Friday, November 03, 2006

The ankle and the miracle that is the USC Health Center

A little under two weeks ago (10/22/06), I was playing flag football with the defending champs - Hammer Time. For some reason I was in on offense, probably because I'm a pass-catching machine. Actually, that's not true (I couldn't catch a cold if I tried). But because Jeff was double-covered and Merf was on the other side of the field, Eddie got the crazy idea that "Hey, maybe if I lob it to Josh, he can outjump everyone, catch the ball and score a touchdown." It sounds good in theory.

Then again, this is the same "Josh" that while playing basketball two years ago in the Lyon Center took a break-away steal down the length of the court for a sure dunk, until hyper-extending his knee while trying to jump. Basically, I'm not the elite athlete I think I am.
Back to the football field. Eddie lobbed the pass toward the corner of the end zone. I jumped up in traffic to catch it, got my hands around it, and started to reel it in. Just then another guy came in and knocked the ball out of my hands. I came down and landed on someone's foot. I landed hard and hit the ground. At that moment, I felt all the pain in the world on my right leg and ankle.

That night I went to the Emergency Room to get my ankle checked out. They said that I needed to see an orthopedist and stay off it. I made an appointment with the USC Health Center, but I wasn't allowed to see the orthopedist. First, I would have to see a primary care doctor who would - if he felt necessary - then refer me to an orthopedist at the USC Health Center.

The doctor looked at my ankle and said it was just a sprain and that there were four things I needed to do: ice it, elevate it, put pressure on it and stay off it. Keep in mind that I probably wouldn't have thought of THAT on my own...except I'd been doing that all night. But I digress.

At the end of the appointment, I asked to see an orthopedist. The doctor said I didn't need to to see an orthopedist. Apparently, he's easily offended if someone wants to get a second opinion or - heaven forbid - a friggen specialist. So I let it go. I continued to crutch around on campus and wear a boot to stablize my ankle.

The swelling went down, the bruising wasn't as severe. It seemed like it was improving. But the pain wasn't going away. I couldn't really drive to see a doctor; I wasn't supposed to put any sort of weight on the ankle, and it hurt to flex my foot to drive. If I was going to see an orthopedist, it would be at the USC on-campus Health Center. But according to the doctor I'd seen, that wasn't necessary.

For a week, I continued to use crutches, but I also took full advantage of the boot on my leg. I walked around on it, testing it and finding out just how much weight I could put on it. The ankle started to feel better. I felt a little more mobile. Plus my arms were killing me after a week and a half of crutches.

Walking felt good, but I stilled used the crutches for longer journeys. I didn't want to rush back, but I had no problem ditching the crutches. I just felt so helpless, and I don't like being dependent on others. I like knowing I can open doors for myself, get around on my own and not need to rely on others. After a week and a half of golf cart rides and campus cruisers getting me to and from class, I began to rediscover that independence. I never considered letting that independence slip away again.

But my ankle still felt awkward, and I still wanted to see an orthopedist. I called the health center, and once again got the run-around. I couldn't see an orthopedist unless a primary care doctor recommended me. I went back to the health center on Thursday (11/2) to revisit the primary care doctor. The bruising from my ankle appeared to have spread to the bottom of my foot. I didn't know what that could mean because I didn't have any pain on the bottom of my foot.

The primary care physician said that the bruising pattern changed because of gravity pulling the blood down. Okay. It still hurt, though. I told him I'd been icing, elevating, pressuring and resting my ankle. But I wanted more. I wanted to know what else I could do for a faster recovery.

"There's not a magic cure for it. Just time," he told me.

"I know there's not a magic cure," I said. "But I'd like to still see an orthopedist just to make sure it's just a sprain."

The doctor looked offended. How dare I attempt to circumvent his infinite wisdom by requesting a specialist. For I, the small-brained student, could not possibly comprehend the medical profession at a greater level than him. He was the primary care physician. I was a mere mortal with a sore ankle.

I asked if I could possibly injure it any worse by walking on it. I certainly didn't want to complicate the matter. The doctor informed that as long as I didn't put too much stress on it, the ankle would be fine. I just needed to wear the boot or use the crutches until I felt I could use the ankle. At that point, I could ease back into things.

True, I don't have the qualifications, but I know when to consult an orthopedist as opposed to any other type of doctor. I wanted a specialist. The doctor begrudgingly acquised.

"I can write you a recommendation to see the orthopedist if you really feel you need to see him."

"Yes, I would really appreciate that," I replied.

"The orthopedists don't like us to send someone to them without X-rays. Do you have the X-rays from the emergency room?"

"No, I didn't get them, and I wouldn't be able to drive up there and pick them up any time soon."

"Okay, then we'll have to take some here."

The doctor told me that once I took the X-rays, I could leave. He smirkingly said he'd call me if he saw anything that needed urgent attention. I got the X-rays and caught a golf-cart home. I didn't expect a call nor did I get one. I guess the ankle would be fine.

This morning, I woke up and the ankle felt great. The swelling had gone down, and the bruising continued to fade. My roommate Jake needed a ride to the airport, and I had nothing but time. I knew I couldn't drive with the giant boot on my right foot; I could control the pedals because the boot was too wide to hit only one at a time. The decreased swelling allowed me to fit into my right shoe once again. I took Jake and his girlfriend to the airport before heading to the USC Health Center for my appointment with the orthopedist.

I didn't budget my time well enough to get back to campus to be on time for the appointment. I parked the car and needed to head over to the health center. I told myself to forget the crutches and forget going back to my appartment to get the boot. I was already 15 minutes late. I walked over wearing regular shoes. What a relief. The only word to describe how I felt about my ankle at that point was relief. It felt great to know I could walk on it without collapsing in pain.

I got to the USC Health Center and met with the orthopedist. I sat down, he introduced himself and like a wrecking ball into a condemned home, he delivered his diagnosis. It may have hit harder than a wrecking ball. Ligaments that hold together the two bones in my leg, the tibia and fibula, near the ankle were either severely damanged or disconnected. As a result, my ankle had shifted significantly to one side and worsed with each step I took. This wasn't going to get better with ice and elevation. I needed surgery.


When he said that word, surgery, my heart sank. I don't want surgery. I don't want to go under the knife. I don't want to be wheeled around a hospital to get my foot worked on. I don't want surgery. I want to be back on my feet, without crutches, without the boot, without pain.

When I asked why no one had seen this before, he said that a primary care doctor wouldn't have spotted the shift. As an orthopedist, he recognized a larger-than-usual gap between one side of my ankle and the bones in my leg. Great. Well, at least I finally got my orthopedist. Super. Just friggen super.

"Okay, so what kind of surgery do I need?" I asked.

"Well," he began. "We would go in, reattach the ligants and put in a screw to hold everything in place. After 12 weeks, you could go back and get the screw taken out. Or you could--"
TWELVE WEEKS? Did he say 12 weeks? Isn't that three months? Three whole months, just recovering? I can't do that. I won't do that. I don't want to do that. Wait, he said "or" something. What was he saying. Turns out, it wasn't exactly that "or" was more of a silver lining than clearing the clouds.

"...Or you could have a biodisposable screw put in so you don't have to go back in to get the metal screw removed. It'd be one less procedure."

One LESS procedure? I don't want one LESS procedure. I don't want ONE procedure. One is too many.

"But don't worry. It's a very simple procedue," he attempted to reassure me. "Surgery like this, you'd be done in 10 minutes and be home the same day. It's pretty simple."

Simple? Uh, doc, maybe it's simple for you because you do this all day long, but please don't attempt to trivialize or downplay this. Not only am I terrified of going under the knife, I don't even want to think about it. To refer to it as "simple" doesn't help. And telling me you could break speed records with my procedure doesn't instill confidence.

The orthopedist recommended I go see the foot and ankle specialist at the USC Health Sciences campus. He had a health center nurse call to make an appointment for me as soon as possible. They could double-check this orthopedist's diagnosis and help me figure out a time for surgery.

I asked when he recommended I have the surgery, and he gave the answer I really didn't want: as soon as possible. Actually, the answer I truly wanted was "Surgery is optional." And while I guess it is optional, the other option is arthritis in my ankle for the rest of my life. No thank you. Okay, fine. I'll do the surgery. Even as I type this, I shutter with every mention of it.

"So what's going to happen after I have this surgery?" I asked. At this point, I couldn't sit up straight, I couldn't even raise my head. Depression started to sink in. This couldn't be happening.

"You'd have to be off it for 12 weeks. On your crutches and in your boot," he revealed. "You won't be able to put any pressure on it. You can't risk moving the screw that they're going to put in. You won't be able to put any weight on it."

Well that's fantastic. On a side note, just yesterday I registered for a sailing class next semester. I can't wait to see how that works out. I really hope I don't have to drop the class. Then again, I used to also hope I'd never need a surgery. I guess we can just forget that.

"Okay," the orthopedist said. "But you are good to go today. Uh, where are your crutches, or your boot?"

"I didn't bring them here. I walked."

"You walked??" He sounded astounded and worried at the fact. "Why would do you do that?"

"The doctor I saw yesterday said I couldn't hurt it any worse, so there's no harm in testing it out."

Then the orthopedist said the two words that I'd been fearing since my first visit to the health center the week prior.

"That's wrong."

Shit. That's no good. I walk on it over to the health center without the boot or crutches. The orthopedist seemed appauled that I would even consider walking back. But why should I be surprised? This is the same USC Health Center that diagnosed Brad with kidney failure a few years ago. By the way, his kidneys were fine. He just slept on his back funny.

"Can you call someone to get a ride home? You can't walk on this."

I summonded the golf cart and caught a ride back to my appartment. I immediately started looking for somewhere to get a second opinion. I just want to make that surgery is the right move before making it happen. My good friend Andrew would be the first to tell me to make sure I get an ankle injury properly diagnosed. Either way, I know something is wrong. It's tough, however, it accept what my be necessary to fix it.

I can't even comprehend this. I was just playing a football game. A flag football game. Now I'm going to be on crutches for at least three more months, missing a ski trip, unable to drive and essentially immobile for a quarter of a year. I gotta hand it to Jeff and Eddie; I really shouldn't have been playing offense.

No comments:

Hit Counter

Everyone's visiting the NO JOSHIN' blog. Tell your friends to take a look!
Hit Counter