Reporter's Notebook

Surgical Reflections

As I recover from this fourth and hopefully final ankle surgery, it’s hard not to reflect on the past six years

By Maggie Dresser

The last thing I remember before the anesthesia knocked me out a week ago was wondering why operating rooms are always so freezing. I had forgotten about that aspect of surgery until I was staring at the ceiling, squinting from the blinding fluorescent lights illuminating the hospital.

It was deja vu all over again. This was my fourth surgery on my left ankle, but it had been over five years since the third one. Fasting the morning before the operation, arriving at the hospital in the dark, the gown, the painkillers – it was all too familiar.

I’ve had ongoing problems with my ankle ever since I fractured my lower tibia and fibula in April 2016. My surgeon at the time told me it would heal up quick and my recent job offer in New Zealand and an already-purchased one-way plane ticket wouldn’t be for nothing.

He was wrong. I spent the next 10 weeks on crutches, unemployed, and I spent all of my savings that I had planned for my summer in the South Pacific.

This all happened during a past life when I lived in Bozeman and worked as a ski patroller. By the time fall rolled around, I was barely out of my boot of shame, and I had driven myself so crazy that I re-enrolled at Montana State University after dropping out in 2012. I had never finished my degree, which had most recently been English literature, and I initially had no intention of returning to higher education

But four years after dropping out of college, I found myself crippled and directionless, and I went back to Montana State at age 25 to chip away at my degree.

That November, I attempted a return to ski patrolling at the Yellowstone Club while I was attending school parttime, but after my first day on-snow, it was clear that my body was not healed.

I went back into the operating room for my second surgery that December, removing two plates and 16 screws that were inserted eight months prior to stabilize my lower leg. The next month I moved to Missoula to begin journalism school at the University of Montana.

For the first time since I was 4 years old, I took the winter off from skiing and refocused my energy on school. In April 2017, I had a third ankle operation, an arthroscopic surgery to remove scar tissue this time.

I finally graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in journalism in December of 2018, nine years since my first semester. I had learned to manage my ongoing ankle issues, and I moved to the Flathead Valley the following year after I got a job offer from the Beacon.

Last March, I saw a new orthopedic surgeon in Missoula who found a 1-centimeter-wide bone spur extending from my tibia. I had it removed via an arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 29.

As I recover from this fourth and hopefully final ankle surgery, it’s hard not to reflect on the past six years.

If I hadn’t broken my leg, I would probably not be living in the Flathead or working for the Beacon. I probably wouldn’t even be a journalist.

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