Monday, November 5, 2018


Atrophy sets in when muscles haven’t been used for three days. The longer they lie idle the more they atrophy. Atrophy is defined more or less as wasting away or more primly as declining in effectiveness or use. Fascinating eh?  Like you, I never ever considered atrophy in my body parts before I landed on my back, broken, on Highway 1 after flying across the hood of the car that stopped in my path. These days I can hardly stop thinking about it. 

My sister-in-law the doctor was surprised when I described atrophy in my right leg as a stiffening of the muscle. She has only ever read about it I guess because she viewed atrophy as wasting away. In fact my right leg is swollen and for a long while was impossible to bend at  the knee. I had it in a brace to protect the two fractures in my thigh and also my broken kneecap. That was the good leg as my uninjured left was attached to the most broken part of my pelvis.  I am a mess. 

God I hated that scratchy itchy brace.  I described it as a dead sheep strapped to my leg. When I moved in the Hoyer Lift one person was dedicated to supporting my leg.  Dropping it even a little off level or twisting it caused me screaming pain. Burning pain across the thigh rendered me incoherent in agony. I was terrified of moving it incorrectly or knocking it. I lived in immobility with the dead sheep for weeks. Exercising the leg was exhausting. Once liberated you now understand, the bastard leg was completely atrophied. It’s still not ideal but I can bend it and stand on it without screaming in agony. Progress. 

Elias my Occupational Therapist has done more to cure the atrophy than anyone. He massages my leg using painful deep techniques that break up the muscle and the fibers surrounding the muscle. The best way I can describe the feeling of atrophy is as though my leg were encased in dried glue. The surface feels numb and against the glue you have a totally ineffectual muscle trying to move the leg. It’s not exactly painful but it is a sensation that produces a deep seated ache in the knee joint as I force the leg to bend. It is bizarre I tell you. I hope you never have to undergo atrophy.

The ever brilliant Elias deployed my gait belt usually used to support me while standing and stumbling to force my leg to stretch the knee joint. He pulled it up till I gasped in pain and then bent the leg back gently under my wheelchair while he sat on a stool and pulled gently but insistently to bend my atrophied leg back under the chair. The effect was immediate and my leg suddenly felt lighter and looser. Amazing. Painfully astonishing. 

I start my afternoon physical therapy sessions on the bicycle. It has a motor and in the early days I’d let the motor pedal my feet around loosening up the muscles and joints. Nowadays I pedal for twenty minutes as warm up to walking and climbing stairs. My right leg is still heavy and doesn’t move as easily or as fast as my left which is uninjured. But I can lift it till the right leg is straight and I can bend it and I am walking on both legs, only 50% weight bearing on my left as the pelvis above it is still healing from major fractures. But I am walking not hopping, even if my clumsy gait most closely resembles Frankenstein’s monster. Note no hands on my gait belt. 
It is a strange slow road to recovery and I probably have four to eight more months of work to regain my lost mobility they say.  I am aiming more at four months thanks as I need to get back to walking Rusty and exercising at Broga. I am planning on taking Rusty to empty back streets and letting him loose to walk the road even if I can’t keep up.  I want to see him out with me once again. 

Meanwhile I am working my legs here with Tahina practicing going up with my good (right) leg and going down with my bad leg:

I used to envy people I saw walking up and down those three steps.  Now at last, 48 days into rehab it’s my turn.  Now I climb and descend clutching the rails like my life depends on it, which it does. Three trips and I’m spent.  If you want a whole man I am not he but unlike a spinal chord break or an amputee I will get back to walking. To those who struggle with far less chance of that reward than myself, my hat is off to you. Whatever comes next in my life this tussle with atrophy I  shall never forget.  Never. 


Unknown said...

Wow! You've endured so much, but you've championed your way through it and you're getting closer to the finish line every day. You're an inspiration for many of us, Michael. Great rewards for a job well done are in your future, I'm sure of it. You really should consider writing a book or books about ALL of your life's adventures and experiences, good and bad. Hang in there buddy, your on the move and we're still cheering you on! KWBound

Bruce & Celia said...

Amazing what they're doing for you. And you have set goals that are being supported and not discouraged. Hang in there... from where I sit it appears you're moving steadily in the right direction. Great description of atrophy.

Btw, with all that "iron" you carry around now, it lends a whole new perspective to the Iron Butt competition! Think they'll give you a few hours as a handicap adjustment?!

Terri Kohler said...

Keep up with the great progress mind, body and soul

unknowitall said...

Michael, it's to see you're up and about, even if only of short bursts. The progress you've made in the past 48 days is amazing. I hope your recovery continues at this pace. Keep up the good (hard) work. It's paying off!

Celia Bowman said...

I would think your medical writing descriptions from the patients prospective could be very valuable to a medical recovery team. Any journals out there?

SonjaM said...

You are a fighter, Michael. Keep it up.

David Masse said...

We humans are slaves to symmetry. It becomes apparent when symmetrical movements are inhibited by injury or even simply bad habits. By compensating for the injury our bodies cause more grief. Your therapists are working hard and helping you to work hard (safely) to restore the symmetry while the fractured bones knit themselves back together.

It’s a facinating process and you have done an extraordinary job documenting it in astonishing detail.

I can see how these posts will be very helpful for future patients as they struggle on the same path.

Nice work Michael on so many levels.

Conchscooter said...

Thank you. Hope it helps