Ankle Update

Well, it’s been a while since I mentioned my little ankle problem.  At least I hope it’s been a while.  I tried not to always talk about it or mention it on Facebook all the time because, well, who wants to hear someone whine about their injuries all the time?  I don’t.  Anyway, allow me to recap and then I’ll tell you how it’s been going lately.  More importantly though, I hope to also share what I’ve learned from this whole experience.
First of all, on June 6 – two days before Dude and I were to leave for vacation! – I sprained my ankle.  At the time, I thought it was merely a painful ankle roll and it would be healed and recovered after a day or two.  Uh… no.  Take a look back at this post to see a day after photo and read about just how bad it was immediately after.
Remember this picture?  This was the day after it happened, and had not even yet begun to give me problems.

I went on vacation and really took it easy.  Or as easily as I could on a vacation where hikes and other adventures were planned.  I didn’t hike, but I did walk on it.  I kept it wrapped at all times and just did my best to not let it get me down or ruin our vacation.
A week after the injury it wasn’t getting any better.  My spirits were low because while I was bummed that taking it easy on vacation and not working out were definitely on my agenda, I thought it would have improved by this point.  I was OK with changing my lifestyle for a week or two, but it was becoming obvious that this was much more than a little minor thing that would sideline me for a few days.
Here’s what it looked like a week after:

In case you don’t recognize one when you see it, that is a genuine cankle.
Ok, so upon my return to Pittsburgh I thought it wise to see a doctor and get a professional’s take on the situation.  I was extremely fortunate to get an appointment with Dr. Mares at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.  Let me say right now that obviously I am getting nothing from them to say nice things.  They don’t comp medical treatment in exchange for flattering blog posts (although, wouldn’t it be great?!).  The people there, Dr. Mares in particular, were positively fantastic.  The facility is beautiful, the staff is courteous, kind, and helpful.  And best of all, there seems to be no such thing as waiting in the waiting room for extended periods of time.  I have been there many times since early this summer and have never had to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes.  Unheard of!  Another cool thing about going there was that I felt like a legit athlete.  Ha.  I mean, professional sports stars go there to get patched back up so I figured if I’m going there, I too must be an honest to goodness athlete!  Maybe not, but I felt that way in my mind.

Anyway, my diagnosis was a chipped bone and some severe ligament strains.  I was given a home physical therapy treatment and some exercise bands and told to be faithful to the program.  And I was.
It was all I could think about each day.  I could walk around, but I couldn’t do all the things I was used to doing.  No CrossFit, no running.  I did go to Pilates because I wasn’t using my foot like I would be with my other activities.  I was so thankful to be able to do something.   I have mentioned before that I am a weak, slow runner and after doing the half marathon, I was actually kind of proud of how my endurance had built up and how strong I seemed to be getting.  I became kind of preoccupied with how that was all going down the drain. I knew I would have to start from the beginning again, not only because of my injury, but because I would have lost all that I had gained endurance wise.  This is why I started swimming.  I had to do something to keep myself going.
Six weeks later Dr. Mares was pleased with my progress for the most part, but I had developed some tendinitis because of my changed gait and compensation for the weak, injured ankle.  It was at this point that I started to get a bit discouraged.  I did not want injuries and ailments to pile up faster than I could recover from them!  Boo!  I requested some in-person physical therapy to get me back on track.
Enter Steve.

Honestly, I should have given this post the title “An Ode to Steve” because I give him all the credit for helping me get back to my old self again.  While Dr. Mares is a very good doctor and was at once patient, kind, stern, and realistic with me, Steve has been the hands-on guy to has spent the last several weeks reassuring me, answering my crazy questions, allaying my concerns, and most importantly, challenging me in the right ways to get my ankle back in shape.  A more kind, patient, knowledgeable physical therapist you will not find.  I’d be hobbling around crying like a discouraged jerk probably on the brink of divorce by now if it weren’t for Steve.  He literally got me back on my feet.
So, here I am  Just shy of 15 weeks since it happened and I am extremely (!!!!!!) happy to report that I am really starting to get back to normal now.  I just visited Dr. Mares last Friday and he declared me healed.  He said I could resume any activities I want.  Can I repeat that? He used the word “healed” and the phrase “resume activity”.  Awww yeah.  I’m going to finish out the month with Steve and from there I’ll be on my own.
And the best part of all this is that this past Saturday I ran my first post-injury 5k and didn’t do so badly!  34 minutes is hardly a brag-worthy time, but I was rather pleased with myself after I crossed the finish.
Now that I’ve had a chance to type all this out and see how far I’ve come in 15 weeks, I’ve also had a chance to really think about what this experience has taught me.  Everything is a learning experience, and I know I’m not the only person out there who has ever been sidelined with an injury or other setback.  Hopefully you can learn from my experience too.
Acceptance – I know that in the above paragraphs I kind of glossed over the physical pain that resulted from this.  To be completely frank, it still hurts now and again and according to Steve, it might very well hurt periodically for another nine months or year or even the rest of my life.  I did some damage to my body and given the severity of it, my age, and the nature of injuries like this I will always have to be extra careful because it will be weaker than my other ankle.  That is a truth that is kind of hard to hear.  I am 38 years old and this is the first time I’ve ever had an injury that may not ever recover 100%.  I may not be able to do another half marathon and I may not ever be able to run as quickly as I did.  I just have to keep working on it, be cautious, and hope for the best.
Patience – Let’s be honest, I have precious little of it.  When this first happened, I wanted it to heal immediately.  I wanted some kind of magic balm to rub on it that would give me a new ankle.  When that didn’t materialize and when it didn’t heal in a day or a week, I had to learn to be patient.  It’s been 15 weeks and I’m still learning to be patient.  The body takes time to fix itself and no matter what we wish for, giving it the time it needs to do its job is all we can do.  This has been a tough one for me! Did you notice I described both Dr. Mares and Steve as patient?  It’s a good thing they are, because I’m having a hard time.  I’m improving though!
Compliance – I did what the professionals told me to do.  Period.  I can’t stress this enough as one of the keys to my recovery.  When I was told to rest, I rested.  When I was told to wear supportive shoes everyday all day long, I did it.  When I was told to get orthotic inserts for my running shoes, I got them.  When I was told to exercise my ankle every single day, I did.  I figured that I’m not hurting anyone but myself if I didn’t follow instructions.  If I wanted to get back to CrossFit and to running, being lazy about rehabilitating my ankle wasn’t going to get me there.  I had to work hard and do what I was told.  Listen to the pros!
Determination – Throughout this whole ordeal I admit there were discouraging days.  I still have them and I anticipate a few in my future.  But I have to stay focused on my goal to be able to do the things I used to do.  I keep that in mind to this day.  I want to be able to run more races.  I want to be able to do box-jumps and double unders again.  I can’t lose my determination or focus.  I’ll get there!
Clean eating – I didn’t let this injury give me an excuse to let the rest of my health and wellness plans fly out the window.  In fact, after hurting my ankle it was more important than ever to stay on top of my eating for a few reasons. First and foremost, in order to avoid unwanted weight gain I had to change the amount I was eating because I wasn’t as active.  However more important than that, was that clean eating meant a more smooth recovery.  If my body was going to repair itself, I wanted to make sure that it was getting the very best fuel to do it.  What do you think my body used to repair my ligaments and heal my strained tendons?  The good stuff from the food I ate.  It would have been unrealistic of me to expect a full recovery and a like-new ankle if I had given my body junk food to use.  Who wants a house built with shoddy materials, termite ridden beams, and rusty nails and screws?  Nobody, of course.  I was extra vigilant about my diet for the last 15 weeks so my body would have the best resources I could give it to rebuild my ankle.
So, there you have it.  My life for the past 15 weeks.  I am curious to know how others out there have recovered from injuries and setbacks.  I am anxious to hear about the lessons you’ve learned along the way.  Have we learned the same things?  How did acceptance, patience, compliance, determination, and clean eating play a role in your recovery?  Share with me in the comments or on Facebook.

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