Rebuilt, if not healed

Sorry for the light posting activity here. Last Wednesday, I underwent surgery to reconstruct my left Achilles tendon, and the past week was lost to all that came before and after that procedure.

My roommate dropped me off at the surgery center in the morning. A nurse at the counter upstairs handed me a clipboard and sent me down the hallway to fill it out, only I was on crutches, and the chief disadvantage of crutches, besides the chafing on your inner arm and chest just under the armpit, is that you can't carry anything. I tried grasping it with two fingers and dropped it twice while heading down the hall.

Once shown to the bed, a series of nurses and doctors came by. Eddie works at UCLA Medical Center, so he stopped by, and knowing someone in the hospital helps, if not in actual treatment effectiveness, then at least in personal attention and expectations you form about how attentive your doctors will be. For the most part, all the nurses and doctors I encountered at UCLA in the ER and in the surgery center were unusually friendly. Maybe it's the weather here.

The anesthesia for my surgery was a popliteal fassa block (I had to look that up, and I don't recommend clicking through if you're squeamish about images of Achilles tendon repair; I really wish I hadn't clicked through myself). It's local and numbs the lower part of your leg. They also did some sort of anesthesia for my upper leg as they put my thigh in some sort of balloon tourniquet for the operation.

My last pre-surgery memory was the anesthesiologists working on the nerve block. By then some happy juice had been injected into my IV, and I was off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizzzzzz...

Waking from sedation is the best part of surgery. It's like waking from the deepest sleep of your life, like floating up from the depths of the ocean through layer after layer of tranquil oblivion. The first thing I noticed, because it was impossible not to, was the gigantic cast on my left leg, extending from my knee on down. My foot was locked in a downward angle, like a ballet dancer would be if up on her toes. The cast is not only thick but solid; the outer layer feels bulletproof. If I was flexible enough and could balance on my right leg like that last kung-fu fighter in Drunken Master 2, the one that fights Jackie Chan using only his legs, I could be a deadly fighter, bludgeoning my opponents to my cast. In a Tsui Hark wusha picture I'd have a nickname like "Iron Shin".

As long as the nerve block was doing its magic, all was good. My left leg was completely numb. At around 8pm I popped two Vicodin just in case, as I started to regain feeling in my leg. The pills made me woozy, and I lay down in anticipation of a good night's sleep.

At around midnight, I shook of my grogginess to get up to two more Vicodin. It was at this point that my troubles began.

I felt a throbbing pain where the surgery had occurred. I couldn't see where the incision had been made, but it felt like the pain was emanating from that spot. I downed the two Vicodin and waited for them to work their magic.

But the pain only increased. So I popped one more a few hours later. And then another. I lay in bed, sweating, clutching my leg, biting on my pillow, moaning, rolling around, trying to escape my body. At one point, my eyes watering from the agony, I grabbed my iPhone and started surfing the web, Googling "achilles rupture surgery pain" and found dozens of blogs devoted to the experiences of Achilles rupture victims. What I read was not encouraging, stories of some patients suffering agonizing pain for days following surgery. At 4am I called Sharon on the East coast, knowing my nephews would have her up and about at that hour. She suggested I call the doctor's office to change up my painkiller, see if it helped. His office didn't open for four hours, but her advice jogged my memory.

I had a bottle of Percocet left over from ACL reconstruction from some ten years ago. i wasn't sure if it was even good anymore, but at this point I didn't care. I hopped to my medicine cabinet and rummaged through it until I found that bottle. I downed two and lay down again.

A few times, I would be at the brink of dozing off, but no matter how exhausted I felt, the pain would grab me by the leg and yank me back to consciousness. I imagined this must be what it felt like to be one of those interrogation victims who were not allowed to fall asleep.

As soon as the doctor's office opened at 8am I was on the phone. There was no magic solution, just the suggestion of switching to Percocet. My roommate went off to pick up my prescription (Percocet being an opiate, doctor's can't call in a prescription). She returned after lunch with the pills, and I gulped down two of them. It did little for the pain but added nausea to my symptoms.

At around 5pm, I stood up to crutch to the bathroom, and on the way back to bed I was staggered by a bout of lightheadedness, and I broke out in a cold sweat.

At first I thought I was feverish, but then I realized my blood sugar was too low as I hadn't eaten in a day and a half. I shouted for my roommate to bring me an apple which I devoured. In the evening, Christina and Eddie and Rob stopped by and prepared a lasagna dinner. I ate a few bites and then felt ill and had to lay down again.

The next night, the pain was still acute, but the drowsiness from the Percocet bought me an hour or two of sleep. By this point, I could start to feel my mind learning to compartmentalize the pain in a way, and I had a particularly heightened feel for how to position my leg for the minimum amount of pain.

My leg, ever since the surgery, seems to have built in accelerometers attached to pain release mechanisms. As long as it's elevated, there's little pain. Swing my leg upright, and as the blood flows down past my knee it brings the pain, a quick and sharp muscular pain.

Friday night, Christina stopped by, having purchased a little stool for my bathtub. On the back of the product packaging were photos of related products, like bathtub handgrips and handlebars to mount on your toilet. Very sexy stuff. But that stool. the Drycast Eleanor recommended, and the handheld shower head my dad installed for me have improved my post-injury quality of life more than anything. Prior to that, I tried taping a garbage bag to my leg and standing on one leg in the shower. Not only did that fail to keep my cast dry but it left me exhausted from exertion. As soon as I made it out of the shower I'd be sweating again from trying to maintain what must surely be an advanced yoga position. The Drycast resembles a sort of giant condom for your leg, and it's not sexy, but it's effective.

Friday night I slept for five hours continuously, the only mishap being that I slept past my pain medication alarm at 2am. I didn't sleep past the excruciating pain at 5am that woke me, and I didn't miss another pain medication deadline the rest of the weekend.

My bathroom has one of those apartment showers with the sliding doors. Because I can't put weight on my crutch leg, getting into the shower involves hanging from the top of the sliding door frame and swinging in like Tarzan and nailing the one-legged landing. Remember Keri Strug with her heroic vault, hopping around on one leg and raising her arms in a big V to salute the judges? That's me every day when I nail my landing in the bathtub.

And so that's where I am now. Pain under control as long as the leg's propped up. I can drive (my dad swapped cars with me as I can't hit the clutch anymore), but only for short distances as I don't think police would look kindly on me if I drove with my cast hanging out the driver's window. I still haven't found a great solution to carrying things while on my crutches, though I'm definitely eyeing these knee walkers. If only they didn't cost so much and look like, well, accessories for the elderly. Yep, I'm hobbling around with a serious injury, but I'm still cheap and vain.

I'm dependent on my roommate and friends to help buy groceries and to take me places where I might not be able to park close to where I'm going. Not that I'd recommend blowing out your ACL, but compared to the recovery period from an Achilles rupture, I'd much prefer an ACL injury.

It's not ideal, and this whole situation still forces me to count to ten at least a few times a day, but as consolation I'm considering cultivating the personality of an arrogant, brilliant, and blunt curmedgeon who pops painkillers like Skittles and has abnormally formidable deductive powers. Once I'm out of this hard cast I may even start walking with a cane.