Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

This post is part of a series regarding my recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Go to the full Achilles archive

Originally Published: September 6, 2015

Week 4: Getting downstairs, and taking small steps

Looking at Kobe’s injury

Two years ago, Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon while his Lakers were playing the Golden State Warriors. I was curious how he reacted. Here’s a video of his injury (don’t worry, it’s not graphic or even cringeworthy), which happens about 40 seconds in.

Like I wrote in my initial post, the moment of my Achilles tendon rupture, I knew what had happened and what it meant. You can see in Kobe’s eyes a deep disappointment. (Or maybe that’s just what I see.)

What’s also striking to me is that he was able to get up and walk around. When my injury occurred, walking was the very last thing I wanted to do, in case it would endanger me further. And in this video, we not only see Kobe limping around, but shooting free throws!

Kobe’s reaction is similar to what I’ve read in injury/recovery blogs. There are some people who suffer an Achilles tendon rupture and don’t realize it for days or even weeks, when their “sprained ankle” isn’t getting better and a doctor advises that it’s much more serious. Who knows, maybe I could have done the same, but since I knew what had happened, I didn’t even think to give it an attempt.

Getting downstairs

Though I live in a multi-level home, I’m fortunate in the sense that everything I really need access to is on the main floor. That’s why, after an early failed attempt to navigate the stairs, I haven’t had incentive to make my way down a flight of stairs.

(That failed attempt, by the way, was me going down one step, deciding that I wasn’t ready to continue further, and retreating.)

This week, I elected to give the stairs another chance.

Using the hands-free crutch (which has been my primary mobility device), I discovered that it’s actually quite easy to get up and down. The trick is to go downstairs in a backward orientation, so that I am facing up the stairs, bringing the prosthetic crutch down one step, and then my good leg down to to the same step, all while holding onto the rail to maintain balance. Going upward is more normal (because my head is pointed in the right direction) — good leg to the next step, then raise the bad leg to match.

With the basement available to me, I’ve been able to run laundry, empty the dehumidifier, and clean the cat’s litter box.

One small step for Dave

Until Friday, my fourth week post-surgery wasn’t much different from the third week. I haven’t been pushing myself too much to increase weight on my recovering leg using the cast shoe. Consequently, progress has been decidedly incremental, and despite feeling a little stronger every day, I was frustrated with minor improvement.

On Friday afternoon, something snapped; but this time, it was in my head. It was time to test myself.

So, I strapped on the cast shoe and tried to get comfortable with putting weight on my right leg.  I found odd the sensation of my foot sinking into its cast. But it did find a resting point, and at no point experimenting did I feel  pain in my tendon, so I proceeded to try weaning myself off the crutches.

Starting with two crutches, like normal, I steadily shifted the weight going to my right leg. After a few roundtrips down the hallway, I held my breath and took a step of faith — keeping my right crutch off the ground (but continuing to use the left crutch), more weight came onto my right foot than it has felt since August 6th (nearly a month prior). My heel tingled, and the half-step from my left leg to bring it in alignment right my right leg was like a little hop, but for a brief moment I had gone from two crutches to one.

Continuing, I was able to take a few more steps with one crutch. During this, I noticed that with one crutch, my body was leaning heavily toward the good leg (part of the reason for the limping movement), so I began correcting for this by allowing more weight onto my right leg. I actually laughed out loud at this point — I really am re-learning how to walk.

At the end of my practice session, I wanted to try for one more breakthrough. I wanted to take a few small steps without any crutch assistance. Making sure I was in a safe place (next to my bed), I gave it a shot. The first crutch-free step was timid. It was a small distance, and my left leg moved to even up with its twin like it had just stepped on hot coals, but I didn’t lose my balance. And then I called it a day.

On Saturday and Sunday, I tried repeating this feat. Each time I practiced, I started with two crutches, went down to one, and then to none. Sunday was the most successful day, as I was able to walk a complete hallway roundtrip without crutches. The sensation in my right leg is still odd, but I’m getting better at controlling weight distribution so that I don’t move around with a limp.

The difference 48 hours makes is remarkable. On Friday afternoon, I was frustrated with incremental progress. On Sunday afternoon, I was feeling the most “normal” I have in weeks.

What’s next?

The coming week has a major milestone: my second post-operative consultation. The cast which has made its home on my right leg for the last four weeks will be removed and I should be placed in a walking boot. (Side note on the walking boot, after thorough research, I’m planning to order a VacoCast rather than gamble on what the orthopedic shop has.)

I don’t know what kind of further rehabilitation instructions I’ll receive, but if everything looks good, my foot/ankle will be moved toward a neutral position and I may even begin physical therapy.