30 Days Out

Well, today marks one month from the date of my ankle surgery.  It has not been easy.

It’s odd to say that, by the way.  As I constantly remind myself, what I have experienced is hardly the most serious kind of surgery, and the prognosis is far from grim.  I don’t have heart disease.  I don’t have cancer.  My life, for the most part, will not be permanently altered by this procedure.  However, at this point, thirty days out from the procedure itself, I still cannot walk.  Showering remains an infrequent and sporadic luxury.  I am still sleeping—living, really—in an immobilizing boot.  Ambien has helped, but not as much as I would like.  On most nights, I wake suddenly at about 2:00 am, the heel of my battered foot pressing uncomfortably against the back of the boot.  I will then usually lie awake until somewhere around 5:00 am, when my body will finally submit to exhaustion.  I’ll then wake anywhere from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, groggy, unshowered, and generally feeling like an undisciplined college student after a bender of Jello shots and tequila.  I’m too old for this shit.

Or, actually, I’m too young for this shit.  Walking one-legged in this kind of odd-looking prosthetic (pictures forthcoming) has done a number on my back.  I can’t seem to get the hang of how best to ambulate, so I now have a good amount of lower back pain.  Also, my right shoulder is sore mostly because I’ve sat in front of a computer for the better part of every day for the past fifteen years, and I have to use my right hand at waist level to stabilize the prosthetic that I can’t properly use.  If this is what the rest of my time is going to feel like, then I can honestly say that growing up is overrated.

I do quite enjoy the odd stares that I get from people when they see me on the sidewalk.  People cannot help but gawk at this peg-legged person hobbling toward them.  To be fair, though, it is probably really odd that I walk around shouting, “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”  I must find humor somewhere.

I also quite enjoy absolutely not getting out of the way of people who suffer from the most dangerous disease afflicting all of humanity: the inability to walk and talk on a cell phone without zig-zagging across the sidewalk like an asshole.  People get very embarrassed when they bump into a one-legged man who is walking on the correct side of the sidewalk.  People should get embarrassed when they do this.

(Also, people, stop spending your lives staring at screens all of the time.  Believe me, the possession of a phone does not make you cool, unique, or important.  In fact, it makes you exactly like most of the the rest of humanity: common, ordinary, and tragically uncool.  Watch where you are going.)

Everyone likes to joke about the vast quantities of “good drugs” that I must have been forced to consume in the wake of the surgery.  Yes, I was prescribed narcotic pain killers.  Yes, the pain has occasionally been immense.  But any reasonably good gen-Xer should know that narcotics are no fun at all.  I weaned myself off of them as quickly as I possibly could.

On the flipside, people are horrified by the scarring on my ankle.  I’m not.  Wounds are signs of the body’s lived history.  I have lived.  I am alive.  My scars are kind of cool, I think.

image of Joseph P Fisher's right ankle with surgical scars
Progress. Swollen, Scarred Progress

The part of all of this that does warrant some additional, genuine, not snarky inquiry is physical therapy.  I have been to physical therapy before, and I am in physical therapy now, and I remained unconvinced of its effectiveness and of its ethics.  Believe me, I want it to work—I need it to work—but I just do not know what it accomplishes beyond extracting large sums of money from me and generating enormous profits for all manner of medical corporations.  In just the small amount of appointments I have had, I have already paid out of pocket what some Americans earn in an entire week.  I’m also certain that these “services”—ice, heat, stretches that I do on my own in a corner—have been billed at a rate comparable to a small country’s GDP.

I’m also fairly suspicious of the softer-seeming medicine that these places seem to practice.  Physical therapists are obsessed with “adjusting” and “stretching” and “reconfiguring” and “retraining” the body to do all kinds of things.  Does my ankle need to be “retrained” to move?  I don’t think it does.  I think my ankle joint is designed to do a particular thing, and it will do that particular thing without training.  Yes, I need help gaining full range of motion, but that’s sort of the point: I need help with that, which means I want hands-on attention, not a stretching regimen that I do in isolation in a fancy PT office for a few K an hour.

What’s also fascinating to me is that this distant medical expertise that truly doesn’t seem like it can penetrate the body’s actual functioning—one prior PT actually told me that the problem with my ankle was that it was “out of joint”; that person was completely wrong—is that this same authority seems to be able to see well into the future, untangling the messy threads of lived human experience.

Yes, I have been told more than once already that I might not be able to run ever again.

This is asinine.

I can’t even walk.  Literally, I have to walk before I can run, and running at best is months away.  What is the point of saying this to someone a mere month out from surgery?  I am not an amputee.  Amputees run.  Should I have just elected to have my foot sawed off because cartilage, as everyone loves to remind me, doesn’t grow back and therefore I am actually more incapacitated with a cartilage graft than I would be if I had only one foot?  Does that make even the slightest bit of sense?

The human body is messy and strange, and everyone’s is different.  I lived and ran on a damaged ankle, unknowingly, for at least six years.  I don’t see how anyone can know for certain that a surgically repaired ankle will somehow be able to handle less running than a busted one could.  What was the point of the surgery, then?  

To be clear, I trust doctors, and I am a good patient, and I will do what I am told.  But I am also going to take my new ankle for a spin at some point.  Otherwise, there is no point.  There’s a whole world out there, but don’t ever go outside, because something bad might happen.

Well, I could very easily trip and fall in my condo, on my crutches, hurting my convalescing ankle—or my other ankle—at any point during any day.  I see no reason to write off a future that has yet to be written.

If I need another ankle surgery in my 50s, I’ll deal with that then, if I am lucky enough to live that long in the first place.

December 7, 2018