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Sunday, September 4, 2016

ACL Update Month 5

It's really hard to believe it's been just over five months since I tore my ACL.  In some respects, it seems like a million years ago; in others, it seems like it just happened. I know the hardest part is behind me now, and I'm just perfecting my walk now so that I don't have such an awful limp. But it's still painful, it's still awkward, and I still get a lot of ridiculous comments from people--mostly those who don't even know me. I'll start there.
I don't know why people think it's okay to ask the following types of questions:
"What happened to you?"
"So, did you hurt yourself or...?"
"Don't you think you'd be better off in a wheelchair?"
I have been asked all three of these questions since I started walking with my cane. All by adults--not the sweet little cherubs I work with everyday. (Although they will often ask if I hurt my leg. And I expect them to. Children are curious.) What if I had been born this way? What if I had an incurable disease? What if there had been a horrible accident that took the lives of my family? Is that any of their business? As a matter-of-fact, why is it anyone's business why I "walk this way" any how? It's not! So... if you see someone with mobility issues, perhaps the best thing to say is just, "Hello," or "May I hold the door for you?" and leave it at that. I'm not in the business of rehashing the entire story to total strangers, and a simple, "I tore my ACL," is never sufficient. Most people don't even know what that is. So it's really better if people I don't know don't ask.
Now, I've met a lot of great people the last month or so because I have a new job. And when one of those people, someone I work with, someone I see everyday, asks what happened, or how I'm doing, or the often, "Now how did you do that again?" I absolutely don't mind.  Most of them know I tore my ACL last year before school ended because people talk, and that's fine. I certainly don't mind if they have follow up questions. But that's totally different than someone I don't know who I'm never going to see again asking, "What happened to you?" I got in a fight with your mama. You should see her!
Okay--rant over. Here's what I can do now that I couldn't do last time I updated this blog: I can go up and down flights of stairs with assistance from a spotter, a.k.a. my husband. I just found this out tonight. We removed the ramp from our front door a few weeks ago and I can go in and out of the house with minor issues. I have been using my cane if I need any help at all, and that's mostly at work because our halls are so long. I also use it first thing in the morning when my knee is pretty stiff. I can get in and out of the shower and the bathtub now. Basically, the only things that are still problematic are walking long distances (like a quarter of a mile would be far for me right now) and standing for too long.  This is because I'm still not distributing my weight evenly and it starts to hurt my left leg, my "uninvolved" leg, as it is known.
My extension hasn't gotten much better, despite my best efforts, but my bending is basically normal. My strength is also pretty good, though my quad is still a little weak. I think this is part of what is causing my limp, that and the bend in my knee. I saw my doctor last week and he is concerned about my limp. He took new X-rays and said the placement looks good, but he wants to know why I am limping. I have to see him again in six to eight weeks. He also said I will most likely have arthritis where my meniscus is missing. It already hurts there more than anywhere else, so I'm pretty sure there's no getting around that.
I'm bringing the cane back into style.

As for pain, it hurts in my shin a lot while I am walking and/or going up and down steps. My quad hurts sometimes, but most of my pain comes from the inside bottom part of my knee--where they removed a big chunk of my meniscus.  I'm not sure if that's why or if it is just a coincidence. If it rains, it hurts more than usual. It's not pleasant, but it is tolerable.
The last thing I wanted to address is just a quick explanation of what an ACL is and what it does. A sweet friend asked me one day if I tore the ACL in my knee or my foot, and it made me realize that some people probably don't know much about the ACL. I certainly didn't until this happened to me. With a popular football player and at least one Olympian recently tearing their ACLs, more people may know, but I really think the more people know, the more likely they are not to injure there ACLs in freak accidents like mine. The ACL is a ligament that runs through the middle of your knee. It goes from the upper-outside of your knee to the lower inside of your knee. There's another ligament that goes the opposite way, but it isn't as important. The ACL's job is to stabilize your knee and keep your bones working together.  It's a lot easier to tear your ACL than you might think, and they almost always tear completely when they tear. You can tear it just a little bit, but they don't mend well on their own because not a lot of blood gets to the area, so you will likely have to have it surgically repaired even if it's not a complete tear. I jumped off of bleachers onto uneven ground. I wasn't playing a sport or doing anything where my knee should have pivoted or twisted, which is often what causes a tear. It doesn't necessarily happen because of vigorous activity or anything too athletic.  When it did happen, I just assumed that my kneecap had popped out of place, because I had seen that happen to someone before.  I had no idea that there was something inside of my knee that could tear and cause such a huge problem for me for so long.  So, please, educate yourself about your knees--your ankles, your hips, whatever body parts you'd like to keep working. And be careful. I'm that mom who is always saying "be careful" about this and "be careful" about that. I guess I needed someone to shout to me to be careful!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ACL Four Month Update

It's been four months to the date since my little accident which left me with a torn ACL, meniscus, ligaments, and bone bruises. It's been a little over two months since my surgery.  So.... here's where we are!
I am in mobility transition. I am moving off of the walker, although I'm still supposed to use it at work, and transitioning not just to the cane but off of it completely, too.  That's right--today at therapy I was practicing walking on my own! It's not pretty at all. It's more like a step with my right foot and then a drag of my left up to meet it. But it's progress!
Yeah--not me....

The pain is pretty minimal these days. Most of the time, if I'm just sitting or laying in bed, it's probably just about a one. If I'm walking or driving, it sometimes gets up to a four. Today, since I was walking unassisted so much, it got up a little higher. And when I'm practicing stepping up onto something, it sometimes gets up to a five or a six.  It doesn't stay there though. I am having some swelling still, especially in my quad muscle above my knee.  I got a new brace a few weeks ago that is a lot less invasive, but when my leg is swollen, it rolls down, which is really annoying. So most of the time I don't wear it anymore.
I'm still using the bench to shower because I don't trust myself to step up and over into a slick shower, but I was able to get out of the bathtub by myself last week, which is definitely progress. I had tried a few weeks before that and needed help getting up, because it is essentially like sitting on the floor--a wet, slick, slippery floor with no grip. But this time I was able to get out by myself, which is even more progress.
Rub-a-dub-dub, I got out of the tub!

On Thursday, when I go back to therapy, we are going to start working on ramps. I need to be able to walk up and down a ramp to get in and out of my car at work since the curb is still too high for me to step up on. I can only step up about two inches right now and most steps are between six and eight inches (can you believe that?!?) The parking lot in front of my school is rocky and uneven, so I'm pretty concerned about walking on it without my walker. So for now, I'm supposed to use my walker at work and either my cane or nothing at home. It may take a while before I feel comfortable walking without my walker from my parking spot to the school.
Yes to the ramp--no to the wheelchair!

I can bend my knee almost completely. It's within one degree of my other knee. My extension is between 12 and 5 degrees most of the time.  Swelling keeps it from completely straightening, as well as my quad strength. I'm still working on it every day though. My knee is even more bent when I am standing up, unfortunately. I'm riding my recumbent bike a lot, and I think that will help.
The therapist I saw today said it's very possible I could be released from therapy by the end of September, which would be awesome. I know that it's going to be very difficult to keep going to therapy once school starts. It's already difficult since I'm back at work, even with the girls at daycare instead of school. I will hardly see them at all on nights when I have therapy once school starts.
That's where I am right now. It's not graceful. It's not pretty. But it's a form of walking. And I'm hopeful that I will continue to make progress at a good rate over the next two months so I can be dismissed.  (I will miss my therapists, though! If you need a therapist in the Dallas area, I highly recommend Baylor Wylie!)

Friday, July 8, 2016

ACL Recovery Six Weeks Post-Op

It's been a while since I updated my status.  It's been a slow but steady journey, and every day has its share of triumphs and defeats. I am still using the walker, but I am getting stronger, and I am hopeful to move off of it onto a cane within a month, though my therapist says it might be two. I am able to take my leg brace off now, though I sometimes still wear it, especially if I am walking on uneven surfaces.  I can step up with my right leg and then my left as long as it's not a very high step. I am still struggling with stepping up with my left leg first, which is frustrating.
I am able to ride a stationary bike now, which is good.  I can go all the way around--something I wasn't able to do last week.
My extension was at about a 12 last week, but I think it's better than that now because I've really been working on it this last week.  Not sure what my flexion is but it isn't as good as my left leg yet.
I was able to take a bath earlier this week, though getting out of the tub was a struggle. I am still using the bench to shower because it's just easier that way, though it's certainly not comfortable.
So... that's where I'm at six weeks after surgery, three months after the injury.  It's frustrating and often depressing, with glimmers of hope and occasional pride in mastery of a new skill.  The one thought I have to focus on is that I cannot compare myself to anyone else.  No one else has the exact set of circumstances that I do. When I see younger, more active people at therapy with the same injury walking around a week after surgery like it's nothing, it's hard to remember that they probably didn't spend almost two months in a wheelchair before the surgery.  Or maybe they didn't also tear their meniscus. Or... lots of other things that could be totally different.... For now, it's one day at a time, one step at a time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lucy is Six!

We have been celebrating Lucy's sixth birthday since last Friday when we took the girls to Great Wolf Lodge.  Lucy loves that place, and she was so excited to get a yellow bracelet and go down some of the bigger slides for the first time.

Getting ready to go swimming at the water park

Lucy with Violet the wolf

We didn't do a party this year (mostly because Mommy still can't walk) but she did get all of the presents she asked for--baby Lady (a.k.a. Lady McTramp) baby Stitch, baby Marie, and baby Dumbo--which she has been asking for since we left Disney World in March.
So many Disney babies!
Rapunzel cake!
She asked for a Rapunzel birthday cake and decided she wanted that at Great Wolf Lodge as well, even though it wasn't quite her birthday yet.
Last night--on her actual birthday--we went to a local pizza restaurant and she brought home a giant piece of chocolate cake, so we put a candle in that. Overall, I think she's had a pretty nice birthday!
This year, Lucy has learned so much! She's becoming quite the little reader and writer, even though I haven't been pushing her at all. I know she's smart enough to get it with her teachers' help, though of course I love to hear her read and we read together.  She loves to draw, like her big sis, and she also has a bit or a knack for math. She really loves to talk about "part, part, whole!" She had a great year in kindergarten with a wonderful teacher and lots of friends. She's still convinced that she will be a princess when she grows up and live in a castle. I hope, wherever she ends up, she always feels like a princess!
Blowing out the candles!
Lucy has always had a flare for the dramatic and that hasn't changed, though I think she had learned to control he temper a little bit this year. We are working on it! She loves to pretend, and listening to her play with her toys is quite entertaining.  I have always said that even though she looks a lot more like Brian, she is my mini me when it comes to personality! I love spending time with her, and this summer is going way to fast. I know I'm going to miss her when she starts first grade in just a few weeks....
Happy birthday, Lucy Kate Annabella!  Many, many, many more to come!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Happy Ninth Birthday, Imma-Jane!

In our lifetimes, we encounter thousands of people. Most of them have little influence on us.  Some leave a bit of an impression. Others help mold and shape us in ways we cannot even express in words. I was thirty years old when I met Imma-Jane. She was a small, wrinkly, red, screaming individual who really, really, really didn't want to leave her previous abode.  I knew from that moment--or possibly eight months before when I found out that she existed--my life would be forever changed.
She got them all with one blow!  Wish come true!!

What I didn't know at that time, holding her in my arms in the hospital, oblivious to the rest of the world, was how profoundly my life would change, the lessons she would teach me, the ways she would force me to grow and evolve and become a better person. I also didn't realize the effect she would have on everyone else she encountered.
We went to Medieval Times to celebrate. She had a lot of fun, despite her silly expression!
If you know Imma, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.  She's introspective. If she says something to you, it's important. She's a rule follower. If she believes something to be unjust, she will let you know. She's calculating; her brain is always thinking about shapes and objects and how they relate together. She's musical.  She can make anything an instrument and hear the beauty in any song. She's silly.  We were once told she'd never be able to understand jokes, but now her humor is often so clever sometimes it takes me a moment to get it. And in the same breath, potty humor is also hilarious.  She's independent.  Now that she is nine, she's pretty sure she's a grown up.  She's mine. She's my girl.  She always will be. And I'm so very lucky that God looked down one day and thought, "Yep, she can do it.  It won't be easy, but this is the one." (I hope and pray each day that I'm not disappointing Him.) I'm sure, however, He had the same conversation with Imma. "It won't be easy, but if anyone can handle having Amy for her mom, it's you."
She got an iPad mini for her birthday! 

With each passing year, Imma becomes more aware of her differences. So do other children. For the most part, we've been very lucky not to have bad experiences.  Most of the time, kids are kind. Teachers and other adults help facilitate that kindness. Now that she is nine, I begin to worry even more. We are approaching middle school, and that's tough for anyone. She will be going back to her old school this year, and I won't be with her. I pray that she is in a classroom with a teacher who will love her as much as her previous teachers have, who will guide her and direct her, while protecting her from the sharp words misunderstandings about autism also lead to, especially among young people who don't quite get it but know something is different. I pray that this year she rekindles the friendships she has had in the past with the sweet children who wrapped her in their arms for the first three years of her educational career. I pray that she is able to keep up with her friends at Merriman Park as well and that fourth grade isn't too difficult since she will be the new girl, sort of.   I pray that her program works for her, that she continues to make progress, and that she is able to find her own voice so that she can show others exactly what she knows and ask for help when needed.
Not exactly a girly cake, but she loves Star Wars!

I pray for more smiles than tears, more hugs than hurts, more love than hate or indifference.
And above all else, I am so very thankful that I am her mother. Happy birthday, Imma-Jane Isabella! May this be the best year yet!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Learning to Walk, One Step at a Time

Thursday, two days ago, was a pretty important day in my recovery; it was the day I took my first steps in about two months.  It wasn't unassisted, it wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't graceful, but it was progress--one foot in front of the other--and it was a turning point for me in a lot of ways.
I have had a new therapist every time I've gone in to PT. This time, I got the lead therapist.  She is extremely nice, patient, and religious, and I needed all three.  The first thing we talked about was that I now had permission to bear weight on my leg. So, she immediately wanted me to get up on the crutches and walk--and I couldn't. I was terrified.  We talked for a few minutes. She explained to me that most of the weight would be on the crutches, and that she was certain I could do it. I asked her a million questions. How did she know I could do it? Was she sure my knee would hold? What if it didn't? What if I lost my balance? What if I fall? What if it hurts too much?  She answered all of my questions and assured me that I could do it, my knee would hold, she would have ahold of me so I wouldn't fall, and that it wasn't going to hurt too much. Finally, she said, "Can I pray for you?" Well, of course I said yes, and so she did.  And that definitely helped calm my nerves.  But... I was still apprehensive.  The last time I had taken a step was nine days after the initial accident, and that had been when I had blown my meniscus. That day, I had been told I could bear weight to toleration as well, and it didn't turn out that way. I needed to know I wasn't going to undo two months of work--I'm tired of starting over.
So, she decided to get out the walker. Which was definitely better than the unsteady crutches.  Even standing with as much weight as possible on the walker, however, I was still horrified that I was going to hurt myself. I stood there for a long time, just looking at my feet, trying to remember how I had done this millions of times before. Do you stop and think about it before you take a step? Of course not; you just do it.  It's all habit and nature for the vast majority of adults. Standing there pushing down on that walker, a belt around me, my calm therapist's reassuring voice in my ear, I fixed my eyes on my neon pink tennis shoes and willed my left foot to take a leap of fate and moved forward. It wouldn't budge....
Then she said, "It's just like Peter. What gave him the courage to step out on that water?  Jesus did. He's right here with you now, and He's telling you to have faith--you can do it. You will do it."
With that thought in my mind, I took a deep breath, and I picked up my foot.  And I ended up hopping. The first step wasn't really a step--but it was progress.  After that, though, I took one more step and then another and another. I walked about ten feet across the room and sat down in a chair where she directed me. It was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life--but I had done it. I had started the journey.
This really spoke to me today.  We may never know why we were required to fall before we could fly. Sometimes we just have to believe that His reasons are far greater than anything we can understand.

That session, she gave me a lot of weight bearing exercises to practice at home. I am also supposed to work on my stretches. She told me to practice walking three times a day, not very far, and only with my husband holding on to a belt around me.  I have walked a few times in the last couple of days, and I will tell you, every step is still terrifying. But I am learning to push past the fear, a little at a time. I'm learning to trust my body, to trust myself, and to have faith that the same person who allowed Peter to walk on water has His arms around me as well.
I'm still not able to completely straighten or bend my knee, but I am working on it each day, continuing to go through all of the exercises I've been given. It is difficult--it is mundane. It is sometimes painful, and it is always challenging.  There is nothing easy about any of this. And I can admit there have been times when I have felt like I am never going to walk again, that I can't do this anymore. I think this is pretty common; from what I have read from other people who have suffered this injury (or any injury, honestly) it is natural to feel pretty down at times.  Whenever I start to feel that way, I have to reach out to my friends and family. I'm lucky that so many people have rallied around me and shared words of encouragement just when I have needed them.
I understand my predicament could be a lot worse. I know this isn't cancer. It isn't losing a limb or being permanently disfigured or even permanently disabled.  I don't pretend that my journey is any more difficult or challenging than anyone else's, and I know so many people who have overcome so much more. But this has certainly been a struggle for me.  I have faith that, wherever I stand at the end of this journey, I will be standing, and that I will have gotten there through thousands, if not millions, of little steps, and hops, and jumps, and one giant leap of faith.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

ACL Reconstruction Post-Op Days 8-10

Day 8 was pretty uneventful--it was basically a repeat of day 6 and 7. Things got a little better in the pain department, but I was still around a 3 or a 4 most of the time, with tiny spikes to 7.  Day 9, however, was a game changer.  Day 9 was the day I took control back over the situation and was reminded that I am the only one who can "fix" me.
I went to the physical therapist for the first time on Friday, which was Day 9. It was an early appointment and I took my medicine about an hour before it was scheduled to start so that if they decided to torture me, at least I'd have something to take the edge off. This is the first time since the accident that,when they've called my name at an appointment,  I've gone back on my own--Brian stayed in the waiting room. It was a little unsettling, but I knew this was something I had to do by myself.
I really liked the therapist right off the bat. He was very easy to talk to, seemed genuinely concerned about my injury, and definitely gave me the impression that we were going to get me all fixed up in no time. But after I finished telling him what had happened, and he'd asked me about my goals, etc., he said something that really resonated with me. He said, "I can't fix you--only you can fix you." I've known this all along, I guess. But hearing him say it really reminded me that whether or not I ever walk again is really up to me. I can go through the motions, or I can choose to ignore them altogether, and either way I end up in a wheelchair for several more weeks, months, years. Or I can give this everything I've got and get back to normal as quickly as humanly possible. Of course, I need guidance from the therapists, but at the end of the day, the results are all up to me.
I was there for about an hour.  We did measurements and I found out that my leg will currently extend 31 degrees. My left leg, the good one, extends to -5. He explained that I will need to get my right leg even with my left so that I can walk without a limp, etc. He also told me how far it was bending, but I don't remember what he said. I am definitely more concerned with extension at this point.
He showed me six different exercises that I will have to do several times a day. They are all designed to stretch out the ligaments and muscles in my leg and get it to extend and bend the way that it is supposed to. The worst one, by far, is the slow stretch, where I extend my leg as far as I can and then leave it that way for up to fifteen minutes at a time.   So, for me at this point, this would be taking it out 31 degrees, and keeping it stretched as long as I can.  He said I could start out at two minutes, but I needed to build up to 15.  This is one of those slow burn, no pain no gain type of exercises. Sounds simple enough, but it is pretty painful. He told me if it hurt above a four to stop, and if it really starts hurting I suppose I will, but a sustained pain at a four that you know you can relieve by changing position is almost as bad as a sharp seven that goes away pretty quickly.
I really liked my therapist, and I felt like he had a great plan in place. Unfortunately, at the end of the session he told me he wasn't going to be working at that location anymore. That was kind of disappointing, but I'm sure they have other therapists that are just as good and that will help me make quick progress.
My daily exercises!

I go back on Tuesday, which will be post-op Day 13. By then, my goal is to have my extension to 20 degrees. That seems like a big jump to me, but I'm ready for the challenge.
My next stop on Day 9 was back at the ortho's office.  There's a nurse there who is very nice and she always stops to speak to me even when I'm not her patient. I was really happy that she was the one to remove the tape from my wounds!  I thought a man would probably just come in and pull it all off, but of course she didn't. (Most of the other nurses in the office are men, including the guy who insisted I fully straighten my leg last time, even though I can't.)  She cleaned it off with alcohol and the tape all came off pretty well. It actually looks a lot better, although it's still a bit misshapen and there will likely be some scarring.
My doctor checked it, forced me to fully extend it, even when I told him the PT said I couldn't, and checked how far I could bend it. Then, he showed me some pictures from the surgery. Apparently, I had completely severed my ACL from my femur. There was just a scraggly little stump left, like the roots of a weed holding on for dear life. He showed me pictures of my new ACL, too.  It looked very sturdy and fully capable of doing its job!
For some reason, I think the doc was under the impression he had already given me a brace with an adjustable locking mechanism. I explained that I haven't had one. He asked a similar question at the hospital, so I think he that we had done this already. Well, I got one yesterday and got it fitted. They locked it in at 20 degrees. I was confused and explained that my extension was only 31 and they said okay. I don't know if these two things are related--I thought they would be--but when they put it on, it wasn't uncomfortable (I mean, not anymore than any brace would be) so I guess it doesn't matter that I'm at a 31 and it's at a 20.  I like it--it reminds me a bit of Luke Skywalker's arm for some reason.  I hope I don't have to wear it for long, but I appreciate the fact that it has a lot of support for my knee, which should be helpful once I can start walking again. Speaking of, he told me to wait until next Wednesday, two weeks from the operation, before I start putting any weight at all on it and then to start off with 20 to 30 pounds tops. We are going to have to get that number up pretty quickly for me to be walking on it anytime soon....
Today is Day 10, and I started my exercise full throttle today. Sure, I went through as many as I could yesterday afternoon, but I didn't really have some of the props I needed, and I didn't have time in the day to do all of the reps.  Today, I have all day, and I'm almost done with them, though there are some I'm planning on going back and re-visiting.
As anticipated, that slow stretch has been a killer. The first time, I couldn't hold it for more than two minutes. I have now worked my way up to 10 minutes, but I don't think I can do 15 yet. I have to have at least an hour in with this stretch each day, which doesn't sound like a lot, but I can't tell you how many times I haven't been able to fit an hour long workout into my day (or have thought I couldn't anyway) which tells me it's a bigger chunk of time than it sounds.  Still, it's the most important thing I can do to help myself get better, so I'll definitely get that hour in each day. For now, I don't have a lot of other things to do anyway....
I do think I am making progress. Even right now, my leg is pretty straight. I usually keep it as bent as possible, but I'm just naturally keeping it straight with one pillow under it right now, and I think that tells me it isn't as insistent that it has to be bent as it has been in the past.
I will go to PT twice a week for the next two months, and then we will see where we are. They said the first two months are the most critical to my recovery.  The doctor still thinks it is possible that I could be walking (assisted) in another two weeks. I hope that I can walk by the beginning of July when I go back to see him.
So... that's where I'm at on my journey right now. It's been two months and two days since the incident. My pain is getting better each day, my leg is starting to cooperate a little more, and I really feel like I have more control over this than I have in a long time.
If you have questions, or something you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment!