Monday, August 13, 2012

Recovery Mode



Any athlete will tell you, the first question on their mind after an injury/illness/surgery is how long it will take to recover. Athletes are movers. Sitting around “getting better” is not compatible with the agenda of training. I am no different than anyone else; one of my priorities has been to start training again. And why shouldn’t it be? I am a self professed exercise addict.

Prior to traveling to Minneapolis for surgery, I emailed the surgeon on a few occasions to get a better understanding of what my recovery would entail. The gist of his responses was, “It depends on what I find during surgery.” How vague is that? After surgery, when he presumably gathered all of the information he could possibly need to answer my whine, “When can I swim and run?” all he could muster was “You can probably start working out next week. Let pain be your guide,” and then he set me free.

My immediate thought was, how can you give that much latitude to a person who was running 80-90 miles a week with a 2 inch neuroma on an intercostal nerve? Clearly, my perception of pain is skewed and I need something more concrete than “let pain be your guide.”  I think the bottom line is that he really had no clue. First, he has never worked on an OCD athlete and second, he has only performed this surgery on one other occasion. He just had no reference based on prior experience and rather than admit that he didn’t know he gave me the standard pain as your guide answer.

If this Weeble had curlier hair and blue eyes, it could be me!
I experienced several unpleasant after effects to the surgery. I was bloated and swollen to the point of feeling like a Weeble. I sent a picture of my surgical wound to a friend. He texted, “Holy shit…You look fat, lol.” Thanks, buddy, that’s a real pick me up. I most assuredly did not LOL when I could barely button up my pants. The rib pain felt very similar to a broken rib. I had intense pain upon laughing, coughing, sneezing and trying to get out of bed. These sensations have dissipated much more quickly than a broken rib, though. And, of course, there was the discomfort from being cut open. The nerve pain that ailed me for almost three years is noticeably absent.

Notice the post-surgical muffin top
Here’s the thing. On the one hand, my desire to recover and let this surgery work is paramount. On the other hand, I detest sitting around. After a certain amount of time doing nothing I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust. I tried to compromise by integrating moving with sleeping. I offset taking a walk with taking a nap. And, there is no question, movement has aided in my recovery by increasing my range of motion and helping prevent the accumulation of scar tissue. And, as an aside, I just happened to read an article this morning that showed exercise helps with wound healing in mice by upregulating blood flow which delivers more oxygen to the wound (this is probably true in humans too, but it is really hard to find volunteers that are willing to participate in a study that requires them to get deep slices all over their body).

The day after surgery, my parents and I walked a little bit. By the fourth day after surgery, I got on the elliptical (without using the arms) for 20 minutes and took a lovely walk around Lake Calhoun (about 3 miles). Eight days after surgery I ran 30 minutes on the Alter G at 70% of body weight and a very easy pace. I have taken several hikes on terrain of varying difficulty. Today I did my first swim, 1000 meters at a snail’s pace. Most importantly, I started back doing rehabilitative stretching and exercises to regain flexibility, muscle balance and strength.

Each step of the way, I have asked myself two questions. 1. How much does this hurt? 2. Is the pain level increasing during a given “workout.” If the pain level topped out at a 3 and never increased beyond that then I felt that I was in no danger of damaging myself. Before each workout, I set parameters in terms of time or distance and speed. No matter how good I have felt, and no matter how tremendous my desire to push beyond my preset limits, I have stopped as planned which is no easy task for somebody who is used to pushing the envelope.

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