August of last year, I assigned myself 12 Labors to be completed by March 1, 2018 for Emerald City Comicon in Seattle. A voluntary, seven-month journey of growth, self-exploration, and development. (For more information and a list of the Labors, please visit previous blog posts.) The idea came about my Freshman year of cosplaying Wonder Woman. In the comics, Wonder Woman assigned herself 12 Labors, as a testament to the Justice League (and herself) that she was indeed ready for Superhero duty after losing her powers. I wanted to take my cosplay journey one step further and accomplish a few things worthy of representing Wonder Woman. In my mind, I wanted to be different from those who just suit up and portray a Superhero for a day at an event or Comicon. I wanted to be worthy of the suit (in my own eyes) as well as put my powers to good use and grow as a person.
Over the past few months, I’ve been working hard on finishing up my 12 Labors. The hardest Labors for me, were the physical challenges, due to the progressive nature of changing your body through working out and diet. To be honest I’ve been doing my “Wonder Woman inspired” workouts and diet evolution for over a year now. I’ve gradually lost weight and fat, gained muscle and improved my overall fitness.
I recently had several events on the horizon I was looking forward to. I was gearing up to walk in the Seattle Women’s March as Wonder Woman on January 20. I was looking forward to debuting a new WW costume at Emerald City Comicon. I was set to appear as WW at a local children’s museum, suit up for Seattle Children’s Hospital (my 2nd time) in addition to other such events.
On January 17, life threw me a final Labor. One I didn’t plan, nor did I see it coming. In a fraction of an instant, my life would be drastically different for the next 3 months. This Labor would challenge my mind, body, will, determination, and spirit.
Wednesday, January 17th started off a great day. I had my deep water training session in the pool and I also had a massage. The day turned when I slipped and fell down a small ramp in our garage. I ended up on the concrete floor. Did I just hear a pop?!? Pain flooded my right ankle and expletives flew out of my mouth. I had been gearing up to march in the Seattle Women’s March, just two days away.
I hobbled back into the house and tested walking. I knew you couldn’t put weight on a broken bone and I could walk with a bit of a limp, so I figured it was a bad sprain.
The following day (Thursday) I made an appointment with my family physician to learn my lower fibula was indeed broken. I took a photo of the X-ray. Friday, I just happened to send the photo to a good friend and Seattle’s best podiatrist (specializing in dancers) Dr. Alan Woodle. Within a few hours, he called me from Seattle. “You need an MRI!” he said. “This is a very specific type of fracture and if you have ligament or tendon damage, you are one bump away from a complete dislocation or a compound fracture.”
To be completely nerdy and medical, I had a Danis-Weber type B fracture (acute angle) of my lower right fibula. I had an MRI on Saturday. The MRI revealed my anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament was completely detached and the peroneal tendon was frayed. Sunday, Dr. Woodle called and informed me I’d be having surgery the following Saturday (January 27). He would secure the bone with surgical screws as well as reattach the ligament and clean up the fryaed tendon. From fall to surgery = ten days.
In May 1995 (23 years ago) I had a dance related surgery on the same ankle (between my ankle bone and Achilles tendon. I was in college, dancing seven hours a day. I had the surgery at the end of my sophomore year. I rehabbed during the three months of summer vacation and was back dancing for my junior year.
Dr. Woodle also performed that surgery. People come from all over the United States, even internationally to be seen and treated by him. Dr. Woodle is one of the nicest, most caring people. He is detailed in his approach, his bedside manner is exceptional and he goes above and beyond for his patients. I would trust my feet to no one else, I just adore him.
In preparation for my most recent surgery, I kept telling myself and my husband that this was not my first rodeo. I’ve been through this, I’ve done this before. Even though the technicalities of the surgeries were different from each other, some of the process was already familiar to me (namely ice, compression and elevation). I’d come to find out, that was about all the two had in common. A major difference however, I walked into my first surgery. (It was a procedure unique to dancers and not an injury.) This most recent surgery I hobbled in on crutches unable to walk, with a broken bone. I had already had a week and a half of rest, ice, compression, elevation with little to no weight bearing.
January 27 – Day of surgery
Getting ready for surgery is the easiest thing ever! Out of the shower (washing with antibacterial, anti-microbial Hibiclens), no make-up, no lotion, no deodorant, no perfume, no hair products, no jewelry, no nothing, but loose clothing. I did however, sneak just a bit of face cream and lip balm. Not even any breakfast or food or liquids of any kind (no water even) from midnight of the previous night. I was ready in 5 minutes!
7:00 am we arrived at NW Hospital in Seattle. After checking in and chatting with Dr. Woodle, I was taken back to the first stage of surgery prep. “Please put your belongings in these bags, put the gown and hair cap on and remove your underwear.” WHAT?!? You mean I can’t even have on my own skivvies? As I was about to learn, I left my dignity at the door. For surgery 23 years ago I had my own undies on. What’s changed? I’m not sure about you, but there is some comfort in your own undies, you know. Without them, without anything familiar on, you feel not yourself. Plus I went to the bathroom a few times before surgery. I was accompanied by a nurse wheeling my IV behind me and the hospital gown is indeed open in the back (besides the two flimsy ties) my bum certainly felt exposed as I crutched to the loo.
Sitting up in the hospital bed, with my new super flattering hospital garment on, an awesome sheer blue head covering, and a white (less than 2 thread count) hospital blanket over me, my husband was allowed back to be with me. In goes the IV with “Gatorade” like fluids. More chatting with various nurses checking information, stories and laughter with Dr. Woodle and my husband. Then came the anesthesiologist. She was a little brisk at first (being German) and tried taking me into general anesthesia. I was pretty firm, I didn’t want a general. I looked to my husband for support, and he was just nodding and encouraging me to go with the recommendation. After discussing all the options, which were basically a general or a spinal block with moderate IV sedation. The anesthesiologist said if it were her, she’d do the spinal block – which is what I wanted the whole time. I’m glad we saw eye to eye in the end.
I kissed my husband goodbye and I’m wheeled into the OR. It was freezing and my paper thin nightie wasn’t cutting it. I begin to shiver uncontrollably. One of the lovely nurses brings me a wonderfully heated blanket. My whole OR team, with the exception of Dr. Woodle was female. I tell them all how cool a nearly all female team is and thank each of them before I’m administered the spinal. I remember the time was 10:16 am.
I was comfortable. I was laying on my left side and was quite sleepy. Before being in the OR I remember Dr. Woodle and the nurses saying they were going to use some sort of inflatable bean bag to keep me in position during surgery. But I have no memory of experiencing it. While in the OR, I could hear voices behind me. After what seemed like about 20 minutes, I was wondering when they are going to get started. Then I saw Dr. Woodle’s face pop up in front of me and he said, “We’re all done.” For the next two or so hours, I was in the most wonderfully comfortable state I’ve ever been in. Thank goodness for that amazing German anesthesiologist and her magical cocktail mixture of drugs! God Bless Her! Truly!
Spinals take the longest to wear off, even longer than generals. So the draw-back is you have to stay longer in recovery until you have full feeling and function of yourself. Dr. Woodle and Michael were with me. We chatted, Dr. Woodle wrote up his notes and Michael showed me the outpouring of love from social media. A light pressure in my lower abdomen began to creep up. As time went on, it increased. I learned it was pressure from my bladder. The anesthesiologist kept me well hydrated and I need to pee. So I got up and tried to use the bathroom. Funny thing, I still couldn’t feel that entire area (which was very odd) so my visit was unsuccessful. The pressure increased. I was told that if I couldn’t go on my own, they’d scan my bladder and then drain me. I did not want that! So I waited for another 20 minutes and gave it another go. It took a great deal of pushing, and a combination of intense concentration and relaxation but I was successful in the end. Phew!
The first day after surgery, I was pretty uncomfortable until I got myself on a proper pain med. schedule. I was sleepy and tried to sleep as much as I could. Around recovery day 4 I was able to take myself off my primary pain pill and use the secondary as needed. I had been using the Cryo-cuff (ice & compression) since before the surgery and still continue to do so, elevated to reduce the swelling and pain.
On my fourth day of recovery, I was introduced to a new machine. A CPM (continuous passive movement machine). About the size of a large breadbox, the CPM would stay in our condo. I was to start off with a small range of motion for 20 minutes. Each day I would increase the time, working up to an hour and see if I could increase my range of motion (ROM). Some days my ROM would increase, some days it would stay the same. My days now consisted of bouncing between the bed with the elevated Cryo-cuff and the sofa with the CPM. They both required me to be either seated or on my back. This got old very quickly.
Then there is sleeping. Ever tried sleeping with one leg resting on an elevation pillow and your foot in a moon boot inflated with cold water? It’s no easy feat, let me tell you! With great care, I began to get creative with my sleeping positions. I just had to shift to my side from time to time. I finally got sleeping down, but I’d wake up stiff as hell! My right hip flexor was beyond pissed from even before the surgery. My bum was so tired of sitting and lying down. Various aches and pains crept into my body from all the compensation and imbalance. I implored my husband to get me a foam roller. With a yoga mat on the floor, I began a personal ritual of stretching, foam rolling and upper body band work just to stay sane in the head (and body).
Needless to say, Dr. W didn’t (and doesn’t still) want me going anywhere or doing anything that may result (with even the slightest possibility) in anyone (the public at large) stepping, bumping, knocking, tapping, kicking, falling, tripping, stumbling, sneezing or breathing on me. ANYTHING that could result in setting back my recovery. So that means NO social life, no restaurants, no public outings, no performances, no driving, no movies, no concerts, no shopping malls, no gyms, and on and on and on. NO Emerald City Comicon. I was beyond devastated!
So, I’ve been under house arrest, confined to an 800 sq. ft. condo in downtown Seattle for 6 weeks. The condo is nice, don’t get me wrong, but day after day after day. Seven days was my longest stretch of not leaving the condo. Since I can’t walk (for a full 6 weeks) and my husband is working in Olympia during the week, there isn’t much for me to do but Cryo-cuff, CMP and hang out.
A few simple things I have come to enjoy during this time:
* Wonderfully crisp apples and juicing oranges my husband brings me from Pike Place Market.
* An afternoon cup of Green Ginger tea (possibly with a cookie or two).
* Listening to the audiobook of A Handmaid’s Tale read by Claire Danes
* Binge watching Mozart in the Jungle
* What yummy mischief I can get into on food delivery apps.
* Petit workouts I give myself.
A few things this recent journey has taught me:
* Don’t take ANYTHING for granted.
Your health, your mobility, your strength (mental and physical), the ability to take a shower and that wonderful clean feeling, the luxury of freshly washed hair, self sufficiency, the joys of cooking, the joys of driving, general freedom, sweating from a gloriously difficult work out, walking without assistance, not needing to ice a part of your body several times a day, fur babies (if you have them), friends, your primary relationship . . .
NOTHING, take nothing for granted!
* I am not my injury.
This simple statement may seem obvious, but from the moment it happened, this injury has ruled my life. It has dictated what I can do, where I can go, how I get around, how people see (and treat) me, as well as how and where I spend my time. For a little over three months, my life will be beholden to this injury.
However, it is not who I am!
* I am more motivated to do my exercises, stretch and foam roll if I change my clothes from the jammies I’ve been in all day to semi work out clothes.
* Putting music on when doing said exercises, helps immensely!
* Don’t beat myself up or criticize myself over not being as diligent (obsessive) as I “should” be with said exercises.
* Take “should” out of my vocabulary.
* To heal, is to accept this journey. Accept the day to day process. Accept the choices I make. Accept myself injury included! Nurture myself with food, books, music, movies, audiobooks, tea, and whatever else I find comforting during this journey.
* Reaching out to someone who is having a challenging time, allows me to feel effective, helpful and purposeful.
A Lesson in Balance
I must take full advantage of this time to heal. I must let go of looking too far in the future, lamenting over events I cannot attend or spending time wishing my days were different. I must look at this time as an extraordinary gift and not a curse.
Going through the prescribed therapeutic motions (Cryo-cuff, CPM machine, exercise sheet from the doc) is not enough. I must learn to be present in each day and focus my energy on nurturing and healing myself.
On the other hand, this still kinda sucks.