I may get some behind-the-back talk for this post, but I want to clear one thing up before I get into it. I am not looking for sympathy. If I could change the fact that this is a thing I have to deal with, I totally would. However, the majority of this blog, along with this post, has always been about issues going on in my life that I feel comfortable sharing with the public. And up until now, this hasn’t really been something I’ve been comfortable sharing because it could seem like I am looking for someone to feel sorry for me. I was also afraid it would give this thing more space in my consciousness than it deserves. But I do like to keep it real, and with my trying to exercise more often, this has become a big thing going on in my life right now. Also, I have always found writing to be pretty good therapy. So, here’s a little dose of realness for you.
When I was 17, my sister and I were involved in a pretty serious car accident. At around 2pm on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver going 70mph on a neighborhood road about a block from my house. I was taking my sister to karate practice. I don’t remember the wreck at all. Or much of that day before I “woke up” in the hospital, for that matter. My sister does though. She was completely conscious for the whole thing, but her concussion left her unable to see. So she was conscious but temporarily blind. And, honestly, I think I got the better end of that deal. I only have a couple of hazy flashbacks of the steering wheel being bent, screaming hysterically, a fireman putting his jacket over my face so they could cut the windshield away and them asking me every now and then if I could get my foot out from where it was stuck (they apparently couldn’t get a clear view of my foot and didn’t really know what it was trapping it), and my mom telling me to say my prayers. I also remember the smell. A sickly sweet smell mixed with something stronger that I will never forget. I may have been stuck in the car and needed the jaws of life to cut me out, but, it is all a fog in my memories. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to live through and have to remember every single detail of that day. It traumatized my sister for a long time afterward. She hates driving to this day. I don’t blame her.
Anyone who knows me knows about the accident, but what a lot of people don’t know (and don’t really understand unless they too have chronic pain) is that I deal with pain on a daily basis because of it. In fact, more days than not, I walk around with a stabbing pain in at least one area of my ankle. My latest X-rays show that it is, in fact, riddled with arthritis and there is almost no cartilage left between the joint. Which means bone hits bone with every step I take and any hope of gaining back full range of motion is pretty much non existent.
Now, please understand, like I have already said, that I am not writing this looking for a pity party. That is the last thing I want because, trust me, I’ve had my fair share of them on my own. It never happened all at once (that might have been easier). No, it took time for me to realize exactly how much this injury would affect my life. The pity parties have always come in waves. Like the time I realized I wouldn’t be able to properly plié in my solo dance recital at the end of my senior year of high school. I had one when I tried out for my sorority’s dance section at Derby Days and didn’t make it (after dancing my entire high school career). I had one when I went to yoga the first time and realized the chair pose was going to give me problems. I had one when an ex boyfriend told me the scar on my foot freaked him out (people aren’t really sympathetic to injuries they can’t really see). And, every now and then, when I somehow forget that I wouldn’t be caught dead running even if I could, I get a little depressed when I see another friend complete a marathon (this does not stop me from being super happy for them though!). And, let’s face it, I’ve had pity parties for myself on this blog for much lesser reasons.
I’ve learned to recognize the signs, though, and I know how to handle them. When I feel the sadness coming on, I think of all the things I can do. I can squat—you only need to get to 90° (ankle movement is measured in degrees with 90 being neutral) when squatting, because, thank goodness, it’s bad form for your toes to go over your knees. I can jump. I can also walk miles at a time. All of this is usually followed by pain and limping, but I can still do them, and chances are, I’m going to have pain and limping at night even if I don’t do those things, so why stop now?! I can essentially do anything but run. I still have a foot attached to my leg, which I came dangerously close to losing, and I remain thankful for that. I would much rather have a defective foot over no foot at all.
Anyway, I have mostly come to terms with this injury. It will never be “fixed” and the pain will probably always be there in some form or another (and after speaking with one of my medical professional friends yesterday, even if it were to ever be “fixed,” the nerves may continue to create phantom pain because nerves are not our friends). And I try not to bring it up very often (this post being an exception to the rule). I certainly don’t complain about it hurting when I am out walking around with friends or working out (unless it gets very bad—in 13 years, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to stop something prematurely because of ankle pain). I try not to let it affect my everyday life, but the more I exercise, the less I am able to avoid it.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
For the couple of you who keep up with this blog, you may remember that my New Years resolution is to go around twice at 9Round (which I have already done once but am waiting to brag about that because it wasn’t pretty and I’d like it to be by the end of the year). And, for the shape I am in, it feels like training for a marathon. I go to 9Round at least twice a week, three times if I can, and I also try my best to get my 10k (or more) steps in every day. So, naturally, my ankle has been protesting quite a bit lately.
I found a doctor in Charlotte that specializes in traumatic injuries to the ankle (which is really specific, but I’m glad these people exist), and went to see him in February. I went into the appointment thinking he was going to tell me there’s nothing he can do for me, which is why I waited so long to go in the first place. But, of course (and thank goodness), I was wrong. He not only had multiple options for me to try, he had options that did not require surgery! (And until they come up with a way to remove significant amounts of scar tissue without it coming back or develop a cartilage replacement for an ankle joint, there isn’t a whole lot surgery can do for me, anyway). I was excited to hear what he had to say.
The first thing he wanted to try was a brace. I can wear it anytime, but it is bulky and will really only fit into my tennis shoe. I have started wearing it when working out (when I remember to pack it with my workout clothes) and at night when I need the compression after a long day. It has actually made a huge difference (I was skeptical at first). The second thing was custom orthotics. This was a separate appointment on a separate day at a separate location, and then a two week wait for them to come in, but I picked those up today, and once I work up to being able to work out in them (I start out at one hour the first day and increase an hour each day and no strenuous exercise in them for two weeks), I expect them to help as well. They are supposed to change the way my joint sits by pushing it forward and hopefully decreasing some of that bone-on-bone action. The third thing was a Synvisc shot. These are usually used in knees, but my doctor said they have been having some success with ankles recently, and it is the only injection option covered by insurance. I got that one on Friday last week. And of all the injections I’ve ever had, this one falls right behind the steroid shot I got in my palm once to combat trigger finger (from being on crutches for 5 months). It. Was. Painful. Instead of an injection that feels like water (like a steroid or cortisone shot), this one felt like a goo. It was very thick, and I could feel the joint expanding as it went in (it was a very strange feeling). And four days later, I am still having my normal pain, but they say it takes a while to start working, so I am optimistic. There are more injections we can try if this doesn’t work, but they range anywhere from $500 – $5,000 and are not covered by insurance. No thanks.
So, to recap: I have to wear old-lady orthotics (sorry to any old ladies who may be reading this—just know that I feel your pain more than you think I do because I am “young”); my balance on my right leg is completely off (yoga is hard for more than just the Chair position); I’ll probably have to have my left hip replaced long before my friends need theirs replaced (from overcompensating); my right ankle will always be fatter than the left one because scar tissue (eyeroll); I don’t have feeling in an entire section of my foot (I’ve scratched the living daylights out of it and never felt a thing); and I will probably always walk with a limp when barefoot, but this is all just a part of who I am now. It does not define me. And as much as this ankle seems to want to take over my life right now, I refuse to let it. I will meet my New Years resolution goal (again). And for the first time in a while, I am cautiously optimistic about finding a “cure” for this pain.
And for any of my friends in the medical field that are curious, I am attaching my X-rays. They fascinate me, but I might be the only one. It’s a little hard to get a clear view since I took this picture from the computer screen they pulled them up on (my front view pictures didn’t turn out well), but I think you can see that there isn’t much space between the front of the joint where cartilage should be, and you can also see how messy the lines in the joint are when they should be clean. There’s also a little ball of arthritis hanging out in the front there close to where the mouse is pointing.