One year ago August 12th, 2016 I made the difficult decision to go under the knife and get my Achilles tendon fixed in my right ankle, at the back of my heel. I had put this off since running my marathon in October 2014. Multiple small tears that had caused scarring and growth of bone up into the tendon, all of which was causing a ton of pain when I ran. My original plan was to do the surgery sooner, but I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to run afterwards. I originally had hoped that my friend Dr. Dennis Claire DPM was going to do the surgery, but he was moving out of the area and I was stuck with trying to find someone else who would understand me, and how important running is to me. Running is what defines me…it’s my passion… it’s what I do.
Dennis had met Dr. James Fullwood DPM, and was very impressed with him. Thus, he recommended Dr Fullwood to me as an option. Dr. F is the chief of staff at SVH, Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, Maine, and Vice President of the Maine Podiatric Medical Association. I did a little research myself, and liked what I saw, so I made my appt, went to see him and talked about what the surgery would involve. That was in April of 2016. I found out that the recovery would not be easy, and was going to require a lot of time off my leg, and lots of PT afterwards. With that in mind, I chose to put it off until August.
So now it’s been a year. Am I running? Yep. Am I completely pain free? Nope. My recovery has been very slow. It’s progressing, and after 4 months of PT and numerous more months of slowly building up the strength and stamina, I’m seeing results finally. My calf muscles are still smaller than the other leg, but definitely stronger than a couple of months ago. Pain? Yes, and sometimes LOTS of it. When I run, I never know how the run is going to go. Some days, I have very little pain and actually can enjoy the run. Other days, I struggle to block out the pain… normally I can do that fairly well, but every now and then it just gets too much and I have to stop for a bit. Normally walking for a min or two will suffice, and I can get back to a decent pace. My running pace has come back down to about a 10:30 on my most days. It also has helped that I have managed to lose almost 50lbs. The drop in weight has been a blessing, and as far as my overall health goes, I feel better now than I ever have!
Will my Achilles get better? Dr Fullwood says yes… in time. My body has been very slowly progressing (heck I’m not a spring chicken anymore) and there is a fine line between enjoying the little bit of running that I can do now, and doing too much and setting myself back. Right now 6 miles is all I can handle. With the bone anchors (screw type things) that are in my heel bone holding my Achilles down against the bone, I have a lot of heel pain. Running on that foot feels like running on a big bruise. It’s a strange feeling, and comes from within the bone. It’s not a muscular type of pain etc. After 6 miles, the last thing I want to do is put weight on that foot. My routine is to ice, elevate and wrap it for the night. Doing that seems to help enough that I can get by the next morning. It still takes me about an hour for it to warm up so that I can walk fairly normally with minimal limping. Rob has had to take over the dog detail in the morning as I just can’t manage it until my leg warms up. I recently stepped out of my comfort zone of running flats, and bought some of the HOKA Clifton 4’s. Let me tell you, that was not an easy decision to make. I absolutely think they are the most hideous running shoes out there. BUT… I have reached a point where if I am to continue running and try to increase my mileage, I am going to have to make whatever modifications that I can to run safely, and hopefully relatively pain free. The extra cushioning of these shoes was extremely hard to get used to. I looked at these online for 2 months and read everything about them that I could. I then ordered them from Running Warehouse, full knowing that I could send them back if they didnt work for me. So far, so good. The cushioning definitely helps with the heel pain.. so for now. I have brought these into my running shoe lineup.
Thinking back about the surgery now; I was in a cast for 6 weeks, non weight bearing. August last year was HUMID and it sucked!! Stuck in the house, not being able to drive (right leg) sent me over the edge. I started having anxiety attacks from being couch bound and home alone with 3 dogs after me constantly. Once I got into a walking boot, it got a little easier, and I was able to get back to work part time. I bought myself a knee scooter before surgery. Best thing I ever bought!! I highly recommend that if you are having any issues and will have to be off a foot for any length of time you rent or buy one of these. It is worth the money.
So what is next for me? Well, I am still running, though as I said before, it’s not as good as it used to be. I will take running with pain over not running at all, any day! Many people have asked me if I would do the surgery again if I had the chance to turn back time… the answer is yes. I would have eventually had to have it done regardless, and I chose to get it done while I’m still in good health. I have not given up hope for another marathon some day. Right now it’s out of the question, as is even just a half marathon. There’s no way I could tolerate more than 6 miles at this point. I’m hoping with winter coming and more time going by, that come next summer I can shoot for 9-10 miles a run. Fingers crossed! Even better would be to do the Maine Half Marathon next October.
I personally can’t say enough about my surgeon, Dr Fullwood. His skills are top notch. I fully trust his decisions, and we talk through anything that I don’t understand. He has taken the time to see where I am coming from emotionally in regards to my running. He has answered numerous questions, explained the mechanics behind my injury, and how it is affecting my gait. He has the patience of a saint! I feel very fortunate that I made a wise choice in who my surgeon would be.
I welcome any questions from folks who might need the surgery that I had. Basically, it was a removal of a Haglunds bump on my heel, with detachment of the Achilles from the heel to shave down the bone spurs. If you google Haglunds resection, there is lots of info about the different ways this procedure can be done. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask! That’s it for now….