As you know, I managed to tear my quadriceps tendon in mid-March. I thought it was time for the story (for posterity) and an update on the recovery.
SURGERY WAS A BUMMER
An MRI confirmed that the quad-tendon in my right leg was at least 60-70% torn left to right (from my perspective) – or medial to lateral (if you took Medical Terminology in High School). Surgery was the only good option. Here’s a surgeon demonstrating the procedure on a cadavre.
WARNING: Definitely don’t watch it if you’re easily grossed out. It’s super interesting if you can handle a mildly-juicy, dissected knee joint.
The thumbnail of this next video may be a bit grizzly for the faint of heart, so I softened it
as best I could. You’re welcome. To understand what I was seeing, I had to watch the one posted above first.
WARNING AGAIN: This is the juicy version of the same procedure, performed on an actual patient. Clicking the image will take you to Youtube.
I told you it was a bummer.
Definitely more pain than I’d ever felt before. Maybe from the holes they drilled in my knee cap, or the anchors they tapped into those holes, or maybe one of the largest muscle groups in my body connected to my knee by a couple of cables laced up through the tendon and pulled taut by said anchors. Meh.
I always feel like adding the disclaimer: “I’m sure other people have experienced far worse . . .”
But pain and pain thresholds are relative, right? This set a new bar for me. Luckily, my sweet wife took good care of me. I think she liked to imagine herself as a nurse in the WWII French Resistance, tending a handsome American fighter pilot who crashed nearby . . . who survived the crash without a scratch, stole a motorcycle and raced through the country-side, but got off the bike and turned his ankle on a crack in the sidewalk and fell onto his knee in the least sexy way a person can injure one’s self . . .
Anyway, I couldn’t have done it without her. I actually asked her to call the nurse and ask if it was supposed to be this bad.
“Oh yeah, he should be really really hurting. That surgery is one of the bad ones.”
It actually helped, mentally, knowing it went well and the pain was normal and expected. Allie kept me sane when the pain meds had reached their maximum effect and didn’t seem like they hardly made a dent. She kept me distracted and pampered. The pain was enough that I had no appetite. I prettymuch lived off of strawberry smoothies for the first week.
I was surprised by how much I take for granted. Getting into and out of the shower was a strenuous, hour-long project. It required me to swallow some pride and allow Allie to help me in my weakness and nakedness. And since this injury (my right leg) was, in fact, caused when I sprained my left ankle, using crutches was definitely the added “insult to injury” that they talk about. Thankfully, my police officer brother let me use his wheelchair and shower chair that he used after he was shot in the femur while on duty.
A benefit to all of this was using those motorized shopping carts at Wal-Mart and Costco. What a treat! :)
I actually got the stink-eye from lots of old people when they saw me cruising through the store on these things. I don’t think they noticed the brace.
THE PAIN OF HEALING
Week 1 post-op was the worst of it, by far. Weeks 2 and 3, the pain was much more manageable and the pain meds seemed to really make a dent, and I was able to get some sleep. Soon I was instructed to start putting a little bit of weight on my leg. Then a little more, and a little more. By week 6, I was done with crutches and I had my first physical therapy appointment. Everyone warned me how terrible it would be, but I was actually really excited.
Just before my first PT appointment, my surgeon instructed me to start bending my knee to 30 degrees. I figured that was enough to start practicing my ninja kicks.
My first PT appointment was rough, as expected. With some help, I got my knee bent to just over 70 degrees. It hurt a lot. So did the stretches he gave me to do at home. But I did them. Poor Allie had to listen to me wincing and breathing heavy from pushing into those stretches constantly. Within 8 days – after a couple more appointments, lots of work at home – I was able to push it to 97 degrees.
There was still a lot of swelling and fluid in the knee joint, and I had to find the sweet spot between working hard on my stretches/exercises, and letting my leg rest and heal. When I pushed too hard, the knee pushed back. My stretches were painful and results were slow, and it was hard to stay motivated some days. Still, it felt so good to be moving again. My leg wanted to bend and push and stretch so badly, and most days it felt good to be in that kind of pain. It’s different than the pain of injury. It’s the pain of healing. Does that make sense?
Progress continued at this rate for the next few weeks, until I finally got past 135 degrees. If this is all getting hard to visualize, here you go:
They told me that, while it’s not ideal, I was now in the range where my knee was considered functional. Now that we had my range of motion into a good range, we started focusing more on my strength (more range of motion will continue to come). I had lost a lot of muscle, and some of what I still had was starting to atrophy.
Now that I was moving around more and more, I was excited to start going on short-ish hikes and nature walks. I missed being outside, and I missed the mountains. Not to mention, I ordered a quad-copter for my birthday in March, and hadn’t taken it out flying yet . . .
I’m still working on it, and it’ll be some time before I’m back up to speed. Stairs are hard for me, especially going down. But I’m able to do it without support or a brace. It stiffens up a lot at night, and I get restless if I sit with it bent for too long. It’s getting stronger though.
And yes. As you can see, the Yamaha I bought as a project bike two summers ago is now running great, and I’ve been able to take it on some quality rides, including the Nebo loop a couple times, where I took these:
I’m motivated by a quote that Matt and I often share with our students in our defensive training courses:
In life’s small thing be resolute and great
to keep thy muscle trained: Know’st thou when fate
thy measure takes, or when she’ll say to thee,
“I find thee worthy; do this deed for me?”
– James Russell Lowell