Surgery Update 2 (more images, some gnarly)

Ding-dong, the witch is dead, the ExternalFixatorNastyMedievalTortureDevice is off my leg, off my leg, off my leg. No longer am I the dog with the lampshade over his head, bumping into things everywhere I go. I’m in a cast, more mobile, and the hardware store that is my lower right leg contains three plates and twenty screws (though I count fewer on the films). Now, I must wait. Wait for the bone to re-grow, and wait for it to fill-in the areas where it went ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It’s weird, in that my un-trained eye has seen far more gruesome-looking X-rays. But I guess the consistently grim words I hear about mine relate to the location and complexity of the fracture, not necessarily the big-looking damage. Things like the joint surface being destroyed, and that powder-back-to-bone stuff.

“I’m not going to lie,” Melinda, Dr. Desai’s excellent and normally cheerful P.A. told me at my post-op appointment Friday, her voice turning somber. “You’ve suffered a devastating injury.” She explained what they found while doing this third, and hopefully final, surgery – things like a bone “nugget” from the distal end of my tibia that had rammed several inches upward into the solid bone. They fished it out and re-placed it. The anterior tibia had this bone plate of sorts, visible in an image I posted after the last surgery update, that had split down the middle and crumpled inward, each half partially overlapping the other. But overall the surgery went well, and they put the big pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle, and the dust particles should eventually calcify into real bone. And, critically, they made the joint surface as smooth as possible.

“A complete recovery to your previous level would be a champion event,” Melinda continued. I know they give you the most conservative outlook, and I’m trying not to over-think it. I sense that I might be coming down off some weird initial high, as the short-term events (surgery, removal of the X-fix, etc.) pass and the epic grind ahead becomes my immediate reality.

I should be allowed to walk in three months. PT and stationary bike before then – can’t wait. Bone growth takes time. I understand, and I will stay strong. Melinda optimistically says we should shoot for me to do some hiking by mid-summer, and some easy climbs by fall. Jesus (you said it, man). Of course I expect to progress much faster – as if I can control how fast my bones re-grow – and at some point I’ll explain to her how things like overhanging top-roping in the gym actually present very little risk to my leg. But that can wait.

An a voice shouted down: Walk! I commandeth you, Walk!

Right now, I’ve got a month in a cast, but I can do push-ups (with only my good leg touching), hangboard (spotted or close to the ground), and activities designed to eliminate fall risk and put zero pressure on my leg.

They released me after surgery Wednesday night, I loaded-up on drugs, struggled like hell with pain Thursday morning but made it through, spent all day on the couch, watching TV, drifting in and out of consciousness, allowing myself to do absolutely nothing. I suppose it’s OK on occasion. But enough of that – a guy like me can’t afford much more brain rot. And it’s not just brain rot, but there’s a mentality that I find important, one of symbolic little victories along the way that help keep the all-important edge, things like I talked about with getting off the painkillers as soon as possible; things like finishing strong on hard training sessions; like insisting on walking the final few feet to the truck in Hyalite one month ago today, rather than being carried. Things like taking my rock rings to the workout room at Jenna’s apartment complex Friday evening – while carefully protecting my leg – and doing just a little, but, dammit, doing something.

It is alive!!! Two of the four incisions.

12 thoughts on “Surgery Update 2 (more images, some gnarly)

  1. Yeah dude, stay after it. I cannot imagine coming off an injury like this. I have a bad ankle (it started from falling down a stairwell in my tux 5 minutes before my wedding when a campusing contest with my best man got out of control) and really hurt it after a bad bouldering fall. It put me on the couch for a couple weeks but that pales compared to this.

    Hey, if you have some time to kill and a good internet connection I can give you a link to a program I am developing that you can use to look at the anatomy in your leg. Maybe it will help you visually grasp your injuries better. Shoot me an e-mail if you are interested.

  2. Kelly,

    (1) Cycle in some milk with those margaritas (separately, not together–yuck) to get those bones growing I guess. Heck, what do I know? I’m not a medical doctor.

    (2) Maybe you can attach the rock rings to a lat pulldown machine, or maybe even a hangboard if you know someone who is handy and can fix it so it won’t tilt at an angle. That way you can crank harder with zero possibility of coming down on the healing lag.

    Small steps will get you there. Don’t be stupid like me and come back too strong too soon and mess yourself up worse.


  3. Inspirational stuff Kelly. The “after” x-ray looks pretty darned good, considering. Think healing thought and maybe work on some White Russian recipes to get some calcium into your drinking diet. Remember… “The Dude Abides.” I assume you’re already taking glucosamine and chondroitin? Also remember that not only are you a champion and therefore capable of a champion recovery, but even recovery to 90% of you previous level would put you well above 99% of us posers out there ;^) – determination counts for a lot. Hang in there brother; we’ll drink a toast to you this weekend.

  4. Kelly – You’ll be getting after it before you know it. Keep a positive outlook, drinking lots of liquor, and keep figuring out innovative ways to work out.


  5. You are looking good Kelly…just give the leg and yourself the timed required to heal. It will fly by, trust me on that 🙂

  6. Awesome Kel! And as always – LOVE the gruesome pics. Keep sharp – mind, body, spirit. Do more of what you can to keep yourself feeling balanced, while you do the nothing you can’t to allow things to heal. Eventually it will all come back into an even keel. Spectacular things ahead of you… peace, K

  7. Kelly man, good to see you are strong and fighting. You can also place the rock rings or plastics holds everywhere you in your house where you might sit or lye, that way when you have to get up or stand up instead of going for the crutches lift yourself up by grabbing those holds. then get the crutches.
    oh, and I second one of the comments here, get the milk going but not together with the margaritas!

  8. Kelly, you will recover but don’t go too fast to early. That could set you back. Listen to your doctors/PTs and then push it just a little bit over what they tell you, not a ton.

    Best of luck.


  9. Kelly, I’ve been scouring the internet since 11/20/10 when my son shattered his ankle. I’ve been looking for pics of xrays and ctscans that look like his look. We saw the ortho yesterday, and he went pic by pic on the ctscan and explained everything in the pics (alot to digest for the lay person). My son races motocross, and was injured when he had to check up on a jump face because of another rider. He didn’t clear the jump, and fell veritcally about 12 feet down, with his toes on the pegs, causing the tib/fib to shatter upwards from the calcaneous(-1 sp.). They wanted to admit him at the hospital that afternoon, but after his ortho pulling up the xrays…he strongly suggested not to do surgery until alot of the swelling had dissipated.

    Reading your blog has been re-assuring to me in a sense. Only extreme athlete’s understand the mentality of another extreme athlete. This will be his 6th orthor surgery in 13 months. He tore his knee up in 9/09, then shattered his wrist in 01/10, broke his collar bone (requiring surgery) in 05/10, had surgery on both big toes in 07/10, and second surgery to remove hardware on wrist in 09/10. I have never and will never make him ride, whatever he does, I just want to support him. He’s in college, want’s to be a PT…go figure! I know I am rambling, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your accident and recovery on your blog. Praying your recovery continues in a positive direction. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Hi Kris, so sorry to hear about your son’s ankle. Whew, gruesome. I can fully relate, and lots of it sounds super similar. That motocross stuff is wild! Seems I can come up with only a couple of sports where folks mess themselves up worse than we climbers, and your son is in one of them! I really hope he recovers well and fully — he should. Of course I understand what it’s like, but he’ll be back on the bike before too long and surely he’ll learn things through this process that will make him a stronger and better person. He’s lucky to have you on his side, too. It can be rough stuff, and it sounds like he’s been through the wringer. As I’m sure you and him know at this point, PT is super important — I’ve found that a great surgeon is of utmost importance, of course, but without great PT and dedication to that therapy — really wanting to get back, as I’m sure he does — then it means little. Ya really need both (great surgery and great PT), I’m convinced, to optimize recovery. Your son will make a damn good PT, I’m sure! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and my best to you both.

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