[WARNING: This post includes graphic photos of a serious injury]
If you’ve been alive long enough, then chances are you’ve suffered some sort of injury. Maybe it was climbing-related, maybe it was from another extreme sport, or maybe it was just a freak accident.
Whatever the cause may be, it can be REALLY easy to fall into a pit of despair if you aren’t careful. So this week’s article is for those of you who have suffered a recent injury or may be getting frustrated with your recovery. Hopefully this story will give you the push you need to keep going 🙂
Obviously injuries suck, but often times they can teach us valuable lessons and bring us together as a community. Sometimes we just need to learn to roll with the punches and make the best of a crappy situation.
So, in light of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be nice to share an awesome recovery story from my friend, Brittany Butters.
Brittany is what I like to call “One of my Verve friends” – a fellow climber with a shared love of Verve Lorellis. For now, we remain online friends, but I look forward to climbing with her whenever I make it out to Arizona, where she will surely be crushing!
Her comeback story is completely inspiring and a great reminder that perspective changes everything. Enjoy!
Looking Back on My Injury
by Brittany Butters
This week marks the anniversary of my birth, but this time it’s a little different from the previous years. On the night I turned 26, many of my thoughts were filled with the tragic accident that changed my life forever.
On November 18, 2013, a piece of glass severed my leg down to the bone. It has been a year since the incident, and oh how my life has changed. This is my story…
Now I don’t want to go into too many details, but in the middle of the night (in the dark), I bumped a poorly placed picture frame on the wall. When I tried to regain my balance after stumbling, I landed on a perfectly angled piece of glass that severed my leg.
I went to the hospital and waited over 12 hours for surgery. Once I came to, and the doctor came in to explain what was going on, I got the news about the damage.
- Right calf laceration
- Right Achilles tendon laceration
- Right perineal tendon, peroneus longus and brevis tendon lacerations
The doctor was very straightforward with me and explained that he wasn’t sure how things would turn out in the long run, but he said I would be very lucky if I ever walked normally again.
I stayed that night in the hospital and went home the next day. It was one of the most agonizing “sleepovers” of my life. No amount of pain medication could ease my suffering, and the more they gave me, the sicker it made me feel.
The months following the accident were uneventful because I couldn’t move very much due to pain or fatigue, but it was eventful in the sense that I didn’t know what was going to happen with my recovery. I went through many episodes of anime, doctor visits, multiple casts and LOTS of physical therapy.
They initially cast my leg in a pointed-toe position to allow my tendons to heal easily. However, this made bringing my foot and ankle back to a normal position extremely difficult. So difficult that a year later I am still having trouble with the way everything has fused back together.
When I wake up in the mornings or sit for too long, I walk “zombie status” until it warms up. The only difference I have noticed in that respect is that more recently my recovery time during “zombie mode” has improved immensely.
So I bet your wondering how everything turned out!
Well, I learned to walk again, and yes, I had a nice limp for a while, but eventually I learned to walk normally!
Timeline of Recovery:
- 3 months: I got a walking boot and started moving around without crutches. I also started physical therapy at this time and worked my butt off for months.
- 5 months: I was able to walk pretty well and “graduated” from therapy. Also, I started to climb on auto-belay at my local rock climbing gym.
- 6 months: I started bouldering easy stuff and routes that weren’t too high. Once I became a little more comfortable I started pushing myself on harder routes, but still tried to stay on the ones that didn’t go as high.
As I started noticing the deficits in my climbing, I began doing more strengthening exercises with a new physical therapist again until about a week ago. My climbing ability is somewhat stifled due to the fact that my injured leg can’t handle heel hooks or big moves off little toe holds since the functionality in my toes hasn’t fully returned.
Also, my leg won’t tolerate aggressive shoes because my nerves are too sensitive, thus I wear two different shoes. On my good leg, I wear Dragons, and on the other, I wear my Anasazis that are sized a little too big. This actually surprises lots of climbers, and they seem to think it’s a fashion statement haha.
1 Year Post-Surgery
Fast forwarding to a year post surgery here are some specifics.
I can now hike, run on any type of surface with no pain, climb decently well, stand on one leg and do calf raises, walk on the tips of my toes, and perform other physically demanding activities. I know a lot of these things seem easy to people, but trust me, when you sever as many tendons and muscles as I did, it is extremely hard and frustrating to learn how to do it all again.
I still don’t have the best range of motion in comparison to my other leg. My toes don’t have full functionality. I can’t feel portions of my leg or foot, and I’m not sure when or if the feeling will return. The parts of my foot that I can feel are super sensitive and uncomfortable. I have nerve damage that is painful and frustrating to deal with on a daily basis. However, when I put it into perspective the cons are somewhat trivial since the pros seem to overshadow them tenfold.
It has been a year now, and I am able to have a normal life and experience all the things that I used to enjoy! If I could go back, of course I would not wish for it to happen again, but it did give me many positive things other than physical activity.
I feel that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to and that no task is too big. I have gained confidence in myself and a more appreciative outlook on life and my accomplishments thus far.
Life has become this big world of opportunity, and I would love to share my experiences and what I have learned so that others can benefit from it. Many people don’t know what it’s like to feel genuine depression and uncertainty, but I promise that just keeping a reasonable outlook on life can make all the difference.
After all, everything is about perspective. Nothing matters or doesn’t matter unless you give it weight. My leg could have turned out so much worse, but it hasn’t and hopefully it never will.
If anyone has any questions don’t hesitate to ask! I hope this can help someone in need of a little push or a better perspective. Life turned out great and I am a better person because of all the hardships I’ve had to face.
This story was originally published on Brittany’s blog: Into the Mind of Butters
Interview with Brittany
ME: Since your parents didn’t tell you about the doctors expectations concerning your recovery, what were your goals or expectations at the beginning of the recovery process? Were you just trying to learn how to walk again or were you motivated to get back to climbing ASAP?
BRITTANY: I mean my doctor didn’t sound optimistic at all about anything I would ask him concerning my recovery. It was always, “I don’t think so, but we will see.” So it was pretty much up to me to form my new reality, but to be honest I never REALLY considered not being about to do all things I could do prior to my injury.
Yes it was frustrating, and yes, at times I did get down on myself, but I never truly believed I wouldn’t be able to run or jump or climb ever again. I knew I would have to start slow with learning how to walk, but my ultimate goal was to be able to climb outside again and to climb well.
There’s a V7 in the Superstition Mountains that I would like to get. I don’t believe it has any female ascents yet. So I just started projecting it now that I’m back, and it’s definitely my goal for this outdoor season here in AZ. I feel it would be a defining moment for my climbing and my injury because it’s such a full value problem and would test my leg to it’s max.
ME: That would be sick! I hope you get the FFA! At any point during your recovery, did you ever think about completely walking away from climbing?
BRITTANY: Well, I tried to reason with myself and understand it could be a real possibility that I would not be able to climb again, but I never gave the thought real weight. If I caught myself thinking about it too much, it would just upset me, and I would push the idea out of my head.
ME: What gave you hope during the hard times of your recovery to keep going?
BRITTANY: Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope in my recovery, or at least in the beginning stages. I was pretty distraught and not sure what to think at the time. Especially since the doctor never gave me a good answer or an answer I wanted to hear.
I know that’s not a response most people expect, but it’s the truth. What did give me a sense of drive in the beginning though was having to take care of my new 10-week-old puppy. I had wanted a dog for so long to take outside with me climbing and just two weeks after getting him I got injured.
I had to take care of him and teach him everything while on crutches and barely being able to move around. That was interesting to say the least haha…
Fast forwarding a little though to when I was able to walk again without my walking boot– my attitude slowly began to change, and there was a small flicker of hope that I would be able to have a close to full recovery. At that point in physical therapy is when I started to kick it into overdrive and never really looked back.
ME: That’s awesome! How are you climbing now (one year post-accident) compared to how you climbed pre-accident? Have you been able to maintain most of your strength during your recovery?
BRITTANY: Well, I would say I’m a stronger climber overall actually. I just sent my first V6 outside this weekend!! I almost sent it last weekend, but I was unsure of the top out, and it’s pretty high. So I just wanted to be certain, but I should have just sent it haha! These are the struggles I deal with now though.
I am a little less daring because I don’t want to risk injuring my leg, but I still try as hard as I can. I would say the only area I’m lacking now that I wasn’t before is heel hooking. I injured lots of nerves so heel hooking is really painful especially outside.
I’ve been trying to work through it the best I can. The V6 actually has a really painful heel hook for me, but I just try to focus on something else. Also when I have to stand on a tiny foot hold with all my weight, I notice it’s really difficult since my toe functionality is not quite there yet.
ME: WOW! Congrats on the send! Is there anything you would recommend to a fellow climber with a recent injury?
BRITTANY: I would tell a fellow climber that is mildly injured to listen to your body and keep things in perspective. I know climbers can complain a lot about even the little things, so when you have a serious injury, all you think when you hear people complain is “trust me, you don’t have it that bad.”
Yes, maybe you will have to take off a few days or weeks, but in the long run that’s nothing, and it’s probably good for your body to have the rest. For those with serious injuries, I would say it starts with eating healthy, the better you eat, the more your body can take from the food to help you heal.
I noticed a huge difference in pain tolerance and just overall comfortability when I would eat healthy balanced meals. I would also say listening to your body is important. You need to know when the right time is to start again, and once you do, pay close attention.
Your goal should be longevity, not for immediate, and most of the time costly, results. I know it can be hard, especially when you see all the people you used to climb with crushing again, but learning to keep a good grip on the reins and knowing when to release them is important.
If you have any questions for Brittany, you can contact her via Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.