If I try to structure my blog posts at all, then Saturday is when I post a “Storyline.” Usually it’s a piece of creative writing or something related to the books bouncing around in my head.
Today, I’m going to share a bit of my story. It’s late, but it’s still Saturday. And I’ve backed off from rigidly following that daily structure in these posts. And it’s my blog so I DO WHAT I WANT!
Specifically, I’m thinking about the upcoming surgery I have scheduled on March 5th, and the recovery process that will follow. And I ask myself if this is really necessary.
For almost twenty years now, I’ve noticed occasional stiffness and pain in my ankle after high-impact activities. It was usually a short ache or a feeling like the joint locked in place and simply needed a good pop. I’d pop the ankle and massage the joint, and move on with my day.
About 2000, I realized it was gradually but steadily getting worse. I soon learned that some of my favorite sports were out of the question. No basketball, no racquetball, no volleyball… I had to quit doing anything that called for pivoting the ankle or making fast movements and changes of direction. I was never very good at any of those sports, so it didn’t feel like a big loss.
Not long after that, the Air Force revamped the fitness program, pushing for more running. Squadron fitness sessions followed suit, and I spent two or three days a week pounding pavement around Kadena. The next day following the run would be full of stiffness, constant aching, and sharp stabbing pains. My ankles would sometimes give out, and I’d stumble. Or the pain would be such that I would slowly work my way down the stairs, eliciting comments and questions from my coworkers.
Imagine you’re walking along and someone raps your ankle with a hammer – not hard enough to break anything or make you fall over, but enough to grab your complete attention for a minute or two until the pain subsides. That’s how it feels most days after I run.
I tried checking with the military doctors, but they were convinced I was not stretching enough. Or I weighed more than I should, and the problem was just the excess weight. They taught me exercises to mitigate the effects of plantar fasciitis, and they suggested diet programs. But the answers boiled down to “Live with it.”
So I did.
I’m not the doctor. I don’t have the medical degree on the wall. I assume they know what they’re talking about.
This went on for a few more years, until the day that I had to crawl around my house rather than put weight on my feet after a simple walk through the Commissary for a grocery shopping trip. My wife got me to re-attack with the doctors, and this time, I got a referral to a podiatrist who ran a CAT scan.
He pulled me into the office and pointed out several noticeable problems with my foot and ankle structure. Then he called attention to the various shadows in the ankle bones, and explained, “That’s advanced degenerative arthritis. It’s much worse than it should be for someone your age.”
Way to make me feel old.
The good news was the doctor had a plan.
The bad news was, so did the Air Force. It took nine months to align dates so that I could get surgery, but I finally got it. We had to work around military education, mission needs, a new office, and squadron deployments. The plan was to get the right foot fixed, then give me time to recover and return to flying duties. After a few months back on flight status, we would get the left knocked out.
I had surgery on my right foot in 2010. The surgeon went in through the right side and carved off some excess bone which was pushing other parts of the ankle out of place. Then he stuck a titanium screw up through my heel to fuse together two of the bones in my ankle.
The recovery process took about five months. By then, increased demands on the squadron got in the way of the original plan. First I needed to fly local sorties, then I was sent on a deployment. By the time I returned, it was time to start preparing to move to a new duty location. I did not want to try to move my family of six across the world while on crutches wearing a cast. Needless to say, the left ankle never got done.
Sadly, the bones didn’t fuse like they were supposed to, so now instead of fixing the left ankle, we get to revisit the right and try to do it “right” (Ha ha). The doc has to take out the old screw, graft in some bone, and put in a new screw. Second time’s the charm, or so we hope. We’re going to help the odds a bit with an infusion of vitamin D and an ultrasonic device meant to stimulate bone growth and recovery.
I know this is going to be a long and difficult process. I have to watch my diet while in a cast, because I will not be able to exercise or be anywhere near as active as I am now. I have to throw myself into physical therapy and personal exercise as soon as that cast comes off, because I will have my next fitness test coming due.
I need a sweet action-movie montage where the hero gets into shape for the big battle against the forces of evil (or the fitness testing cell). I have a story to write in the next few months, but not with words. It’ll be with sets of push-ups and planks, hours of spinning on a cycle or elliptical, weeks of tracking every calorie consumed or burned, every pound gained or lost. It’ll also be dealing with the looks or unspoken judgments of those who don’t know all the details – accepting that some people will assume instead of ask, condemn instead of encourage.
I know I can write this story, because I did it three years ago.
But I’m not looking forward to it.
Stories resonate so well because everyone has one of their own. There’s a drama going on in every life that you and I may not be privy to. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion, but just like any good book, if you do that, you miss the most important details.
The movie montage seems so nice because it shortens all the hours of suck into a few minutes of hard work, set to a driving beat. Of course, life has no such short-cuts, and achievements do not come so easily.
I know I’m not the only one who has a similar story of long, hard work to recover from injury or achieve a difficult goal. What kept you going when it would have been easy to quit? What did you find inspired you to push harder, work longer, and succeed?
Everyone has a story, and I’d love to hear yours.