I took my first real walk today. Not just down the street, a REAL walk, and I wasn’t even that tired. And I owe it all to Physical Therapy.
For the past 5 weeks, I have been rehabilitating my leg/ankle in Physical Therapy sessions (P.T. for you cool ones). I have to say that I was actually looking forward to this part of my recovery – bringing me back to my roots in a way. I was so ready. Get out my leggings, here I come!
Let’s just say there are two major factors that gave me pause as I started this process.
Number one: Age. I thought I would sail through the exercises – you know, former dancer, competitive spirit, highly motivated. So, that worked in my favor, but I am not 25. Every part of my body is feeling every year of my life after this ordeal.
Number two: Mental. Fear. Never before have I been actually afraid to do the simplest things.
Week 1 – It started out slow of course- at first, I was barely standing up. I would do some exercises with the Theraband, and the therapist would manually stretch my ankle to loosen it up. But quickly, they had me on my feet, stretching (ouch) and walking (my bad ankle on the treadmill, while I stood on my good leg.) Humbling.
Put your right leg behind your left foot, he said. Put your heel down. Uh….so I bring my leg closer. It’s practically TOUCHING the other leg. Heel goes down. Bend your left leg more.
Surely you jest, I think.
The best way I can describe the stiffness in my ankle is that it feels like someone stuffed a bunch of Styrofoam inside of it. But I did what he instructed, and this little tiny stretch for my calf/ankle made me see white spots in front of my eyes. I take a deep breath. Are you OK? he asks. Oh yes, fine. (No, actually, I’m dying, but I know there are Doctors just on the other side of the office who can help if I actually collapse.)
Other fun first week exercises included the “stair stretch”, where I gripped the railing so hard, I’m fairly certain there was an imprint of it on each palm.
By the end of of the first week, I graduated to one crutch. By the second day of week 2, I was using a cane. I still did not have enough strength to push through my foot when I walked, and it still gave me some pain. There were more standing exercises, I started to get to know some of the “regulars” who came at the same time I did – and it was starting to be (sort of) fun.
My favorite P.T. buddy is “hip man”. He fractured his hip several weeks ago, and is WAY ahead of me in terms of mobility and endurance. We have the same therapist, so as we are given the next excruciating exercise, we give each other the nod. I got you. As I lean over the table trying to eek out another quarter inch stretch in the back of my calf, (and trying not to weep) – he is practicing a dance-like movement where he has to lift his leg and raise his hip repetitively.
He shakes his head. I feel like an idiot when I do this. He stops, then starts again.
No, really, I feel like Richard Simmons. This is ridiculous.
I laugh. You look great! Own it. Pretend you’re dancing to Madonna.
He keeps trying. He’s not convinced.
Each week, I meet someone new, and a new set of strengthening exercises that are destined to kill me are introduced. They put me on the “real” bikes, and added resistance. I pedal next to a soccer player – he is there for a hamstring injury. We talk soccer – he seems impressed that I know anything about soccer. Ha! Then I go off to do my heel rises where I can barely get my right foot to leave the ground, and he starts doing all sorts of sideways walks with a band tied around his legs. He does this so effortlessly, I am not sure soccer guy is actually injured.
Soon, I start to notice that other people have nice heating pads on their injuries, or are having ultrasound, and their therapists are gently stretching them. I start to get jealous. I don’t have any heating pads, I only have painful exercises, sometimes metal tools that are dug into the back of my leg to “loosen up” the soft tissue, and foam rollers. This ankle stuff sucks.
Week 4, I am getting stronger, walking on my own – I can do 45 heel rises, I am still pathetically not even close to a “releve” (ballet term) that I could feel proud of, but I can actually do it, so I’m just going to be OK with that. My therapist starts trying some ultrasound on my soft tissue and tendons that are still giving me pain.
YES! You mean I finally get to lie down, and it’s actually sort of pleasant with a little warm roller that shoots mild electric waves into my ankle and IT FEELS BETTER WHEN IT’S DONE? SIGN. ME. UP.
Now almost 6 weeks in, I am now probably nearing the end of my time in P.T. and I am feeling a mix of relief and wistfulness. It’s a nice little community of people, all of whom are in the midst of a struggle. No matter how bad I am feeling, there is someone else there who has it worse. I felt a bit connected/bonded to everyone because no matter what the injury, or what stage we are in, we’re all there with a common goal. As I took my turn this past week doing sideways walks with a band tied around my legs (crab walks, I like to call them) – another woman doing arm stretches looked at me and said: I could never do that. I would fall over. I responded: Well, on my fourth time back, watch. I might.
But, 3 weeks ago, I could never have tied a band around my legs and tried to do anything. So, I’m grateful for my progress. Even though it’s truly been a blend of torture, bliss, frustration, euphoria, pain, and healing, I have worked hard, and it’s taught me a little more about my resilience, and brought me back to a familiar “self”. While I was traveling for work, I did all of my exercises in the hotel room so I wouldn’t lose any ground, reminding me that I am capable, competent, and I can still dig into my competitive, motivated, physical spirit.
I am definitely going to join “hip man” with his Richard Simmons exercises before I leave.
(But ankles stills suck).