April 26, 2015: My third “birthday”
It’s been three years since I took a 50 foot ground fall while sport climbing in Turkey. The recovery process was horrendous, and it’s interesting to experience that I’m still progressing. The progression is no longer linear; the steps are smaller and harder to notice and appreciate. But looking back helps me notice that I’m still moving forward.
There are multiple “layers” that need healing to recover from a trauma like mine, and the physical part is just one of several.
I remember being lost in a ocean of unknowns as I laid in bed unsure if I would ever walk again. I was dying to get answers to all my questions and to hear from people who had experienced similar traumas. I wanted to get an idea of what to expect. Every injury is different, and every one effects a person differently — so I didn’t get my question answered before I had walked the steps myself.
Nevertheless, I made a basic timeline of my progression over the last 3 years to maybe help some of you out there who are seeking for answers.
1 Week In – In Turkey, in and out of surgeries. Sleeping, eating, pooping, repeat. I am simply “existing,” sleepless but not awake.
2 Weeks In – Back in Norway at the trauma floor in Trondheim. More surgeries. Diagnosed with 13 fractures in both ankles, back, pelvic, and right elbow. I can wiggle my toes, fingers, and I’m learning to use my extremely uncoordinated left hand for everything. I started working out my functional arm with a 3 kg weight. Looking back, I realize that this was more for my head than anything else. I was desperate to feel that I had started my “fight” to win back what I had lost.
- Back and Pelvis: Three compression fractures in L2-L4 and two fractures in my pelvis. It was all extremely painful: I couldn’t move a centimeter in bed without pain shooting through my body. I laid 98 % of the time on my back, but the nurses could role me over to the side if they had to. I was not aloud to sit up more that 40 degrees. I peed in a catheter and pooped in a bed pan.
- Elbow: Three fractures in the olecranon screwed together with 9 screws and a 15 cm long plate, and a cast to protect from pain. Triceps tendon almost torn off. I could only bend the joint to 45 degrees. The doctors thought I would likely recover 100% flexibility in the joint, and they were pretty much right: I only lost about 10 percent mobility.
- Ankles: A mess. Open & displaced fracture on one ankle, closed & displaced fracture on the other. All tendons around the ankles were torn and had ripped of small pieces of the bone. Fractures in tallus, calcaneus, cuboid, navicular and metatarsals. My right toe is a black, gooey, bloody mess from necrosis. I’m held together with screws, plates and casts. The doctors won’t to give me a prognosis. I’ll gave to wait and see.
- Mental state: I’ve hit rock bottom. I’m feeling my very core, naked, as if I were peeled like an onion. There is no filter on my emotions. My feelings are so strong. On one hand I’m “high on life:” I survived and I have everyone I love around me, so everything else seems unimportant. One the other hand, I’m scared like I’ve never been before, feeling like I’m alone on a tiny float lost and helpless on a big ocean.
3 Weeks In – Just moved back to my hometown hospital in Molde, Norway.
- Back and pelvis: For the first time, I get to lay on my stomach, and it’s heavenly. I still need help for everything.
- Elbow: I had recovered enough strength and flexibility to lift a spoon and feed myself. I could finally bend my arm enough to touch the top of my head. The cast is off, to avoid the joint from stiffening more than necessary. The pain I experienced while bending it to recover flexibility made me see stars.
- Ankles: The casts are off and stitches removed. Blood circulation ok. My big toe is black from necrosis, and the prognoses for recovery is unknown. I don’t know if I can ever fit it into a climbing shoe.
- Mental state: I’m longing for everyday life things that I normally take for granted, like being able to stand up in a shower and feel running water over my body, being able to scratch my back, go to the restroom, or walk or go for a run when I want to be alone or clear my head. The nights feels endless, The pain doesn’t let me sleep for more that a couple of hours at a time.
1 Month In – Now I’m at a beautiful rehab center near the ocean in Aure, Norway. I have a great rehab therapist who has a history of working with athletes.
- Back and pelvis: First time sitting up in bed eating, with help of back brace. First TRX training. First time “standing up” on my knees in four weeks, and it made me nauseated and out of balance. They took me off morphine.
- Elbow: I have enough mobility to finally braiding my hair. Lots of static strengthening and stretching to create space in the joint. I can push myself in my wheel chair, sort of.
- Ankles: Exercises for frontal and sagittal rotation of the foot. Ouch, this hurts.
- Mental state: Nightmares about falling, but I’m finally aloud to workout, and I can focus my energy.
5 Weeks In – Still in Aure, Norway. My brother brought me knee pads so I could crawl around. One day I sat in my wheelchair and held on to the back of a friend’s motorized wheel chair, and he towed me about 1km to a nearby town. “Danger is my middle name, baby.”
- Ankles, back, pelvis: Still can’t put weight on my feet, so I’m crawling and building core strength to stand up straight again. Still need a back brace and I’m getting antsy to get out of it. Doing core workouts and sling training in the weight room.
- Elbow: I can touch my nose!! I can get in and out of the wheelchair, shower, and go to the restroom myself.
- Mental state: Watching climbing movies every day, to see climbers taking big falls without decking.
8 Weeks In – Transferred to a second rehab center outside of Oslo called the Cato Institute, which has a lot of great facilities.
- Ankles: The necrosis on my big toe is mostly healed, so I get to rehab in a hot pool without fear of infection. The recovery process accelerates. I can “run” in the water and at least get my heart rate up and work on balance and strength without weight bearing my feet. By now I am pretty self sufficient in my wheel chair.
- Elbow: Missing about 25% flexibility but things generally feel a lot better.
- Back and Pelvis: I have very little pain and I get to do chair yoga!
- Mental state: Positive, big progression.
10 Week In – Now it’s starting to get real. I’m learning to walk again.
- Ankles: Hanging in a harness on a treadmill while progressively carrying my own body weight.
- Elbow: I can touch my shoulder.
- Back and pelvis: My back grew together more straight than it was so it’s stiff and the muscles needed time to readjust, but it’s not really a issue.
- Mental state: I’m training 6-8 hours every day and am psyched!
11 Weeks In – I can walk!
- Ankles: I had my first climbing session on an indoor wall with shoes 6 size bigger than normal. Can walk a few meters without crutches.
- My elbow: Right arm (the one I broke) is really weak. I’m isolating the triceps and regaining contact with the muscles by using weights, and I’m gradually able to do pull-ups and dead hangs.
3 Months In – First time climbing outdoors, but only on TR. I’m crutching through the forest and I climb 5.11.
- Ankles: They hurt like hell but it’s worth every second.
- Elbow: Hurts, but it’s far less limiting than the ankles.
- Mental state: I’ve accepted my situation and I’ve left behind all expectation of grades, or sadness over once being stronger. I’m surprised I’m not more scared. I’m experiencing pure, almost overwhelming, gratefulness.
4 Months In – Focusing 90% of my training toward training for climbing. First time lead climbing, only steep routes.
- Ankles: Still mostly toprop, to protect from hitting my ankles if I fall. They hurt like hell still, especially the first five meters of every route. But I’m always in pain, so it doesn’t really matter if I walk or climb. This stays the same over the next 12 months.
- Mental state: REALLY scared of falling. Like, terrified.
5 Months In – I take a climbing trip to Kalymnos. I can crutch to the closest crags and I sleep in between pitches. I can climb steep routes only. I projected a 7b (5.12b). I do rehab exercises every day. I try to practicing falling on steep routes.
6 Months In – I climb Moonlight Buttress as my 6 month anniversary. I toprope the pitches and realize I will be able to send it one day.
- Ankles: I am walking with trekking poles and ankle braces. I basically can’t carry anything on my back. I’m always in pain, climbing, walking or sitting.
- Mental state: I’ve taken a HUGE mental step forward. I reached a new level of confidence of what I was capable of accomplishing with hard work.
8 Months In – I take a trip to Thailand, climb a couple of 8a routes (5.13b), and then climb my first two 8a+ routes (5.13c). They are extremely steep and I know I won’t hit anything if I fall.
- Ankles: Every first pitch of the day is a “ankle nightmare,” but as I warm up, the pain gets manageable (or it makes me angry and helps me try hard. Rehab exercises are part of my everyday routine. I try to take short runs but I pay with lots of pain and swelling over the two next days, and decide it’s not worth it.
- Elbow: I always climb with a knitted sock thing around my right elbow to avoid the metal plate under the skin hitting the rock.
- Mental state: I’m REALLY scared of falling. Everyone hears my death screams as I take small falls. It’s manageable, and get’s better when I know the route.
1 Year In – Bad! I thought I was back to square one…
- Ankles and elbow: I choose to remove 19 screws and two metal plates from my ankles and elbow. The surgery goes well, but the wound in one ankle got infected and they have to open me up again to prevent the infection from getting into the joint and into the bone. I need a long and intense round of antibiotics that screws me up for a long time, and more rehab.
- Mental state: The mental process of going through a new rehab process is wore than the first time. I was not prepared for such a huge step back and my patience was gone.
1.5 Years In – Getting ready to spending the fall of 2013 in the Red River Gorge, and I fall in love again with my road bike. It is the only thing I do where I don’t feel the slightest bit limited by my injuries. I feel light and fast.
- Ankles: Pain remains severe, especially in the mornings, I have to use walls and sometimes crawl to the bathroom in the morning. But sometimes I walk without pain. I am diagnosed with arthritis in multiple ankle joints. I get orthopedic insoles for my shoes and it makes the world of difference. Over the next few months the pain evens out in both ankles and I’m limping less.
- Mental state: My fear of falling is a lot better, but comes back acutely in short flashbacks triggered by cold conditions or wind.
20 Months In: I go back country snowboarding for first time again! The conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park are pure powder, but it hurts to have a lot of extra weight pulling on my joints, so only go a few times. I stop all intake of pain killers for longer periods at a time.
2 Years In: I’m in the Red River Gorge for another season for my 2nd year anniversary. I am starting to climb vertical routes again, without excessive ankle pain. The pain has evened out and I’m limping less. I can go days without pain killers, sometimes even while climbing, but I usually have to take Ibuprofen while climbing or in the morning when the pain is at its worst.
2.5 Years In: I can snowboard and it hurts way less. I still can’t carry heavy loads. I can hike longer hikes, I can go days without pain killers, and I can go for the onsight without being too limited by fear.
3 Years In: I spend my 3rd Year Anniversary with a group of new friends in the Sikati Cave in Kalymnos. I walked 45 minutes along an extremely uneven goat trail carrying a 20 pound pack of camera gear. Getting there hurt, but it was worth it. I got to climb a whole bunch of amazing routes. In general, I don’t have to “break in” my ankles on the first pitch of the day anymore. The morning pain is usually gone within 30 minutes of waking up. I’m climbing without limitations and projecting the hardest route of my life. I’m on and off pain killers for periods. Amazingly, I don’t limp. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell what I’m been through. Life is damn good! 🙂