A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, my favourite Star Wars character said “never tell me the odds!” When I suffered a terrible fall and broke my femur 9 months ago, with a long and painful road ahead, this became my mantra – and this is the story of how, with the help of Katie Holtham at Beatty Park Physio and her version of the Force, we beat the odds. And I ran again and savoured every breath, step and heartbeat as I did so.
With the specialist guidance, support and cutting edge treatments from Katie and her practice, I ran again, and for over an hour at a time within 7 months of the fall.
Breaking your femur is horrifically painful – it’s the largest bone in the human body and can be life threatening depending on how close the break is to major arteries. I had to have 3 hours of major surgery to reduce and fix the femur with a 25cm plate and 12 metal pins. The pictures are gruesome. There was a long stay in hospital with needles and tubes in places you don’t want to think about. That aside, the loss of dignity for an independent person such as myself was tough – you can’t bend your leg, move, wash without help, go to the toilet without mobility aids, and even putting on clothes was painful and challenging. I couldn’t drive for 12 weeks. And that’s before you even think about the huge scar on my quad. I cried the first time I saw it without medical dressings to hide it. It totally changes your life.
But there something worse for me. I was, or am, a runner. I used to be a relatively useful UK club runner before moving to Perth and still, even now, competitive for my age category. Dealing with what lay ahead was to present one of the toughest, painful, frustrating but yet uplifting times of my life.
People said “you won’t be running again then”, “you’ll not want to wear shorts anymore”, “what a shame!”, “you’ll be lucky to be walking by Christmas”.
These negative comments may have upset me at the time, but these people didn’t count on two factors – firstly, I’m a pretty determined person, and secondly, having Katie and her team at Beatty Park Physio in my corner was a game changer. It’s like having the dream team. We were more determined to beat those odds – I had to listen to one person only during rehab, Katie said – her! And I’m so glad I did.
The first challenge was being able to walk. This took 3 months – from the walking frame, to crutches, and constant exercises to restore mobility and bend in my right leg, and being able to weight bear. And each week, Katie added a new target, new exercises to keep pushing me. There were tears – and squeals of pain, and setbacks. The first time she made me walk in the pool was awful. But every milestone felt great – even managing one revolution on the aero bike, or 10 bends on the pilates reformer, or a bend of 90 degrees were huge achievements. Katie went the extra mile with me, pushing my pain to the limits every session.
We gradually rebuilt my muscle and muscle control memory to be able to reload the leg very gradually. Use of the Game Ready ice compression machine to reduce post-op swelling from the day after I left hospital, and regular sessions in the pool, and the Beatty Park Physio gym meant by December I could walk the whole of the parkrun 5km. That was a great day. I could swim and cycle .But it was just the first part.
I wanted to run. Of course I did. In my darkest moments – Katie promised me I would. I didn’t always believe her – especially the first time she made me go on the anti-gravity treadmill to try and jog for 30 seconds at 30% of my body weight. I could barely lift the leg that was broken. It felt very distressing. The metal plate was digging into my knee. But we persevered.
I’ve long been an advocate of the alter-G treadmill. Its uses technology developed by NASA that allows you to run bearing as little of your bodyweight as you choose, whilst your legs are enclosed in a “bubble” that fills with air to support you. Unlike aqua running (which I also did), you can progressively increase your load bearing, by even tiny percentages each session, to a point where you can be confident your leg (or any injury) can carry your full weight outside in a natural environment. Running strengthens and promotes bone growth – so Katie was keen to get me to start jogging as soon as she could.
Persistence – and tears – meant over the next 6-8 weeks, and doing exactly what I was told in terms of how long to jog, walk and at what percentage of bodyweight resulted in steady progress. The day we got to 50% load bearing and ran for 5 whole minutes was incredible. I had to alter my gait and leg lift due the “hardware” in my leg, and I won’t lie, I could feel every step. I trained my mind to switch off the pain and focus on the weekly targets and the end game.
By February, I could run/walk outside for 5km. I still had constant physio sessions and exercises to do every single day. It took great discipline – but by mid-February, with the help of my most supportive running friends, and Katie, I could run all the way for 5km. And then 7km, 8km, 10km, 12km and 13km by mid-March – and more than a few times a week, getting faster each time. I felt alive. I felt like me again (just a slower one). I won’t lie – it was painful. Katie had been concerned about the “crunching” around my knee in the break area. She recommended her preferred sports orthopaedic surgeon – Ross Radic. He was fantastic – he saw that I had to run and be active – and identified that once the bone was fixed, the hardware should be removed as it was causing issues with my mobility. So that’s what happened 4 weeks ago.
Most plates and pins stay in for up to 18 mths, but thanks to Katie’s work with me, advice of Ross Radic and my guidance from sports doctor Gary Couanis, the broken bone healed in 6 mths. And the hardware could be safely removed. It did involve another major surgery – but it was far less traumatic. I walked out of the hospital with crutches and was in the gym, pool – and Katie’s practice – within 2 weeks of surgery. There’s no crunching in my leg, and the use of the Game Ready treatment reduced the soft tissue swelling and scar significantly in a short period of time. I’ll be running very soon.
I have a feeling there’s a triathlon in my near future - and I know , with Katie and the team at Beatty Park in my corner guiding me, and the support of my running/cycling/swimming friends, I’ll take that triathlon apart.
Another favourite film quote of mine is “If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything” said Marty McFly in Back to the Future. You certainly can. But it helps if you have a great physio such as I’ve found in Katie. It’s such a shame she is a Chelsea fan.
Suzanne McMahon, May 2017