Injury Log Part III – Learning to Walk Again

I have to confess the title is overly dramatic. It’s not like I forgot how to walk or something like that.

Week 1

The objective for this first week was to achieve maximum extension and a 90 degree flexion. I wasn’t aware of this, but after surgery, the knee is locked. I wasn’t able to bend it more than 30 degrees. Nothing painful, just the knee deciding to stop being a joint. Since humans are pretty lazy when it comes to performing hundreds upon hundreds of boring repetitions, I was recommended a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. Just strap my knee in, set the extension and flexion degrees, press start and read/watch a movie/whatever. The machine would then bend my knee back and forth, slowly increasing its flexibility. Spent around 6 hours every day on this machine.

I was limping around using 2 crutches. When you’re one legged, distances expand. Crossing the street for some food feels like an expedition. A long and arduous expedition, judging by my frequent stops to recover my breath.

Searched for “climbing stairs on crutches” on Youtube. Seems easier than I thought.

Week 2

Being one legged obviously complicates a number of tasks. For example:
– laying on the floor or sitting up. Since a large part of the day had me lying on the floor on the CPM machine, I needed a way to get down or up easily using just one leg. Initially I used to transition using a chair: sit on a chair, then do a triceps dip to get to the floor. Later on I came up with a technique to get down/up without needing a chair. It’s sort of like a one legged push up. Ninja material!
– taking a shower. Before my first post-op shower, I had to seriously think this through. One problem is I have to keep my right leg off the ground. Ideal would have been a chair, but I didn’t have any waterproof one, so I went for the physically exhausting solution of balancing myself on one leg. The second problem is keeping the stitches dry. I’m very satisfied with my approach here: used some plastic wrapping foil around my leg.
– wiping my butt. Can you wipe your butt while keeping one leg perfectly straight and off the ground? Of course you can’t! So when you see crippled people, treat them with the respect somebody with better coordination than you deserves!
– moving a plate of food from one room to another, while using both arms for your crutches. I just don’t do it. No trivial solution. If my life depended on it, I’d leave the plate on the floor and push it with one of the crutches.

Week 3

Took the bandages off. Yay, no more wrapping foil showers! This is also when I was able to get a good look at how my knee looked like. With 5 cuts, it seemed like somebody went digging for treasure using a very bad map. “Treasure buried near the knee”. It was still pretty swollen, but after this point it started resembling a normal knee again.

My balance was improving a lot. Shaolin level. I could even manage without crutches, hopping around the house like a rock star.

Week 4

Starting to use my right leg when walking. Initially, with just a 30% load. To understand what a 30% load felt like, I used a scale. I increased the load steadily day after day, while my leg got used to supporting me again. The quads were visibly affected by the lack of activity. The circumference of my right leg above the knee was 44 cm, compared to a 46.5 for the left one.

Don’t imagine using my right leg again was easy. The sole felt like in pins after 3 weeks floating. My muscles could barely support that 30% load. Each step I made was slow and calculated, to make sure I put enough weight on the leg, without pushing it too much.

My knee flexing exercises went beyond 90 degrees and I discovered the continuous passive motion machine maxed out at 110.

Week 5

I kept increasing the load I put on my leg. As the muscles grew stronger, I was able to ditch one of the crutches. It felt awesome! I could finally carry a plate of food around without having to push it on the floor with my crutches.

It was my last week on the CPM machine. As boring as it is lying on my back for up to 6 hours every day while having my knee flexed for me (don’t imagine anything fast, it’s like 1 revolution per minute), I think I grew a little fond of this activity. I guess it’s a somewhat relaxing. It’s also how I saw the whole Giro d’Italia.

I managed a physical feat: putting on a pair of pants without having to sit down. That required balancing on one leg – the injured leg! – for about 2 seconds. Awesome, right? Sure, they were just a pair of shorts, but I’ll move on to long pants in no while!

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