Easing into post-surgery skating

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It’s been a frustrating summer/fall, being laid up after my hip surgery and not healing as fast as I wanted (or the doctors projected), but I’ve finally started to feel like there’s hope in sight. Following my surgery, the immediate pressure and pain inside my hip joint eased, but I wasn’t actually able to sit upright in a chair for months; the angle put undue pressure on the joint and I could only take it in short bursts. So despite feeling generally better and able to walk and stand freely, I wasn’t able to work in a chair, drive, or eat at a dining table. Frustrating, to say the least!

I went to physical therapy and had lots of check-ups with the doctors, who didn’t seem that worried although I was starting to be when my recovery seemed to stall and plateau. I know it’s only been three and a half months since the surgery, but I really didn’t think I’d still be bed-bound after several months, and it was concerning. I completely understand now why pro and elite athletes fall into depression when they’re injured! I’m a pretty positive person in general, but mentally dealing with the recovery was a lot harder than I thought it would be — I expected crankiness and frustration, but I was surprised by a few sudden bouts of panic and anxiety, and an overall cloud of depression that went beyond temporary sadness. It wasn’t even about skating in particular, but about life and general existentialism at that point.

(If you don’t mind seeing a picture of the surgery camera and labral repair, you can click this one for a bigger image. The torn labrum was anchored to the bone, and the broken/loose cartilage pieces that were damaging the joint were pulled out.)

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I miss skating

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I’ve been off the ice for almost 10 weeks now, and it’s the longest I’ve been without skating since I started four years ago. Heck, even just half that time would have qualified as being my longest-ever hiatus, so this summer has felt like an eternity.

The break wasn’t by choice — no matter how busy I get, I always try to skate at least once or twice a week, unless I’m physically unable. This time, though, I was physically unable. Long story short: hip labral tear, broken cartilage, surgery.

Longer story: I started experiencing discomfort and pain in my right hip a few months ago, and it made it impossible for me to sit in a chair or bend my hip joint, which meant the only position I could be in without pain was lying down on my stomach or lying flat on my back. I could occasionally stand without bending, but putting weight on the right hip joint caused pain and exacerbated the inflammation. Result: I spent 95% of my waking hours in bed, trying to do small amounts of work on a laptop when I could prop myself up for small periods of time. Thankfully I work from home so this was not as terrible a scenario as it could have been, but it was pretty uncomfortable.

I’d had this happen once before a few years ago, and when I’d gone to my general physician, I’d been told it was probably an inflammation that would go down with massive doses of Advil. I asked about further tests, but was told it probably wouldn’t yield much and would cost me a lot to have MRIs and scans, and since the doctor didn’t seem concerned, I followed her lead and let the inflammation subside. I was back on my feet in about four to six weeks then.

This time, I decided to try a specialist right away, and as a PSA: Skip the general doctor and go straight to a specialist, always! It doesn’t even have to be the right specialist — I went to a rheumatologist first, and he referred me to an orthopedic surgeon — but the specialists, in my experience, have been so much more helpful and informative. The rheumatologist took an X-ray, an MRI, and then one of those enhanced MRI’s that injects colored contrast dye into the joint. He didn’t see a clear labral tear in the scan (which was his first guess) but suspected there might be one anyway, and also noticed calcified loose bodies in the joint.

I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended arthroscopic hip surgery to confirm the labral tear and repair it, and to remove the loose bodies; he speculated that the presence of the calcifications had been mostly painless until they embedded themselves into a painful spot and caused a massive flare-up. Two weeks ago, I had the surgery, and as it turns out, there was a massive amount of broken cartilage in the joint (over a hundred pieces — some tiny, some the size of a pinky fingernail), which likely caused the labral tear and also minor arthritis. In the surgeon’s words at the post-op: “You were quite the mess, kid.”

Apparently old injuries are the most common cause of cartilage breaking off, but I can’t recall any specific skating incident that would have caused so much cartilage to break away. I would have remembered that much trauma! The doctor did say that sometimes cartilage flakes off and floats in the joint, and that the condition could just be hereditary. I recall having an aching hip some 15 years ago when I’d taken martial arts, so perhaps that started everything. In any case, I’m glad the fragments are out of there, but a little worried the condition may recur — the doctor said that if it does in the future, I may have to get arthroscopic surgery again. I’d much rather this be the result of an old injury than a condition that I’m just prone to having!

I’m recovering from surgery now and walking on crutches, which is slow going since my legs were unused for 2 months and my muscles have atrophied. All those lovely nice muscles I’d built up from regular, rigorous skating have basically turned to mush. I’m trying to be optimistic about what all this might mean for my skating: I have six weeks of physical therapy ahead of me before I can think of returning to the ice. And since this is my landing leg, I’m a little (a lot) concerned that I’ll be told I shouldn’t skate anymore. I know it sounds silly, but that’s my biggest worry in all of this — I feel like non-skaters look at “hip injury” and “ice skating” and think the answer is cut and dried, but meanwhile I’m trying not to have an existential crisis about it.

I was told early on that the doctors’ goal is to return me to a condition where I can do all the things I want to do, so there is hope; I just can’t help worrying. Maybe all will be well and I’ll be back to normal, jumping and spinning as before, but I’m also thinking of a Plan B, such as trying to learn to jump in the other direction if I have to (so I can land on the other leg) — I imagine I’d be the rare skater who jumps clockwise and spins counter-clockwise! Changing direction feels like such an impossible feat at this stage but I’d be willing to do it if it allowed me to continue with freestyle skating. And ice dancing is always another possibility. I’d just always thought of dance as something to do in addition to freestyle, not instead of.  😦

I’m determined to stay positive and get back on the ice (carefully, smartly), though it’s hard not to feel really bummed out about it all. And just when I was making such nice progress with my skating, too!

Just practice and more practice

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It’s been nice to spend some time post-competition to put the program run-throughs on hold for now to get back to learning new skills, which is always motivating. (Although I have to remember to still run my program every now and again! The last time, it took me so long to be able to do a full run-through because I’d gotten out of the habit for so long.)

Most of the new skills have been with spins, mostly because my jumps are still where they’ve been — I’ve been working to get them better, but I haven’t added any to the arsenal, sadly! For the past couple of months, my forward spins have all gone completely AWOL and it’s been my backspins that have shown most improvement, which is a little surprising (though I’ll take it! Don’t say I’m ungrateful!). It’s to do with the entry edge, and my coach and I are working to break down the problem and fix it at the source — I can still do forward spins, but the hit rate is pretty low because a lot of the time, a bad entry means the whole spin is gone.

The camel’s been the most affected by this (urg! It’s completely gone these days), as well as my basic scratch spin, but I can sometimes still salvage a sit spin and the layback, which is improving although I still have issues with keeping my free hip down so I’m not doing that lovely dog-peeing pose as I spin. You know, where your free leg is awkwardly up and open instead of tucked nicely in line with your hips. It’s ugly, I know, but my hips just don’t want to tuck under. I’m also enjoying practicing the back camel, because for whatever reason I find that backward entry a lot more secure than the forward one.

Jumps are much the same, although I’m telling myself that if I squint really hard, my flip and lutz are every so slightly improved. I’ve been working on getting a good jump off the toe pick and not leaving my left leg on the ice too long, so that it looks like I’m jumping off two feet. I’m pretty sure getting that timing better will help ensure I don’t flutz, as will getting my foot crossed in the air, which it really really doesn’t want to do, because I just don’t feel like there’s enough time in the air to do all the things my coach wants my body to do! And the axel is still a long way off, but I’m starting to feel more secure in the jump-into-backspin mechanism, where I jump up and over, and come down straight down on the toe pick instead of trying to swing myself around. I know THAT will never get me there.

Jumps:

Spins:

Final thoughts about Sectionals

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Some additional thoughts post-Sectionals regarding my performances, competing in general, and whatever else (plus video):

Before taking the ice, when dealing with nerves it has never helped me to remember “Bend your knees” (even though it should — I just always forget it promptly) but it did help tremendously to remind myself at every step, “Take your time. Slow down. Don’t rush.”

Sadly, you can never practice for the nerves. Amazing how once second you can be fine, and the next second the nerves can hit and render you almost immobile.

On the upside, competing does get better the more I do it. Each time I’ve stepped onto the ice, I feel a little less sick to my stomach and terrified, which is promising. Not that I’ll ever NOT feel nerves, but it’s comforting to know it gets better.

Also, competing is so much more about dealing with when things don’t go according to plan than it is about doing things perfectly as planned. In practices, I’m focused on doing things exactly as they were meant to be done, but once you’re on the ice the smallest detail can throw you! In my warm-up for the dramatic program I was marking through all the elements and their placements, and I totally mixed up the ends of the rink and got confused, which I never do. I make it a point to do my programs in both directions at my home rink so that it doesn’t throw me off when I’m elsewhere, but all it takes is a split-second and you’re lost. Quick recovery is the name of the game.

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Adult Sectionals: Day 2 (Bronze free skate)

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On to Day 2!

After my dramatic program on Friday, I stuck around to watch the other events for most of the mid-morning (bronze and silver dramatic programs), then headed home and crashed super-early that evening. I was wiped out from the sheer effort of getting up so early, plus the nerves of competing, and then the aftermath of the adrenaline crash. On the upside, it helped me get a decent night of sleep, which I hadn’t gotten the night before.

I was grateful not to have to wake up as early on Saturday, so I had a bit more time to get ready, then headed to a rink nearby the competition for a freestyle session. That rink was an utter zoo, with the regulars out in full force and the many Sectionals adult skaters on top of that. It was the kind of freestyle where it takes a lot of circling and waiting to find an opening to jump, where you’re constantly thinking someone might run into you, and where you feel like trying too hard will get you injured. So I just stayed long enough to get warmed up and feel the ice, then cut things short.

I got to the Sectionals rink with plenty of time to change into my dress and stretch, jog around, and visualize my program. To be honest I was dreading my free skate a little, because there were multiple elements giving me trouble (my flip combo, my lutz, my camel spin) and more opportunities to mess up. Plus, I had already seen from the day before that the bronze level ladies were very good skaters, some quite a bit better than me. I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to win, and I think most adults will agree that it’s more about doing the best you can do, but even so, it’ll never NOT feel intimidating to know you’re competing with really good skaters. Seeing the field keeps things in perspective, both for better and for worse.

This time, I was set to skate later in my group so my coach had me waiting in the locker room, and I missed seeing a lot of the programs. That was disappointing since I like to watch events, but while I didn’t actually feel like it psyched me out to watch the others, maybe there’s an unconscious effect and it’s better to stay in your own bubble? Who knows.

My warm-up went pretty well. There was a rough patch when I wasn’t getting my flip combo despite repeat attempts and it was starting to get to that place where you just dig yourself in deeper into a hole by trying too hard and missing it even more. My coach saw I was overdoing it and called me over to ease off, and also said I was rushing. She reminded me to take my time and wait longer between the jumps, and that turned out to be really important advice, because I think it saved me during the actual program when I went into the flip-loop-toe loop. This combo been my big bugaboo in recent days, and the element I was most worried about, but this time I managed to pull it off and went directly into my sit spin, which is when I recall thinking, “This is going well.” I did mess up my lutz (didn’t get all the way around and two-footed the landing) but I stayed in control through my footwork sequence and pulled off a decent flip. Last was the camel-sit-backspin, and although I had to fight to keep the sit spin going, I held on and had a nice ending.

There were definite bobbles and small mistakes, but even with the lutz error, I skated off feeling really great about the performance, and my coach was super happy with it too. I had no idea where I would place and I wasn’t really concerned with the scores… but when I saw the sheet I literally blurted “Oh my god” in shock to find myself in 2nd out of 7. The first place skater had unanimous 1’s all across so she was clearly better than the rest, but I had received almost unanimous scores with 2, 3, 2, 2, and 2.

Because I missed most of my group I couldn’t tell how well everyone else skated, but I’d seen half of them skate the day before and hadn’t expected to place well. So I was happy to get my medal — although really, the most exhilarating thing was to do my program well and be satisfied with my performance!

Okay, the medal’s not bad either.

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