One Year Later

IMG_5892

Hours after surgery: I remember waking up with a drain in my leg, tons of IV’s, an arterial line in my wrist, an oxygen tube, cardiac leads, a pain pump I could press for Dilaudid, and a catheter. That’s a lot of tubes!!!!

It’s been a little over one year since I had the first surgery for popliteal artery entrapment syndrome. That was on October 13th, 2017 – I remember because it was on Friday the 13th. To me it was a lucky day, though, because it meant I could finally start on my road to recovery.

IMG_5886

Jenga, the super friendly dog at our AirBnb. She kept us company before we went to the hospital.

I specifically remember telling my mom after waking up from surgery, “This is the easy part.” To most people that probably sounds ridiculous, but I still stand by that. Even with all of the pain, nausea, shots of heparin, blood clots, hematoma, the incision ripping open, months of wound cleaning/healing, anemia, physical therapy, and having to go back for a second surgery it was STILL easier than what I went through before that.

IMG_5894

My mom stayed with me in the little fold out chair for the first few nights after surgery. Thanks, mom!

Trying to search for answers when in a matter of a week I went from marathon training to not being able to run at all was so baffling and frustrating. Waiting for doctor’s appointments, referrals, and different tests was painfully slow. All the while I kept questioning myself as to whether or not this pain was real. It was so strange that the symptoms came on so suddenly, the compartment testing was normal, the MRI was normal, and how no amount of rest or massage could help my calves. I kept questioning whether or not I was making it all up.

Then 6 months later to finally find out that it was PAES was terrifying. Being told by my doctor that he didn’t know what to do because surgery didn’t seem like a possible option was even more devastating.

IMG_5902

A day or so after the surgery. If you really look you will notice how there’s a line across my forehead and a patch on my chin where the skin is irritated. Not sure if it was an allergic reaction to the tape in the OR or what??? My mom tells me I was more upset about this than the actual surgery, haha!

I’m so thankful to be where I am now. I’m not in chronic pain anymore doing simple everyday tasks. I can bike and hike and run (a little).  I’m thankful to have found an answer and also have found amazing care at the University of Maryland Medical Center. I’m thankful to be able to be back studying physical therapy at a school that I love (UVM).

Today in class I heard the expression, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.” In other words, when thinking about a possible diagnosis, think of the most common problems, not the rare diagnosis. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as my case is definitely a zebra, not a horse.

Thanks for following along on this bumpy journey! Below are some pictures from our recent trip to Alaska.

unspecified-2.jpg

My first big bike trip in years. My dad and I biked the 92.5 miles of the Park Road in Denali National Park. There are no private vehicles after mile 15, and the rest of the road is unpaved. We split the distance up into a few days and in total biked 5 mountain passes!!! My legs held up great. Not bad for less than a year post op!

IMG_5824.jpeg

Kayaking in Seward

unspecified-4.jpg

Around Denali they call bikers “meals on wheels.” Couldn’t resist getting shirts

IMG_6852.jpeg

Denali: also known as “the great one”

Advertisements

My Medical Imaging

Hey there! Over the past few weeks I’ve been requesting my medical records because I was curious about what the imaging looked like, plus I thought it’d be fun to share with all of you. Turns out that it was pretty interesting!

img_4303-1.jpg

My right leg pre-surgery in a resting position: You can see how the main artery going down all of a sudden stops (blue arrow). All of the cork-screw looking things are the collateral arteries (red arrow) that my body grew. Since I’ve had compromised blood flow in my legs for a long time, my body tried to compensate by making other pathways for the blood to get down my legs. My body is pretty smart, huh?

9599955D-FEA1-4A8C-B0B3-41DCB2A95DA2

Let’s compare my right and left legs pre-surgery in a resting position: My right leg is on the left and the left leg is on the right. Now it’s easier to appreciate how many collateral arteries my body really grew. The left leg, although not normal, has better blood flow. Therefore, it doesn’t have as many extra pathways as the right leg (less cork-screw looking things).

ED9C43BF-BFA0-4087-B06B-E18E622174A4-1.JPG

The arteries in my left leg pre-surgery: The one on the left is when my foot is in neutral (at rest). The one on the right is when my foot is plantarflexed (like pushing down on a gas pedal). See the kink that happens in the image on the right? That’s because my artery was embedded in my muscle and when my muscle flexed the artery became squashed.

IMG_4276-1.JPG

This is a side-view of my knee post-surgery. See the bright white patch towards the back of my leg (blue arrow)? That’s the hematoma I developed after surgery. It was pretty big…

IMG_4270-1

Another side-view of my leg after surgery: See how the artery is going down but all of a sudden tapers off (blue arrow)? That’s where the blockage is. Then the other vessel going around (red arrow) is the bypass. It’s nice and wide open. Even with the hematoma I developed, the bypass still worked. All of the small white dots are metal clips in my leg to hold the bypass in place.

 

Overall I’ve been doing really good. I’m in my second semester of grad school at UVM and my life is going smoothly for the first time in awhile. I’ve been enjoying biking and hiking and I even go to the gym a few times a week now. I tried slowly getting back into running, but found it just too frustrating. My right calf would start cramping or my foot would start tingling. I tried taking more days off in between my runs, running on softer surfaces, running for shorter periods, massaging my calves more, and running even slower, but after a few minutes I’d be in pain. JoyRunner wasn’t too joyous about running anymore.

For right now I’m taking a break from trying to run. I think my legs needed a break and my mental health needed a break from the frustration. And in all honesty, I’m fine with that right now. I really do love biking and hiking and I even started liking going to the gym (a first for me). Maybe it’s because I wasn’t able to be active in any way for so long that makes me okay with that. I will try running again in the future, but this is what I need for right now.