Author Archives: Beth

How to Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport

How To Become a Straight-A Student~Review

If you know someone heading off to college in the fall, “How to Become a Straight-A Student” by Cal Newport is a great resource. The sub-title (“The Unconventional Strategies Real College Stuents Use to Score High While Studying Less”) is true.

The book is full of practical strategies that I’ve never heard before and wish I had known when I went to college and law school.

Luke, the one starting college in the fall, is a good student and thrives under the accountability and structure of a schedule and assignments. He’s a little anxious about adjusting to the academics and managing his own time, along with all the other changes that college life brings.

I heard Cal Newport on a podcast discussing his new book “Deep Work“. He also briefly mentioned his first book (Straight A Student) which is a practical playbook dissecting and describing how top college students organize their time and study effectively without stressing out.

He mentioned one effective study technique as an example and I knew the book would help Luke.

Newport’s simple time management system, which he describes in the first chapter, is worth the price of the book.

If you implement it correctly, the simple system should only take 5-10 minutes a day of planning.

I’ll summarize it here but Newport gives a few clear examples to illustrate how effective it can be to minimize anxiety.

It requires a calendar (digital or physical) to record important dates and events. You’ll also need a piece of paper or something portable to jot the daily tasks on and things that come up during the day.

The calendar serves as the master schedule which you’ll consult each morning for 5-10 minutes to create your portable “to-do” list.

As the day goes on, you can check off or reschedule the to-dos, you’ll also record any new assignments or important dates on this portable note (sheet of notebook paper works fine). So, when your professor announces the date of a quiz at the end of class, if you jot it down on your sheet, you won’t risk forgetting if you don’t get back to your room until later in the day. It’s an easy way to make sure important things aren’t overlooked and you don’t have to rely on your memory.

A couple of thoughts: forming a habit of consulting the master calendar, taking a few minutes each morning at the beginning of the day and jotting down notes as the day goes on might be the hardest part of this system. Definitely, its success relies on forming a few new habits. Second, as you continue, you’ll get better at judging what you can accomplish in a day. Again, this will come with practice.

I’m anxious for Luke to try this time management system on his busy but not stressful summer schedule a few weeks before school starts so he understands the basics and gets into the habit.

The book also offers anti-procrastination strategies, time-saving study tactics, note-taking tips and a lot of other practical information that’s realistic and executable.

I’m confident that if Luke implements even a few of the strategies, it will minimize his anxiety and help him navigate a more demanding academic schedule.

If it’s appropriate, I’ll write about the other parts of the book in separate posts.

caregiving and accountability

The Stress of 24/7 Accountability of Caregiving

This isn’t a rant or a complaint, just information to help people understand one of the many challenges of full time caregiving.

My aunt has lived with us for almost three years. That first summer was physically, emotionally and logistically demanding. I was constantly exhausted and stressed.

The hardest thing at the beginning was not knowing what to expect and learning how to navigate changes that I couldn’t predict.

One change was the increased traffic of well-intentioned visitors. Except for my closest family members (brothers and cousins), visitors added to the chaos those first few months. Once I identified it as a stressor, I was able to set some boundaries. Most people respect them and are very understanding but we’ll still get the occassional surprise visitor. Who does that?

If you’re reading this and know someone caring for a loved one, please don’t drop in unexpectedly, it’s rude, inappropriate and disruptive.

I’m lucky that my aunt doesn’t have demanding medical or physical needs.

The hardest thing about being a caregiver now is the constant accountability and having to make detailed arrangement for anything that takes me away from the house. I can’t run to the grocery store if someone isn’t here with her. Weddings, funerals and every family event are tricky to attend because all my back-ups are usually attending those, too.

People don’t realize that every event and activity requires planning and arranging for someone to be with her, prepare her meals, help her in the bathroom, keep her on her schedule, let alone coordinating my own family members. I can’t tell you how often I thought I told my kids about a funeral or an invitation/event and they never heard about it. Blank stare.

It’s a chore to enjoy normal family things. I tend to opt out of movies, get-togethers with friends and family, dinner out or the occassional sporting event because it’s just easier than scrambling to arrange one or more caregivers.

Any solution is temporary. It’s great when people offer to help but it’s always only temporary. My daughters were just getting comfortable taking responsibility for 24 hour care to allow me to be away overnight but my aunt’s physical and mental abilities have declined so quickly that none of us are comfortable with that.

My mom and I will try to share caregiving as long as possible. My aunt will spend a couple of months at each of our homes to give the other a break. It’s much easier than trying to manage her care in a nursing home, for now.

 

Hannah new apartment

Update on Hannah’s Apartment Hunt

Remember when I was comparing the cost of room and board for college to Hannah’s apartment search? I knew Hannah was anxious to find a place and thought it might happen by end of summer.

She signed a lease May 1!

It happened SO FAST, I honestly didn’t know what hit me. But it’s all good.

Neither of us expected Hannah to end up in our home town but the apartment is charming and affordable (relatively speaking) and she has the loveliest, grand-parenty landlords. Her neighbors aren’t scary and she feels safe.

As you can tell by the photos, it exceeds her # 1 priority…..LOTS OF LIGHT! Even when it’s overcast outside or on hot days when she has to close the blinds so she’s not poached in there, that apartment is BRIGHT!

Hannah studio

Although Hannah was more anxious to move out than get her own vehicle, her work takes her all over the region and she was saving for a car. When my mom offered to give her an old one that she was trying to sell, it just moved the whole apartment thing to the front burner.

We gave Hannah a budget to help her buy some basics. She wasn’t expecting it and trust me, it’s a fraction of what we’ll end up spending out of pocket for Luke to attend Cleveland State in the first year, alone. The other thing we’re helping her with is the cell phone. It’s $10/month to keep her on our plan vs. getting her own plan starting at $80/month.

She’ll start paying for her own car insurance once she gets settled and organized. I think we added her beater to our policy (while she still lived here) for about $240/year. Not sure what she’ll pay on her own but we’ll do that in a month or two. I’ve easily spent more than that on deposits and enrollment fees already for Luke.

Otherwise, she is on her own and feels great about it. She’ll pay her own rent, utilities (electric, gas and internet). I haven’t bought groceries or toiletries, supplies or anything. I only mention it because I bumped into one of her classmates from high school who just finished her freshman year at an out-of-state college. The girl’s mom was buying her two carts full of groceries and supplies for an apartment she sub-letted for the summer. Not judging, just comparing.

I think there’s a mindset of dependence and continued parental responsibility when kids are in college that most people (society) just accepts. I’m sure I’ll be guilty of indulging Luke while he’s in school. We already have indulged his pursuit of tennis relative to the resources we’ve spent (time, energy and money) on anyone else.

It will be interesting to see the difference as Hannah pursues her career while Luke pursues a degree. This post doesn’t get into what people might think of her path compared to Luke’s more traditional one. I wonder whether it will even be an issue four years from now.

Kranse SAT prep course

How an Online SAT Prep Course Saved Us $24,000

Some Background Information

Although I don’t share too many personal stories about the kids (unless they’re hilarious and wouldn’t embarrass them), I have been posting about Luke’s college search process.

As with most things at the Phillips household, Luke’s college search was unconventional since he only visited one school, liked it, and accepted an offer to play tennis there. Done…right? Wrong!

Not So Fast, Kid

The offer included an academic scholarship with the condition of raising his SAT score by 40 points. Without the academic award, we weren’t sure we could afford one year, let alone four.

Since Luke didn’t prepare much before the first SAT exam, we thought he could meet this hurdle with some focused preparation.

Luke is a good student. He gets mostly A’s, some B’s and has a solid GPA. He’s fairly disciplined but needs a set structure from an outside source to keep him moving forward and motivated.

I couldn’t provide this type of accountability or specific coaching for the SAT content. The free Khan Academy site doesn’t provide the progressive structure he needed. I appreciate the free resource but it feels scattered and random. Luke only used Khan a few times before his first SAT exam and didn’t find it helpful.

Enter Kranse Institute*

I had read about an online prep course created by a guy who achieved a perfect score on the SAT after studying the test design and refining his approach to the questions. He appeared on Shark Tank and partnered with Mark Cuban. I have to admit, Cuban’s endorsement influenced my confidence in the course.

Here’s a clip from Patel’s Shark Tank Pitch (before the course was rebranded for new SAT format):

 

 

I didn’t need or expect Luke to get a perfect score-just 40 points for $6,000 a year. I wouldn’t normally spend $349 (with a 30% off coupon) on something like this (like NEVER) but I justified the expense of The Kranse Institute¬†course for a few reasons:

  1. Luke saved us hundreds of dollars by visiting and applying to only one school.
  2. This investment could translate into $24,000 (over 4 years), a huge return.
  3. Having access to the course gave Luke confidence, peace of mind and a goal (watch videos).
  4. Kranse offers a 7-day money back guarantee if it’s not a good fit.
  5. Kranse also offers a 100% money back guarantee if the student’s score doesn’t improve.

We had nothing to lose.

You Already Know He Got the Award!

Luke had received a financial aid award early in January that included the tennis scholarship and a loan approval (don’t even get me started on loans!). At that point, the college didn’t have his best scores. We weren’t sure his January scores (sent to colleges March 2) would get to the right people in time for a decision for additional money.

We were both nervous when he got this second email from the financial aid office.

Financial Aid Award Kranse SAT prep scholarship

We clicked through to his campus account and found this notice waiting for him!

Academic Award Status Kranse SAT Prep

I can’t even express what a huge relief this is and the margin the award gives our family.

Though, Luke and I were impressed with the Kranse Institute course before this result, we can unequivocally endorse it and recommend it to family and friends (and readers we don’t know) ūüėČ

Here’s what Luke liked about the course.

I asked Luke to describe what he thought was helpful. Here’s what he told me:

  • ¬†The videos were short and to the point. I felt like I could learn exactly what I needed for that section or problem without guessing.
  • ¬†I liked seeing my progress as I finished lessons. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment and helped me plan.¬†
  • It was great having access to the lessons anytime from anywhere.
  • The writing videos helped my writing score and skills more than two years of high school English.
  • It helped me stay focused and motivated.

Here’s What I Liked About the Course

  1. Self-motivating. I didn’t have to hound Luke about studying. Luke knew as soon as we purchased the course that he would watch them. This factor alone, was worth the price of the course to me.
  2. Organized. The entire course is well-organized by SAT subject tests (Essay, Critical Reading, Writing, Math; plus a series of videos with general information about test design, changes, format and scoring). Luke didn’t need the essay portion so he could skip that whole group of videos. If he had trouble with a particular concept after completing a practice section, he could easily navigate to and review a specific video.
  3. Solid content. The strategies and samples are direct, relevant and useful. I didn’t review all the videos but I took some time to look at a lot of them and was impressed by how practical and executable the strategies are.
  4. Price. Private tutoring (online and in-person) can range from $150-$200 or more per hour which is unaffordable for us. Other courses can cost $1200 or more. For $349 (with coupon) and with Kranse’s money-back guarantee, it was the most affordable and practical option for Luke’s situation.

A Special Price for My Readers

The blog where I originally read about the course included a limited coupon code which I used to get a 30% discount. I reached out to Kranse and the support team offered the same discount for my readers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Kranse Institute course including results, an overview, faqs, and the guarantee, here’s the link: Kranse.com¬†.

Use the coupon code “SAVE30NOW” at checkout for 30% off the regular price!

If you decide to try the course, I’d love to know if it helps!

 

*This post contains affiliate links.¬†I was so impressed with the Kranse course and was referring so many friends that the company invited me to become an affiliate. If you purchase the course through my link or apply the special coupon code above, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you (in fact, you get a discount). It’s a win-win-win and helps cover the costs of the site. Thank you.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Room & Board When You Choose Not to Go To College

Gary Vee quote about winning

Hannah still lives at home. I’m fine with that at least until she would have otherwise graduated from college (2020). She’s anxious to get out on her own as soon as she can. I’m guessing by the end of summer (2017) she’ll have her own place.

She’s looking at really nice (and expensive) apartments. The range is anywhere from $800-$1200 per month. She wants 2 bedrooms. She pictures herself having an extra room for a studio. She doesn’t want a roommate.

I can feel you rolling your eyes already. You’re probably thinking how spoiled and unrealistic it is for a 19 year-old to spend so much on her first apartment. Shouldn’t she find the cheapest apartment or a roommate? Shouldn’t she learn what it feels like to struggle and live in a crap hole? Who does she think she is?

If that’s your reaction, it’s interesting that you don’t say the same about Hannah’s friends who spend almost as much for student housing even when they could commute. (Or choose a college close to home in order to save money by commuting).

Your brain comes up with all kinds of rationalizations that make the on-campus living expense acceptable and desirable over Hannah’s situation.

Let’s Compare for Fun

For this scenario, let’s assume that Hannah finds a 2 bedroom apartment for $1,000 plus some utilities (water and sewage is included in the rent but she’ll have to pay for gas/electric, internet and cable if she wants it and food).

Room and Board at local colleges range from $10K-12K or more. For the sake of this thought exercise, we’ll say $11,000. So, a little less than $1,000 per month. That includes meals. Except most parents complain that they have no choice about the meal plan or extra food allowance. Use it or lose it. So, I think that balances out. I know plenty of kids who never eat in the cafeteria so someone’s paying for their Chipolte-it usually ain’t the student.

“Rent” vs. “Room and Board”

  1. I won’t be paying Hannah’s rent or other expenses. Plus my household expenses will likely decrease when she’s out of the house (those 40 minute showers aren’t free).

Many parents pay for tuition plus room and board, drain their retirement funds or take out loans…for 4 years or more.¬†Plus they still pay for their kids living expenses during summers and breaks for the entire 4 years.

2. Hannah won’t be borrowing money for her rent or other living expenses. By the time she rents a place, she’ll have an emergency fund saved up in case her expected income doesn’t cover her rent, utilities, food and car expenses. Hopefully, she won’t need it and still have $5,000-$10,000 saved.

Most students borrow to cover the cost of college including room and board. (Avg. debt in PA $37,000)

3. Hannah can choose where she lives, how much she wants to spend and who her roommates will be (if she wants/needs them).

Most students have limited choices about dorms and roommates. Good luck getting a single.

4. Hannah will learn how to budget and pay her own bills.

Most college students are oblivious to the costs associated with student housing. There’s no reason to budget except maybe for parties and pizza.

5. Hannah will learn over the course of the year whether the cost of the apartment is worth it to her. If she finds herself scrambling to pay rent or is stressed by her workload to maintain the lifestyle, she can always find a cheaper place, a roommate, more clients or try to raise her prices. That’s a lot of valuable experience. I could lecture her about all that but nothing beats learning by experience. She also might try Air B n B to supplement her rent expenses.

Some college students get an apartment near campus to save money on student housing but still borrow for it or their parents pay for it. Most students I know don’t write the checks for rent and utilities. I’m not criticizing, just saying they aren’t learning this skill.

6. Even if Hannah struggles to pay for her own place more than she expects, I think the thought of returning home will spur creative solutions to maintain her independence.

Most college students move back home after graduation. Many are forced to live with their parents even after they find work because student loan payments are so high. 

I certainly don’t want Hannah to struggle with rent because she bites off more than she can chew but I’d rather she get a feel for it now. It’s best to make mistakes with money when you don’t have dependents or a 30-year mortgage.

I’ll worry less about Hannah’s safety if she lives in a nicer place (maybe that’s not rational). I’ll certainly miss her but am excited for her to take this step. I’m all for her trying different things while she’s young and isn’t burdened by a lot of financial responsibilities.

If she can manage to afford a beautiful apartment in a city that she loves and is close by, I’ll be happy for both of us!

 

Celebrating Holidays When You’re Wiped Out

easy holiday preparation

Spaghetti Wednesday¬† is our favorite holiday around here. Mark was finally walking without crutches. It’s the first year since 2014 that I wasn’t also taking care of my aunt so I was happy to host the dinner for the 21st year in a row.

It was a late night and then a low-key, us-only Thanksgiving but I was wiped out. No doubt, the four previous months of intense caregiving contributed to my fatigue but I honestly didn’t expect it.

The question is: how to prepare for Christmas? It’s easy for me during Advent to prepare spiritually. I have no trouble slowing down and putting off the rush and crush, but when everyone around you expects holiday activity, it’s a little overwhelming.

I stopped sending cards a few years ago. It was getting to be a chore that I no longer enjoyed. The kids got ornery about posing for photos. It’s difficult to genuinely send “best wishes, peace and joy” when you’re resentful (never of the people, just the activity). So I don’t. I still think about and pray for people. I give others credit for continuing to send us cards. I still enjoy seeing the photos every year.

I love christmas lights in the house but Mark always takes care of the lights outside. The sweetest neighbor offered to help with that but we declined the offer. Mark was able to do most of his usual light hanging. My brother went up the ladder to hang the big wreath on the side of the house.

To be honest, Mark welcomed the non-strenuous activity, the weather was pretty mild and he finished everything outside in a couple of hours over two days.

Inside, I’ve just been taking my time and getting one project/area out at a time. I have the time and have enjoyed doing it at a leisurely pace. Little Mark is elf-like. I have referred to him as joy boy, which is still true. He’s always up for holly and jolly. I find myself waiting until he’s home for certain tasks just because they’re more fun with his help.

So, my advice for facing the holidays when you’re tired or overwhelmed is to abbreviate and get out one thing at a time. You’ll probably realize that a little bit of glow is enough.

Another Scary Student Debt Story

student debt

I spent hours at a time with Mark at his physical therapy appointments. I would see the same young “techs” whose job was to set timers for people in the pool, restock towels and pillow cases on the tables, check patients in and out, schedule appointments, etc.

Never wanting to pry but ever curious, I struck up a conversation with one kid who proceeded to tell me a pretty terrifying story.

He went to Pitt, having graduated at the top of his class in high school. As an avid high school athlete, he planned on physical therapy as a career. When his grades started to slip during his sophomore year, he knew he would never be accepted to PT school but still pushed ahead to finish his degree. He finished in 5 years due to an inability to schedule required courses and graduated with…..wait for it…..$120,000 in student loans. His monthly payments are more than $1,400 for the next 10 years! The more young people I talk to, the more I realize that this kid’s experience is pretty typical.

His parents are helping him with the payments but he’s still working two jobs to pay what he can (usually not half). He has no plans to move out any time soon. He enjoys free room and board at home plus access to a car and his parent’s cell phone plan. He doesn’t feel great about it but he is grateful for the safety net. He can’t afford to do anything with friends but doesn’t have time to anyway.

He’s hoping to refinance for a longer term and a lower payment but he doesn’t earn enough at either of the jobs to qualify yet. Side note: Neither of the jobs requires a degree, including the PT tech job. He’s been unable to land a job that pays more where his degree might be required. He’s thinking about a certification as a PT assistant but isn’t sure he would earn enough to make a significant difference and he worries about piling more debt and interest on top of his existing loans while they’re in deferment. He doesn’t think he could handle both jobs and classes at the same time.

Before you tell yourself that he wouldn’t be in this situation if he had kept his grades up and pursued a PT degree, remember that graduate school likely would have cost at least another 100k, maybe more.

The median income for a licensed physical therapist is anywhere between $60,000 and $86,000 (depending on where you live and what table you look at). According to one loan repayment calculator, he would have to earn $113,000 (assuming 15% of gross monthly income toward loans). The top 10% of earners in the field don’t even make that, let alone in their first 10 years. Sure, he could make less and dedicate a higher percentage of his gross income toward student loans but his total debt after graduate school might be double what it is now.

I wish kids would start telling their stories instead of feeling ashamed and embarrassed by their debt. Parents and students get on a fast-moving train toward what they think is a successful career that takes them underwater instead.

I don’t know what the answer is except to say “no” when a school is steering a kid toward crushing levels of debt. It just isn’t worth it.

If you would like to share your own student debt story, I would love to hear about it. I really think it could help people make better choices about school, work and life. Click the “contact” tab at the top of this page and include “My Student Debt Story” in the subject line of your email.

 

SaveSave

Bilateral Patellar Tendon Recovery~ Pt. 3

Recovering from bilateral patellar tendon rupture

Welcome to part 3 of this series. You can read parts 1 and 2 to get you up to speed.

This is where things (meaning Mark) got going (finally). Things seemed to progress so quickly during this time period (from complete dependence for just about everything to almost complete independence) that it’s hard to remember what happened when but I’ll do my best.

Mark was scheduled to meet with the surgeon for the third time 4 weeks after his staples were removed. The transportation company cancelled at the last minute and we had to reschedule for the following week. Since his appointment was on a Thursday, it took almost another full week to schedule the initial consultation with a physical therapist who was highly recommended for this injury. My point is, your circumstances might put you a little ahead of Mark’s progress when you account for weekends and our delay.

We continued with the bending therapy in the meantime. The surgeon added heel slides. This engaged Mark’s quads. They sound easy but weren’t. Same set-up with locked leg resting on the ottoman. Mark sat on the edge of the chair with his other heel (unbraced leg) resting on a sliding board (sock or other cloth to reduce friction) and used his quad to pull the heel back, bending at the knee. This was another exercise that showed slow but definite progress. He got stronger and more steady by the day. This exercise also showed how much his quads had atrophied and couldn’t possibly support his body in a standing position. Crazy!

It’s important to note that¬†we relied on a transportation company with a wheelchair van for all follow-up and therapy appointments until a couple of weeks into formal physical therapy. Luckily, worker’s comp covered this with no issue.

Weeks 6-12

Mark went to therapy at least 3 times before they had him stand (with crutches still locked in extension).

During these sessions, they moved his knee cap around, stretched him, measured his range of motion, loosened the quad muscles using a thing that resembled a butter knife and did e stim and ice.

Mark was also able to get into the pool with help of a lift. We chose this facility specifically for access to the pool. I have no doubt that this accellerated Mark’s progress. His ability to move freely in the water without braces improved his range of motion and leg strength without the risk of falling or unnecessary stress on his knees. It also helped with Mark’s stability. If you can rehab at a place with a pool, definitely choose that option.

On October 3, which was 2 months to the day after his surgery, Mark was on his feet for the first time. The blood rush to his feet was so uncomfortable and distracting that it was hard for him to focus on his balance.

Mark was so wobbly that first time that it was hard to imagine him walking again. But the therapists explained that his brain just had to remember what this standing was all about. They brought a full length mirror over to help the brain make the connection.

Fear is another factor here. He was on crutches with a therapist on either side but you have no confidence that your legs/knees won’t collapse.

Two days later, they got Mark on his feet for a few isometric and balance exercises. He was a lot more steady and a lot less fearful. He was confident enough to do a round at home. So, by his fourth day of therapy (weekend and days in-between) he was on his feet for exercises only. He was still locked in extension, so picture Frankenstein. Also, we still relied on the wheelchair to get anywhere in the house. It was another week before he was pivot transferring to and from the wheelchair instead of sliding or scooting into the chair.

By the end of the second week of therapy, he was allowed to take his braces off at night for sleeping and when he was just sitting around at home. His legs still didn’t bend easily on their own so he mostly still used the ottoman but would sit with his legs bent and resting on the floor for increasingly longer periods of time.

By his second full week of therapy, his sessions were 3-4 hours long. He worked in the gym standing, stretching, doing isometrics and other manipulations with a therapist nearly constantly at his side. They unlocked his braces to 30 degress and started letting him walk at therapy with crutches. If he buckled or tripped (which he didn’t), his legs wouldn’t bend more than 30 degrees. The crutches were more for stability than weight-bearing. He also did pool work (mini squats, walking, bicycles while floating in an inner tube, step-ups and downs, side steps) for 60-90 minutes then back to the gym for ice and estim for 30 minutes.

I accompanied him to therapy (driving him after he could sit in a car) because he needed help changing after his pool work. Remember, at this point, he wasn’t supposed to stand without the braces which makes it hard to undress and dress-especially when you’re wet.

Mark was able to manage by himself even after the pool sessions (freeing up my days and weeks considerably) at about the 12 week mark. HALLELUJA! It was just about at this time that Mark was cleared to do stairs and was finally able to sleep in our bed upstairs.

Some Final Random Notes:

This time period definitely saw the most notable progress. Mark got more independent by the day. We’re a few days from the 4 month anniversary. He still notices sustained but slow progress.

Mark’s knees are sore after therapy because they work him constantly. Ice and rest helps. He’s been walking without braces and crutches for about 3 weeks. He’s been showering (with a bench in our tub) since¬†right around the 12 week mark. He still walks pretty stiff-legged, gets fatigued easily with too much walking or standing and has experienced swelling in the ankles for the same reason.

We took Luke to a tournament in New Jersey the weekend of November 12 (3 months and 1 week post-op). Mark had been cleared to drive but could only do so for about an hour before he got too stiff and sore. Also, his ankles were swollen when we got back. Probably 6 hours in a car and watching two long matches before that. Other than that, Mark can run errands on his own and drives himself to therapy.

Mark’s left knee is still behind the right in terms of range of motion and pain. Nobody seems to be concerned about it. As my friend (a PT) explained, you would never expect two injuries to respond exactly the same way, even in the same knee or joint. That makes sense but it’s frustrating and a little scary for him.

It’s too early to tell when Mark can return to work. If he had a desk job, it would be sooner. As a tennis pro, he’s typically on his feet 6-10 hours a day. That’s not possible at this point. Plus he needs the extensive therapy to continue to progress.

I don’t intend to write another whole post but will likely add a footnote to this one when he’s finally back to normal just to give you an idea of how long the process was for him beginning to end.

If you have any specific questions about this injury, caregiving, progress you can find my contact information by clicking the “contact” tab at the top of the page.

Bilateral Patellar Tendon Rupture~Recovery Pt. 2

bilateral patellar tendon surgery

*This post may contain affiliat links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. My opinions or suggestions about the equipment or products are based on our experience and are my own.

In first post of this series, I wrote about what to expect in the first 2 weeks or so after bilateral patellar tendon surgery.

This is a rare injury and there isn’t much about it on the internet except medical journal articles about how rare it is.

I’m writing about the recovery in parts so the posts don’t get too long. To give you an idea without the suspense, Mark was walking with crutches (unlocked to 30 degrees) by week 10. Three months out, he is driving and walking up and down stairs (stiffly and relying a lot on railings). Neither of us could picture it even 6 weeks post-op.

Weeks 2-6

If you recall from the first post, Mark had a visit with the surgeon one week after surgery to remove the surgical bandages over his incisions. The following week, the staples were removed.

During the second visit, the surgeon taught me how to do Mark’s therapy for the next 4 weeks. First was moving his kneecap around to inhibit or break up scar tissue (mobs). #yuk.

My other job was bending his legs one at a time. “Bending” is an overstatement. The first few times, each leg probably didn’t bend more than 5-10 degrees. If you can imagine a tight rubber band connecting his quad to his knee cap but less flexible. ¬†Before each of these sessions, I would move his knee cap around. Like I said…yuk.

The key with the bending is that Mark wasn’t supposed to flex his quads at all.¬†I learned later that flexing the quad naturally pulls the knee cap up which I guess could have interfered with the repair and complete healing.

So, this all sounds doable except when you consider that while I was working my magic on one leg, his other was locked in extension and had to be supported straight out in front of him.

Once again, that chair and ottoman was a lifesaver.

I basically moved from one side of the ottoman to the other. The leg I wasn’t working on would rest on the inside edge of the ottoman (which was pushed up against the front edge of the chair but pushed out to the side opposite the leg I was working on. It was tight because I would be wedged right agains it so the other leg was a close to in line with Mark’s hips as possible (not flared out).

And the slooooooow process began. The first time we tried, I was scared to death to drop his foot or move it to quickly. I sat on a low stool in front of him, cradling his heel and calf in my hands. This was hard on my back but the consistency paid off.

The left knee was (and still is) 15-20 degrees behind the right and a lot more stiff but we saw slow, steady progress in each leg by sticking to 10-12 reps, holding for 10 seconds. We did this 3x per day religiously and I think it made a big difference when he was ready to work with a therapist at a facility.

A couple of tips for bending therapy:

  1. We used a sliding board across the front edge of the chair to create a flat, level surface and some support under the knee/thigh we were working on. Otherwise, I felt like the give of the chair cushion allowed Mark’s leg to go lower instead of the tendon or muscles stretching.
  2. As Mark’s flexibility increased, he had to sit on stiff cushions to get high enough to allow the leg to bend without touching the floor.
  3. Mark had to scoot as far to the side of the chair of the leg we were bending to give me enough room to sit next to the ottoman where his braced leg was resting. The goal was to do the exercises while his leg was straight out in front of him.
  4. It is no easy task to relax the quads during either motion (down or up). The idea is passive movement on Mark’s part.

Care and Comfort

Pain was not an issue in this period. Sleep was difficult since he was still locked in braces at this point.

Mark was more amenable to visits from friends and family and awake most of the day in the chair. The weather was still pretty nice and he would read the paper on the porch for an hour. Still housebound except for doc visits.

 

Remembering True Honor and Courage after Election 2016

WWII Veteran Walter J. Phillips

1st Lt. Walter J. Phillips

Mark and I have referred to Walt’s experience of surviving a plane crash during WWII many times these past 3 months as Mark has recovered from his injury.

In some ways, it’s helped Mark to remember his dad’s courage and the extreme conditions in the first 24 hours after the crash (before the morphine).

Remember a hero today.