My 5 year-old daughter tells me its 6 days till Christmas. She’s very excited. But Christmas arrives early for me because on at 08:45 on Christmas Eve I get my cast cut off. I can’t wait.
I have come to hate the cast (and being on crutches).
At first I was so caught up in the novelty of hospital and the procedure that was performed 5 weeks ago to fix my Haglund’s Deformity and dodgy Achilles’ that I couldn’t wait to blog about the process.
But a day or two later, clear of the hump of a general anaesthetic and overnight-stay, I started to understand the nature of what I was going to have to live with until I saw any improvement beyond what I had endured before the operation.
I was on my arse with leg elevated for the first 2 weeks, getting up only to visit the toilet, something I managed with a mix of confidence and terror nursed, as I was, in a split-level house.
I fell on both initial attempts of the 4 stairs (going down, coming up). I didn’t hurt anything apart from my confidence, always falling to protect the ankle.
Actually using the toilet was a trial, too. Having to sit to pee just didn’t work well as the heavy plaster cast I had on my leg for the first week wasn’t to be rested on any hard surfaces which meant I was always lifting it with my quads, causing a tension near the bladder which meant simple relief was often elusive.
Because of the falls, and the jiggery-pokery of hopping around and down into position, (and the lack of true relief), I tended to make sure the need was pressing.
There were more falls, some landing on the heel of the plaster, but being on a mix of 4 different painkillers (9mm of bone had been cut from the heel and my Achilles scraped) I felt no discomfort even though the plaster on the heel began to crumble from the impacts.
One week after the operation the cast was cut off.
I was so excited, I took many photos (the cast coming off, my naked leg, the scar and stitches, the new, lighter fibre-glass cast), but despite my intention to blog about the process, I didn’t.
What was happening became something to be endured with good spirit rather than preserved in words. Yes, the new fibre-glass cast was much lighter and it made walking on crutches very much easier. The plaster cast had acted like a heavy pendulum weight, no-doubt altering my centre-of-balance, adding to the challenge. With my lighter cast I felt much more confident on crutches and stairs. The ache in my quads eased as a result and, best of all, I was able to stand when I peed without wobbling-over like an incontinent Weeble.
But that change was 4 weeks ago and I soon felt shackled and crippled: in no way better off. I was still observing things and writing in my journal but, much like a wounded animal, I felt a strong need not to advertise any weakness, to crawl away somewhere dark until the feeling passed.
I took a lot of photos from the couch over the weeks, on phone and camera, but I took none of me (and I’m not shy of a selfie). There is one or two taken by the friend who was caring for me. He had recuperated on the same couch last year and knew the process.
You just don’t want to know. You want it to be over.
Which is the peculiar nature of such a procedure: the benefit is not evident till after many months of disruption and discomfort.
In the days after the op I was very happy to have gone through the procedure as the pain that I lived with on a daily basis for the last few years was no longer there. I could sit or lie down without having to move my leg every 30 seconds to ease the pressure and pain caused by my Achilles’ rubbing against the bony growth on the back of my heel.
It actually took me a week to realise that that improvement was thanks to the regimen of pills, rather than the surgery. Hooray for painkillers, eh?
In fact, I won’t know much at all about any improvement until my first attempt to stand on the leg.
That said, I am looking at 12 months until 100% of the tendon flexibility is reached and full muscle mass returns in the incapacitated leg. I will be walking, running and standing before then…but it will be baby steps.
I am no spring chicken and my incapacitated leg is literally wasting away in front of my eyes. The purple cast that was tight on my calf when applied 4 weeks ago is now so loose I can slip my hand in beside my calf.
Last night as I sat watching Masters of Sex (very entertaining and a tad frustrating as a single man on crutches at the start of summer with the silly season approaching), I noticed that the skin at the top of my calf was hanging from my leg with the same wizened droop and pudge of an old man’s scrotum.
It takes great effort to find the humour in such observations.
Yes, it’s pretty amusing the first time you tape your leg into a giant plastic bag in order to shower while sitting on a plastic stool. But it takes quite a lot of effort and you feel very precarious hopping around on a wet floor with a bag on. The process quickly went from novel/little-bit-scary/touch-of-kink to being something you avoid as the effort leaves you sweaty and worn out (which isn’t the point of a shower).
I began to understand how those dogs with humiliating buckets around their heads feel.
I have tried to think of a moment when I felt glad that I have had the procedure. Apart from my deluded drugged-up moment, I can’t.
The cast feels like a sweaty cuff, a cloying shackle, and there isn’t an evening when I don’t fantasize about freeing my leg, just for a minute. I want to get some secateurs and cut the fucking cast off and let my suffocating leg breathe.
So why am I unloading all this frustration when I clearly want no one to know?
Because today, I fell at the top of stairs.
For a moment, I felt I was tipping backwards down the 5 steps that join my split-level house where I returned 2 weeks ago (my wonderful care-givers next door have shifted away). It was an awful and unexpected feeling. It’s nearly a week since my last fall (2 in 24 hours due to tiredness in leg and arms and mind) and I have become pretty confident, even being able to hop down the steps backwards …wearing a jandal (there are many hours to kill living by yourself).
I was so angry and freaked out by the feeling. I went down on that knee hard, but it didn’t hurt. The helplessness and sudden loss of confidence did.
I hated my situation. It wasn’t that bad but it felt it. I sat for a bit with my leg up letting it drain, then pegged along to the office to remove the cork and bitch about my lot.
I know my trials are minor and will eventually be for the better.
But I can’t wait to cast off my cast on Christmas Eve.
I will progress to a non weight-baring moon boot, remaining on crutches, unable to work or drive for another 6 weeks (really? truly? …how?).
Marooned in a moon boot at the busiest time of year, at least I will be able to free my leg at night and not have a dirty old cast dragged through the street in my bed. My right leg will be clean between the sheets as I will be able to shower my whole body without wrapping it in a plastic bag.
At least, that’s my Christmas wish.
I’m as excited as a 5 year-old.
I do love your writing Campbell. And I’m so very please your cast is coming off soon.
Cheers. Am counting the days!
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