The Injured Trail Runner: Part 2 Navigating the Medical System

My initial appointment with the surgeon was the beginning of a series of frustrating encounters with the medical system. The first of these was the fact that I was unable to get an MRI until I first had an x-ray, even though we were certain that the injury was soft tissue and not something able to be seen on an x-ray. I am also certain that this will eventually mean an additional medical expense for me. 

Still, I got the x-ray before leaving the surgeon’s office and was able to schedule an MRI for two days later. Perfect. I got a call from the surgeon’s office to confirm that insurance had approved the MRI, and they got the information to send the order through to the imaging facility. Again, perfect. I showed up for my appointment on a Friday evening and was told that they hadn’t received the orders and I was unable to get my MRI without one. Not perfect.

Being a Friday evening, the surgeon’s office wasn’t open, and the answering service had no access to be able to help. I was stuck. They were able to schedule me for a Monday morning appointment before work. This of course meant not only that it was continuing to weigh on my mind throughout the weekend, but also that Monday morning I had to deal with trying to get an order sent over before my appointment. I’m not sure whose fault it was that the information didn’t get through, but it was an example of how disjointed the medical system is. It made me feel like I was the only one who cared if anything got resolved with my knee.

Monday I called early in the morning and had the order faxed over and was relieved when I got there that the order had actually made it through this time, until I was in the office and heard it myself I didn’t really believe it would be there. Of course payment was taken prior to the appointment, just like at the surgeon’s office. If there’s one thing I learned from my time working in healthcare it was that the bottom line ruled. The MRI itself was quick and easy and I was on my way to work in plenty of time.

Wednesday I went back to the surgeon’s office. As I waited for him I was given a copy of my MRI report to review. Meniscus tear, bakers cyst and some slight wear consistent with someone of my age and activity. This seemed good. Meniscus tears were less serious than ACL, and in my consults with Dr. Google I found that often meniscus tears could be dealt with through PT. This, paired with the fact that my knee felt much better than it had a week prior, left me confident and excited when the surgeon came in. That all changed pretty quickly.

The surgeon came in to review the images of the MRI with me. He revealed that the meniscus tear was at the root. According to him the meniscus was no longer attached at the center of the knee and was being squeezed out from between the two bones. It would eventually fail to act as a buffer between the two bones and cause instability and early onset of osteoarthritis. The solution was a repair that involved drilling a hole through the shin bone, stitching the center of the meniscus and then threading that down through the tunnel to anchor it to the bone. The healing process involved 6 weeks of non-weight bearing and at least 3 months of no running. During the initial 6 weeks I would have to be on crutches. He asked if I had any questions but at the time I couldn’t think of any, I couldn’t really think at all. After the hope of looking at the report on my own, it felt like a really big blow.

Once I had time to think it through I decided at the very least I was going to get a second opinion. I couldn’t exactly describe it, but I really just didn’t feel comfortable with the first surgeon. I scheduled an appointment with a surgeon who had operated on a friend and set about waiting again. In the meantime, I had the pleasure of having lunch with my friend Susie. Susie and I are both on the Aravaipa team and she had just completed Western States as the oldest female finisher. We hadn’t been able to sit down for a real conversation in such a long time, and it was awesome to hear about her ups and downs during the race. We talked about my injury and having her perspective really helped to calm me and help me focus on doing everything I could to get back to running. She reminded me that this was a blip in the course of my running career. She also reminded me how important it is to have friends with life experience who can offer perspective when we’re a little too close in to have it ourselves. I was realizing that there were a lot worse things I could be going through, and this temporary setback was going to make the fire burn even stronger once I was back.

That being said, there have been struggles. In general, I’m easily overwhelmed by things that some people find every day. I am much more at home in the wilderness, and trail running has been the activity that helps me find balance. For my son’s birthday we went bowling. I haven’t been in a while, and apparently, in my absence, it has become a full sensory experience. This includes blacklights, a bank of 50 televisions above the pins playing 6 different channels, blasting music, an arcade, and the normal chatter of people talking. Not my scene, but one I’m happy to be in for my kids’ sake. However without my normal release on the trails it jangled my nerves pretty quickly and left me feeling drained. I am looking forward to getting a second opinion and finding a way to move closer to the point where I could be out on the trails again.

Read The Injured Runner Part 1.

Deserae Clarke

Deserae Clarke

Des is a crunchy, plant-powered, trail-loving ultra runner. She grew up exploring the woods of central PA, and currently lives and runs in Arizona.

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