  • My friends and facebook buddies, for listening to my rants and offering encouraging words.
  • My hiking buddies and members of the community for encouraging me not to lose hope and offering timely posts about conquering adversity when I needed it most.
  • My doctor, Dr. Stoll, I don't even know how to thank you.
  • My dog Miliya for endless cuddles even though she was scared of my crutches.
  • My boss Ryan for letting me work from home so much and letting me leave early twice a week for two months for physical therapy.
  • My co-workers joking around and calling me "Gimpy"

Never give up!