My entire athletic life, there has been one injury I have feared most. Things like sprained ankles, or torn ligaments and cartilage were worrisome, but I always assumed that I would come back without too much time and energy. However, other than catastrophic injuries, I have always – ALWAYS – feared an injury to my Achilles tendons. The Achilles tendon is what connects the calf to the foot. It’s basically the suspension, power steering and brakes to a car. Without those things, no matter how powerful and luxurious a car, it is useless.
So when I went down last weekend while playing ultimate, feeling like someone had kicked me in the back of the leg, and that some tension was suddenly gone, my first thought was: “that’s it. That’s all the time I get to sprint, to change directions quickly – all the explosiveness I’m ever going to get has been gotten.” And staring at the vast wasteland of surgery, recovery and rehabilitation in front of me – up to 2 years in some cases – I can’t help but feel like my initial thoughts were right.
Of course, there have been some success stories. Many cite athletes in football, baseball, and track, but one of the unique cases – and the one I’m keeping front of mind – is Teemu Selanne. Teemu Selanne came into the NHL in the early 90s and astonished everyone, scoring 76 goals and 0ver 130 points as a rookie, still NHL records. The next season, however, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon when the skate of a teammate caught him above the boot and severed it. He was out for the rest of the year, and was affected the next year, during a lockout shortened season. His career since, though, has been long and successful, and he will probably go down as one of the best players in league history. What’s unique about his case is that he was quite young, cut down (literally) in the prime of his athleticism, and he was able to come back (albeit, to some a half step slower) and be incredibly successful.
This past week, I have been reading as much as I could about Achilles tendon ruptures. It’s grim reading, with many stories of hardship and pain. Many never really “make it back”, and settle for some diminished level of performance out of the afflicted leg. But its encouraging that some strides have been made in the last 10 years with regards to rehabilitation, and that those who follow rehab instructions to a tee often get good results.
All I know is that if I end up as one of those old guys who can only skate at one speed, I might just hang ’em up. And that thought really makes me sad. I am by no means a really fast skater. But for an amateur, I can hold my own, and I’ve always been proud of my skating; this stems from the fact that I was a really shitty skater as a kid, and it was through a lot of hard work and power skating lessons that I became a good skater. To lose that, to give up that part of my hockey identity … I don’t know if I could stomach that.
Still, you have to remain optimistic. There are some benefits to this injury. It effectively doubles my sock count, cause I only have to wear one. It also increases my packing space by quite a bit, given that I only have to bring one shoe out of a pair. Flying becomes much more palatable, as you get the royal treatment at airports (handicap golf cart, first onto the plane, etc.), though you have to give up the exit aisle. And, hopefully, this means getting a handicap sticker for the car (! It’s like the holy grail!).
Anyways, I’ll try to keep a blog of the experience. Read around the internet and you’ll find many blogs specifically created to tell about an Achilles tendon rupture experience. Since I’ll have some time (whatever time I had allocated to golf and hockey will now be spent … elevating my foot?), I’m hoping the blog gets updated a little more.
I spent the last few days putting the house in order, getting my holiday errands done (I’ve never completed Christmas shopping in a day before…) and ‘surgery-proofing’ the house. I bought a shower chair (frankly, I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier; it’s like showering for lazy people!), and cleared pathways through my house for crutches and walking boot. I’ve stocked the fridge with some easy to eat stuff, like apples and yogurt. I’ve mapped out a diet, to keep my weight down while I can do nothing except sit on my ass and heal. I’ve bought a cryocuff, for post op swelling control. I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff, but in a weekend, that’s about all I can do on one leg. Mom will be coming down to help me out for a few days. I’m thankful, not only because she’s dropping everything at moments notice to do this, but she has a lot of experience with fairly major surgery, and I think she, out of anyone in the family, knows the pain and suffering associated with a surgery of this magnitude. Oh, and in case you’re thinking “it’s an ankle surgery. Whatever,” here’s a picture of what will happen to me on Tuesday:
This ain’t no arthroscopic walk in the park. This is full on open surgery. Ah, christ, I’ve managed to make myself nervous again. Ok, until next time. Wish me luck.