Unplanned Downtime

Imagine for a moment that you’re self-employed, married with a child and a mortgage, you’re the only full-time employee of your company, and the sole breadwinner for your family. Now, imagine having a minor surgery with an expected four day break from work turn into a four week hiatus during which you effectively can’t work. In my case, I have great health insurance with no coinsurance, but if we didn’t, this would have likely resulted in an extra $10,000 out of pocket as well. Of course, after you are able to start working again, you’ll still have almost daily trips to either the doctor or rehab that will cut into your work time. So full-time productivity levels are out of the question for quite some time.

It’s a nightmare scenario for most small business owners. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience a range of fear, anxiety, and despair as this all unfolded. The whole process played out in slow motion, and I really had no way of knowing when the pain would stop and I’d be able to get back to work. Thankfully, it all worked out, but in hindsight, it’s a good reminder about checking up on your disability and health coverage. So how did it all happen?

I’ve played basketball for the majority of my life. Outside of time with friends and family, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than being on a basketball court. Unfortunately, all of that court time has led to quite a few ankle sprains. As I’ve gotten older, those ankle sprains have caught up with me, and my most recent sprain really set me back.

For the last year and a half, I’ve had decreased range of motion in my left ankle, and that led to a variety of tangential problems with the entire lower half of my body. On top of that, the days that I played ball would guarantee hours of post-game pain. It was time to do something about it or stop playing basketball, and the latter wasn’t an option.

Several weeks ago, I had a relatively minor ankle surgery. The surgery itself was uneventful, and it was expected that my recovery would involve four days of bed rest and pain killers and that I’d be back to 100% in about nine weeks. Due to complications with my recovery, that four days turned into at least four weeks. Due to incessant pain and an inability to get any restful sleep, I’ve been unable to do any meaningful work during that time.

After my first surgery, some basic bone spur removal and ligament repair, I went home that evening and stayed in bed four days with my foot elevated and iced. The following Monday, I had my first checkup with my doctor, and things started going downhill. Due to the ice machine and a case of all too sensitive skin, my foot had developed a minor case of frostbite. Naturally, my doctor told me to stop icing it, and let it recover. I went home and returned to my bed with my foot elevated.

Over the next few hours, my foot slowly began to thaw, and as that happened, the pain began to intensify. In a matter of hours, I went from feeling no pain to the worst pain that I’ve ever experienced in my life. By noon, I was really struggling. The pain killers weren’t doing anything, and my doctor’s office was closed for lunch. At the time, we thought it was just normal pain that came with the territory, so I tried to ride it out Lauren finally got in touch with my doctor and described my pain by saying “I had a natural child birth, and it looks like he’s in way more pain than I ever was.” They set me up with a second prescription pain killer, and Lauren left to go pick it up.

By the time Lauren returned with the prescription it had been about three hours since the pain begain. I quickly took a pill and waited about 30 minutes. It had no effect whatsoever. I decided that the pain wasn’t going to let up, and it was time to head to the emergency room where I would spend another hour waiting to be seen. At this point, there were a couple of times where I felt like I was going to pass out.

Once I was admitted, they immediately began giving me medicine for the pain. After the first dose, I didn’t feel any difference. They gave me a second dose. No change. Finally, they decided to keep me overnight, and they continued to give me pain killers. At this point, I came down from a 9 or 10 on the pain scale to about an 8. It was still pretty bad, but it helped enough that I stopped looking for an axe to chop my foot off.

I struggled through the night without sleeping, and my doctor came in the next morning to see me. She diagnosed the cause of the pain as a blood clot in my foot building up and creating pressure. She scheduled a surgery for later that day, and I spent the rest of the day at about an 8 on the pain scale. By the time my surgery rolled around, I had spent twenty-four hours in pain despite an assortment of prescription pain killers.

In order to fully remove the blood clot, my doctor had to make an additional incision on the top of my foot. Unfortunately, this was the area of my foot that had frostbite. To make matters worse, my foot and ankle were so swollen that my doctor couldn’t stitch it up after the surgery. The healing process for this new incision was going to be intense. After I woke up from the second surgery, I was released and went home. The pain continued, but now it was at least down to a 6.

At my next followup appointment with my doctor, she decided that I should undergo hyperbaric oxygen treatment to stimulate recovery in my foot. I later learned that because they are on the furthest extremities, foot wounds can be both incredibly painful and slow to heal. The swelling had to come down, and the skin around the affected area had to begin healing before she could do anything more. That meant that I’d likely need a third surgery to clean up the wound once it started to recover. At this point, it was both painful and exhausting to even get out of bed. Making trips for hyperbaric treatment wasn’t pleasant.

That was last week. While you wouldn’t guess it by looking at my foot, it has improved, and I just had my third and hopefully final surgery. My doctor removed some dead tissue and did some small skin grafts to help the wound heal. My pain is hovering around a 4 currently, and that’s with the assistance of pain killers. Unfortunately, I’ll likely have another week or two of pain and recovery before I can get back to work.

When it’s all said and done, I will have been sidelined for a little over four weeks. I’ll still be on crutches and have rehab for some time after that, but I should be able to get back to work. A month ago, if you told me that I would be unable to work for four weeks, I would have been worried, stressed, upset, and scared. How would my business do if I’m barely able to work for four weeks? How will Lauren and Bella manage if I can’t help around the house for four weeks? It’s scary, and there were definitely some pretty low times in there.

While this has been the least pleasant four weeks of my life, it’s also been an incredible journey and helped put everything in perspective. I’ve truly never been more thankful. I look forward to the day where I can live pain free again, but in the meantime, I’m just itching to get back to work on all of the exciting stuff I’ve dreamed up the last few weeks.