Greg Dillon M.D.


Achilles Heel/Surf-Head Part I

...started of as a weekend warrior injury... comical, sad, frustrating...

Posted Sep 14, 2010

I'm sitting, accordion-squashed in my Hospital for Special Surgery bed. A PICC line, IV catheter in my rightarm tracking to my heart, a periph

Then, there's the East River. Right outside my room's curtain wall of windows. Open, fast flowing, albeit flat and grungey water.  Kind of hypnotic.

It's definitely my room as I've spent more time here than not over that past two months. Ok, exaggeration. But a lot of time. This is my third surgery in six weeks, and my surgeon, a friend from our summer, beach town, has given me the VIP suite. I'm his bane, source of all guilt and shame. A walking list of manifest complications. Not his fault, just bad luck.

It started out as a basic weekend warrior injury. Two hours into a dawn, session of chest-high surfing, I look at my watch and rush in for a scheduled tennis match. Then, ten minutes into our pre-match rally, pop. No pain, no shock, just a cross-court, audible pop, and I collapse like a dropped marionette. I feel embarrassed, ridiculous, a little vulnerable and ashamed. I had run my sixth Olympic triathlon the weekend before. What the hell?

But I go pragmatic. The tennis pro calls our surgeon friend. He diagnoses the ruptured Achilles tendon, classic vulnerability of the weekend warrior,splints me and does the repair the next day at Special Surgery.

Three weeks later, with delts of steel from crutching around New York, I go to his office to get my cast removed. Instead, I slip and fall, 180 lbs onto the ball of my injured foot, and scream like trampled cat. He takes the cast off, and the would be healed ankle is in a pool of bright red blood. Re-rupture.
Operation number two. The surgeon decides to play it safe and keep me in the hospital for a day or two, shifting me to my river-view room, feeling my pain and frustration. It should be a quick in and out, merely a square one set-back. But... routine, intra-operative wound cultures grow out two bacteriae. Best to stick around for a few days to figure out what they are and how to treat them. Two days turn to three, five, six. Meanwhile the infectious disease team riddles my system with big-gun, IV antibiotics. Turns out, good idea, as both my bugs are multi-resistant, hospital born infections, MRSA and Acinitobacter.

Finally a break in the clouds, both bugs are sensitive to Bactrim , an old-school, oral antibiotic . I can go home, no more IVs, just pills, stomach cramps and diarrhea as side effect, but basically back to square one. Three weeks later, we are back to square two. I return to his office to remove the second cast and move on to a partial-weight-bearing, storm-trooper boot, and physical therapy. Instead, with cast off, it appears that my wound is now red, inflamed, tender, and draining frank pus. Full blown wound infection.

Operation number three, incision and drainage. And this time, probably not a good idea to close the wound, as it will just get reinfected. Thus the open incision and wound vac with three times a week dressing changes, likened to a back-alley liver resection sans anesthesia. And, a PICC line for four to six weeks of daily IV antibiotics to be safe. Are you freaking kidding me? Enraged. Almost crying. Then just burnt, sad. Chi gong iPhone chimes, buzzes, and mocks me again. I can't help anybody. Can't seem to help myself. This isn't death, not even cancer, or diabetes. This is an inconvenient sports injury gone wrong, then double-extra wrong. It's not the end of the world but it weighs on me. How will I work? Pick up my kids? Swim? Get my pants on and off. Annoying, comical, sad, frustrating.

But then there's the East River again...