Author Archives: aaronwest

Planning the Comeback Tour

Aaron Good Ride

Over the last couple of weeks, I have improved dramatically. This makes sense based on what the doctor and the physical therapists told me. Once my bones and cartilage healed, the rest would fall into place. It is beginning to look like I’ll be back on the bike again, and possibly sooner rather than later.

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to increase my rehab and do some actual exercise, but I’m at the mercy of my doctor as to when I get back on the bike. My next appointment is 5/1/2014. Assuming I continue to make progress, then I expect to be cleared to ride. He’ll tell me to go easy, no major climbing or century routes — at least not yet. For the early going, I’ll need to ride around the neighborhood and maybe with some slow, social group rides. Given that I now get winded by walking up stairs, my heart probably couldn’t handle any climbs or long routes anyway.

The timing looks like it could work out for me to participate in The Good Ride on May 10th in Charlotte. Some of you might remember that I wrote an article for them a little while back, one that I was quite proud of. It seems only fitting that this will be the first stop on my comeback tour.

As much as I’d love to stick with the A group and ride without stopping, I’ll be more like a C. Depending on how I feel, I’ll opt for either the 22 or 36 mile route, and I’ll be riding closer to the rear of the pack. I’ll probably have to stop a time or two. The route will have rolling hills, and I’ll have to go very easy on the climbs.

But I’ll be riding, and that’s all that counts. And if any ride of mine would live up to the name, this one will. It will be a good ride, indeed.

If the doctor doesn’t clear me to ride, then I’ll plan to volunteer in the morning. We’ve already booked the hotel room and decided to make a weekend of it anyway.

From there, things are more up in the air. I’ll go very easily and gradually ramp up mileage (10% rule). The good news is I’ll have more free time in the summer, which means even if I cannot ride much, I’ll be able to continue with physical therapy. By that point, the focus will be more on return to sport, so it’ll all help me get back to 100% by the fall.

I’ve already mentioned that I’d like to ride Beach or Bust, and I’d like to do some climbing as well. If things go perfectly, then I could take a stab at the Blue Ridge Parkway this year, although that’s still a long shot at this point.


These Shoes Were Made For Walking

photo-11

If someone told me years ago that I would someday write a blog post about the ability to walk, I would have called them crazy. That’s just something we take for granted. But when you’ve spent 10 weeks off your feet, it feels pretty amazing to get back on them. Alas, here is my post about walking, which I feel is completely blogworthy.

My first real walking experience was earlier this week during pool therapy. The water absorbed roughly 50% of the weight bearing, so I’m not sure it could really be called walking. I was, however, proud of the eight minutes. I was also physically exhausted. After publishing the blog, I immediately fell asleep for hours.

The good news was that I wasn’t terribly sore the day afterward. That means that the walking didn’t interact too much with the injury. I was sore the day after that, which was mostly just muscle soreness. That was completely understandable, as those muscles have not been used in their entirety in about six months. Yes, six months. Maybe longer.

When I delivered this news to my therapist on Wednesday, he was encouraged. He had me walk around a little bit during therapy just to see how it felt. He wanted me to pay close attention to my gait to make sure I’m walking straight. He also wanted me to focus on the pain. Soreness is going to be expected and is something I have to deal with, but any sign of actual pain means it is time to stop. He told me that I could split time trying to walk with crutches, with the reminder to listen to my body for warning signs. If I felt okay, I could increase the walking. If not, then I better rest.

I first tried it on Thursday. It felt weird, like my right leg was not altogether a part of me. I was mentally willing it to move like I would will myself to push something. I had to look at my feet as I walked to make sure they were straight, and I tried not to limp. If I lost focus, I would naturally start limping again and walking wobbly.

After the first couple short excursions, the soreness came back. After resting and using the crutch awhile, I would try again. When the day was done, I had spent about half of my traveling off crutches. That was worth being proud about.

It still felt weird when I started walking this morning, but the soreness was not as evident. At first I was wobbly, and had to be careful again to walk in a straight line without limping, and I improved. Before I knew it, I was standing in place, walking around a little brisker, and gaining strength.

By the end of the day, it finally hit me that I’m finally walking again. This is it. I may use the crutches sporadically from here on out, perhaps on stairs. I’ll be careful not to walk too much, and will bring along a crutch when going out just in case, but this is still a turning point. Tomorrow should be easier; the next day will be even easier. By next week, I should be 100% back on my feet, ready to take the next step (pun intended) in my rehab.

I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this feeling. I’ve already heard from many who had knee surgeries, broken legs, or various other conditions about the oddity, thrill, and liberating feeling of walking again. All the stories I’ve heard are just like mine. During the time that they were incapacitated, it felt like they would never walk again. It seemed to last forever while immobile, yet in hindsight, it didn’t seem like very long.

10 weeks sounds like a long time, and it sure felt like a long time. Now that I’m walking, in time these past weeks will seem like a blur. When I’m riding, this current transition period will seem like a blur as well. I’m getting pretty close, and have already begun wondering at what point I should start getting my bikes tuned up.

I think soon.


Water Does a Body Good

Have I mentioned how much I love physical therapy? Of course I have! Sure, it is painful, but the therapists are just tremendous, helpful people, and I can feel progress with every visit.

The latest ‘adventure’ was something new — Aqua Therapy. The machine is specifically called the AquaCiser. Get it? Water .. exercise? Moving on ..

the aquaciser

It starts with me getting into the box seen in the picture above. As I step in, warm water fills up around me and stops at my shoulders. There are jets with bubbles, just like a hot tub. Simply being in the machine feels great, but it is specifically equipped to help with therapy. There are handles on each side for me to hold onto, and a seat that folds down. The water reduces the weight bearing by about 50%, so it’s perfect to get my body moving when I cannot put much weight down.

They started me slowly during the first session. I stood up and moved my leg around in a circle, giving my hip some mobility, and a few other easy stretches. They then had me lean onto the injured leg, which was my first time really putting straight weight on the injury since surgery. I could feel it, but the pool helped mitigate the soreness. They then put me on a chair for more stretching, including the leg lifts that drive me mad with pain during dry therapy sessions.

Ahhhhhh.

Ahhhhhh.

Even though they were conservative on the first visit, I finally felt like I had done some exercise. It was nothing compared to what I used to do, and I didn’t break a sweat, but activity is activity, and I’ll take what I can get.

On the second visit they stuck with the stretches, but they decided to let me go a little further. This is the coolest part of the machine.

There is a treadmill at the bottom of the pool. If you look carefully, you can see it on the picture at the very top of this post.

They turned it on very slowly and had me walk gently. Since I haven’t actually walked in three months, and even before then I was on a cane, it was an awkward sensation. I was a bit wobbly. The therapist noticed that my feet were flat, but it was nothing to be concerned about yet. Walking was walking. He turned the treadmill a little faster to a slow walk, which was fast enough that I could at least get my balance while not enough to hurt me.

The day after I will feel sore, but the day after that and I’ll notice a little bit of progress. There is more mobility and less pain. After two sessions, this has already helped me ditch one of my crutches, and I’m hoping the next one will be gone in the next week or two. Since this helps with my mobility, it’ll also help me get back on the bike sooner. And I think that will be sooner rather than later, as they are already beginning to work on strength exercises during my dry therapy sessions.

Progress feels pretty cool. Even though I’m a little behind schedule, I’ve made some major strides these past couple weeks. If that continues, then I could be back by the early summer. Here’s to hoping.


The Fine Art of Crutch Walking

crutches

Today I received the terrific news that I have graduated down to one crutch. Of course crutches are a necessary evil for anyone recovering from surgery, especially when a broken bone is involved, but nobody likes them.

When I first hobbled along after surgery, the crutches felt awkward and unnatural. I felt like I could topple at any given moment. My heart would race each time someone walked toward me without giving me a wide berth, worried that I wouldn’t be able to react to them. I even discovered much later that I was using them wrong.

I hated the crutches, yet over the course of the nine weeks, I became quite versatile with them. Even this week I marveled at how I opened and held a few doors for people, something that would have been unthinkable weeks ago.

I learned to use them differently depending on the situation. Here are a number of the different type of crutch walks that I developed over time:

The Frankenstein Stomp — This was a slow walk, where I would place the crutches down together in tandem with a big CLANK for each step. People could hear me coming a mile away, and if were not for the distinctive sound of the crutches hitting the ground, they may have been afraid for their life.

The Trapeze — If I was particularly sore and wanted to put no weight on my legs, this was the walk I would go with. I would fling the crutches forward and let my body swing through them, like a swinging trapeze. This was also by far the fastest of the walks. If I wanted to, I could book it, even though it put a lot of pressure on my underarms.

The Chop Sticks — If I needed to be precise in my footing, my legs and crutches would become one, and choose my footing with careful precision. If I had to travel in a minefield, this would be the way I would do it.

The Heavy Door Sprint — One thing I learned when walking on crutches is that not all doors are created equally. Some are light and will open and close seamlessly, while others are heavy and if not careful, will slam shut quickly. I learned to watch for these, and upon opening and releasing, would almost hop with the crutches in order to save my behind.

The Sideways Creep — Often I would have to pass through a narrow area that wouldn’t allow me to walk in the traditional way. For this I would have to turn sideways, place crutches on both sides, and sort of lean in the direction I needed to go, tiptoeing my way through it. This was used quite often during the Jeopardy trip both on the airplane and in the TV studio.

The Armpit Flail — No matter how much you try not to, in nine weeks you are going to have to carry something at some point. When this happens, you have to use your armpits as your hands to guide the crutches, and flail them wildly forward. This was not a very graceful walk, and by far the slowest. The biggest challenge was using this technique to carry coffee back to my desk, which I didn’t dare try on my own until 4 weeks post-op.

Now that I am on one crutch, life is easier. I can carry stuff. I can navigate heavy doors. I can probably even walk through a movie theater aisle without worrying about smacking someone in the head.

It’s been an experience, albeit one that I won’t miss.


Healing Points

Today marks the 8th week since surgery. Weeks 4-7 felt like stagnation in a sense. There was gradual improvement, barely noticeable, and I concluded that I was a little behind schedule. Some of that was attributed to my discovery that I wasn’t using crutches correctly. Over the weekend I went completely non-weight bearing, this time the correct way, and emerged on the other side feeling a lot better.

Usually I will be sore for a couple days following a Physical Therapy session. This is normal. My therapist explained that the first day soreness is most likely from the injury itself, whereas the second day is simple muscle soreness. A good way to gauge how I am healing is to measure the soreness on both days. If the day after gets easier, then that’s a good thing.

This Monday I went into my session feeling pretty good. I explained the discovery about the crutches. My therapist (Laurie at Carolina Physical Therapy, who is brilliant by the way, as are all of them) thought that the consequences would probably not be as dire as I had feared. She also mentioned that from what she could tell, I was walking on the crutches fine, but she could not see how much weight I was putting on the hip. That’s something only I can tell.

Since I was feeling good on Monday, I encouraged her to go a little harder. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. She did not take the bait, but I completed the exercises easily and mostly without pain. This was a good sign.

The next good sign came the following morning. I woke up and felt alright. Sometimes that can be deceiving, as mornings always feel better than evenings. I’m careful not to get too carried away, because once I start going on about my day and inevitably putting some weight on the hip, it can unravel quickly.

Tuesday it held out. There was some soreness, but not nearly as much as the previous week. Wednesday was even better, which shows that my out of shape hip has become used to the exercise routine. It felt like a breakthrough week.

Due to some medicine and diet complications, my stomach did not cooperate for Thursday’s appointment. Without going into the gross details, I’ll just say that I have been weaning my way off the pain pills very slowly, meanwhile changing my diet. Since I had felt better this week, I had taken fewer pain pills than any other week, so my stomach did not situate enough for therapy.

I did manage to stop in and have a brief conversation with the therapists. I told them that this had been a good week. “How long since surgery?” Laurie asked. When I answered, she nodded her head. Even though we cannot always see it, the body is pretty reliable. There are major healing points, and 8 weeks is a major point for this type of procedure. There should be more healing points in the near future.

Even though I’ve kept a positive attitude through this whole ordeal, seeing progress boosts my confidence and outlook tremendously. I’ve been in a terrific mood this week.

We will be trying new things next week, beginning with Aquatic Therapy, something I’m extremely excited about. I’ll be in a small pool with a treadmill, with a therapist watching over me. This will probably be my first real exercise since surgery. While I expect to be completely winded and probably quite sore afterward, I’m eagerly awaiting the experience. This body needs to burn some calories, and I look forward to burning more and more, until eventually I can hold my bike up at high elevation.

Independence Pass triumphant!

The Ultimate Healing Point!


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