The trial of miles; miles of trials.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Doctor said I need a backiotomy."

I have been wanting to post an update for some time now but have been holding out for good news.  Unfortunately the good news I have been holding out for hasn't come yet.  

As you all know I suffered a serious back injury on May 6.  As I've looked at the big picture it's seems likely that I've been living with a herniated disc since 2004.  Constant flare ups have been the norm, but I've always managed my way through them.  The lead up to this one was a combination of snowmobiling, moving furniture, tile work and a near fall while running backwards laughing at a three-legged dog.  With the final dagger being a fall on May 1 while running a trail race.  After that fall things were not right leading into the final days before May 6. 

Since things didn't progress well over the first few days, Maria ordered an MRI.  On May 9 I had an MRI on my low back.  Being shoved headfirst into the MRI tube of death was a very terrifying experience.  I'm claustrophobic.  Next time there will be drugs involved.  As it turns out the radiologist that read my MRI must have thought my situation needed immediate attention because the report was back in Maria's hands in less than 24 hours.  The extensive three-page report showed a large ruptured disc in my back.  It also showed two areas between L3 and L4 where disc material had flowed into my spinal canal blocking my nerves.  In addition, there was narrowing of the foramina (spinal canal) and signs of degenerative disc disease.  Maria said it is the most extensive report she has ever seen of a low back MRI.  And she orders several low back MRI's per week.  That's not good news for me or my insurance company.

On May 11 I met with a Neurosurgeon and on May 16 I had surgery to remove the blockages that were pinching my nerves.

 In the OR, as we were waiting for the Valium to kick in, I remember chatting with the CRNA (nurse anesthetist) that I was about to trust with my life.  She too was a runner.  She had run the Bayshore in 2010 and had finished a handful of other marathons.  The last thing I remember was looking my neurosurgeon, Dr. Heilman, in the eyes and saying, "I'm an athlete doc, I'm an athlete..."

Before surgery I was told that some patients immediately regain their foot function once the blockage is removed.  When I woke up in recovery the first thing I remember was a nurse tugging on my big toe and asking me to wiggle it.  I tried and nothing happened.  I remember laying there for several minutes moving my feet and trying so hard lift my toes on my right foot...but couldn't.  I'm told the surgery went well and was successful.  I went home less than two hours after going under the knife. 

The first day after surgery I was slow to get up and down and didn't do much.  Doc said that once I started to feel better he wanted me to walk as much as possible.  I started out making laps down the entrance drive to our subdivision.  Two or three laps at first and then six to eight.  I angrily dragged my dead foot up and down the road.  With each step I slowly adjusted and smoothed out my gait.  After the first day my calf just below the knee was very sore from overcompensating but it slowly improved.  I can steadily walk rather well, but there is nothing to stop my right foot from flopping to the ground with each step.

As of May 25 there has been no change or improvement of my dropped foot.  My brain is not talking to my foot, nothing, not even a whisper.  I have a follow-up appointment with Dr. Heilman on June 1 at which point we will discuss my prognosis.  Maria talked to Doc's PA last week and she said, "If his foot function comes back it may take 3-6 months."  It's hard to feel encouraged with a statement like that.

BUT, I'm not letting this keep me down.  I've been working hard strengthening my ankle and have been walking a lot.  Yesterday I walked one of my favorite running routes for a total of 4.70 miles.  I'm trying to walk more each day and am feeling stronger.  I hope to get the green light to increase my activity in early June.  I'm planning to buy a road bike soon and also want to start swimming in open water a couple of nights a week.  Once I get the OK I will try to run a bit on my foot.  It's a long shot, but I think with some serious concentration I may be able to mid-foot strike and pull it off.

I went through a few really rough days dealing with all this but I'm determined not to lose hope.  I'm focusing on what I can do, not what I can't do.  Each day I tell myself how much worse off I could be and so far it has been working.  I will never give up!

Thanks to all of you for your inspiring words of encouragement, thoughtfulness and support.  If you really want to help me, then I encourage you to continue to lead by example.  Don't let a day pass where you take for granted your fitness and your freedom of mobility.  Be true to yourself and continue to train and race with passion.  For those of you racing this weekend, best of luck to you and know that I'll be thinking about you every step of the way.  Thanks for reading.


  1. Where is the list of TV series you've seen the entire seasons of, that I told you to document!? D@mmit, I don't think you're taking this whole Loc thing to heart 100%.

    You'll be just fine Matt. It's going to take time (Patti also says maybe up to 6 months) and you're not a very patient man, but you can only do what your mind and body are ready to do. Cautiously push yourself, let it heal right and you'll be better in no time.

    It's painful right now to think you're being lazy, keep your mind occupied. 6 months of time waiting, healing, only a blink of an eye in the lifetime you have left.

    When you come back, you'll be back with a vengeance. I am scared for the people that will be running next to you.

    Love the TWO SECOND clip. HA HA

  2. You are definitely an inspiration. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be. Maybe your floppy foot will help you swim like Phelps? Keep on hanging in there. It sounds like you have a lot of good people looking after you, and I know that good things will some how come of this.

  3. I'm going to start my marathon in 2 hours. I'll remember every word when I'm feeling it at the 3 hour mark. It sounds like you're "adapting." Great job.

  4. Matt,
    My family and I are praying for your recovery. Just getting back in touch with you and following your blog has been very inspirational to me. I am now preparing not only for my 5Ks but for the Brooksie Way half marathon in October. Did a 7.5 mile run this morning - my longest run since '92. I am definitely thankful that I decided to return to running and that I'm physically able to do so. I continue to be impressed by your effort and dedication both before and after your injury and hope your recovery continues as swiftly as possible!

  5. I suffered from the same thing drop foot on one side. The only reason i am better today is acupuncture. Within hours of my first session i could begin to lift my toes slightly. within a month i was running again. Seriosly might be worth giving it a go. Best of luck.. I know how frustrating it is but hopefully you make a full recovery.