I wish this could be another simple 10 days of recovery post like the one I wrote after One Day, but it’s a little more complicated and uncertain. This recovery is bound to take a bit longer, though I know I will come back stronger one day.
Day One: Sunday
After spending several hours hanging around the USA tent, with me lying around or sitting on a chair, and TSP trying to be helpful to other crews and runners, we all decided to head back to the hotel, clean up and rest for a bit, and return to the stadium before the finish. TSP carried me to the car, back to the hotel room, and everywhere else, hurting his back a bit in the process as well.
I cleaned up gingerly and lay in bed for a while, but was probably still too wired and filled with adrenaline to sleep. TSP talked to the hotel concierge and found out that there was a 24-hour pharmacy nearby that sold crutches- except they only had a small window that was open all the time– the front doors (and crutches) would not be available until 9am.
We had breakfast and piled back in to the car to the pharmacy. At this point it was excruciatingly painful to put any weight on the right leg, move it in certain ways, or get jostled while being picked up and put down. I don’t want to be dramatic and say it was beyond a 10 on the pain scale, so let’s just leave it at 10.
We arrived back at the stadium just in time for the final minutes of the race- everyone was picking up the pace and Katalin was running with the American flag! Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that the crutches would be useless to me- they were support crutches meant for people who can still use both their legs to some extent. So TSP carried me into the stadium and while Tiger summoned some of the event medical personnel who were able to carry me in a chair back to the USA tent, where most runners of my teammates were laying exhausted after their huge 24 hour efforts- women took the gold with the 1,2 and 4 individual rankings, while men moved up to 4th team with 2 guys in the top ten.
I was so proud to just be sitting around the gang, but then we learned that the 12:30 lunch had been canceled and the awards ceremony pushed back from 2pm to 4pm. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel in the meantime since that would mean more pain from being picked up and carried, and the Italian medical staff had mentioned that I could go to the hospital- where maybe I could borrow a wheelchair or crutches in time for the ceremony? Thus began my foray into the Italian health system.
Hey, at least it was free, and I was in the company of TSP, Tiger and Atsede. I was taken by ambulance to the Orthopedic Trauma Hospital, where they regularly see all sorts of gnarly alpine casualties, got an x-ray, an injection of anti-inflammatory in my butt, and, after the nurses saw how much I cried using the restroom afterwards, an IV full of paracetamol plus prescriptions for more. Alas, the drugs did nothing for me, there were no wheelchairs available (and all orthopedic stores were closed as it was Sunday) and it all took so long that I wound up missing the awards ceremony. The good news was that the x-ray came back clear- no fracture. What a relief.
This was by far the roughest day. The injury was fresh and painful, I was sleep-deprived, and the emotions were heavy- I cried in fear of the pain, heartbroken over the loss of a dream, and was moved to more tears by all the messages of concern and good wishes I received.
Day Two: Monday
By Monday morning TSP’s back was really hurting, but I came up with the idea of having two other guys carry me down to breakfast in one of the chairs from the hotel room. At least this way I was able to see some of my teammates downstairs before they left.
Afterwards TSP drove out to one of the orthopedic shops that the doctor at the hospital had referred us to and came back with both a wheelchair and big underarm crutches. Score! He said he had to negotiate the purchases using only the translation app on his phone, as the store people spoke no English. The wheelchair was just able to fit around the room and in and out of the bathroom of the very small hotel room, and I felt a huge sense of relief at not having to be picked up and put down any more. We celebrated with a fine dinner at a place called Opificio in Rivoli (the neighborhood closest to the hotel)- excellent pizza, steak and beer.
Day Three: Tuesday
Tuesday was our last full day in Italy, so we all wanted to do a little bit of sightseeing, something I really felt up for now that I was somewhat mobile. The bunch of us went to the original Eataly in Lignotto for lunch and souvenir shopping, and afterwards TSP wheeled me to through the nearby automotive museum while the others wound up walking all the way back to the hotel- about 8 miles! They still weren’t back when we were ready for dinner, which at the hotel’s suggestion this evening involved a twisty drive up into the real hill village of Rivoli where we had our most formal meal of the trip, complete with some wine. After this I was really too tired to pack much, or ask TSP to help me pack.
Day Four: Wednesday
Wednesday was our flight day. I was pretty nervous about how I was going to get on to the plane and survive an eight-hour flight without using the toilet, or what kinds of swelling and pain the trip would entail. Immediately after the race my right ankle had swollen up, and it remained while the rest of my right leg puffed up as well from a lack of circulation, especially the foot. My left leg was got puffy too- I felt like I had gone from being in the best shape of my life to a shapeless blob in a matter of days!
At least the acute and horrendous pain had eased off a little, so that I felt like I might be able to use the crutches. When I had first tried them on Monday, I still felt too much jostling in the right hip when I took a step with my left leg, but by Wednesday I could manage a bit if I was careful.
I needn’t have worried- the Alitalia and airport staff were extremely accommodating. An escort wheeled me to the plane, where I was boarded using a much smaller, aisle-accessible wheelchair. My seat was changed to one directly in front of the larger, accessible bathroom on the plane, which I was able to grasp and slide my way into, no problem.
Disembarking at JFK was the same deal- a smaller wheelchair was brought on to the plane and I was able to switch back into my own chair outside the airplane doors. I was whisked through immigration and customs and really appreciated the help in getting me home in a hurry.
I was also worried about how accessible my apartment would be- while I have plenty of space there are some tight hall areas and my bathroom is definitely too narrow for a wheelchair, plus I have a regular old bathtub. As it turned out it was fine- I could wheel close enough to the bathroom to use the doors and walls for support once I got in, and with the tub I just had to sit on the edge and lift my right leg in before continuing and standing on the left leg to shower.
Day Five: Thursday
By day five I felt comfortable enough on the crutches to largely ditch the wheelchair while at home. I felt much better being vertical than constantly seated.
Since I still couldn’t walk at all I decided to see a doctor in a hurry, so I went to an urgent care facility nearby. It was a nice day out so I thought I’d wheel myself half a mile to get some air, but I got exactly two blocks before my arms were exhausted, the way there was an uphill grade and the sidewalks were too cambered and uneven. I paused at the next bus stop and had my first ride strapped into the wheelchair section.
After I had fully explained my injury and shared the report and CD of the xray from Italy, the doctor ordered another x-ray because he was concerned about my inability to bear weight on the right leg, and he said sometimes a fracture doesn’t show up right away. Oh.
The new x-ray came back and the doctor indeed saw something there. It looked like a white band running laterally along the inner neck of the femur, but nothing like the femoral neck stress fracture images I later looked up on Google. Hmm. An MRI was ordered, which my insurance company luckily approved on the spot, and I got an appointment for it the following Monday.
Day Six: Friday
Friday I had scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor. Since I am fairly new to my insurance plan I figured I should see him before I start asking for referrals all the time.
The office was not far from my apartment but too far for me to wheel myself. Tiger and Dwight came to the rescue and took me over there and waited while I had my consultation, followed by a physical., with urine and blood samples and an EKG. The rest of me is in pretty good shape, resting heart rate of 40, blood pressure under 100/70. When my bloodwork comes back I find that everything is good overall- thyroid, cholesterol, Vitamin D, etc. all normal, and though my iron is still low, my ferritin is good and I’m not anemic.
While on the exam table, the doctor asked me to raise each leg as far up as possible. Left leg: no problem. Right leg: I hesitate, and then, it rises. It doesn’t hurt but there’s a little bit of residual achiness. Still, it feels like huge progress.
Day Seven: Saturday
I slept a lot this day. The leg felt better but I had come down with a cold over the previous days so I rested to get over it. My stomach started to bother me later in the day and continued to be a problem over the weekend. Bleh.
Since this injury I’ve had many dreams about about walking. The first night, I dreamed about hiking in Hong Kong with Maggie- I think we were doing a race of 2 25km loops, like PHUNT, except it was in the mountains of Hong Kong so we were hiking it. Subsequent dreams have been a lot less adventurous. Usually they simply involve me suddenly standing up and walking around the house without the crutches, or doing something mundane that is currently off-limits, like using my stepladder to get the paper towels out of the high cabinets in the kitchen.
Day Eight: Sunday
After staying inside all day on Saturday I’m feeling a little stir-crazy. It’s nice out. Everyone is running races. Boston is tomorrow and instead of running or cheering I’ll be getting an MRI. I’m better every day and there’s no pain, I feel almost as if I could just get up and start walking like in the dreams.
I’m very grateful for all of the messages of care and inquiries about my well-being. However, can’t say much before I get the MRI and see a specialist. I don’t want to speculate or worry needlessly, but I also have to mentally prepare myself for the chance that it could be a stress fracture in the neck of the femur, which is a pretty bad one to have. According to Google, it heals slowly and requires crutches for some time, and running could be off-limits for months. I think I could live without the running part (just barely) but not being able to walk around or do other activities would be a blow.
In today’s adventure, my friend Lori came over and took me to the Duane Reade across the street. Originally I planned to ask her wheel me over, but then I decided to try going the distance on the crutches while she helped with the basket and bags. Well, that was about the extent of my endurance for now. It was a bit of a workout.
Day Nine: Monday
I feel as if though I could almost walk, and I use the crutches more for support than to completely keep the weight off the right leg. After not taking any anti-inflammatories or painkillers on Sunday, I feel a bit achey and twingy, so I decide to go back on to them until I see a specialist. I know that if it’s a stress fracture, anti-inflammatories can stall the healing process, but I’m feeling like it’s a muscle tear which could continue to respond to the drugs. Anyways it is only a few more days until I see a doctor who can tell me what’s what.
At least, I hope it will just be a few days. While watching Boston online I started my search for a specialist. I call the Hospital for Special Surgery and am told the earliest appointment available is the end of June! Mt. Sinai tells me to call back on Friday for scheduling. I research a bunch of orthopedic surgeons in my insurance network but most seem to specialize in other areas: spinal injuries, shoulders and elbows, pediatrics… Finally I find a hip doctor and submit an online request for an appointment, but I’m worried that this could take a while.
Today is MRI day. My first. I’m expecting a lot of banging and clanging but I forget to bring earplugs., doh! The dream team of Dwight and Tiger pick me up by car to take me to my appointment, and they waited for me the whole time. Thank you so much.
I spent about an hour in the general waiting area before I was called back to the MRI section. There was a robe and a gown in the dressing room so I put the smaller robe on and then the larger gown on top- the lady who assisted me thought this was funny- I guess most people just wear the gown? After a short wait, the radiologist came and took me back into my MRI room, which was very spacious with a huge skylight above. For some reason I always pictured MRIs as taking place in much smaller subterranean rooms. We chatted about the source of my injury, running and ultras, as I got adjusted into the machine. I had to leave my metal crutches outside the room so this all required some careful maneuvering and near-walking on my part.
I lay still, had earplugs inserted and my feet taped together. Then I went in. Almost but not quite all the way in so it was never claustrophobic. I could always see the light of the room if I opened my eyes. I focused on staying perfectly still, breathing calm but shallow, and resisting the urge to pass any gas as I worried that might move my hips in some way. There was a lot of noise but not banging and clanging- it was far more space-age sounding whirls and beeps and honks. After 20 minutes or half an hour the radiologist returned and shifted my position so that my body was in a sort of side bend, like a parenthesis, and I went through another 15 minutes or so of the noise. There was an intercom system so I was told in advance how long each segment would last, anywhere from a few moments to a minute or three or five or six.
Day Ten: Tuesday
I woke up to the excellent news that Dr. Bharam, the hip specialist I’d requested an appointment with, would be able to see me the following day. That was a huge relief. It also meant I needed to have something to show him. I’d requested to have a copy of the MRI report mailed to me and was told it would take 3-4 business days, so I called the radiology department to see if it was possible to pick up results any sooner and was told I could come in and get a CD that very day. While I was out, I figured I would also stop by the urgent care center to get a copy of my xray images as well.
I took a taxi over to the east side but traffic was so bad that I requested to get off two blocks from the hospital and hopped over on my crutches, rather than circling around by car for another 15 minutes. It was a beautiful day out, and I could make out runners in the park. Someday I’ll be back. To walk this longer distance, I alternated taking 5-10 larger and faster (and more tiring) steps hopping on my left leg, with my right leg off the ground, with sets of shorter steps using the right leg for light support and balance.
Down at radiology, I got the CD and saw that there was also a printed report inside. I sat down and to look it over. I had to read it several times: stress fracture, stress fracture, stress fracture.