This blog usually chronicles my travels, and indeed my life and lifestyle are based on near-constant motion. Well, for the past eight days, my life has involved very little movement at all, and the world has became much smaller: it’s the size of my apartment. In fact, to be more accurate, it’s the size of my couch.
That’s because last week, I finally decided to address my chronic ankle sprains, and underwent ankle ligament reconstructive surgery.
I don’t remember the first time I sprained my ankle, although I do know that it was sometime in high school. I do have vivid memories of many of my ankle sprains that have happened ever since, though, because several have involved dramatic tumbles.
There was the time I stepped off the curb to hail a taxi in New York, and onto an uneven piece of asphalt — and went down inches in front of the oncoming bumper. The time when I sprained my ankle on a rock near a humongous snake in Mozambique, and had to take a 24 hour flight home the next day with a grapefruit-sized ankle. The time I did a belly flop on Piccadilly Circus on I’m not even sure what, in the process turning my umbrella into a missile hurled at startled Londoners. (I kept strong and carried on, with the help of ibuprofen plus codeine hastily acquired over-the-counter at Boots.)
And finally, my last-straw sprain, just after last year’s Indianapolis 500. I wast walking down a well-paved street, in sneakers, when it happened. There’s no great story attached to this sprain, other than the fact that I was carrying my BlackBerry in my hand, and when I fell it got sidewalk skidmarks on it that made it look like it was clawed by a bear. I knew it was a bad one the moment I went down.
We’ve got three ligaments in our ankles, two on the side, one in the back, and when I stepped on a seam in the pavement, my ankle first twisted out to one side and then the other as I tried to regain my balance. So I actually stretched and tore both ligaments. I put ice on it, took ibuprofen, kept it elevated and the swelling went down in a few weeks. But no sooner had a I recovered from that sprain — well, let’s be honest, I never really gave it time to fully heal before I went back to traveling and the gym — I re-sprained it walking out the door of my building.
My podiatrist explained that the outside ligament is the one most people stretch or tear when they sprain their ankle, and if you do that enough times, you’ll create enough instability that you’ll start to sprain the inside ligament. It’s harder to sprain the back ligament, but if you totally screw up your two side ligaments, you’ll eventually get to that one too.
A healthy ligament looks like a rubber band, after my MRI I learned that my two side ligaments looked like lace, from all the tears and the scar tissue, although my back ligament was still healthy. (This turned out to be a very good thing, since that back ligament is apparently harder to fix surgically.)
If I did nothing to stop the chronic spraining, over time, my ankles would be vulnerable to arthritis, plus, I’d be vulnerable to sudden death from unexpectedly falling down onto and in front of God-knows-what every few months. Not to mention, they had started to ache with just the slightest bit of exertion. (They? Oh did I fail to mention, it’s not just one ankle that I sprain, but both? I’ve tended to alternate.)
So on Tuesday afternoon I had my first surgical procedure, on my right ankle, which was one I’d sprained in Indy and then re-sprained. My doctor cleaned up the scar tissue inside each ligament and fixed the tears, and then he bound my ligaments to the muscle sheath to give them extra strength. When I was in recovery, he said the most beautiful words I’d ever heard. He said: “I’d be surprised if you ever turned your ankle again.”
So now I’ve just got to concentrate on not spraining my left ankle, until I recover enough to go under the knife again!