Achilles Tendon Rupture: Downfall and Aftermath

A popping sound, a scream, a stumble, and then a tumble face forward on the stairs!  So began our ordeal—and I mean “our” ordeal—with my husband’s ruptured Achilles tendon.

He had ruptured the biggest tendon in the human body, tendo achilleus, named after the tragic Greek hero of the Trojan War, Achilles.  When Achilles was a baby, his mother the goddess Thetis learned that he would die in battle.  So she took the baby to the River Styx where she attempted to make her son immortal by dangling him into the magical water, holding him by the left ankle.  Alas, the water did not wash over the area of his heel covered by her thumb and forefinger and thus her son remained vulnerable in that one small area.  Thetis’s infant son, who grew to be the mightiest of Greek heroes, was brought down one day, mortally wounded when Paris, aided by the god Apollo, shot a poisoned arrow, piercing the small, vulnerable spot on Achilles’ heel.

In our time, the expression ‘Achilles heel’ has come to stand for a deadly weakness that can lead to a downfall.  My tall husband had often worried that his small, narrow feet might make him vulnerable to foot problems later in life.  It is precisely eleven weeks ago to the day that I drove him to the emergency ward of the hospital after his injury, where his now useless left foot was put in a temporary cast.  Three days later, he met with his orthopedic surgeon who advised against surgery.  We left, my husband manoeuvering precariously with his crutches and wearing a cast that had his foot pointing down at a ridiculous 30˚ angle.  We were faced now with the dilemma of coping with a major mobility issue in a two-level townhouse, for who knew how long.

The first month was the toughest.  With all our bedrooms and our major bathroom on the second floor—and thankfully, also his den—that was where my husband spent most of his time.  I would take breakfast and lunch trays up to him. Mid-afternoon, he would descend the fourteen narrow stairs to the main floor on his backside.  At nine o’clock, up the stairs he would go, again on his butt, with me following behind, his crutches in tow.  After a month of this regimen, he began to feel like some ‘crazy’ relative kept hidden away in the attic.

Showers were a particular challenge.   He had been warned not to put any weight on his injured foot, which meant getting into a deep soaker tub on one foot—just try it some time—and that after tying two green garbage bags around his left leg in order to keep the cast dry.  My shoulder served quite well for the missing foot.

After one month, the cast came off and on went an air boot with three levels of heel lifts inside.  No more bum-walking up and down the stairs!  Although my husband didn’t think the tendon was much thicker than dental floss, the orthopedic surgeon was satisfied.  There were new challenges with the air boot, however.  My husband found that the bed sheets and blankets on the bed in the guest room stuck to the boot, so much so that he opted to lie on top of duvet, covered only with an afghan, the knitted kind.  He got to take his air boot off for thirty minutes once a day, a time for foot-washing by his now very humble wife.  Two weeks later, he got to take one of the heel lifts out of his boot.

Just four days ago, he had yet another appointment with the orthopod where one more hard-as-rock heel lift was removed, with one remaining.  He was told that he could now wear ordinary street shoes in the house, reserving the air boot exclusively for outside, and sleep barefoot at night. He was advised to get into a swimming pool and do some cautious walking about.  What does the next stage in his recovery look like?  We don’t know yet. The journey is far from over.  And when that journey of recovery is over, will he walk with a carefree step the way he once did, or will he always feel vulnerable?  We wonder.


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