Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Seventh Surgery- Success!

Either I've reached a point where my body is no longer fazed by surgery, or things are just going a whole lot better for me on the operating table these days. I had a seventh ankle surgery on Friday the 14th and have bounced back faster than I ever imagined possible. I was off pain meds the next day and just two days later I was back in the kitchen making pancakes for Father's Day (from scratch of course, I don't own any mixes). Three days post-op I started walking around the house unassisted, and today (day 4) ran my errands by myself. I hope to do some light strength practice tomorrow.

The lucky seventh surgery was for hardware removal in the left foot and scar tissue revision in the right. The revision was basically a series of injections of a diluted alcohol solution along the scar line to help break up the scar tissue and kill the neurons so I no longer have those incessant pain signals. When I first woke from surgery I could've sworn there was sharp metal poking me along that scar line but I think my body was just trying to process exactly what had happened. I got two extra pain medicine injections in my IV and two norco tablets before leaving the hospital to manage the pain. Since then, the scar tissue has been breaking up beautifully and I have more motion in the joint than I've had in a very, very long time. I'd forgotten what a little mobility felt like.

The lack of metal in my body feels amazing. My heel is stitched closed and I have to take it easy, but I have been walking a little bit. Walking means putting the ball of my foot down first and trying not to put full weight on the heel where the incision site is, so while not incredibly graceful it works for getting around the house. My body is finally healing and not in a constant fight against the foreign piece of metal lodged in my ankle. It's such a huge stress that's just gone, and I hope to never have to do anything like that again.

When the body is under prolonged stress with chronic pain and inflammation, it really does have a huge impact on the entire body, especially the brain. Throw pain meds on top of that and it's a recipe for disaster. You can never really predict how you'll respond in situations like this but just know that it's a lot harder than it looks. Be patient with those suffering, whether they welcome interaction or push you away. They are fighting a constant battle, and it's not fun. Trust me on that.

I'm looking forward to recovery and regaining full use of my body. The sky's the limit, right? Can't wait to see what's in store for later.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A shot of alcohol... hurts.

I've been doing great overall, feeling very strong in my training sessions and walking very well. I've even been off all prescription pain medication for several weeks. Then I had an especially good session a couple nights ago. I was doing 10kg (22lbs) Turkish Get-Ups, 1-leg deadlifts with 16kg (35lbs) and deadlifts with 24kg (53lbs). I broke up so much scar tissue in my right ankle (the one that had serious complications and five surgeries to date) that a nerve was freed and suddenly in contact with something that it shouldn't have been touching, resulting in excruciating and constant pain. It hurt to walk, stand, sit, drive, or do absolutely anything. Even laying in bed hurt. I called my doctor this morning and he saw me this afternoon.

I got my first shot of diluted alcohol injected into the side of my ankle with the promise of pain relief in about 12 hours, just in time for my symphonic band concert tomorrow night. It HURTS but no worse than what I had been feeling (which by the way, was the same type of pain I'd had all last year which drove me to trying the cymbalta to get rid of that constant pain and stream of vicodin I needed to get out of bed in the morning). My doctor said that when I'm in surgery for removal of the screw in my left ankle in a few weeks, he will inject the heck out of the right ankle to try to get rid of all the scar tissue so he won't have to make another incision. The alcohol also damages the neurons so they will no longer be sending pain signals to my brain. Wahoo. I hope I'm seeing the light at the end of this tunnel. Even my kids have been asking me when this is all going to end. I would love to know the answer to that!! What a journey.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I'm BACK!!

Recovery is never easy, but it sure is an interesting journey. I got off crutches about a month ago and have been doing sporadic workouts ever since. Some days it hurts too much to get out of bed. Not necessarily always the left foot that has the huge screw in it, but quite often it's the right foot that is full of scar tissue and damage from the serious wound and inflammation. To have two not entirely functional feet really sucks.

Overall I'm doing much better this time. I'm off all prescription medications (800mg motrin, vicodin, and tramadol) and am instead using natural supplements, diet, and mobility exercises to keep moving. I'm in more pain this way but it's worth it to have my mind back in a good place. For workouts I've been focusing on getting the movement patterns back and not stressing about the size of the weight, number of reps, or even writing down what I'm doing or when I'm doing it. At 12 weeks post-op I did a 5-minute snatch test with an 8kg (18 lbs) for fun at the end of my workout and knocked out an easy 100 in a row. Last week I wanted to try swinging a 24kg (53 lb) kettlebell just to see if I could, and it flew up to chest height without much effort. I only did two sets of 10 but it felt amazing. I've been doing some TRX work as well, progressing nicely.

I go back to my doctor in another 2 1/2 weeks to discuss when the screw is coming out. There is also the possibility of a plastic surgeon operating on my right ankle to clear out the scar tissue (yet again, it was already done at surgery #5 but every morning scar tissue binds the joint no matter how much work I do during the day to free it) and re-do the scar in the hopes of it relieving the pain and keeping the scar tissue from coming back. It'll either be that or alcohol injections to kill the neurons and shrink the scar tissue. Either one is risky and won't necessarily help.

Tonight was a really fun kettlebell practice. After some joint mobility and basic tension exercises with my dear Katie over Skype, I was in the mood to try using double kettlebells for the first time since this last (sixth) surgery. Just 8kg each (18 lbs) for a total load of 36 lbs.

Clean, press, front squat (below parallel!!!) - 3
Swing- swing- snatch - 3
Get-up sit-up - 3
1-leg deadlift - 3 + 3

I did four rounds total and feel fantastic. I'm not doing a ton of reps or using a lot of weight but with the tension I generate, I'm doing a LOT of work. People have no idea from looking at my body that I've spent most of the last year and a half in bed. Tension is the key, with relaxation being equally important during a workout. If you're doing this stuff right, you don't need to do a lot or go for very long to get (and see!) the benefits.

It's so good to be back.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Food and Guilt. Guilt and Food.

Why, oh why do we feel guilty when we eat certain things? Is it because the diet industry has told us to be ashamed when we eat food with fat? Food that's been fried? Bread? Brie? That box of Oreos that we stash in a secret hiding place for emergencies? Now let me ask, when's the last time anyone felt awful for eating too many Brussels sprouts or broccoli? Who profits off of these negative emotions generated by the food industry? (probably the people that market boxed "solutions" to the given problems, which are more often than not a bigger problem than the one it's trying to "solve;" for example, taking naturally occurring fat out of food and replacing it with horribly unhealthy fillers when most fat isn't even a real problem in real food)

I've found one way to help combat negative emotions associated with food. It's simple, really. Get the highest quality food you can find and feel really good about what you're putting into your body. You want cake? Great! Me too. But let's make it ourselves from scratch (no, that doesn't mean from a Betty Crocker box) in our own kitchen with our own hands and our own love. Start with organic flour, grass-fed butter (I buy Kerrygold in bulk at Costco), organic sugar, organic free-range eggs, real vanilla, etc. I make the best damn cake you'll ever eat because of the way it's prepared. All it takes is a little time and effort. Should you eat it all the time? Moderation is definitely key with sugar and grains. Listen to your body. The more you listen and the better you feed yourself, the less you'll be wanting these things anyway.

Same goes for bread. Some of us beat ourselves up over eating it because all we hear when we look at magazines or turn on daytime talk shows is "Carbs are BAD!!" Well some definitely are, but I'm more interested in where the carbs are coming from. Are you buying the $0.79 loaf that can last an eternity on the shelf at Wal-Mart or are you getting the $2.99 freshly baked organic french loaf from Whole Foods? I can guarantee you'll feel much better after eating the fresh organic one than the cheaply made one with questionable ingredients.

Convenience food is made for the benefit of the companies selling it, not for the benefit of our bodies. They find shortcuts to increase their profits at the expense of our health. Do you really want to put your hard-earned money into those pockets? I certainly don't. Remember a general rule: food that can go bad is good for you. Food that can't go bad is not good for you.

Ease those feelings of guilt by making each trip to the grocery store your best ever. Load up on farm-fresh organic foods and find recipes to replicate your favorite treats. The less boxes you bring home to your kitchen, the better. Your stress level will go down and so will your waistline. Little by little you'll prefer the stuff you make over the convenience foods everyone is so strangely dependent upon. Your body is smart. Your taste buds will change. You will love everything about food because the negative emotions will be long gone. What do you have to lose by trying?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cymbalta and the second subtalar fusion

It's been awhile since I've written anything on here, and that's because it's been awhile since I've been up to writing anything. Taking cymbalta really changed me, and not in a good way. Did it do what it was supposed to with taking care of the pain and pain-related depression? Yes. At what cost? Well, my mind. I felt very drunk every minute I was awake, completely disconnected from my body, had no motivation to do anything productive, got very obsessive about things I normally don't care that much about, had no appetite, and couldn't sleep. The only thing positive was becoming aware of the tension I carry in my left shoulder and jaw. I've had trouble with my left shoulder for a few years with strength training which I attributed to my right foot being damaged, but I'm beginning to think a bigger contributor was playing clarinet with high anxiety for 10 years and always holding my left arm and shoulder a little higher while practicing for hours as a time, which carried over into everyday life. The tension in my jaw is just from high anxiety. Now that I'm aware of it and consciously relaxing the tension in my shoulder and jaw, my overall anxiety level has gone down dramatically. I'm also internalizing a reminder when I'm out in public to keep my body relaxed when I start to feel anxiety taking over. That's the only positive thing I can take away from my experience with cymbalta.

The withdrawal was pure hell. I had severe headaches, horrific mood swings, nausea, vertigo, brain zaps when moving my eyes (neurons misfiring), sensitivity to light and sound, and basically felt like I'd lost my mind. It persisted for close to two months at varying degrees, the worst being in the first 3 weeks. I've never been happier to be off of a medication. I recently had coffee with a friend who hadn't seen me since I was on cymbalta, and the first thing she asked was what exactly I was on last time because I was flying high. I'm very glad to be in control of my body and thoughts again, even if some of the pain came back with it. Friends close to me have said that I just wasn't myself for those few months, and I can see it in pictures. My eyes were different and my expressions were vacant. I'm finally feeling like myself again. I'd forgotten how happy I usually am!

I had a subtalar joint fusion on January 16th on my left foot. My anxiety leading up to it was extremely high because of what had happened last time and not really knowing what had caused it. When I woke up from surgery, my doctor said that this fusion was even more complicated than the first (not reassuring!!) because the birth defect was more severe. Instead of the defect being a bar of bone connecting the calcaneus (heel bone) and talus (the bone above it), it was a much bigger block of bone that took an extra 30 minutes to remove from what he was anticipating. No artificial bone matrix was used in the joint this time, but he had plenty of my own bone to use and took a graft from the back of my calcaneus (heel) as well. After packing and aligning the joint, he drilled a large titanium screw through my heel that extends to the very top of my ankle. The hazy white part around the joint is where he removed the extra defective bone that was holding the joint together, essentially bone rubbing on bone with every step I took, a very painful arthritic condition. Before it would rain, the joint would throb as well. I've been living with a lot of pain for a long time and am glad the arthritis pain is gone.

Overall my experience has been extremely positive so far this time, while my whole body reacted badly to the fusion on the right foot. I was able to get myself out of the car, up the steps into the house and into my bed by myself immediately after the surgery. After the first one, I had to be half-carried for the first three days because I couldn't even get to the bathroom by myself. I was off of pain meds by the end of the first week this time, and I know I was on them for a few weeks last time. The best news is that while being casted, I could get my heel down to the casting stand both times while I was never able to the first time around from severe inflammation. The stitches came out a few days ago and everything is healing beautifully, while last time I had a large blister from the splint over the incision site that possibly contributed to the site opening later on. My body seems quite happy with the titanium and I'm feeling amazing overall. It's just an inconvenience that I can't put weight down for a few months. I'm using a bone growth stimulator every day for 30 minutes to help the bone fuse faster.

My first workout was one week post-op, a huge victory for me. Last time I couldn't move well enough to even think about it for several months from the complications. My right ankle hasn't been particularly happy with me because it's still full of scar tissue and I'm relying completely on it to get me around. I've refused using a wheelchair or electric carts in the stores this time, though I have a wheelchair in my garage just in case. I'm still taking anti-inflammatory supplements so the joint doesn't lock up too badly. I had stopped my supplements two weeks prior to surgery so my blood wouldn't be too thin and I felt like the tin man before he used the oil can. Very painful to walk.

Right now I'm eager to get back into the swing of things now that I'm feeling like a person again. I'm having a lot of fun modifying workouts so I can keep progressing as much as possible to be prepared for walking and full movement again. I never imagined I'd ever have to spend so much time being broken and finding ways to overcome it in my training sessions, but I hope to help others in a similar situation with my experience. Now that the worst has passed, I'm feeling up to the challenge.