It’s been over a year since I penned a post on this blog, but it looks like I may have more time for it this winter. Next week I will be having surgery to repair a ruptured left achilles tendon and the usual recovery is at least 6 weeks in a cast.
Its been over 30 years since I ruptured my right achilles and went through this drill before, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. I have never felt such pain as I did on that day in 1980 when I went down on the SUNY Geneseo squash court wondering who had shot me– and I hope I never do again!
By comparison, the pain from the pop on the tennis court Saturday morning was mild. Of course the first rupture was sudden and unexpected, the more recent one has been coming for almost 5 months.
I first injured my achilles on the tennis court in July. I really don’t even remember how I did it, except that by the end of a match I was quite sore. I tried to stay off it for a few weeks, but having a tennis club in my back yard and having the annual club championships running through August made that hard.
In August I was playing in the finals of our grass court doubles tournament when at a crucial moment of a tightly contested match I ran for a lob over my partner’s head. The pain came back with gusto and I had to retire from the match with the score tied 4-all in the 3rd set.
Again I stayed off the court for a few more weeks and actually seemed to be recovering. I played once a week or so in October, and then just to be safe, I decided to take the last three weeks of our Fall outdoor League off, to rest the leg up for the Winter indoor tennis season which was due to start Dec. 1.
Ironically, while avoiding the tennis court I tripped on a branch while working in the woods one day and fell hard. I pulled the tendon so hard that I at first thought it had to have ruptured. After a few minutes I got to my feet and was able to walk, but the tendon was never the same.
I knew I was really not ready to play tennis Saturday and so arranged for a sub to play for me. However, at 8 pm Friday night I got a fateful e-mail that one of our group had torn his calf muscle playing racquetball and could not play in the morning. With the match scheduled for 7:30 am in the city, I was out of time to find a sub and out of options, so I decided to chance one for the team.
To protect myself I watched a couple of online videos on how to tape an achilles. Basically, the preferred method is to run a piece of stretchable tape down the back side of the leg anchored between the top of the achilles and the middle of the bottom of the foot.This elastic tape is pulled fairly tight to limit the range of motion of the achilles so it does not overstretch. (This may have been the only smart thing I did all weekend!)
Thus prepared I was ready to do battle. The first set went off without incident. In the middle of a fabulous comeback in the 2nd set ( that saw us come from down 1-5 to win the set 7-5) I received one final warning when I felt somehing give in my leg.
I almost quit then, but after walking it off for a few minutes I figured I could continue the comeback. A few points into the 3rd set, after about 75 minutes of tennis, I again tried to run for a lob and felt the classic sensation that someone had hit me in the back of the leg with a racquet.
I quickly realized that no one was close enough to do that and since nothing had fallen off the ceiling to hit me, I concluded that the tendon was gone. I limped off the court and had to be helped to my car with a broom stick for a crutch.
The rest of Saturday was spent on the couch with my leg elevated and covered with ice packs as I drugged myself with liberal doses of ibuprofen and Tylenol. Although the pain was moderate it was tolerable and I actually slept fairly well Saturday night. Amazingly, by Sunday morning I was able to walk with little pain so long as I didn’t try to push off on the bad leg.
A trip to my orthopedic surgeon Monday afternoon confirmed my diagnosis. I was actually happy to hear that he thought I should have the surgery since my biggest fear was that it might only be a partial tear and I would only be offered a cast. After four plus months of struggling with ever-worsening problems with this tendon I knew from my reading that surgery was my best chance to get back on my beloved courts quickly and at full strength.
My doctor commented on how narrow the gap in the broken tendon was and I think that was because the tape job probably limited the force of the explosion when the tendon gave way. It may also have limited the pain.
All and all, however, if I add up all the pain that tendon gave me over the last five months, I guess the total pain was about equal to what I felt in one intense burst 30 years ago!
I know I probably should have just stopped playing tennis for the season back in July when I had the first injury, but that’s asking a lot. Now the doctor says no tennis for 6 months. At least it’s coming at the right time of year, and that should get me back on the court around the middle of June –just in time to tune up for next year’s club championships!
After the series of injuries that I had over the past few months, and especially after my fall in the woods, I kind of feel that the tendon was probably beyond natural healing anyway. The achilles is notorious for slow healing because it has a very stingy natural blood supply.
Going through the pain of the operation and the rehab is going to be a drag, but I am encouraged by the thought that by next summer I will be back on the court playing better than ever! And in the meantime, there’s always reading, watching old movies and blogging–and in the spring, croquet.
I guess I can be thankful this only happens every 30 years and my next rupture is not scheduled until 2041, when I will be 90!