It has been just over eight months since I had the first round of surgery on my ankle. To say that I am frustrated would be understating the obvious. I have to catch myself whenever I’m feeling depressed, and remind myself that the injuries could have been a lot worse and that I am lucky to be alive. Pessimism and self-pity become uncomfortable bedfellows when you are still on crutches and painkillers after such prolonged recovery. There may be hope on the horizon, but at times, it is more a mirage in the wilderness and I sometimes despair.
About a week ago the hard cast came off for the second time. I forgot what happens when the much anticipated happens. I am healed, I will be able to walk. Yay. No more cast, soon I’ll run again. Ha! Big surprise. My leg was so wasted and pale, it looked more like an uncooked chicken wing. The cast was there for support, and now it is gone – welcome to the new world of instability and unscheduled, surprising pain. After a day or two it dawned on me that the healing process was far from over. On the bright side, I could now scratch my leg when itchy. Better than that, I could have a soaking bath without having to keep the cast dry. Heaven comes, it seems, in small steps.
I am still on crutches and I have to wear a moon-boot. Truthfully, after eight months it feels like an eternity. The next appointment with my surgeon is a month away, and until then I can’t do any exercises or see a physiotherapist. Slow and sedentary, apparently, will win this day. Make no mistake a total ankle replacement is a drawn-out process and you need to mentally prepare for such a protracted healing process. Although not all the time, I’m happy to say I did sort-of master the mental battle and I do emerge optimistic about my chances for recovery.
I am lucky to count myself as a Comrades runner, and I learned the necessary mental approach on the Old Durban Road many years before. This procedure is just like running a very long marathon with many, many marker boards. Better to run from landmark to landmark rather than marker board to marker board. From surgery to plaster cast coming off is about six weeks – a land mark. From the time the cast comes off to walking unaided is about five weeks – another landmark. Depending on how fit you are and how optimistic you are, you can expect the entire process to take between a year to 18 months.
It is not an easy operation and the decision to undertake such a journey is intensely personal. Did I make the right choice? The jury is still out – but this week I felt I turned an important corner. Not that I felt any significant physical shift, nothing like that. It was more like something mental or spiritual. For the first time I sensed an ending. I touched the floor with both feet firmly placed together and it felt…well, normal.