Ugghhh. I’m drained.
This morning was a gym day and I’ve only been at it for four weeks so I haven’t built up much strength and stamina again. I’m happy to be able to get back to the gym but days like today make me want to never go back again. Since nobody can do it for me (believe me, I’ve asked) I have to keep at it myself if I want to be able to continue enjoying life and riding. And I know the first few weeks are always the toughest.
My lower body has never recovered from the damage incurred when I was t-boned in 2011 and that’s a rabbit hole I’m not going to venture down at this time. But, because of that, I’ve been going to the gym for the past 9 years, three days a week, followed by swimming and hitting the hot tub and steam room, with yoga and exercises at home other days, just to keep my leg strength up. Which is all great, but draining.
And then the pandemic hit and the gyms were closed and I just can’t get the same exercise at home. My legs quickly lost their strength.
One of the specialists I had seen over the years was very thorough and after a visit in the spring of 2020 he arranged for surgery to clean up some mess in my right ankle. He also sent me for updated x-rays on my hips. He called me later with the news that my right hip was now bone on bone. It was getting worse but I didn’t imagine it was that far gone, even though it was a challenge to walk for more than 10 minutes.
I had seen a hip specialist in 2014 and he told me that x-rays indicated my right hip was worse than most he saw, and most of those people were barely functioning. He told me to call him when it got too bad. He actually called me in mid-August 2020 after the specialist sent him the updated x-ray results. He told me he had a two-year wait list but he’d see if he could get me in sooner somewhere else.
On Dec 1, 2020 I had a visit with another hip specialist who wanted to get me in as soon as possible. Since my ankle surgery was scheduled for the next day, followed by a month of non-weight bearing recovery, it was agreed they would put me on their cancellation list as of March 1, 2021, thereby allowing for two months of ankle recovery before the hip procedure.
It seemed like the non-weight bearing month of December was the tipping point for my hip. Once I was allowed to start putting weight on my ankle in January my hip wouldn’t tolerate anything longer than five minutes of activity.
I got a call to go in for the pre-hip replacement training on March 8 and after that I was like a school girl waiting for the phone to ring before prom night. I was hoping to have the procedure in March because, if everything went well, the 3-month recovery period would be over by July and I could plan on maybe getting some riding in during the summer. Of course, there are no guarantees that everything would go well. March was a depressing time as the phone refused all of my efforts to make it ring.
As it turned out, there were no cancellations and I had to wait until May 31 to go in for the new hip. By that time I was really looking forward to it and I’m grateful I got in before all the surgical cancellations and postponements resulting from Alberta’s fourth COVID wave.
Before going in I had been doing the prescribed exercises and made some changes at home. I purchased some 2×4’s in order to raise the bed so that I wouldn’t have to bend my hip more than 90 degrees getting in and out. I installed a handle at the bath to help with balance, and I stocked the freezer with some easy-to-reheat meals. The hip clinic had arranged for the Red Cross to loan me a walker, a tub bench, and a commode for three months and I picked these items up the week before the surgery. I wasn’t that keen on using the commode, with the resultant bucket cleanup, so bought a raised toilet seat. This was just the right height to allow the commode, sans bucket, to fit over the toilet so I could use the arms on the commode to get up and down. Any seat I was going to use needed arms as my legs just wouldn’t have what it took to stand up. (Mary suggests I should mention that I’m 6’5” and currently tip the scales at 270 lbs and that maybe average sized people might not need all the mods I did. Also, my right side was t-bone ground zero).
The day before surgery I asked Mary to join me at the bottom of the stairs. Then I had her put her hand on my right buttock and follow me up the stairs. This was the first and last time she could hear and feel the clunking in my hip.
The day of surgery was quite amazing. The Orthopaedic Surgery Clinic at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital is like an assembly line. Arriving on the first floor two hours before surgery I was given a gown and a gurney, and an intravenous line was connected to my arm. When it was time for surgery I was wheeled up to the second floor and met the team. Soon, I was unconscious and shortly after that I was waking up in the recovery room on the third floor. For two hours all I could think of was Uma Thurman in Kill Bill but, try as I might, I could not wiggle my big toe. Epidurals work! From there I was wheeled up to my room on the fourth floor and within 5 hours of surgery they had me up and moving with my walker.
In the morning I was taken down the hall to the exercise room and trained on a commode, tub bench, and stairs, and shown more exercises to do at home. All of this activity just wore me out yet, within 26.5 hours of my arrival, I was discharged, and then the fun began at home.
I’ve never been a fan of pain killers, preferring to know if I was doing something that was hurting my body rather than preventing my body from telling me of the pain. The prescription I was sent home with did nothing to dull the pain and only made the room spin when I tried to move. I stopped taking the pills two days after I got home and relied on Tylenol Muscle and Body tablets to take the edge off before I went to bed at night for the next week.
Even though I had raised the bed I found it too soft and my upper body was too weak to roll onto my side or sit up to get myself out of bed. My son went to Home Depot and got a sheet of plywood cut to size and then wrapped it in some some foam we had at home. This at least gave me a firm surface to work against and, while sleeping on plywood wasn’t a thrill, at least I could get in and out of bed on my own.
Mary had taken a couple days off work after my surgery date but really wished she had taken two weeks off. I was a mess and had trouble doing anything physical and I can only attribute it to a prolonged reaction to the anaesthetic and pain killers. However, once that wore off I started making good progress.
At three weeks I ditched the walker and just used my crutches and now I was glad it was summer for my recovery. Mary was working from home so we would get outside for walks on her breaks. Our first circuit of the park in front of our house took 13 minutes with me on two crutches – nearly double our normal time. Over the next five or six weeks we would reduce that time as my recovery progressed and I moved from two crutches, to one crutch, to my cane, to just holding her hand.
Of course, there were all of the daily exercises to be done and these were designed with average people in mind, I’m sure. At four weeks, a couple other important events occurred. I ventured to the basement and then slowly climbed the stairs while carrying my crutches and was pleased that the pain and clunking were gone. I also added my own motion variation into the training regimen.
Venturing out to the garage I had to put my left foot on the peg in order to get enough height to be able to very slowly swing my right leg over the seat and mount the bike, which was on the center stand. I sat for 10 minutes and then very slowly reversed the process. As with every chair I got off, it took a few minutes for me to stand still and wait for the muscles to stop screaming at me. The next day I stacked a couple pieces of 2×8 on the floor so I wouldn’t have to stand on the peg to clear the passenger seat. Oh, and the panniers were off the bike so I didn’t have the full girth of the bike to clear. Over the next seven weeks I sat on the bike every day, taking books and magazines to read as I slowly increased my seat time to 60 minutes.
At six weeks post-op I had more x-rays and a visit with the surgeon who said everything looked fine and I was cleared to start driving the car again. This removed a huge burden from Mary as I could start doing the shopping again and wasn’t too bad for me as I had been granted a temporary handicapped tag for close-up parking.
Alberta Health Services pays for seven physio visits after surgery so seven weeks post I started visits to the same physiotherapist I’d seen in Jan/Feb after the ankle surgery. I got good advice, more exercises, and corrections on the ones I was doing. As she worked me over we also shared favourite restaurant experiences.
Just like any recovery, there were good days and bad days. While I was sitting on the bike every day I wasn’t really planning any rides because I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to ride and if there would be anywhere to go with COVID still raging. One thing that perked me up was when a friend asked for help planning a ride. Three of them wanted to do the Iron Butt Trans Canadian Quest and, knowing that I had completed this challenge in 2016, they asked for advice. I keep all of my trip plans and the GPS files so I sent Brian what I had and then enjoyed watching them successfully tackle the challenge near the end of August.
At nine weeks I got rid of the 2×8’s and eleven weeks after surgery I felt I was ready to ride again and did a circuit around Edmonton on the Anthony Henday Drive. This took me about an hour and was a good start to my return to riding. I started planning other short rides and gradually, every few days, upped my game, riding 90 minutes, 2 hours, 2.5 hours, etc with a friend or two joining me as we searched out interesting lunch destinations and built up to a 500 Mile Cannonball Ride to Fort McMurray and back. In the six+ weeks since I started riding again I’ve put on 4,600 km; not a ton, but I’m happy with it.
And that gets us to today and me being drained. 13 weeks after surgery I was able to start going back to the gym again and, while I’m feeling the improvements and glad I can swim again, I know I still have a lot of work to get my strength back. Soon I’ll be able to get back to my yoga sessions and work at getting my flexibility back with child’s poses, downward dogs, and pigeons. Luckily, winter is coming and over those many months of non-riding I’ll continue to get myself back in shape, and probably spend a fair amount of time sitting on the bike in the garage, in preparation for a big season next year.
- From R. Bruce Thomas