Wah My Leg Hurts. Wah Life Sucks.

No WhiningYeah, I still refuse to yield. But it’s tough.

Little things that ordinarily would only be mildly annoying become epic pains in the ass. I have a new-found sympathy and respect for those that find themselves with a permanent disability. I’ve only spent the last two weeks in a straight-leg brace and crutches – and until the past few days I’ve needed those crutches to move even a few feet – and ostensibly will be able to shed both in four more weeks. The doctor says there is no reason I can’t make a complete recovery, although that recovery will be measured in months, perhaps a year or longer.

Every time self pity threatens to hold sway over my psyche, I think about the people I see every day here on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City: men and women with one leg and two crutches who are usually selling lottery tickets. Their legs aren’t going to grow back in a matter of months. My life is difficult because I can’t bend my leg – still wearing the straight-leg brace 24-7, at the moment (more or less) per doctors orders – but at least I still have a leg – two even – one that ostensibly will return to a state approximating normal some day.

So when I perceive that I’m getting too whiny and bitchy, I think about those people – or even literally look out from my apartment balcony and see them wandering down Nguyen Trai street – and psychologically shut the fuck up.

But it’s tough sometimes. Just to go out to the coffee shop for the afternoon is epic. It takes me hours to get ready. Everything takes three times as long – showering, dressing, packing up my laptop – not to mention my therapeutic exercises and icing down my knee. As I say, everything becomes epic. A load of laundry? Epic. Instant noodles for dinner and cleaning up afterwards? Epic.

And I’m getting fucking damn tired of epic.

P.S. I’ve started dreaming about walking and running. In these dreams that’s all there is: me walking or me running. Unaided. No  crutches or braces.  It is so, so sweet. But then, shit, I’d just be happy to be able to bend my leg.

Irony, Angst and Self Pity: Recovering from a Quadriceps Tendon Tear

Eight days after surgery to repair my quadriceps tendon. Bilateral symmetry: I don't have it.Of course, one of the most maddening aspects of my quadriceps tendon tear is the implicit irony of it. I think about all of the times I’ve been doing stuff outdoors that could have precipitated such an injury: mountain biking, road cycling, whitewater rafting, trekking and hiking, rock climbing and bouldering. Then I proceed to do it stepping off a bus.

Seriously, Universe? Getting off a bus? What the hell? Why do you mock me, so, Universe? DAMN YOU, WHY!?

To say that I’ve been preoccupied with existential questions surrounding this injury would be an understatement. I suppose that’s natural, though; I’m sure anyone who experiences such an injury must go through this. Why did it happen? Why now? Why me? I actually missed my usual stop and got off at the next one – had I gotten off at my usual stop, would this have happened? Am I, in some Alternative, Trekkian Timeline, still able-bodied Jeff?

Had I been flying down single-track with a steep incline and biffed, leapfrogging over the handlebars in an attempt to avoid eating dirt or slick rock, and blown out that tendon upon landing, then of course, it would make sense. Had I been in some sort of accident whilst cycling on the streets of Sai Gon, or even while on the back of a motorbike taxi – that’s invariably the first thing everyone here thinks: “Were you in a motorbike accident?” – it would make sense.

It would still suck, but it would suck less; there would be reason and meaning. The Universe would still make sense in this instance; life would be comprehensible.

But no. It won’t give me even that little bit of existential salve for my grievous injury.

As I struggle with the new complications of daily life this accident has spawned – the other day it took 10 minutes to get my damn shoes on – I can’t help but dwell on these existential questions sometimes. I try not to; I try not to feel sorry for myself, but at times its unavoidable. And then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, which only makes it worse, as I observe the treacherous cycle of depression begin, settling on my shoulders like an unwelcome yoke.

I haven’t given into that black beast yet (yes, yet another metaphor) – I refuse to – but I see it out there lurking, circling, waiting for its prey to get tired and give up and give in. After all, this beast has stalked me before. This is where anger sometimes actually helps; I’m too fucking pissed off right now to let this amorphous whatever that I’ve chosen to tag with the moniker of the Universe – Fate? Karma? Destiny? God? Gods? The Man Behind the Curtain? Aliens from Another Dimension? A Cold, Random, and Uncaring Universe? – I’m too pissed off to let it beat me.

Fuck you, Universe. I’ll get through this, you fucker(s). Bring it. Do your worst. I’ll deal. I won’t submit. I refuse to yield.

Wah. What We Wanna Know Is, How Do You Go to the Toilet?

Eight days after surgery for a quad tendon tear. Kinda looks like a baseball that's been left out in the yard too long.But perhaps you are more interested in the more mundane aspects of my orthopedic trials and tribulations, as opposed to the angsty existential aspects. Very well.

So my right leg is encased in a straight-leg brace that I’m required to wear 24-7. I take it off to change the dressing on the surgical incision every 48 hours and sponge down my leg, since I shower with it on (I cover it up with garbage bags and rubber bands). Oh, and I do ice down my knee several times a day; I take it off for this, too.

Occasionally I do take it off to scratch, because it itches. Oh sweet Mother of God it fucking itches sometimes. I might try pantyhose, if I can find them for sale somewhere here in Sai Gon – although I’m not exactly mobile, at the moment.

I’m on crutches too, of course. Good Dr. Phat says I’ll be on the crutches and in the brace for six weeks. If all goes well after two weeks I’ll be able to take the brace off when I’m relaxing with my leg propped up – which is pretty much most of the time.

When I am ambulatory I’m supposed to put no more than 20 percent of my body weight on the bad leg. My physical therapist actually had me stand on two different scales so I could get a feel for what 20 percent was.

To say that all this sucks would be a gross understatement. Simple things one does everyday – getting dressed, going to the bathroom – have now become long and herculean tasks. To be frank, maneuvering so I can use the toilet — my apartment isn’t the most handicapped-friendly place — is akin to docking the space shuttle. It’s a long, slow process that takes lots of minute adjustments. The less said of this, the better, however; I’m sure you’ll agree.

Of course I’m not teaching at the moment. The doc says I shouldn’t return to work until six weeks have passed, and then only part time, but I may try working part time in a few weeks anyway. We’ll see.

What else? Oh yes, of course. “Does it hurt?” Well, it doesn’t tickle, that’s for sure. Doesn’t take much gimping around to set my leg to aching. Fortunately it’s rarely anything that 500mg of acetaminophen can’t handle – no, no good drugs for me. I made it a point to tell the doctor that I didn’t want any pain meds that made me loopy; just seems like a bad idea when you’re on crutches and could risk serious reinjury if you slipped and fell. Thus, I have boxes upon boxes of paracetamol tablets.

My Quadriceps Tendon Torn Asunder

Surgery, Quadriceps tendon tear: with my kneecap slipped down below the joint, if you look closely and you can see the end of femur. So the day before the previous entry, December 23rd, I was stepping off the bus around the corner from where I teach English here in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, when the quadriceps tendon in my right leg completely tore away from my patella – the tissue that connects my thigh muscles to my kneecap.

I was stepping down onto the last step of the bus prior to stepping off onto the pavement when I heard a snap and fell onto the street, landing on my left side. Immediately I thought the bus’ stairs must have broken or otherwise collapsed – this particular Sai Gon bus happened to be pretty ramshackle. I looked over my shoulder back at the bus, but the steps were intact. Then I tried to stand up, and realized something was dreadfully wrong.

I could feel my lower right leg, but I couldn’t move it – nothing happened when I tried to move it, much less put weight on it. What’s more, I could see, even through my pants leg, that my patella was no longer where it should be, that it was in fact now located well below and to the left of the knee joint (if you were looking at my knee) – it was literally resting on top of the ends of my shin bones.

I specifically remember thinking, as I lay there in the gutter: “Oh fuck. That’s not right.”

About this time it started to hurt. Yet it didn’t hurt as much as one might think, thanks to the process of going into shock. I’ve only experienced this twice before, and the last time was more than 10 years ago. I had forgotten just how unpleasant it is – I’d rather deal with the pain than having to alternate between trying not to pass out and trying not to puke.

It was an interesting taxi-ride to the hospital, to say the least.

Now before anyone asks, no, the bus was not moving when this happened; it had actually come to a complete stop before I had descended its steps (this isn’t always the case with public buses here in Viet Nam). And as it turns out there was no organic reason for this to happen, apparently; no heretofore undiagnosed degenerative disease or other orthopedic problem. Rather, it is just chalked up to “one of those things,” i.e. random chance – “I stepped wrong.” Apparently my foot caught in such a way that my forward and downward momentum combined along with the position of my foot to tear my quadriceps tendon in twain.

I suspect it might have something to do with the half sandal/slipper shoe that I wear – make that past tense – wore to class, something that I could easily kick off during class, as I loathe shoes with a passion (one of many reasons to return to this part of the world). Perhaps my foot slipped ever so slightly at just the right moment. But I really don’t know; there seemingly is no reason for this – other than karma, perhaps – and this is the most maddening aspect of this whole experience – one of many, to be sure.

Just a random Yuletide Fuck You from the Universe. Once more: well played, Christmas.

 But What’re These Gory Pictures? A Few Notes on the Surgery

My surgically repaired quadriceps tendon. Now my patella is where it should be.

Eeewww! Gross! Or, perhaps, cool! Fascinating! It all depends on which end of the squeamish spectrum you reside, I suppose. As you can guess, I live on the latter end. I find stuff like this endlessly fascinating, although I admit, given that it’s my blood and flesh cut open, the first time I viewed these images it did make me somewhat uncomfortable for a brief moment.

Anyway, my orthopedic surgeon here at Ho Chi Minh City’s FV Hosptial, Dr. Phat – cuz Phat is where it’s at — was kind enough, at my request, to snap a few photos during my surgery. These aren’t just any surgery photos, Dear Gentle Reader; that’s the interior of my knee laid open for you to see, in all it’s bloody and torn glory.

If you look closely at the first image above — go ahead, click on it, and enjoy the bloody hi-rez gore — you can actually see into my knee joint, and consequently the end of my femur. That’s because my patella, or kneecap, is nowhere to be seen; it’s still residing below the joint, just beyond the end of the incision (to the right of the image, which is in the direction of my foot; my thigh is oriented to the left). Dr. Phat — or a nurse or some other assistant — has the end of my torn quadriceps tendon in the forceps on the left of the image.

Frankenknee: 36 hours after surgery to repair a quadriceps tendon tear.In the second image, my tendon is all stitched up and reattached to my patella. Note you can no longer see down into the knee joint — that’s the way it is supposed to be. There are actually two different layers of sutures or stitches; again, if you look closely you can see some of these (they happen to be blue). I’ve forgotten to ask Dr. Phat three times now how exactly the sutures are connected to the patella, but from my research into the surgery I gather he likely drilled some holes into the bone.

Neato, huh? This final image over here on the right is my leg, all stitched up and put back together again, about 36-hours after surgery.

Christmas Karma Gets a Leg Up on Me

Quadriceps tendon tear: 24 hours after and awaiting to go under the orthopedic surgeon's knife.Well played Christmas, well played.

I honestly didn’t see it coming, this time around. Had no idea what you had in store for me. Had even been feeling pretty good mentally; the ghosts that traditionally haunt me this time of year had been quiet. Having gotten over a bad chest cold some weeks before, I had even begun to think I would be allowed to pass through the Yule season without so much as sniffle, much less a loved-one dropping dead.

How many holiday seasons have passed since I could claim that? Certainly not since the previous century have I been able to enjoy such a December.

How silly of me, however, to believe that Christmas Karma wouldn’t manifest itself in some form. I should know better. Of course, dear Christmas, were I to anthropomorphize you – which I suppose I have already done – you would have been thinking “Oh, no. I don’t think so. You’re not getting off that easily; you’re going to have a Merry Fucking Christmas after all.

“In fact I’m going to return to a familiar theme, one that’s always sure to please: Xmas Time in the Hospital. Fa La Fucking La, bitch! But lets not dwell on previous glories; rather, let’s add a new twist. Let’s make you the one that ends up in the hospital this time, eh?”

As I prepare to go under the knife, this Christmas Eve, let me say again, well-played Christmas, well played. And fuck you too.

In the immortal words of seminal West Coast punk band Fear:

but for me, it’s not so great
Fuck Christmas. Fuck Christmas. Fuck Christmas! FUCK CHRISTMAS!

I seem to be lacking bi-lateral symmetry. Quadriceps teandon tear, 24-hours after, and waiting to go under the orthopedic surgeon's knife.