2021 – Winter Wisdom . . . Quantum Leaps and Silver Linings

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s been to readjust expectations. Reflecting back to March when COVID-19 sent me home, I had to reimagine how I’d live under house/town arrest. I was continuously lowering my expectations about where and when I’d walk or hike or backpack. But as the weeks led into months I got better at making the best of my boundaries, my choices.

When my knee threw a temper tantrum in early September and I learned surgery was the only answer, I had no choice but to once again hit the reset on my fall plans. When my surgeon told me I’d be out a month or so, I adjusted. However when he told me during surgery it was going to be 6 weeks on crutches, that took some digging deep to toss all fall planning to the wind. Only at 6 weeks did I learn that was just Phase 1. Best case scenario I’d be able to start baby step hiking in April-ish.

So I settled in for a very long winter, and found myself faced with many disappointments and the need to lower expectations. Those ever important milestones were pipe dreams.

  1. When your surgeon says 1-5 days on crutches, but you learn otherwise during surgery.
  2. When your surgeon says 6 weeks on crutches, but you learn that’s just the beginning.
  3. When your PT says 2-3 weeks to transition off crutches, but that’s off double crutches. 
  4. When your PT says 8-12 weeks to transition off solo crutch, but that all depends.

My first big outing was a month after surgery. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is about 15 minutes from my house and offers this view from the Visitor Center. With few people around this became a regular event. How far can I hop?

My front yard tree was a way to enjoy the changing of the seasons. I could spend time sitting on my front patio in the sun. Oh the sun, was a huge healer.

I gained a much greater appreciation for ADA access. It was challenging to find places to sit with paved flat access near parking. I’m grateful for this spot on the banks of the Sacramento River which is only a few minutes from my house.

By Thanksgiving I was ready to start working on solo crutch walking. My driveway was too steep so I figured out this solution. The cul-de-sac became my workout arena.

As my strength and endurance improved I found myself looking for more places to escape town. This pullover at Whiskeytown is a JFK Memorial. It includes a picnic table! Another area was the Brandy Creek boat launch area, where I spent many days with the SUP this past summer. I’m hoping paddleboarding will be an option come spring.

As I started my 10th week of rehab, I was finally able to start spinning. The stool came in handy for getting me on the bike. Having an inside gym has been essential in my rehab.

On December 12, I decided to see if the walker would give me better mobility. Well one day of use and the next I took my first independent steps! PT nixed using the walker but I enjoyed a one week break from the crutches.

Shortly after Christmas I was given solo crutch speed walking as my homework. This was my first recording. Hard to imagine feeling excited about walking less than a half mile (my tracker must have been wonky as there aren’t any hills unless you count speedbumps). Once again it’s all about expectations. 

Friends told me Shasta Dam was a good place for a picnic. They didn’t realize getting from the car to a table was more than I could do initially. But by early January I could crutch walk across the dam, making 1.5 miles round trip.

This is a neighborhood park and was a good place to test my improvements on a paved trail, with benches and picnic tables providing a nice .75 mile loop. At first I could only crutch to the first picnic table, then it was to the bench, then it was around the lake once and soon I could make it around twice. I even saw a muskrat or otter.

Finding flat places with decent pavement was a challenge. The neighborhood streets were traveled regularly on one of my twice daily jaunts. I found first blooms. We already had a 75-degree day; too warm, too early for my liking.

What once was a ranch was absorbed by a philanthropic organization to preserve green space, as urban development found itself stretching boundaries. I really like this trail system as it’s free of bikes, scooters and dogs. It was a safe place for crutch work. It includes several ponds so it’s also great for birding. Fruit trees have been maintained and are now available for public pickings.

We have a 17-mile paved trail with easy town access. Many places are too busy with bikes, kids, dogs, scooters and now fast motorized versions for safe crutching. Others are too hilly. So this spur that I call Avenue of the Giants has become one of my spots.

Another area is part of the rail trail. It’s further out of town so somewhat less busy. I believe this trail system is now about 17 miles one way. When I first started using these trails about 20 years ago often you wouldn’t see anyone. This has become a perfect example of “if you build it they will come.” I’m glad to see the community more active. As I neared my 4-month post-op mark, I was up to 4 miles averaging 2.4 mph.

Being able to walk for 2 hours opened up possibilities like walking through an oak savannah where I could enjoy reflections like these in Turtle Pond.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area doesn’t offer much in terms of ADA paths, but this one to Crystal Creek Falls was worth a visit. It’s amazing how much you’ll seek out options when you need to escape urban noise.

Whiskeytown was devastated by the 2018 Carr Fire. This bridge was recently rebuilt to give access to historic Tower House and some gentle dirt trails I’ll use during a future rehab phase.

Hopefully this nearly worn through crutch shoe signals freedom. I’ve made quantum leaps over the past 4 months. From hopping to sliding to weeble wobbling to gimp limping. Neighbors have been monitoring my progress and say my limp is barely visible while using the crutch. PT continues to tell me you can lose the crutch when you can walk without a gimp independent of the crutch. It’s all about regaining strength to support my body in balanced walking. My biggest challenge right now is single-leg squats.

Weather has been a silver lining. For the most part we’ve had plentiful sunshine which is such a boost for my emotional health. I’m hoping this turn of weather will signal freedom from the crutch and good soakings for mother earth, something else much needed.

I’ll share a few other things we all take for granted until we can’t. Who would help you? Who will you help? I raise my hand!

  1. Showers – I didn’t get a shower chair instead using a patio table in a stall shower. It took a long time before I was able to move from the chair to the edge of the bathtub where I could swing into the tub and then stand up to take shower. It took more time before I could use the stall shower.
  2. Hands – Not being able to carry things was frustrating. I’m glad I had my backpacks, thermos and plastic containers. I was so glad when I was reduced to one crutch and had a hand! That first cup of coffee in a ceramic mug was the best.
  3. Limitations – There were certain things I just couldn’t do. The first week I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes so doing simple things in the kitchen was nearly impossible. Doing laundry, changing the sheets, taking garbage out, etc required help from friends. Home delivery of groceries was awesome although I still needed help putting stuff away for quite some time. Tip: you need to ask! friends aren’t mind readers.

What happened? CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Parks Creek Trailhead . . . Let’s Go Swimming (scroll to near the bottom of post)

What really happened? 2020 – A Summer of Surprises (scroll to near the bottom of post)

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom I found in a recent book I was reading. When I saw my surgeon at my first post-op appointment, he told me my rehab would be a practice of patience. He reminded me at my second, and will probably say it again at my third appointment. My PT tells me no two injuries are the same and everyone heals at different speeds and therefore the right time to get rid of your crutches depends on your ability to walk with a normal gait. PATIENCE! I seriously don’t know how people get better if they aren’t disciplined and/or motivated. I’m doing at least an hour of home PT exercises daily plus walking with my crutch 2-4 hours. It’s a full time job!

I challenge you to look around your communities for trails and ADA access green space areas that you might not normally use but that would be appropriate if you were in my situation. Mark your maps! One of the hardest things for me is finding quiet. I haven’t been successful in that endeavor yet. I know I need to get further from roads and development. That’ll come into play soon. Fingers crossed that I can spend February and March regaining strength, balance and mobility so that by April I can start hiking on progressively more difficult trails. I’m still optimistic about being back to full or modified full condition by summer so I can adventure again! It’ll be really hard to reset my expectations further. If I’ve learned anything it’s that I can dig deep. I can call upon my mountain climbing mantra, one step at a time.

12 thoughts on “2021 – Winter Wisdom . . . Quantum Leaps and Silver Linings

  1. You continue to amaze me with your discipline and patience. And your speed, even with the crutch is outstanding (no pun intended).

    • Ah thanks. Just got back from my morning walk and my friend said the same. Dang you’re fast!

      I can see why people never fully recover. I think about people who work or have kids, it wouldn’t be easy to give it time to heal properly.

  2. Dear Jan, I admire your persistence and work ethic. I think we are maybe in the same age range? (I’m almost 63.) As I get older, I find it more necessary to add in more other fitness and training activities so I can keep myself in one piece for the thing I most enjoy – hiking and backpacking. Long story short, I have a lot of empathy for your long struggle to recover! It seems to be going in the right direction, just slowly.
    Best, Minnehik (Kate)

    • Thanks so much. I just keep wondering about people who don’t put in the work. Yes I’m in that 60+ group and don’t cross train as much as I should. I like a lot of the exercises I’ve been give in PT and will keep up that regimen. I’m happy to see light at the end of this very long tunnel. I see the surgeon today for my 4-month post-op. I’m hoping he’ll call me a success story and a poster child/adult. I can’t wait to move beyond this crutch. It aggravates my carpal tunnel hurting my arm and shoulder but being outside and breathing fresh air, moving my body and rebuilding muscle has been a worthy trade off. Thanks again for the words of encouragement and support.

  3. You are amazing in your determination and persistence to heal and get back to hiking! That “crutchercizing” must be difficult and painful, but your patience and will power will surely have many rewards in the long run. We are all looking forward to your trip posts and more of your beautiful wildflower and landscape photos this summer. Take care!

    • Thank you Rachel. Perfect word! I saw the surgeon yesterday for my 4 month check and he assured me I’m right on track. Furthermore he only does this procedure on people motivated to do the work. I’m glad he put me in that category even if it does try my patience.

    • Thankfully I’m not really a moody or grumpy person. When I was recovering from my wrist surgery I noticed more grumpies and I think that’s because I was in a relationship. Rarely having interactions seem to keep those feelings hidden.

      However, I fight sadness, depression and boredom. I feel mad about missing out on so much. I play the Why Me game. It’s not all peaches and roses. Whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself I think about how much worse it could be, how others are fighting much bigger problems.

      Without having someone to lash out at or complain to it falls on my shoulders to make the best of this less-than-desirable situation. I’m grateful for my winter climate. Near daily doses of sunshine and warmth upon my face helps immensely. And so like many others, I soldier on, one step in front of the other and hope this isolation soon comes to an end.

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