The Injured Trail Runner Part 4: Surgery

If you missed it, catch up on The Injured Trail Runner Part 3.

Coming back from Colorado I was perhaps blessed with a busy schedule that prevented me from focusing too much on the surgery ahead. It was the week of the July Semi-Annual Sale at our store, and as a small business it meant all hands on deck. It’s hectic and fun and you get to see regular customers who stop by to see if their favorite model is on sale, or just to catch up. With that of course came the questions about my running, and I had to repeat the surgery story. It’s a little weird to explain that you can’t run when you appear to be functioning completely normally. The good thing was that repeating the surgery plan helped it seem more and more normal in my brain.

That doesn’t mean I was cool about the whole thing. Two nights before surgery I freaked out and started Googling “Non-surgical repair of meniscus root tears” to no avail. The morning of surgery I did some yoga and took a short bike ride. It seemed weird to think about missing something that I disliked so much, but getting the surgery done meant giving up a certain amount of short term freedom and mobility in exchange for improvements in the long term. My friend Brittany drove me to the surgery center, with the short notice my husband couldn’t get off work, and headed off to find a place to do remote work while I went back to preop.

The preop team was great, I’m not always the most agreeable patient and they answered all of my questions and objections. I was up front about my nervousness, as well as my wish to have a minimal amount of medication. I was particularly hesitant about pain meds as I have a family history or addiction and alcohol abuse, and the anesthesiologist talked me through the amount he would give just to handle the trauma of the surgery but no more. Then, dressed in a hospital gown and compression stockings and with an IV in place I was wheeled down the hall to the operating room. I shimmied over onto the operating table with the assistance of the staff. They put a mask on me and told me to relax. There was no counting down. The next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. The nurse there told me that the surgery had been as easy and minimal as it could’ve been.

I felt pretty alert overall and didn’t do anything too embarrassing on the way home. I did text Brittany that I was out of surgery as she sat in the driver’s seat next to me, but I’ve texted wrong people before without the help of anesthesia. At home I slept quite a bit, iced a lot and moved a little. They had told me I could walk without crutches as long as there was no pain, and feeling no pain I walked around the house a bit. Later that night I realized that was a mistake. Since I almost never take any kind of medication, even Tylenol, the pain meds from surgery lasted for a long time. When they finally wore off, I was left in quite a bit of pain. After some Advil I was able to settle into an almost comfortable position and sleep.

Day two I decided to use crutches exclusively to give the leg a break. I became pretty adept at moving around on them, carrying things in a backpack and having my kids move things that I couldn’t put in a backpack. I had a compression stocking on my non-surgery leg and an ace bandage on my surgery leg and my surgery foot looked like a little sausage sticking out at the end of it. It was not comfortable and I was not happy. I did chair yoga and seated lifting and some very light mobility to try to keep the crazies away. I also got in some extra napping and did some work on my computer as I kept up with my icing schedule. That evening we went to the grocery store to pick up some odds and ends and my husband suggested I use one of the motorized shopping carts as it would be quicker. I may have been low key trying to drop him on my crutches as we made our way through the store just to prove a point.

Day three and the bandages were really starting to bug me. I was supposed to keep them on for 72 hours, and it just wasn’t going to happen. This is of course not a suggestion for anyone to follow my example, but I undid the ace bandage and within minutes felt so much better. I was down to a single crutch and even made my way down to the mailbox and back for my daily outing. I had reached a point where I wasn’t able to nap. I was watching more tv and movies than normal (normal is almost none) and I was feeling pretty restless. That night I had some slight swelling in both hands and feet, but I think that was more due to the fact that I had eaten more sodium than normal as food prep was too much time on feet at the moment and I was relying on some more processed options.. That was also combined with the fact that I wasn’t moving nearly as much as normal. My sleep was pretty restless. At one point I lay on the floor with my legs up to help. Overall not a great night.

I slept in a bit the next morning to make up for it. Waking up I was able to finally remove all bandages and shower, which felt amazing. My surgery foot no longer looked like a sausage. I was able to very carefully walk around without crutches, this time confident that since there was nothing masking my pain I wasn’t going to cause any additional pain. I was still bumping up and down the stairs on my butt. I was pretty confident that I could manage to take the steps one at a time, stepping up with my left foot, bringing the right to meet it and then repeating, but for some reason I had a deep rooted fear of doing this so I gave myself time to adjust to the idea of it.

Monday I had my first PT appointment and it was honestly pretty frustrating. I saw a different therapist than I usually see. They tested my range of motion, and gave me some exercises, most of which I had been doing since the day after surgery. Then they had me ice and sent me on my way with a bunch of scheduled appointments. At $100 a session, with insurance, I knew this wasn’t a good solution. It was definitely another low moment mentally as I worried about the speed of my recovery, the therapist being on the same page as me as far as goals, and the financial reality of surgery and recovery. After thinking about it I called back and had them switch me over to my normal therapist and cut back to once a week. I knew I would do my exercises daily at home in between sessions. One good thing that came from the session is that it made me determined to be able to use the exercise bike at the house. I put the seat up higher and was able to get in a full rotation. I did a mile to test it out, and then going forward was able to get in an hour or two a day as I waited for the ok to return to more normal activity.

My two-week follow-up with the surgeon coincided with my next PT appointment. Going into the appointment my incision sites and sutures were getting a little angry. The surgeon’s office removed them and wrote a script for antibiotics just in case there was an infection (I never ended up filling the script due to life circumstances described below, but everything healed up nicely). I was given the ok to ride my bike outside, which seemed like a treat at this point. The main thing he wanted me to focus on was quad strength as that would allow me to start running without putting undue pressure on the knee. He also reviewed the images from surgery, which he kindly explained since they made no sense to me. He made me aware of the fact that my ACL was slightly loose and I had the start of arthritis. For the ACL he felt that strengthening around the knee was the best option, but that if it was giving me issues and giving out there was an option for reconstruction. For the arthritis there was stem cell injections. Looking into these after the appointment I found that they were relatively expensive and rarely covered by insurance. I looked into other ways to help keep arthritis at bay, including a daily dose of flaxseed oil for extra Omegas.

My second PT appointment was slightly better, I had been working a lot on my mobility and strength, as well at least an hour of biking and an hour of therapy exercises on my own each day. I was given some additional exercises for strengthening. It was still slightly expensive, and I was still anxious about whether we had similar goals for my recovery, but I was willing to try it. I mainly wanted their help in giving me guidelines about when I was ok to move forward with which activities.

The day after my appointments my husband tested positive for COVID after an exposure from work. He immediately quarantined in his room. I got tested and was negative, we thought we were ok. A few days later I started feeling really tired and got a headache. A second test came back positive, and my oldest son tested positive as well. My younger son tested negative, but despite us trying to separate as much as possible he started with symptoms a few days later. I was sick for two weeks, with four of those days being so bad that I slept for 22-23 hours a day and took Advil to make the severe head and body aches even bearable. A few times a day I would drag myself our of bed to check on my kids (who are 12 an 14 and were also sleeping most of the day) and do a few PT exercises which literally exhausted me as easy as they were. 

It was the sickest I have ever been in my life. I dropped 10 pounds, both because I didn’t feel like eating, and because making my way down to the kitchen seemed almost as daunting as my first hundred miler. After I was cleared to go back to work I was still feeling pretty weak, and it took another 2 weeks of extra sleep and easy workouts before I even close to normal. The positive side to this is that the whole family was able to recover at home, there were no hospitalizations, and after overcoming similar tiredness we all bounced back to normal. It also left me with more determination to work back to my former running self.

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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