This the story of how I ruptured my achilles and followed a conservative rather than surgical approach to manage it that resulted in hiking the mountains of China 5 months later.
I was lucky that there was a great physio on site that called a few of the hospitals to see what the waiting times were like.
As we waited around they strapped my foot down to point my toes, dressed me back up in the team uniform of matching purple tracksuit tops and bottoms.
One of my teamates packed me into the front seat of his car, gave me a beer and put another in my pocket and off we went.
He was great, talking about the real football and checking how my pain was. And It wasn’t until then that I really took stock of what was going on.
Academically and cognitively I knew that I had snapped my achilles. But what was fascinating was that there was very little pain.
There was a lot of annoyance, there was a lot of frustration and disappointment at what I knew was going to be a long rehab period. But not much pain.
Even in the moment that it occurred there was very little pain. There was the bang and the quick assumption that someone had kicked me but I’d always heard that snapping your achilles is the most painful thing you can suffer.
And I should quickly clarify that I am not some macho, tough as nails type. I spent years as a junior faking hamstring injuries so that I wouldn’t have to train in the rain.
I’ll reflect on this more in the conclusions but for the time being just imagine a car ride, footy talking, one person acting normal and casually speeding a little, the other dressed in a maroon matching trackie ensemble drinking beer and occasionally reaching down and feeling his leg.
I was dropped off at the hospital, I hopped my way to the information desk, got put in a wheelchair which could only be pushed and got told that I’d have to leave my stubby of beer with them.
At triage I was asked for my date of birth, nature of complaint, pain out of 10 and given a solid up and downing by the matronly nurse. My purple tracksuit combo wasn’t ideal in this moment.
As we discussed earlier the pain wasn’t that high but having played the waiting game in hospitals before I knew better than saying it didn’t hurt and so I said 7/10 pain due to my snapped achilles.
“There’ll be a fair bit of a wait mate. You should know that we don’t give painkillers out until you have seen one of the doctors” the nurse said as she wheeled me past the tv room playing the football, round the corner and down the hall.
At RMIT I teach a subject that looks at the therapeutic effect of communication. Essentially it is known that people like to be involved or at least informed as to what is going on.
I spent 3 hours in the hallway ducking and weaving so that my limbs weren’t banged by people or flying hospital beds.
When I had free moments I was reading as much as I possibly could about achilles surgery vs conservative management.
During that time the pain started creeping up. Where it had been only background noise in the car, the longer I sat and the more frustrated I got the more the pain started to build.
When my phone battery died so did my patience and so I started pushing myself backwards using my good leg, banging the wheelchair into as many things as I could.
This got some attention and a young doctor came rushing over asking what I was doing. I explained that I was trying to get back to the triage nurse to find out what the bloody hell was happening.
The young doctor seeking to pacify me asked what I had done. I explained the snapped achilles.
He nodded patronisingly and said that they were very rare injuries but he’d have a look anyway.
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a look of surprise quite so much as when that young doctor ran his hand down the back of my calf and reached the divot that was formerly my achilles.
“Oh my, you really have snapped it.”
Science of Pain and how Frustration can Influence it
I touched on it in the narrative but in the days after the injury I kept thinking back on the pain of the injury.
At the time of the incident there was the shock of a collision, not necessarily pain. Walking on it was more a severe weakness than pain.
And then in the car, with a beer, listening to the radio and chatting with my friend there was a little achiness in the achilles but no pain.
But 3 hours into the hallway wait in the hospital the pain had built a lot.
As myself and others have written about before; pain is not simply the amount of tissue damage. It is more of an alarm system emanating up from the body.
I would love to know how much my knowledge of what was occurring influenced my body’s sensation of pain.
Was my pain less because whilst my brain knew there was some severe damage it also knew that it would recover within 6 months?
Or is the popular culture around achilles ruptures sensationalised and not as painful as it is shocking?
What was certain was that sitting in a hallway ducking and weaving between the foot traffic with no explanation as to what was happening and no one actually listening to me built my pain up enormously.
Errol St Osteo: Did Not Use Any Swear Words During it’s Hospital Hallway Wait (And In Hindsight Is Very Proud Of This…)