I’ve been a bit nervous about this next appointment. My leg continues to chatter like a hungry kitten. Every now and then it roars like a lion. But we have built a solid relationship based on mutual respect and trust – that is my leg and I, oh and also with Dr. Hale.
However, now five months out, I’m eager to see faster progress, to stand up without extra effort, to walk on a hill, to …
“Alan, the fractures have healed. Everything looks very good. Do you have any pain anywhere?”
He didn’t know I don’t use words like pain (awareness), injury or accident (incident), recovery (progress) to describe my “journey.”
“I have a high level of awareness from here to here.” I said pointing to my knee and then my ankle.”But my knee is talking a lot especially when I push off with it when standing or on a longish walk.”
And then he dropped the bomb.
“With the severity of your injury, it normally takes 2 years to recover.” My shoulders dropped. I felt myself stop breathing. “But you are far ahead of others. Your pain is normal, especially in the knee area. Overall you are 6 months ahead of where I thought you would be at this point.”
I began to breath again.
I wanted to understand what had happened to my leg. We went into detail.
He said I had experienced “degloving” of the tibia and fibula as a result of the intense energy it took to break my bones that winter afternoon. Later that day I googled “degloving” and learned: “A degloving injury is a type of avulsion in which an extensive section of skin is completely torn off the underlying tissue, severing its blood supply.”
He went on to say that as bones heal they get larger then reduce back to normal size. That swelling is normal, to be expected, but gave me a prescription to reduce it a bit. He encouraged me to stay with my exercise program, to stress my leg to the limits of my pain threshold – all of this would enable me to recover fast and strong. In other words keep doing what I have been doing.
My knee has been a bit noisey. In 1974, I tore my ACL and medial meniscus playing pickup football. In those days, they simply removed the damaged tissue instead of repairing them so I have lived without an ACL for 43 years. I have a fair amount of arthritis in my knee as well, normal for a 60 year-old.
As a result of not having an ACL, and staying very active all my adult life, the surrounding muscles – quads, etc have overdeveloped in order to provide support for my knee. With this recent incident and the associated atrophy of the muscles in my right leg, the knee is acting up. Some days it is quiet and well behaved, other times it chats up a storm.
I listen carefully, and then we have a chat about what to do. Sometimes I back off my activity, other times I push thru it. All I know is that the more active I am, the less feedback I get.
At the last visit with Dr. Hale in March, we discussed my plans to walk, hike and climb again. I was hoping for a climb on my birthday or an Autumn big one. He gave me the all clear to begin my plans but deep down I knew my heart was stronger than my leg.
Today, I broached my passion once again. He sat down as I talked. He looked me direct in my eyes with full attention. I new he wanted to be encouraging but also to set expectations.
“It might be tough to do something big soon.” He said, revealing the obvious. “Yes, I had hoped to do something “big” six months from the incident but now I feel it is probably a year.” Dr. Hale nodded in agreement.
And with that my future was set. I know my guardrails, I know my stop and start signs. I know my body, and I know my heart.
Staffed by volunteers, they are self funded and thru donations. They do not charge for rescues or receive any government funding. Each volunteer pays $3,000 each to join SARs and buys all their own gear plus often leaves work to give aid.
As I described in the original post Broken Leg: I don’t want to be in the Rocks their professionalism and dedication was simply amazing thus when Jim and I were asked to speak at the fundraiser, we seized the opportunity to thank them and share our observations of the incident.
Over $60,000 was raised to support this very active team located in Northern Colorado for the next two years.
Old and Bold
The saying that “There are old climbers, there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers.” is often used to discourage someone to stop while they are ahead. The same phrase applies to other disciplines for example pilots.
I’ve been thinking about this as I turn 61 in about a month. I’ve also been thinking about 78 year-old Carlos Soria Fontan. He is the only person to have climbed ten mountains higher than 8,000 meters after turning 60 including K2 and Everest. I was looking forward to meeting him on Dhaulagiri this past spring. He was there but didn’t summit.
I know my journey has had some twists and see it kind of like this:
So where to go from here? I am making good progress. My leg is healing. My muscles need to be rebuilt. My knee will come back as my quadriceps strengthen.
Recently Di and I went to a concert in Keystone Colorado, 9,173′, on our honeymoon 🙂 I was amazed at how my breathing was labored walking up a simple grass slope. It takes years to get in shape and months to seemingly lose it all.
But I am not discouraged. I firmly believe in muscle memory, or more specifically that my body will remember being at altitude when we go back. My cells will respond like they once did, albeit, perhaps a bit slower.
As I lay in the rocks that Friday afternoon, I made a series of decisions about how I would choose to respond to the incident. Central to it all was that I was not going to be a victim.
However I knew my leg was significantly altered, it would take time and I had to be patient, disciplined and focused to return to my goals. Thus it is time to start a new set.
In July my goal is to walk a mile three times a week then to hike up my local hill, Horsetooth Mountain, 7,260 on my birthday. In August I will walk every day and return to Twin Sisters. In September, before the snow returns I would like to climb Longs Peak keeping my annual summit pace in tact.
I will see how this goes, if I am off by a few weeks or even a month, I’m not going to worry. I do my best when I have goals, the bigger the better.
Come autumn, I’ll have another visit with Dr. Hale. I will seek advice from those who know me best. I will look deep inside to determine if I have what it takes.
All my climbing life, I have used five markers to judge if I was ready for a big climb:
- Family support
- Physical capability
- Deep desire
Climbing is my passion, Alzheimer’s advocacy is my purpose. This incident has not changed who I am or what I do. I continue to maintain it was a positive event with a positive outcome and has enabled a tremendous amount of good.
I continue to be grateful to all those who have helped, encouraged and supported me.
To be continued ….
Memories are Everything
On February 10, 2017 while training for the 8000 meter peak, Dhaulagiri, a sudden wind gust estimated near 100 mph swept me off my feet and into a talus field on a simple walk up mountain of Twin Sisters Peak, 11,4327′, in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado.
I described the entire incident in my post Broken Leg: I don’t want to be in the Rocks.
When I was slammed into the rocks near 11,000 feet that Friday afternoon, my lower right leg was broken in multiple places.
The tiba had an angular fracture and the fibula was also broken. My left leg had a puncture wound. My nasal cavity was broken as well. The injuries required two operations under full anesthesia and a five day stay in the hospital.
Jim cared for me over four hours as I lie in the rocks and it took another five hours for SARs to evacuate me off the mountain.
- Broken Leg: I Don’t Want to be in the Rocks
- Broken Leg Update: One Month Out
- Broken Leg Update: Two Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: Three Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: Five Months Out
- Broken Leg: Return to Twin Sisters
- Broken Leg Update: Eight Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: A Setback and a Plan
- Broken Leg Update: A Year Later and Future Climbing Plans
- Broken Leg Update: Ready to Jump (again)