Week 6: Jan 22 – 28
I showed up to physical therapy on Wednesday feeling pretty down and looking visibly defeated. I didn’t know how to break the news to everyone about my, yet again, pushed back return date and I don’t think I really wanted to either. Kind of a “maybe if I didn’t say it out loud, it’ll go away’ kind of mentality. I should explain that this is not because I have hit set backs in my recovery. I found out a little bit more information later in the week during my highly anticipated follow up with the doctor. So I’ll hold off on explaining further it until I get there.
Week six, YEEHAW. That meant I could unlock my brace fully, participate in water therapy if I chose to and FINALLY GET ON THE AIRDYNE BIKE. This is that giant exercise bike that looks like it has a giant fan in it. It has resistance both ways and the arms are connected to the pedals, that way I could ease into the bend by using my arms rather than muscling it with my 1 and a half working legs. My PT told me to work on just rocking back and forth- stopping when I get to the sticking point and then reversing the pedals until I reached the sticking point going the other direaction. Before I got on the bike, I was thinking that seemed ridiculous. There was no way I wouldn’t be able to get a full rotation on this thing. I mean I have worked at multiple spin studios and at one point had gotten to the point of feeling like I needed to workout again if all I had done during the day was a spin class. Plus my grandpa has one in his basement that even he uses with ease, for crying out loud. I was severely mistaken. There was about a little over 1/4 of the rotation left at the top that I just couldn’t get around. This hurt both physically and mentally.
By this point, I had realized that I was not the exception to the rule, or the patient that would defy the odds. This was going to be a long road and, while I was thankful to have my family here as support, it was starting to feel like a lonely one as well. My parents both work all day and if ya throw northern Iowa winter plus the fact that I’m still not cleared to drive, things get old and lonely. Fast. I had taken a break from NASM after cramming about 6 chapters into one week, my ego wouldn’t allow me to play Nancy Drew games anymore and my dog STILL won’t respond to me when I talk to her. HELP
I think my mom could sense the funk that I had began to live in because she came home from work with my favorite Pinot Noir and the makings for a healthy-ish charcuterie board. My mom has always said that your space is a direct reflection of your mind and I have always found that to be true. When my life is a mess, so is my room and vice versa. Up until this week, I had been living out of suitcases in the spare bedroom in my parents house. I felt crazy- like my stuff was everywhere and I had no space the house to call my own. So, wine in hand, we were about to have an organizing party. Hell yeah. Although it felt bittersweet to “move in,” it’s been so nice to have a space that feels like my own here. Plus I had a cute little organizing buddy to help me out.
On Thursday I think I carried the bitter part of moving in with me, rather than the sweet. Although I hadn’t had my follow up yet, I was pretty positive that I would be at my parents place for at least another few weeks. I wanted my life back. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that most people in their young adult years don’t get to spend as much family time as I have been able to and for that, I am SO grateful. It’s all a little strange to think about though. Honestly, part of me is extremely content. I have been explaining it to people as living a parallel life so completely polar opposite from the fast-paced life I have come to know and love in LA. I used to get anxious if I spent even one day “relaxing” and not working towards something in California and in a way, I think that this has panned out the way it has so that I learn to freaking chill sometimes. Even still, some days I get really down thinking ‘this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing at 24.’
The majority of my day are filled with back and forth thoughts like this. Conversations I was having in my head to talk myself out of feeling super behind in my dance goals and upset with the length of this recovery. Going into the weekend, that was no exception. I had hoped we could come up with some stuff to do to take my mind off of it all. And then I received a message that my feature in the Iowa PBS coverage of the 2020 ISDTA dance team championship competition.
Earlier in December, I had the privilege of working the ISDTA state competition. I grew up dancing at state in both high school and in college so being able to come back and work the social media and behind the scenes end of things was such cool, full circle moment (especially since my mom’s high school dance team coach started ISDTA). In addition, they asked me to be on one of the featured segments during the broadcast of the contest on Iowa PBS! This interview was done pre-surgery and I had remembered talking briefly about the fact that it was around the corner. I had no idea what they were going to actually include in the segment. I talked for like an hour and 20 minutes. Some of it pretty rambly, I’m sure.
When I received the text that the video had come out, I did not watch it right away. I wasn’t sure how it would make me feel watching it back in the state that I was currently in. At least not while I’m home alone. I waited for my mom to come home on her lunch break and we both watched it together, tears in both of our eyes. I never thought I would need to take my own advice, but in that moment I needed it. I received so much positive feedback from friends, family, studio owners, dancers and even people I don’t even know. I am so thankful for my journey so far and between stumbling on my old dance videos and the release of this video, I was not ready for it to come to a close.
The weekend ended up being just what I needed. It was a good one. I felt like my mindset had began to turn around again. I’ve said this before, but it is so crucial to stay positive during a recovery process. Especially when it is as long as what this one has turned out to be. Since I was feeling up to it, we filled the weekend full of some of my favorite activities. Including the perfect pair: gym + pizza. My whole family went to the gym together and I had found this hole in the wall pizza place, about 25 miles away, with gluten free pizza crust (plz do not come for me I know gluten free doesn’t equate to healthier and no I do not have celiac disease I just like crunchy crust OK?!??). If any of you live in northern Iowa, you have to check out Fuel. So. Stinkin’. Good.
This is where the magic happens. After a few drinks I convinced my parents to do a TikTok with me. I say ‘convinced’ loosely because it actually took no convincing at all. I am one of those people that downloaded it as a joke and now can’t stop publicly embarrassing myself online and my parents are the ones who wouldn’t even listen to me talk about it and now walk around the house singing “I can put it in a bun!!” So yeah, it’s bad and it was time for us to *~collab~*.
I used to OBSESS over the 2007 Miss South Carolina Q&A fail video on YouTube so when I suggested recreating it they were very familiar with it already. Not as much as me though…all these years later and I still had her answer memorized. Next thing I knew I was in my senior year prom dress, my mom set up a fake judges table and my dad was wearing a suit ready to impersonate Mario Lopez. Hey man, sometimes ya gotta make your own fun.
By Sunday night, I was sad to see the weekend come to a close, but looking forward to the next few days. My mom and I had planned a little get away centered around my 6 week follow up at Iowa Ortho. Like I had mentioned previously, I was pretty certain I was going to have to stay in Iowa longer than what I wanted to but hadn’t totally let myself believe it yet. I wanted to ask him a few questions and let him know that my goal was to audition for NFL teams in the spring…but I was nervous. Probably because I already knew what he was going to say.
He said that he was happy with where I was in my recovery process and that allowed me to take a sigh of relief. I have done so much digging around on the internet and have come across people in all different stages of this recovery at all different times. Some of them I am behind and some I am ahead of. Even still, I found myself comparing my process to others and eventually I had little confidence in my progress. So to hear him say he was pleased with my progress felt amazing but I still had questions about why this recovery is taking so long.
Obviously I’m impatient in all of this, I think I have made that clear. But now that week 6 has almost come to a close and I had told most of my friends that I would be back beginning of February, I’m starting to get a lot of questions. Why are you still home? Did you move back to Iowa? What went wrong that you’re still there? Why don’t you just come back, you look like you’re fine??! Honestly, I couldn’t answer some of those questions before the follow up and I didn’t know how to explain that nothing had gone wrong, regardless of how much I underestimated the recovery time.
The first ounce of clarity came when I asked him about the recovery time and mentioned that sometimes I felt like my knee cap was further in than my non-surgical leg. He told me that my knee cap sat so far on the outside of my right leg, that they essentially overcorrected it to start with. So I was right in feeling like my knee cap was not in the center of my leg yet. The idea is that the cadaver ligament, put in for reinforcement, would slowly stretch out over this recovery process and land where it should. That would explain why getting it to bend past a certain threshold has been so challenging and why this recovery must be taken with extreme patience.
The next factor to my recovery is the ever present dark cloud of stage 4 arthritis that looms over my head each day. He was not happy and a little taken back with the amount of cartilage damage and I was finally getting to hear that straight from his mouth. He walked me through the photos from the pre-surgical scope and helped me understand what it should look like vs. what it actually looks at. Because of the amount of damage and the fact that bones are innervated, I am going to feel a decent amount of pain as I gain more mobility. My trochlea (the indent your knee cap glides on when you bend) is basically gone and I have almost no cushion there to stop the patella from grinding on bone. This will be something that I will have to keep an eye on and possibly something I will have to get treated in the near future. For now, he did the micro-fractures and told me that the more I can strengthen my quads, the more they will lift the patella off of the damaged area.
Next question: driving. That was definitely a no go. Studies show that your reaction time decreases post surgery/trauma or during an injury recovery period. Mix that with the fact that I *still* couldn’t bend my leg to 90 degrees and sprinkle in my chaotic driving habits pre-surgery and I can understand why. He said that he wants to see me again in 5-6 weeks and maybe then I will be cleared. Welp, there goes me leaving for LA mid-Feb!
My last and final question elicited the most disappointing response of the entire appointment. I told him my goal was to audition for NFL teams late spring and asked him if he thought that was realistic. Never in a million years did I expect this to even be in question before I had the surgery done, but here I was holding my breath waiting for the answer. He scooted he chair in closer and took a deep breath before he said that my recovery time from this point was likely going to be 6 months to a year and a half until I was back in action at full capacity dance wise. And even then, the cartilage damage may cause intense pain and some limitations. Ouch.
He said it is good to have a goal to work towards to keep yourself motivated but that he worries about me over-doing it more than he worries about me not doing enough to further my recovery. He said there is a sweet spot that I need to stay in to achieve the success that I am looking for. I can push it up to a certain point, but I can also damage it if I do too much. I told him that I understood, but I had a hard time sustaining eye contact with him. I kept searching for my mom’s eyes in the doctors office so that *hopefully* I could avoid breaking down and crying in front of him. It wasn’t his fault and I knew that. It was just hard to hear said out loud what no one, so far, had had the heart to tell me.
As you can imagine, a few tears were shed once my mom and I got in the car. This news meant a lot more than just not being able to audition for NFL teams this spring. It meant that 2020 was going to look a lot different than I had ever anticipated. It meant that I was going to have to get a 9-5, and one that I genuinely loved. I have always been able to make supplemental money dancing or doing fitness related things. Not only that, but also pursing these passions have allowed me to fill fulfilled even at times when I have a part time job I am not crazy about. Since things of that nature are out for the short term future, I would have to find a job that both supports my financial needs as well as my happiness meter. In short, It meant that everything that has composed my identity for the past several years had been taken away from me and that was almost too much to process.
I will reiterate that I don’t think any of this was stuff I didn’t already know somewhere in the back of my head. And it continued to come in waves throughout the rest of the day. My mom and I went to the mall for a little retail therapy and even got my hair done for the first time since I have been home, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The little things that used to get me by and cheer me up during a day weren’t enough to completely mask how difficult this has been for me. I broke down every time I recapped the appointment to anyone- even if I was getting ready to watch the bachelor, wearing cute matching pajamas, had a glass of wine in my hand and a charcuterie board in front of me. I couldn’t hide from the way that I was feeling but I gained a new level of appreciation for the people around me.
Everyone has been more than supportive in all of this. I am thankful that I am 24 and I have lots of years to accomplish my goals ahead of me. I have to believe that and move forward with a warrior mentality. Plus, things tend to taste sweeter when you have to work for them.