The Road to Recovery

Hobbling by the Lake
It’s going to take a while for my knee to heal. I don’t intend to be inactive while that happens.

I promise not to bore you in future with post after post about how difficult recovery is. I just thought it would be good to record my experience of this injury now while the memory is fresh.

Next article is about an adventure involving Mountain Bikes in the Connondale Range – just not with me on the bike πŸ™‚

Day 1.

The emeergency department sent me home with pair of crutches, a compression bandage and some powerful pain killers. They told me to take it easy until they find out exactly what’s damaged in my knee from the MRI that I’m due to have in a couple of days.

I tried taking one pain killer before bed. It worked really well, knocked me out, but I woke up as soon as it wore off after six hours. I decided since they’re addictive I wouldn’t take more than one per day. I sill managed to get back to sleep, but I have to sleep on my back. It’s impossible to lay on my side because of the pain. Any sideways pressure on my knee is excruciating. I get around on two crutches holding my bad leg off the ground, which is really clumsy – especially on stairs, and especially going down.

Getting around with two crutches is frustrating because I can’t carry anything. When I prepared my breakfast, I couldn’t get it to the table, so I grabbed a chair, put my bowl, cup, glass and coffee on the chair, and dragged it the table. It worked well – nice to know my brain still works πŸ™‚

Selfie in the Grass
BugLilly and Jade
I was determined not to feel sorry for myself, and arranged with Lilly to go on a short photography expedition in our garden. We both had a great time! It’s great experience the fact that it doesn’t matter where we are, we can still discover fascinating things. It’s all how we look at the world.

Day 2.

Long Road to Recovery

I took one more pain killer before bed as directed. The same thing happened as the night before. Blissful sleep for 5 or 6 hours and then wide awake. I’ve decided I’ll give the pain killers a miss. I think I can sleep without them, and I’d rather not get hooked on them.

I didn’t want to sit around all day so I decided to go for a hobble round the block on the crutches. Lilly decided to come with me. This was much harder than it seems. Using crutches requires a whole lot of different muscles which I don’t have. Lilly took it really slowly with me, and I managed to do 1.5km but it took me mover an hour. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got back home. At one stage, Lilly stood by the side of the road and clapped as I went by. She made me feel like a giant.

Day 3.
Knee MRI
My first night without pain killers went really well. I actually slept better. I found that I didn’t dream while I was on the drugs. When I stopped taking the pain killers, the vivid dreams came flooding back – like there was a deficit of dreams that needed to be made up.

Liz drove me in to get my MRI today, and the diagnosis is pretty bad. I’ve torn all the ligaments in my knee. The ones on either side (which should heal in a month or two) and my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) which holds my knee together. That won’t repair. I’ll need reconstructive surgery to fix it. The doctor arranged for me to see an orthopedic surgeon the same day. Liz kindly drove me into the city in rush-hour to see him. She’s amazing. I have no idea how I could organize all this without her help.

The orthopedic surgeon told me that I’ll need to wait a month or two to let the lateral ligaments (the ones on the side of my knee) to heal. After that they’ll do surgery to reconstuct my knee. It’s a really clever operation where they harvest part of my hamstring, thread it through artificially drilled holes in my thigh and shin, then screw the new artificial ligament to my bones. If all goes well it should be stronger than before, but will take at least 6 months to heal after the operation.

The specialist arranged for me to get a knee brace. It prevents my knee from flexing or extending too far, and (importantly) protects my knee from sideways pressure.

He also arranged for me to see a physio. I was really keen to find out what physical activities I could do while injured, and the physio is supposed to be the person who can advise on that sort of thing.

Day 4.
Long Road to Recovery

The knee brace is amazing. It actually allowed me to put my bad leg on the ground and let it take some pressure without any pain.

I tried going for another stroll around the block, and what took me over an hour last time took me less than 45 minutes today.

I still managed to keep a positive outlook on everything, and even spoke with a friend who’s into Kayaking about the possibility of going for a paddle on the river with him at some stage.

Day 5.

Liz drove me down to see the physio today. He gave me some exercises to increase the range of motion in my knee. I spoke to him about the whole recovery process.

I enthusiastically asked him “What can I do to maintain the muscle tone in my injured leg?”

That’s when it hit me:

“You can’t” he said. “You’re going to go backwards before you can start going forwards. You’ll lose most of the muscle mass in your leg. AFter the operation you can slowly work on rebuilding it, but it will take a long time.”

This was really bad news.

One of the great joys in my life has been improving the strength in my legs, and to use that strength to take me to wonderful places on my bike – up hills, on day-long adventures to far away spots. It was really difficult to think that I’d lose that.

That night I my optimistic veneer started to crumble. I was a difficult person to be around at home. And for the first time since I can remember I cried like a baby when I went to bed.

Day 6.
The Road to Recovery The Road to Recovery

A few years ago, one of my kids gave me Paul de Gelder’s book “No Time for Fear” as a Christmas present. He lost his leg and hand in a shark attack. I decided that perhaps now was a good time to start reading the book, and thought to myself – if he recovered from losing a leg and hand, who am I to complain about a temporary setback?

It helps to get things in perspective πŸ™‚

Day 7.
New wheels

Liz and I drive manual transmission cars. I can’t operate a clutch while my knee is in this condition, so my neighbor, Mike, kindly agreed to swap cars with me. I’ve got his automatic Holden Ute for a couple of weeks while he drives my manual Toyota Hiace Van. I’m mobile again πŸ™‚

Neil by the Lake
I decided to go for a walk along one of the tracks I’d normally ride my bike along, and today I chose to walk by the shoreline of the dam.

It was slow going – this was the first time I’d tried walking on an uneven rocky surface. But I managed it fine, and was able to take a few photos as well.

The world is still beautiful – I’m just learning to see that beauty in new ways πŸ™‚

All up, I walked 4km this week about 3 hours. That must be a world record in slowness!

No tough-o-meter for this weeks activities!

I’ll have a real mountain-biking story for you in the next day or so.

17 Replies to “The Road to Recovery”

  1. Hang in there Neil! I would suggest that the tough-o-meter is actually off the scale. The fitness will be re-gained as it was first time around, just get your knee right first.

  2. Hi Neil,

    Yeah, knees are bad things to break, mostly as they’re all ligaments. I did my ACL and both menisci 20ish years ago. Back then they cut the middle of your patella tendon out and used that. Recovery will be tough, but you will get through it. I hated the pain my physio inflicted, but know it was for the better in the end.

    Every rehab and reconstruction is different. Mine operation wasn’t done as well as it could have been, so I haven’t really been able to run much without pain since, but walking and riding has been fine. (I ended up gravitating to riding as it was the least stressful on my knee.)

    All I can say is you’ll get through it, it’s just a tough road while it’s happening.

    1. G’day Fabian
      Thanks for sharing your experience.
      Yeah – it’s tough not being able to do what I love, but hopefully it will all work out in 6 months or so.
      It’s great to hear that you still ride. Do you use Clip-in pedals still? I’m a bit worried I won’t be able to twist my ankle out of the clips any more.

      1. Yeah, still use clip ins (well “still” is a misnomer, as I never had them before I busted my knee)

        I do run them reasonably loose on the MTB (using Shimano PD-M540’s and they work fine). If they do catch when I’m clipping out it can tweak my knee a little, but 99% of the time it’s fine. Had quite a few stacks where my feel have just clipped themselves out (or I’ve done it subconsciously, who can tell) and had no issues.

        I run Shimano PD-R540 on the road bike and the left one (my bad knee) does bind a little more than I’d like lately when clipping out, and that hurts a bit. I’ll just have to strip it down and get it running smooth again and all will be good.

        Short answer, you should be fine. Twist is coming from your hip, so as long as your leg is extended, and you keep your knee strong (i.e. muscles engaged) it should work.

        1. Fabian
          How did you cope???? What sorts of physical activity did you do to try and hang on to some physical fitness before and after your operation?
          How long did it take before you were back on the bike like before?
          Really appreciate your feedback, mate. I’ve been wanting to pick the brains of someone who has been through this.
          Everything is so slow. Going up stairs, getting dressed, moving around – it’s very frustrating.

  3. Hey Neil,
    I was lucky enough to grab your old Garmin with what to me was full of invaluable epic biking tours. I was a single track addict until I started to read your blogs and stories on MTB Dirt. These fantastic journeys that you and your fellow riders had ridden, mapped and photograph was strangely intriguing. The stories even came with a Neillius tuff-o-metre rating which quite frankly looked like it was way out of whack – 90% of them as far as I could see were up in the 9 out of ten category. You did have open invitations to join you on these epic rides but quite frankly my fitness was near where up to scratch. I recently tried one of your mini 2 and half hour epics – awesome!!!! by the time i was finished I was stuffed but elated at the same time.
    I’m sorry to hear of your injuries and can really relate to missing out on something that you have such a passion for – Hope your recovery is short and swift – in the mean time I’ll work on my fitness and when you get back on the bike I’ll look forward to your next adventure, I might be able to keep up with you. look forward to hearing about your off bike adventures and recovery stories

  4. I’m sorry to hear of your injuries and can really relate to missing out on something that you have such a passion for – I to have been off the bike for six months now. Still got about four-five months to go.Physio hell to start with but does get better.Hope your recovery is short – . look forward to hearing about your off bike adventures and recovery stories.Maybe one day i can join you one of your mtb rides.Cheers Kenny

  5. Hi Neil,

    I tore my ACL in 2005 with some cartilage damage as well coming off my bmx. You’ll be happy to know a 4-5 months after surgery the physio recommended riding to strengthen my knee – just gently of course – but it was such a joy to be pedaling at all!

    I’ve since become a massive fan of yoga, it has had an incredibly positive impact on my body and mind (and knee) so much so that I’m training to become a Yoga teacher πŸ™‚

    Hope your recovery is swift and look forward to joining you for another ride soon!


    1. G’day Rick
      Thanks so much for sharing. One of the most awesome feats I ever saw was you nailing the climb up to the lookout in the Glasshouse Mts.
      To know that you recovered from an ACL injury to be able to do that gives me great hope.
      Perhaps I should give yoga a go too.

  6. Hi Neil,

    All the best with te recovery. I have occasionally read your blog with interest and just noticed the recent accident.

    I fractured my patella in 2007 and had to give up running. In 2009 I fractured the tibial plateau on the same knee. In 2009 I took up riding and not a day goes by when I don’t think about my sore knee. My quad is nowhere near the same size as he other, but I can now ride decent distances including up Mt Nebo. I climbed Mt Barney last year but doubt I will do that again as the knee hurt too much.

    I think you’ll be fine but brace yourself for a long recovery. Don’t be afraid to use the harder pain killers post surgery. They make them for a reason and help you when the physio requires you to push through pain.

    1. G’day Ben
      Thanks for the info.
      My left quad is slowly wasting away – it’s heart breaking really. But on the up-side (yes there is one) I’m getting some range of movement back in my knee, which means I can turn the cranks over on a stationary bike and exercise those wimpy muscles again. It also means I’m closer to getting the ACL surgery.
      It’s a bit disconcerting that your quad still hasn’t fully recovered after 4 years. How do football players do it? Do you have to join some secret club before recovery becomes easier / quiicker? πŸ™‚

  7. I think the quad has not come back to size because a) I’m a skinny bugger and don’t put on muscle quickly b) I have arthritis and clicking in my knee so I favour my good knee to avoid pain ( I have been told I will need a knee replacement perhaps at 50) and c) the athletes get to concentrate on their rehab full time probably with some injections that we non athletes cannot get. I did say to my orthopod on more than one occasion that I wouldn’t have minded a steroid prescription to recover quicker. He told me to start cycling – which I did and now love.

    You may recover quicker and better because the injury does not have bone or cartilage impact.

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