Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Three weeks and counting ...

I am entering the fourth week of rehab after a climbing fall left me with one good leg and a  torn ACL and meniscus in the other. The force of the impact shredded the cartilage on the end of my femur, and life as I knew it came to an immediate screeching halt. I am only 25, but bare bone is creating friction in my right knee joint as we speak. I know this, because i have seen pictures and I can feel it. To combat the immediate onset of arthritis, I have been sentenced to eight weeks on crutches at my parents house in Wisconsin.

Bam ... Splat ... CRUNCH ...  I knew my ACL was gone at the moment of impact. My knees have always been weaker than the rest of me. My three reconstructive knee surgeries will attest to that. However, my ONE goal for this climbing trip was to stay healthy and unhurt. This short jaunt to Mexico was only meant to bide some time until my real project could be attempted with the first warm days of spring. I was so close to sending that it hurts me now to think about it.

Penoles, Mexico is a beautiful area. Relatively pristine and undeveloped, there are miles of untouched highball boulders. Not exactly my area of excellence. I prefer a nice soft catch on a rope and trad gear, but here I was in Mexico for a week. If nothing else, I was at least going to soak up some sun!

All went well until our last day there. One bad fall, one misplaced pad ... and everything changed ...

I tried to see a doctor in Boulder, CO. Unfortunately, with no insurance, I would have to wait two weeks to even have a financial aid appointment. After that, I could schedule a visit with a doctor, who could then refer me to an orthopedic surgeon. I knew what was wrong with me and who I needed to see, but the process was going to take forever.

Patience is not one of my virtues. I would like to think that it is, but it is not.
So instead, the dreaded call to my father ...

I waited until I had exhausted all other options. However, things were looking grim.
As the chief Medical Officer at a hospital in Green Bay, my dad has connections with all of the doctors in the area. Maybe he could help me out. Even if I left town with a $20,000 hospital bill, at least I would be on the road to recovery. I knew I needed surgery, and I wanted to have it as soon as possible. I am not one to ask for help from anyone, especially my parents, so this was a very difficult decision.

It took two days to get to Boulder, where I quickly packed up the van and started the trek across the great Plains. Incredibly strong crosswinds and a nasty Nebraska blizzard made the gling slow. I crashed at a random gas station in the middle of nowhere ... hugging Charlie (my puppy) tightly to stay warm. The next (my fourth) consecutive day on the road was a test of will power. The swelling in my knee had become crippling. Without its elevation, I could feel the blood pooling in my bad leg. There was only so much pain I could take.

However, two days later, I was in my dad's office in the top floor hospital administration suite. I was about to meet with one of the top knee surgeons in the country. Talk about quick service... after four days in a car, I was glad to just be at home again. It had been two years since I set foot in Wisconsin. 

Because of the extent of damage to my knee, I have been left to motor around on crutches. No weight bearing activities are allowed. Even this, however, doesn't guarantee a full recovery. Cartilage unfortunately does not grow back.

Immediately after surgery it was easy to stay off the leg. The pain and swelling kept me pretty immobile. But now, after three weeks, it is becoming increasingly hard to rely on them. I can bear weight without pain (yes, i've been a bad patient) ... and it kills me that my dog is terrified of the 'big bad sticks' that keep trying to take her out. 

My parents have been incredible through all of this. They have helped out as much as they can, but at the same time, have left me to be an adult and take care of myself. For now, I am just waiting ... waiting to heal, waiting to get back out west, waiting for something to change ... I have become a prisoner in a cell without bars. Along with the challenge of waiting, comes the challenge of learning to accept help from my folks. It took a huge swallowing of pride to come home.

Life, things, people ... they just seem to move slower here ... maybe due to the below-freezing temperatures. I am used to living in the van, running free, doing whatever i want, whenever I want to do it. But it has been a treasure for me to come back home at 25 yrs. old and have the opportunity to just hang out with my parents like i never have before. I love having a beer with my dad when he gets home from work in the evening... and the three of us have formed a nightly ritual of exchanging back scratches while watching bad TV. My only complaint is the local news which they insist on watching every day, even though the topics of discussion never seem to change. I swear that the newscasters never talk about anything other than the Packers, the weather, or the recession!

All in all, i am content. The closest I get to climbing these days is the pull-up bar in the basement and the hangboard that my father so graciously hung in my bedroom. But i know that someday soon I will be back at it, so I plan to treasure this time that i have at home, as boring as it might be. Friends have come out of the woodwork to let me know they are thinking of me, and it is always good to take some time off and explore other facets of life. Check out the last painting i finished!