Lucky 13

Today is June 13th.  It has been 13 weeks since I fell and tore my left quadriceps tendon.  I had another follow-up with the surgeon today and he is impressed both with his handiwork and with my progress.  I still have a way to go to build up my strength and my range of motion, but he has officially declared me to be “brace-optional.”  I no longer have to wear the brace when walking about!  I will still keep it handy for times when I am walking on uneven ground (e.g., push mowing).  But he said that unless I actually fall on that knee again, there’s no way I’m going to tear it again at this point.  

And most importantly, today is my 13th wedding anniversary!  13 years ago today Amanda and I gathered with family and friends on a cruise boat on Lake Champlain and promised ourselves to each other.  The honeymoon continues!!  

5 Weeks And Counting

It’s been five weeks since my surgery.  I can feel my knee getting a little stronger every day.  Mom came to Potsdam on Saturday and I asked her to bring the shower seat Dad was using before he went to Meadowbrook.  I showered for the first time in 5 weeks!  It was glorious.  (Which is not to say I haven’t been cleaning myself for over a month–’cause EWW!) 

I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon on Monday.  He’s hard to read, but seemed skeptical about the brace.  (You may recall that his preference was that I remain in a full cast for at least 6 weeks.)  I was hoping that he’d prescribe some form of formal strength-building regimen or refer me to physical therapy; but no–a few more weeks of just walking.  And he admonished me to keep the brace locked/straight whenever I walk.  I’m allowed to let the knee bend and stretch a little while sitting, but that’s it.

That was a little disappointing.  I’ve seen a few videos online of people with (apparently) my same injury.  Some of them were not as far along as I am.  One or two were way ahead of me, doing exercises and stretches and all sorts of things that only made me wince.  I just keep telling myself that every body is different and that even if those people did have my same injury, they may not have had the same repair procedure done.  My doctor is an expert and has done and been through this before.  I am not and have not.  So I’ll do as he says.  “I don’t want to screw this up,” I told him.

Looking ahead to Summer, I can’t see how I’ll be terribly inconvenienced by my recovery.  As long as I can manage to swing my foot up onto the porch rail at Camp, everything else will be fine!

Driving Strength

This coming Monday marks 5 weeks since my accident.  I will see the doctor who performed my surgery that afternoon.  I hope to get some specific direction on strength building and exercise.

My knee continues to grow stronger.  I notice differences every day.  I was instructed to leave the brace set at 30º and I have done so.  My leg can now flex that full amount with no pain.  That was not true even a week ago.  The 30º angle has allowed me to sit normally in a chair which has been great.  Last week I tried again to get into the driver’s seat of a car.  I managed to figure out how, but it was painful and involved me manually lifting my leg with my hand.  This morning I tried again and was able to slide in with minimal difficulty and no assistance from my hand.  I can drive again if I need to!  Yesterday I started walking cautiously with the brace unlocked (still set at 30º).  It’s been a little liberating, but I know I have a long way to go.

3 Down, 3 To Go

Today marks 3 weeks since my knee surgery–1 week with the leg brace.  I went to see the Nurse Practitioner again today.  It was more of a check-in with me to make sure I had taken to the brace OK.  You’ll recall that it was the surgeon’s preference that I remain in a full cast for 6 whole weeks, but that last week I opted (in his absence) for the brace.  They had tried to get ahold of him while I was there, but could not.  Well, he called back and re-stated his preference for a cast, but the NP and the aide convinced him that I was OK with the brace.  It turns out that he and I have something in common: years of dealing with people who don’t follow instructions!  🙂  In his experience he can’t trust patients to keep the leg as straight as possible, so he doesn’t give them any option.  I’ve demonstrated that I can follow instructions and he was convinced of this and so approved of my keeping the brace.  (It’s ultimately my decision anyhow, but it was nice to hear.)

I have permission to continue slightly stretching the tendon by bending the knee, but no more than 30 degrees.  I have tried and still cannot get into the front seat of the two cars I currently have at my disposal.  Our 3rd is in the shop and is a larger car–I may have better luck with that.

My next appointment is on Monday, April 18th–5 weeks to the day after my fall.  It will be here before I know it!  I’m hoping he’ll authorize some kind of physical therapy at that point.  

Bracing For Travel

It’s been almost 3 weeks since my accident. I’ve gotten used to the brace and am walking as normally as possible. Things take a little longer, but I’m rarely in a hurry anyhow.

Amanda and I are on our way to Vermont to help a friend celebrate his birthday. We are having dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge and spending the night in a hotel in Burlington. Tomorrow we will stop in Keeseville to see Mom on our way home.

Amanda found some activewear khaki pants that are baggy enough to fit over the brace and have the bonus feature of zippers on the legs just above the knee that let you remove the lower leg and turn them into shorts. This means I can adjust/reposition the brace without having to take off the pants!

Next week I will get instructions on how to start stretching and exercising the muscle I damaged. I am looking forward to the recovery process, but know I will probably limp on and favor that leg for at least the rest of the year. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be one of those folks who can predict the weather with my “trick knee”!

Countdown to Cast-away…Cast Off!

Today I had my next scheduled appointment, this time with a Nurse Practitioner.  (It turns out my surgeon is in Poland helping Ukrainian refugees!)  The cast was removed, the incision inspected, and the staples removed.  Everything was textbook and the incision looks “very good”.

The surgeon’s plan for me was another cast for 4 more weeks, but the P.A. was candid with me:  she was concerned about muscle atrophy and tightening of the reattached tendon.  I was given the option of a brace which would restrict the movement of the knee as the cast had done, but which could be set to allow increasing amounts of movement (as directed and advised).  I was skeptical at first, but once I saw the brace and how it is designed I was all for it.  

So I now have a brace and am free of the cast!  The brace is set to mimic the cast (no bending allowed), but has just enough play in it that a minimum amount of bending will happen naturally.  I have another appointment a week from now at which things will be checked again and I will likely get permission to adjust the “unlocked” setting to something that will allow me to start stretching the tendon while sitting.

I feel I need to tell you that I’m in no pain!  Once the initial pain from the trauma/surgery wore off I was and still am in no pain.  Nor am I “laid up.”  I am getting around as well as one can without bending one’s leg.  The only things with which I need assistance are scooting into the back seat of a car and putting on my left sock.  Other than that, Life is pretty much normal (though I am avoiding flights of stairs for obvious reasons–no need to tempt Fate!).

Countdown to Cast-away – 1 Week In.

It’s been a week since my surgery.  I’ve been getting used to life in a full-leg cast.  I had a follow up appointment with Dr. Katz on Monday.   He said I’m clear to do anything the cast allows as long as it does not cause pain; so no restriction on exercise, walking, etc.  I am using muscles I don’t normally use to move in ways I don’t normally use; and my leg is getting used to the ever-presence of the cast (rubbing, chafing, etc.).  My “standing stamina” is improving, though I can’t seem to get comfortable while standing.  Today I realized that my LL Bean slippers, while very nice for lounging, are not practical daily wear.  After over 2 hours straight of standing for meetings/calls (I work from home right now) my left heel was hurting a lot.  I managed to figure out how to slip on my sneakers and wow, that felt a lot better!  Yesterday I made a single lap on our very short street (3 houses each side).  Today I’ll do 2.

Next Wednesday, at the 2 week mark, I go to have a chunk of the cast removed for wound/incision inspection and staple and/or stitch removal.  I’ll probably just end up with a whole new cast, which I’ll have for another 4 weeks.  I’m still unsure of the mechanics of what the doctor actually did while he was in there.  I’ve seen a few different procedures on YouTube, but am not sure which one was done to me.  I will find out if I can.

Picture of Cast and Cat

The 411 on my QTT

On Monday evening, March 14, 2022 I was coming down the stairs from my home den when I somehow missed the last step and came crashing to the ground floor landing on my knees.  It hurt but I immediately knew something wasn’t completely right with my left leg.  It was bent and it hurt when I tried to straighten it out.  I reached down and felt the kneecap and it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  Worse, I could move it in ways it’s not supposed to move.  Realizing I had very likely seriously hurt myself I lay still and advised Amanda to call for an ambulance.

I was loaded onto a stretcher and taken to the hospital.  In the ER I was x-rayed and received a CAT scan.  There were no broken bones, but the doctor diagnosed a quadricep tendon tear.  I was given a brace to keep my leg straight and told to visit Dr. Katz, a local orthopedist as soon as possible.  I called the next morning and was able to be seen at 10:00!  Dr. Katz removed some fluid with a needle and then numbed the joint with lidocaine.  With pain no longer in the way he instructed me to try to lift my leg (I was lying flat on my back) straight up off the table.  I couldn’t–not because it hurt, but because my body  simply would not respond.  This confirmed the diagnosis.  I was scheduled for surgery the next morning which I am told was a success.  I am now in a full leg cast which keeps the knee joint completely immobile.

Some comments on all of this: First, I don’t know how or why I missed that last step.  At my age I usually focus clearly when I’m walking on uneven terrain.  All I can think is that I got distracted and thought I had gone the full 14 steps instead of just 13.  And down I went.

The brace did its job, but not well enough.  I was not looking forward to weeks of recovery time if it meant having to be as careful as I had to be with that brace.  I could not move from sitting to standing without assistance.  There was no way for me to move my leg without trying to use the muscle which was no longer attached, and that caused severe discomfort.  I learned quickly how to relax that muscle, but it required having someone lift and manipulate my leg following my instructions.  6 weeks of that would have sucked.

The cast is amazing.  It’s super thick and my knee is completely immobile.  There is no way I can do damage to the repair that has been done and I can move my leg around by myself.  I can sit down on and stand up from regular chairs by myself.  I can get into and out of bed by myself.  Once I get used to it and have built up enough muscle strength in the muscles I need to use to adapt to the cast, I may not even need crutches to get around.

I close by enumerating my blessings.  The American healthcare system is generally a mess, but I am keenly aware of whatever privilege it is that allowed me to see a doctor and have surgery less than 48 hours after my injury.  The outpouring of concern and support on social media is nothing short of fantastic and has been a real mood booster for me.  I am also blessed to have family that I can count on to take care of me and do the things I simply cannot do for awhile, especially and most wonderfully my wife Amanda.

The timing for something like this is never great, but if all goes well I’ll be out of this cast and on the mend by the end of April.  I can’t really complain about that!  There are a few places I won’t visit and events I probably won’t be able to attend in person, but 6 weeks will fly be before I know it.  This could have been a lot worse!

 

Fixing Things – Survival Mode

Old house renovation expert and HGTV star Nicole Curtis generally doesn’t pull punches on her social media posts. She seems “genuine” and I appreciate that. She doesn’t post often, which I also appreciate, and when she does it’s usually worth reading. What follows is the first part of a recent post of hers in which she reflects on herself and her innate need to fix things. When I read this (and re-read it) it very much resonated with me. I seem to thrive on crisis. I certainly don’t go looking for it, but when it comes I handle it. I just…handle it. I don’t buckle. I don’t break. I just seem to figure it out. I fix it. I take it in, I assess, I analyze, I resolve. Consider this an in-depth version of my personal motto: “I understand the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small broken things.” (Shamelessly co-opted from Michael “Rands” Lopp)

[Only slightly edited for style.]

“I’m someone who therapists say is in constant survival mode —one will track my childhood & try to pinpoint it, one will track my genetics, one will track my adult choices. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely true. I gravitate towards these houses that have lost their fight because I fix things— my life makes sense when I can fix things. Some mistake this never-ending fixing as a need to be [in] control. It’s actually the opposite — I do it so I can let go. Most things are beyond my control, but a house? I got that. I’ve somehow found a group of like-minded friends — the survivors. We run on adrenaline, we get it done -we look rock solid from the outside, but if you really get to see the inside, we’re those people that hurt for everyone and everything, that search for greater meaning, that pray, that are intensely loyal, take everything to heart and simply keep turning the other cheek.”

My life makes sense when I can fix things.

YES!!!

It’s Been 23 Years

[I’m publishing this almost 10 months after I started the new position for which I had applied at the time I wrote this (early May, 2020).  It was the Right Thing for me to do, and I’d do it again.  But doing it still sucked.]

It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job.  I remember some of the emotions I experienced back then: angst, trepidation, fear, anticipation, hope, guilt.

Fear?  Yes, fear.  Fear I wouldn’t get the job and be able to leave my current employer on my own terms.  Also, ironically, fear I would get the job, which would mean relocating to Potsdam.

Angst.  Is this the right thing to do?

Trepidation.  Am I good enough to even be considered for the position, let alone get it?  (I have a self-diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome.  It tends to flare up at times like that.)

Anticipation and Hope.  In those moments when I can get past the angst, I allow myself to daydream about the possibilities this change would bring and make plans.

Guilt.  This is the worst.  And it’s almost crippling.  The guilt is over leaving whatever you’re currently doing (in this case, the job I had at the time) for a new job. I tend to be a loyal person. And I care about the work I do, no matter what it is or who it’s for.  Walking away from a body of work is a hard thing to do when you care about it.

It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job.  This job.  The one I have, and the one I have the good fortune and privilege to actually love. I have been working full-time for SUNY Potsdam for, as I write this, almost 23 and a half years.  If I count my time as a student here, I’ve spent over half of my life on and around this campus. When you work for a place for that long, you become a part of it, just as it becomes a part of you.

It’s been 23 years since I left a job.  And for me that’s hard.  The pit in the stomach, the faint aftertaste of bile as your gut literally wrenches. You’re doing the right thing for yourself, but you didn’t plan this with your current employer and so to them it’s a surprise, and you feel badly doing that.  No one is indispensable. You know that. People leave jobs all the time for all sorts of reasons. And the employer figures it out and moves on.

I will always be a part of the SUNY Potsdam Family.  But it’s time to move out of the house.