Getting Healthy and Running Boston Again
Hey, everyone. So, I probably should have updated this a lot more, but there was so much time in between procedures that I…ok, that’s an excuse, I just haven’t updated it. I’ll do a quick recap of what’s taken place over the last 5 years, complete with horrible pictures you don’t want to look at but will look at anyway and then be mad that you did.
So, here I am in 2012 after a triumphant first leg in the Transrockies Run, a 125-mile stage race through the Rocky Mountains.
Classy pose, I know. That’s my good buddy Spencer Newell, whose blog you can read here. We had no idea what we were doing at the time and thought blasting through the first 20 miles was a good idea. What you don’t see is me moaning about not being able to finish while running 12-minute pace for the last 3 miles. I must have been super fun to listen to.
Anyway, fast forward to day 4 and things started to get, well, interesting. Here’s Spencer, a few hours after tearing his quad hammering down a steep descent:
Yeah, no bueno. About 4 miles after Spencer went down, I tried to rip through a stream of mountain runoff, going way too fast, eventually getting my foot caught under a rock. I knew I injured my ankle pretty good but had no idea how bad it was at the time. I hobbled my way to the finish and went to the medical tent. A quick look showed a good bit of blood had pooled at the bottom of my foot, so I knew I most likely tore something. The trainers on hand told me I should probably bag it, but I had a long talk with Spencer and decided I would give it a go. I was running for the Petit Family Foundation and wanted to finish it for them. So, I showed up the next morning for a 19 or so mile jaunt up and around Vail, resulting in this:
Yup. Yes. Mmmmhmmm. It does say 6:23:09. That is a LONG ASS time to be out in the wilderness on a busted foot. Or completely healthy. I realized about halfway through that it was most likely not a smart idea but, as anyone who has been a teammate of mine knows, I am stubborn and illogical when it comes to injuries. If I can run/play, I will. Kids, you should do the opposite, you’ll end up with better results or at the very least, your own ligaments.
The last stage was a bit of a blur, probably because I consumed at least 1600mgs of ibuprofen over the course of 5 hours and decided to run the whole thing regardless of what my body was telling me. I finished, as you can see here:
But I paid a heavy price – this is what my feet looked like at the end:
And yes, before you ask, that is indeed a Michelob Ultra. It was all they had and I don’t care, it was delicious.
I don’t want to go in depth into what the next 5 years were like, so I will just do so in a few short paragraphs with grisly photos as supporting evidence.
So, I ended up tearing the lateral ligaments and peroneal tendon in my right foot and had a few osteochondral lesions on my talus. Sidenote: that would be a fantastic band name, The Osteochondral Lesions.
So, I got checked out by a local Hartford, CT surgeon who had a perm and he told me I needed surgery. So, I went under the knife in December of 2012. First fun photo here:
Not bad, right? Well, the surgeon didn’t do a very good job and everything needed to be redone, including taking out the plate he put in the front of my foot, as it was a) bent or b) never put in correctly. The screws kept jamming into the skin whenever I put a shoe on.
So, I found a new surgeon down in New Haven who wore clogs and bowties with skulls on them, so I should have known better. But, he made it seem that I had to have the procedures done and I signed up and went under in January of 2014.
Well…saying the surgery didn’t go as planned would be a pretty drastic understatement. First, they almost put the nerve block in the wrong leg, so that was fun and not unsettling at all. Then, the next day, this happened:
Yeah, if you were thinking that major blood stains do not look normal, you would be correct. Apparently, they didn’t stitch the incision in my heel well enough. Again, another great sign. The incision that bled was from this:
That’s a giant titanium screw holding my calcaneus together after they performed an osteotomy (basically cut it and shifted it). Moving on, once the soft cast came off and this beauty was revealed,
they took the stitches out and threw on a hard cast. The cast technician might have well been filibustering an amendment on the Hill as he talked nonstop while wrapping my leg up. He kept pushing me to level my foot parallel to the floor, even though I said it hurt and had a very hard time flexing it that high. Regardless, he got it on and I went home. That night while binge-watching Breaking Bad, I rolled over only to feel a searing pain rip through my achilles. I thought it must have been scar tissue and thought nothing of it. Fast forward a month and I went to a walking boot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t walk. Yeah, no walking for Brian. I wasn’t in pain, I just didn’t have any power in my right foot and couldn’t push off. So, I went to see my surgeon with my father, a retired physician, to see what was going on.
“We did [a procedure] on your achilles, didn’t we?”
“I don’t know, doc, you tell me. I wasn’t awake during the surgery.”
As you can tell, I was pissed and not having it. We never, not once, spoke about any procedure having to do with my achilles. I didn’t have an achilles injury and I’d never had an achilles injury. I was baffled as to why he would cut into a healthy tendon. But, he did and his cast technician either didn’t know that or was too busy talking for 4 hours to pay enough attention. That searing pain I felt? Yeah, that was my achilles tearing halfway through.
Sooooooooo, I know had an achilles issue which prevented me from walking normally. I couldn’t go for more than a mile without my entire ankle swelling like a balloon. I was all out of sorts and thought my running days were over. I was desperate to find a surgeon talented enough to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. During a casual conversation with a guy I know in NYC, he mentioned that he works with one the world’s leading ankle surgeons. The guy operates on the who’s who of professional athletes. So, through a bit of nepotism, I got an appointment and headed to the city,
Dr. Martin O’Malley is not only the ankle whisperer, he’s also a great guy and thorough as can be. Anyone who has dealt with orthopedic surgeons knows that not all of them have the best bedside manner. Not Dr. O’Malley. I was treated just like any other athlete and he was determined to fix all of the issues that the previous two surgeons created.
On the first visit, I had an x-ray done on my foot in his office (it was dope, an x-ray machine shaped like a throne where it took images of your feet from below), which revealed the issue, or one of them, right away:
That nob there, the one that is highlighted? Yeah, that’s not supposed to be there. When the second surgeon cut into my bone, he did so too high up. It bled and resulted in a huge bone spur which was jamming into my achilles. He recommended that I have this procedure done, which he said he had done many times:
Basically, he’d cut into my achilles, lop off and round out the bone spur then sew everything up and anchor it to my calcaneus. Simple, right? I was worried when walking out of that visit until I saw a prominent member of the US men’s national soccer team waiting to be seen. I figured if he was OK with seeing O’Malley, I should be, too. So, I went under again in March of 2015.
Oh, you want another picture? Cool, here you go:
Not as gory but it will have to do.
Everything went well and I was back to walking without any pain at all. The only problem was I had a hard time pushing off when I went up the stairs, jumped or tried to run. We spent years trying to figure out what was wrong. We did a number of procedures, some of which you can see here:
They blasted my foot with electricity, injected me with my own platelet-rich plasma and then my personal favorite, hit the area with a laser (that was for a calf issue, which is a story for another time). Even after all of that, the pain in my achilles was still there. He had me come in as a test case so that all of the top surgeons could review my file and exam my foot at the same time. No one could figure out what was wrong…until this summer.
Dr. O’Malley brought in his mentor, a very old man who still commanded the entire room without saying a word. They looked at all of my files and images together, trying to find something that was missed. Eventually, his mentor suggested O’Malley should give me an injection that contained a few different painkillers in this one specific area right above the old bone spur. So, with the biggest needle I’ve ever seen, he loaded me up and told me to take a spin around the block.
Now, I was very skeptical, as every other trial ended up with me limping back into the office. But, I had nothing to lose after the last 5 years. So, shrugged my shoulders and gave it a go.
Right from the first stride, I knew something was different. I didn’t want to get too excited as I thought maybe it would only last a block or so before the pain returned.
Nope. It held.
Here’s a reenactment of the scene when I realized I was going to be OK:
I flew back into O’Malley’s office and told him the good news.
“Really…wow! Well, that explains a lot.”
“OK, so, that’s it, right? I am good?”
“Well, no, that’s only going to last a few hours.”
Right, Kanye? I know…
But Dr. O’Malley knew he had figured it out. He grabbed two more needles used to core the earth’s mantle and filled them both with cortisone. Two painful minutes later and I was out the door.
I have been running without foot pain ever since.
Needless to say, it’s been a long journey back to the roads/trails, that’s for sure. But, it seems as though I am finally healthy enough to run significant miles again. So, I will gradually ease myself back into it and…
Hahaha, no I won’t. I am Brian Hetzel, I don’t do gradual, even after 3 surgeries and a 5-year hiatus. I mean, that would be logical and require sound judgment. No, no, no, don’t be silly, you guys. As they say in Swahili, enda kubwa or enda nyumba (ok, no one says go big or go home in Swahili except for me but go with it).
I am running the 2018 Boston Marathon. Yep, that’s right. From 0 miles to 26.2 in 5 months. I mean, why not? 5 years is a long time to sit on the sidelines, especially for someone like myself who can’t sit still for 20 seconds at a clip. As I usually do, I am running for charity, this time I have the honor of being part of Boston Children’s Hospital Miles for Miracles team. It’s an amazing organization and having a dedicated group of people to run with has been awesome. I’ve also been paired up with a current patient by the name of Jackson who is as tough as nails. Anytime I am out on a run and want to stop or cut it short, I think of him. He is a vibrant young man who plays basketball, baseball and snowboards despite battling Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. He’s a champ and his family is awesome, too. His dad recently came out and ran 10 miles with me on the Boston course even though he’s been running 1-mile warm ups before gym workouts. Stud!
The weather hasn’t been great so far, as evidenced here:
Some ask why I choose to run outside when it’s this cold. I’ve been waiting 5+ years to go outside and run and so I do.
Well, that was a little more longwinded than I anticipated but there you go. For those that have donated already, I can’t thank you enough. If you would like to donate to my run, that would be lovely. Click here and head over to my Miles for Miracles page. If not, wish me luck as I take aim for the Hopkinton starting line this April on marathon Monday.