So if you’ve read all the previous posts under this quadriceps tendon tear tag, then you know that it has been an emotional roller-coaster ride; it seems that from both a physical and psychological perspective my recovery involves a series of steps forward in conjunction with half as many steps back.
This past week has been no different.
A week ago, on January 31, I took the first unaided steps I’d taken since the early afternoon of December 23, more than five weeks previous. Granted they were small steps, and they were only a few, and they were taken while walking between parallel bars in the physical therapy room of my local hospital – my hands hovering warily just an inch or two above the bars — but they were steps taken with nothing but my own two feet and legs. No crutches, no assistance from the therapist – or from said parallel bars, for that matter – just me, myself and I.
I was euphoric, to say the least. I wanted to scream; I wanted to shout. I wanted – alas – to jump up and down.
On top of this wonderful landmark accomplishment — in addition to this astounding physical feat, these four small steps for a man, this giant leap for ruptured-quadriceps-tendon kind – my therapist decided that it was time for me to kiss the straight-leg brace goodbye, as well as one of my Tiny Tim crutches. This was an entire week ahead of schedule, mind you; my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Phat, originally had told me that I would inhabit the brace for six weeks.
I was a little scared, venturing forth on just one crutch with no brace to protect my misshapen leg, but nevertheless ecstatic. It felt so good to walk – not limp, but walk, bending my leg – even with the aid of a crutch. And it wasn’t – and still isn’t – a normal gait; while I do bend my knee when I take a step forward with my right leg, as I put weight on it and begin to step with my left leg I have to lock my right leg, consciously flexing my quadricep muscle. Furthermore, my quadriceps muscle is so weak, I can’t actually lock my leg – not completely, anyway.
But Mistress Lien, as I like to refer to my tiny little therapist, drills it into my head – lock your leg, lock your leg, lock your leg – ad nauseum, ad infinitum. It’s difficult to do, aside from my weak-ass quad. Being an erstwhile gym rat, it’s instinctive to not lock my knee; locking the knee = bad, in my mind – hyperextension, effed-up ligaments, etc.
But as my therapist has explained, locking the knee of my bad leg makes it more stable when I walk, keeping it from buckling, and consequently giving the quadriceps muscle much-needed use. Meanwhile, Dr. Phat has assured me that at this stage, the tendon has healed and the odds of re-injury are nil (provided I don’t run out and do something dumb – not that I can actually run). What’s important now is strengthening my leg muscles, namely the quad, and gradually getting that tendon back to a full-range of motion.
Lets Do Something Dumb to Celebrate
So yeah, last week I was metaphorically jumping for joy, if not literally. I decided to celebrate by increasing my working hours. I went from teaching three classes a week to eight, and by the end of the week, I was paying for it several times over with pain and swelling. As the pain and swelling increased, my happy-happy-joy-joy decreased, to the point that by Sunday night after class I was depressed and angry.
When I showed up for my therapy appointment on Monday my therapist took one look at me knee and said something in Vietnamese that I’m sure would translate into English as “What the fuck!?” After talking things over with her and Dr. Phat, we all came to the obvious conclusion that eight classes was too much, and that I need to step back.
But then Dr. Phat noted that he was still amazed that I was able to teach three classes a week, just three weeks after surgery, without ill effects. I should probably clarify “without ill effects.” By the end of a class my knee would be swollen (above and beyond the usual) and sore, but I always recovered by the morning of the next day; things would be back to normal – the new gimpy, misshapen normal, that is. Not so after teaching two classes, however.
So now I’m back to teaching three classes this week, and next week I’ll bump it up to four. If that goes well, the week after that, I’ll try five, and so on.
According to the research I’ve done online, I shouldn’t be complaining; it seems many who suffer a quadriceps tendon tear take months before they return to work, even those with desk jobs. Still, I find it difficult to take solace in such facts. As I’ve noted here several times before, I constantly tell myself that I should be happy at this point that my disability isn’t permanent; almost everyday I see people on the streets of Sai Gon who can’t say the same.
But none of this changes the fact that I’m sick of this, sick of all of it. Sick of not being able bodied, sick of everything taking three times as long and being three times as difficult, sick of being treated by able-bodied people as … well, we’ll save that for another entry. I’ve already touched upon this topic, but recent events require their own entry, methinks.