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.