There’s never a good time to sustain a debilitating injury. And for those of us who really live for deer season, such injuries can sometimes leave us wondering if we’ll recover to a degree that ensures we’ll be able to continue to pursue big bucks.
Though I don’t consider myself a total expert on the subject of bouncing back from injury, I have been through more than my share of such experiences so I do feel at least somewhat qualified to provide some helpful advice for fellow hunters. And in each and every one of my cases, this meant working extra hard throughout the entire process. But I’d like to chronicle the history of my injuries first.
Without a doubt, my most lengthy and painful recovery involved rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder which took place in December 2015. To say the pain from that surgery during the first month of recovery was unbearable would be a huge understatement!
And it didn’t end there, either. Even though the horrible pain did eventually subside, irritating night pain endured for another two months. During that time there was no way I could lie flat on my back in bed, which meant I was forced to sleep in a recliner.
But as my surgeon had continually reinforced, the pain would eventually subside enough for me to begin physical therapy. That's where things became interesting once again because I thought the pain meter had already reached its highest point. Well, I was about to be introduced to another level of pain I had no idea existed. More about that later!
Major Back Surgery
My back problems were a direct result of doing construction work (mostly in the concrete field) from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s. I sustaining a serious back injury at the end of my tenure, which officially ended my construction career.
In the end, the surgeon who performed surgery on my back in 2016 used six screws and four titanium rods to both straighten my spine and immobilize movement in the part of my back that was affected. And though recovery was lengthy, the pain level wasn’t anywhere near what I’d endured after shoulder surgery.
Just abut the time I thought my physical ailments had come to an end, my right knee began to act up. While it wasn’t much at first — a twinge here, a bit of ‘strange’ pain there — the end finally came while I was on a 2017 hunt during the Indiana late muzzleloader season.
My cameraman, Matt Tande, and I were hot on the trail of a giant whitetail that sported a very unique set of antlers. On the second evening of our hunt, the big deer made the mistake of walking within 15 yards of our stand site just as daylight was fading. It was a fatal mistake for the buck.
I’d climbed down from my tree stand and had taken only a few steps on the walk to admire my trophy when I stepped into a slight depression. The effects of that drop in my step produced an immediate stab of nearly unbearable pain, and I knew something very serious had happened to my right knee.
Several rounds of cortisone injections bought me a year and a half of relatively pain-free living before the knee eventually gave up. Because of the extent of past damage to my knee, the orthopedic surgeon I was seeing said that a total knee replacement would be the only way to go. That happened in June 2019.
Accurate Medical Assessment & Qualified Surgeons
Before you ever begin walking the road back to recovery from surgery, it’s important you do everything in your power to get the absolute best medical diagnosis and surgical care possible. Sadly, I have a buddy who worked extra hard to properly rehabilitate from shoulder surgery, only to discover that his lack of progress in that regard was the result of a botched surgery.
I’m not saying this is a common occurrence, simply warning you that it’s tough enough to recover from serious surgery without having to deal with a possible mistake made during that process. That is exactly why I don’t hesitate to search out the absolute best medical people in my part of the country when seeking advice about my injuries.
Getting Back In The Game
“Are you still in pain?”
"Can you get around like before?”
"Would you have the surgeries again?”
Those three are the questions I’m most often asked, and thee answers to those three questions are fairly simple. Yes, but I’m experiencing a lot less pain now. Yes, I can still get around pretty darn good. And finally, yes, and I wouldn’t hesitate a single second to have the surgeries done again!
All this being said, however, I can’t state strongly enough how important it was for me to adopt a strict physical therapy regimen. Though the pain I endured during some of those sessions was very intense, I sucked it up and worked even harder. The eventual results speak for themselves.
While the quality work done by the surgeons I’ve had can’t be ignored, I consider the follow-up work done by my physical therapists to be of equal or even greater importance. The surgeons’ work took a few hours, while the physical therapists’ job lasted weeks — sometimes months. The end result in all three of my cases was nothing short of amazing.
That brings up another important thing I’ve discovered as a result of my successful rehab stints. It’s extremely important you pay close attention to everything your physical therapist tells you about your rehabilitation.
First off, do your best to not ‘half-step’ during the course of your rehab. And when these people tell you to also perform your exercise routines at home, listen to them!
Finally, regardless what type of injury you’re dealing with, you’re going to experience some level of pain during your rehab sessions. This is a normal occurrence in most instances.
In my own situations when things got a bit uncomfortable, I’ve taken to silently repeating the infamous "no pain, no gain" comment. So far it's worked like a charm.