Surprise #3 – Turning the Corner

Overall, the recovery from surgery has seemed quite incremental. Little steps here and here. But during course of the past 32 days, there have been some key checkpoints: (1) getting off pain meds, (2) incorporating water running and StairMaster in addition to walking, and (3) sleeping through the night.

It hasn’t been all-or-nothing with the pain meds, which to be clear were narcotics only during the first 10 days. Since then it’s been Tylenol and Advil. Lately after a full workout I may feel stiff and sore and it helps to take a couple pills. But during the normal workday, nothing is necessary. I’ve never been a pill popper and being free from it is, in a word, freeing.

I started StairMaster a week ago and water running a few days later. I’m now up to 40 minutes for each, with small increases in time and intensity each time. I was very timid getting into the water the first time, concerned the belt would put pressure on the ribs and the arm movement jostle things. So I cinch the belt up above the ribs under my armpits and do abbreviated arm swings. Just walking was becoming boring and I knew it was not exercising some of my running muscles. So it has felt really good to expand the repertoire.

Sleeping had been problematic and I constantly felt sleep-deprived. I have limited channels for T.V. and I mostly watched middle-of-the-night shows on PBS. I’ve been through most of Europe with Rick Steves and followed numerous renovations on This Old House.   But this wasn’t helping me get through the workday. I was fading after five or six hours and had to come home to nap. I took over the counter sleep aides and that didn’t help much. The issue was sleeping on my back.   Finally, over the weekend I successfully slept on my side and presto was sleeping longer and more sound. I’m already finding my daily energy and focus returning.

So I’ve likely passed through the toughest stage(s) of recovery. I’ve observed the healing process is not linear and it is taking as much patience as I can muster. For sure, bones, ligaments, and muscles having separate healing cycles.   I probably still have a couple months before running or lifting much of anything. But I am able to go to work, drive, go to the gym for light workouts, travel, play music, and carry on the basics of daily living. I’ll start PT next week to work on range of motion and core. Hopefully in a month, I’m symptom free, though I know full healing may take up to six months.

I am doing my best to have some fun with this. Being limited to lifting 10 pounds can be seen as a downer or an opportunity to creatively function within that constraint. For example, I bought a small top-loading rolling suitcase and take this to Trader Joes and Whole Foods. The cashiers pack in two small bags of groceries, each less than 10 pounds, I wheel it back home, then walk each bag up the stairs. At the gym I use 8-lb weights to do multiple sets of arm exercises. Instead of two sets of 12 reps with 25 pounds (600 pounds of total work), I am doing three sets of 25 reps at 8 pounds (also 600 pounds of work.) It won’t build muscle, but it might help retain what I have until I can amp back up.

When I met with my surgeon on March 1st, he said three more months before running. I have set a goal of running by May 10, three months after surgery. This can only happen if I progressively add load and not set things back.   I’ll know better if this is realistic after working with the physical therapist for several weeks.   Of course x-rays must show sufficient healing, which I am confident they will. Among other things, I am choosing to invoke the power of positive thought in this healing process. What is there to lose!

So the road to recovery continues. There will no doubt be some surprises along the way. But it’s good to be here now and moving forward.

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