It was during a game of badminton with my wife when I made that innocent lunge forward for the shuttlecock and my Achilles snapped. That explosive forward motion I made was accompanied by a loud *SNAP* sound and it felt very much like I had just been hit hard on the back of my leg with a football. Imagine therefore my surprise when I turned round and saw nobody, except my brother who was watching from the sidelines.
“Was that your leg?” He said, looking ever so pale.
“Shit, yes, I think it was” I replied, in shock and confusion before falling into a crumpled heap on the floor.
The next few minutes were weird. There was no pain, but when I touched my leg, where I would usually feel an Achilles tendon, I felt nothing except soft tissue, my finger just sank in. For 56 years there had always been a strong tendon which connected my calf muscle to my foot but now it was gone.
My wife had the foresight to call the physio who promptly arrived with a bag of ice.
“If you heard a SNAP it’s almost certainly your Achilles” she confirmed.
“Shit, yes, it went SNAP” I replied.
I went straight to A&E where I had a mid-pandemic 4.5hr wait to see a consultant who told me I had certainly damaged my Achilles, but they couldn’t confirm the extent of the damage until they did a scan. They couldn’t do a scan that Saturday so they put me in a slab cast and told me to come back on Monday.
When you damage your Achilles they set your foot in a rather severe downward angle, making your leg and foot a straight line (or as near as they can get to one). That shortens the Achilles which makes the task of tendon reconnection/regrowth more likely. Having your foot set in this downward position also makes it impossible to weight bear. There’s also a significant enough risk of DVT/clotting for them to mandate daily blood thinner injections into my stomach.
On the Monday the ultrasound scan confirmed a full rupture of my Achilles. It had snapped in two. There are two courses of action – surgery or non-surgery. I was told I was in the latter camp, I would be left to self heal. Cynics might say that’s the cheapest option, but surgery does seem to carry some risks, and apparently my tear was a good tear (I felt so proud) making self heal a more likely successful outcome.
I wore the initial slab cast for a week before being transferred into a full leg cast. Crutches were my new best friend even though we didn’t get along too well. Non weight bearing crutch walking is hellish, especially so if you are carrying weight (check!) and don’t have very good upper body strength (check!).
For a month I was completely dependent on my family, principally my wife. Non-weight bearing crutch walking requires two hands at all times, which means you can’t make a cup of tea or carry ANYTHING. I wasn’t just reliant on people cooking for me, I also needed them to fetch things to me and take them away again. It was like being a teenager. Walking to the bathroom was a monumental effort but was the only thing I could do unaided. Sleeping is hellish and injecting myself daily with blood thinners is scary and something I will never get used to.
I still have a long way to go. I must wear the boot for at least five more weeks, removing a heel wedge every two weeks to gradually lengthen the (hopefully self repairing) Achilles tendon. The boot must be worn 24hrs a day (although I can remove it to wash the leg/foot) but that’s the only relief I get. I still have to administer daily blood thinner injections into my belly.
In five more weeks, depending on progress, I may transition out of the boot into more normal footwear, hopefully dispensing altogether with the crutches (and blood thinners), but then and only then does the serious work of rehab/physio begin. Google is replete with horror stories of people who re-rupture after a break because they didn’t rehab correctly. Muscles waste quickly, my injured leg is already noticeably thinner and weaker – I can’t tense my calf muscle any more; it feels more like a bag of mashed potato than a muscle and it’s only week five.
I’m having to learn to be patient. I’m also deeply appreciative of what a privilege it is to be healthy. I desperately miss going outdoors, and whilst I deeply appreciate the care I am receiving, I hate being so dependent on others.
Running is my big love but that’s not even a remote possibility for a long time yet, and aged 56 there’s a chance I may never run again. That’s an awfully depressing thought, but if I regain enough strength and mobility to just be able to go for a walk, that would be truly magnificent and I would grab that opportunity with both hands right now. To be able to walk is to be able to be independent, to do things for oneself. If I can walk then I can drive and if I can walk and drive then it means I have independence and free will.
At the moment all privileges have been revoked and I remain a prisoner, caged in by my own inability to walk, all because of a bloody shuttlecock. However, I am still here, I’m not in much pain and I am lucky enough to have people who help me and care for me. So whilst I get frustrated watching the summer pass by outside, I really do have a lot to be thankful for.
None of us know what tomorrow will bring, so the best thing we can all do is just live the heck out of right now. Squeeze the juice out of today because when you think of it, that’s all we can ever do.