Less than two hours after I hit the pavement, just after the first of my x-rays, I reached out to Dr. Mayes. He had just crossed the finish line at the West Point Triathlon and was en route to the Midland Mile but he took the time to give me his professional opinion and try come my nerves. Of course, neither of us knew the full extent of my injury at the time. In fact, even the surgeons down-played it until I was out of surgery and they couldn’t hide the severity of the situation any longer.
I reached out to Geno before I talked to my family. I wanted to know all the facts before I freaked anyone out. So, it wasn’t just a set of crutches, it was a little more involved.
My first big challenge was learning how to get out of bed and sit in a chair. 30 minutes felt like a lifetime. I never knew that sitting up could be so difficult. I remember sobbing because the pain was so unbearable. I had so many tubes going in and out of my body and a 14” incision going across my abdomen. I didn’t even know what hurt but it all hurt. Comfortable wasn’t an option.
My next challenge was learning how to walk. My body was so heavy with all the extra bloating and fluid filling my limbs after the surgery. Each step felt like running the last mile of a marathon. I had to use every ounce of concentration and stubborn determination to move forward. I couldn’t go home until I could walk the length of the hallway, so I did, six days after my pelvis was reconstructed.
Once home, I couldn’t leave. There are two flights of stairs between my apartment and the rest of the world. Even though I proved my ability to walk down the hallway, I wasn’t physically able to walk down one step. Barbara Foley came to visit every day and she taught me how to use crutches in lieu of my walker or wheelchair. Then she showed me how to navigate up and down a step using the crutches. I practiced inside my apartment on a step straight out of a Jane Fonda workout video.
Once I mastered the single step, I started practicing on the actual staircase. I hadn’t been outside in over a week. I didn’t stop with a couple steps, I went all the way down and crossed the street to venture into my bakery for the first time in weeks. I finally regained a small bit of dignity even though independence was still far out of sight. I was completely reliant on the people around me.
Fourteen days post-op, I returned to the surgeon to have my incision inspected, my stitches removed and a new set of x-rays reviewed. He told me I could start PT if I wanted but I might be better off waiting until I had more mobility. PT this early would be futile, he said. I would just be learning basic functionality and I could do that at home.
I sent Geno a message while still in the surgeon’s office. I would not be waiting. I had an appointment at Iron PT before I left the hospital that day.
Brad drove me to my first appointment. He had to park so that there was the least amount of space possible between my car door and the entrance to the office. I needed help getting out of the car. Geno met Brad at the door and they both helped me get inside and across the office to the exam table. It took all my strength to make it that far. Geno evaluated the extent of my injuries and my mobility or lack thereof.
One of the first exercises I had to do was simply lay on my back and pull my heel toward my butt. I couldn’t do this without also using my hands to assist my left leg. It seems silly to think now but it was so hard I could barely complete 5 reps. I also had to hold a soccer ball between my knees for 10 seconds without letting it drop. It took multiple tries before I could hold it for all 10 seconds.
Over the next several weeks, I slowly overcame my fears, now under the direction of Dr. C. He wouldn’t clear me to do the next big thing until he was there to witness it. These are in order of accomplishments.
Lay on my non-surgical side
Bear some weight on my left foot
Walk with one crutch
Bear equal weight on both feet
Walk with a cane
Lay on my surgical side
Walk without any assistance
Sit on the floor
Bear my full weight on my left foot
Hop on both feet
Hop on my left foot
Jump on a 12” Box
Run - picking up speed
Jump on a 20” Box
After six full months of physical therapy, I graduated. I had to jump from the floor to the top of a 20” box before Dr. C would sign off on my recovery. I was so afraid, it took me 10 minutes of staring at the box and false starts to get up the nerve to jump. As with everything else I checked off the list, Iron PT provided me with a supported, safe place to overcome my fears. This leap of faith was the final test. I landed the jump for the first time in my life. I would have never been able to do this before my accident. I would have never tried.
Everyday, someone asks how I got this far, this fast. What makes my recovery different? The truth is, I don’t really know. I never pushed the pace. I worked within the confines and limitations of what my doctors allowed. That being said, I was not complacent. I had every opportunity to lay in bed and let my body heal at its own pace but I didn’t. If I stayed within my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be running 20 miles a week, biking 35 miles a week and swimming 4000 yds a week right now. I would still be preparing to start running, at the six month mark, like the first prognosis from my surgical team. I ran my first 12 weeks after my surgery and my first 5K at week 16. I am currently hitting the same training paces and mileage I was prior to my accident, something I thought would never be possible.
Embracing discomfort and remaining in constant forward motion is what got me this far. The longer you wait to move, the harder it become. The more you move, the easier it gets. Left foot, right foot, one step at a time.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr. Mayes and Dr. C at Iron PT. Being athletes themselves, they know how hard it is to be out of the game and they are committed to doing everything it takes to get back in it. They helped me regain my dignity and my independence.