Full Right Quad Tendon Tear Injury

The Story

It was a beautiful Saturday summer day in June of 2007 in my home town of Seattle. My buddy Mike had called me up early that morning and invited me to go boating. “Hell yea!” I said since you don’t want to pass up a beautiful sunny day here in Seattle. Looking back now,  I wish I would have had something else planned that day or an excuse not to have made it. But… I met Mike at the usual spot for boating. He launched his boat at Coulon Beach located in Renton about 17 minutes southeast from Seattle.

steven gartner boating lake washington
Beautiful day out for boating on Lake Washington in Seattle

It was early afternoon when we finally got the boat in the water, cracked open a beer and toasted to what should have been a gorgeous day ahead on the lake. Also joining us on the boat was my buddy photographer extraordinaire Darren. I actually have him to thank for the pictures he took of this day which are included in both of my stories.

As the day progressed Mike drove the boat to a popular area on Lake Washington called Juanita Beach located near Kirkland Washington. An hour or so passed when a friend of Mike’s came into view in the distance on a jet ski. He got closer and tied up to us and came on board and mentioned the jet ski was free to use for anyone. I was eager to get on it and rip it up, but Darren beat me to it. Darren was putzing around the lake trying to check out the local bikini girls dancing in the wake boarding boats when he finally made his way back to Mike’s boat.

At this point I was so ready to get on the ski and cruise the lake. I took the life-vest from Darren and got on the jet ski and started to throttle up. It quickly became apparent to me that this was no ordinary jet ski or any one I have been on before. This one had power and lots of it. I kept increasing the speed and soon I felt the true power of this wave-runner. It felt like I was doing 60 mph or more when I started feeling some loss of control. The water which looked like glass on the surface soon dissipated and big chop started setting in. I tried to absorb the shock of the chop by partially standing up on the jet ski, but I also continued to gain speed very quickly. Why I didn’t simply release the throttle still perplexes me to this day. I thought if I stood up part way I could absorb the shock with my bent legs/knees and keep my current speed and pace. Oh how wrong I was…

The Accident

All I remember just before the accident was 1) I was traveling at an incredible high rate of speed 2) I was starting to lose control and 3) how was I going to regain control of this jet ski while traveling so fast and losing control. Looking back now I realize that all I really had to do was to sit down, take my hand and off the throttle lever and let the ski slow down by itself. But it all happened so fast. The next thing I remember was that I tried to steer to the left in hopes to slow the jet ski down and then I just remember being tossed in the air and into the water.

When I surfaced I remembered quite clearly a very severe and sharp pain in my right leg. When I was upright and somewhat buoyant in the water, I brought my right leg out of the water with great pain and noticed a big lump about 6 inches above where my knee cap should have been. I thought my knee had been shoved up towards my thigh. It was an excruciating pain just moving my leg a few inches. All I remembered at that point was that my summer was done for and I had one very serious injury that would take a LONG time to heal. Oh that and I had no health insurance coverage at the time. So going broke also raced through my mind.

So there I was floating in Lake Washington with a very messed up leg and without any boats near me. I tried to get back on the jet ski but soon realized that even moving my leg an inch led to the most intense pain I have ever experienced. After having tried several times to get back on the ski I realized that I needed to figure out another way to get back to my buddies. Thankfully I had a life vest on because floating in the deeper part of the lake with a severely injured leg and nothing to assist with keeping me a float, would have been extremely difficult and painful.

Knowing that I couldn’t get back on the jet ski, my only other options were to either yell for help or try swimming back. Since I was close to the middle of the lake swimming back would have taken me forever and I realized that swimming away from the jet ski would have made me even less visible and possibly a target for a high speed boat running me over. So I decided to stay put and started yelling from the top of my lungs for help. The only problem was that there were no boats near me and the boats I could see in the distance were blasting music so killing any chance for someone to hear me.

After yelling for help for what felt like an hour, one boat that had drifted closer to me did finally hear me. I raised my arms waving back and forth and I remember seeing a gentleman on the boat nodding his head and he proceeded with starting up his boat. When the boat finally got closer to me I noticed an elderly couple on board and the man called out to me asking me if I was OK. “I hurt my leg really bad and need to get to the hospital!” I shouted.

As the boat got closer to me the man shut off the motor and raced to the stern of the boat to help me up the ladder. That had to have been the most challenging steps I ever had to get up on since my right leg felt like a noodle and anytime it was bent even a fraction of a degree I felt the searing pain. I managed to finally get into the boat to catch my breath and thank the couple for coming to my aid. I had advised them on what had happened to me. The kind man started up the boat and proceeded to call 911 and off we went. I asked him if we could make a quick stop to where my friends were at, so I can tell them what had happened. When we came closer to where my friends were at I quickly told them what had happened, where the jet ski was and that I needed to get to the hospital ASAP!

quad tendon tear kirkland washington marina
Injury assessment on the boat by 3 paramedics.

Me and my new found rescuers were off to the main pier in Kirkland. During the boat ride the guy’s wife, who happened to be a nurse, had some strong Motrin on hand and gave me a few. She also asked if I would like to ‘numb’ the pain with a swig of whiskey they had on board. Whiskey and powerful Motrin tablets? What a perfect combo to help kill my pain I thought. So I took the Motrin and chugged them down with a healthy dose of Makers Mark. It took some time to get to the dock so I got to chat it up with my new boat mates for a bit. The man (damn I wish I could remember his name), told me that he was going to have open heart surgery soon. Hearing that made me just a bit more calmer inside knowing that although I just suffered a major leg injury, the situation could have always been much worse. I would find out later that a newlywed couple died jet skiing a few weeks after my accident in the Seattle area which really hit home.

As we were nearing the dock I could already hear the ambulance siren nearby. Three Kirkland firefighter/paramedics arrived quickly at the scene and brought a stretcher. The biggest challenge was to lift me out of the boat. Having a body weight of around 235+ pounds, lifting my big ass was enough of a challenge, but getting me out of that boat took extra special maneuvering since my leg had to be as straight as possible. Two of the firefighters secured my leg with a straight brace they had and then pulled the straps tight to ensure a secure fit.

Kirkland Firefighters/Paramedics bracing my leg for transport.

After they carefully maneuvered me from the boat onto the stretcher they wheeled me to the ambulance. Being the photographer that he is, Darren took a few candid pics that are posted on this page. At that time, I was thinking why the hell is he taking photos of this event, but looking back now I’m glad he did. In a weird way it’s nice to look back at these pics and recall the unfortunate event that had happened to me. Once I was secured onto the stretcher I thanked the couple on the boat for helping me and providing me with booze and painkillers. I wished the elderly man best of luck with his upcoming open heart surgery. I wished I had gotten his contact info so we could have shared after stories. I hope he and his wife are doing well.

Getting loaded into the ambulance.

Inside the ambulance I was trying to make light of my accident with the paramedic who was inside with me by joking around. All I kept thinking about was what the hell did I do to my knee and so much for my summer. I also had a date planned that evening so I had to call and tell her the situation. She felt terrible for me and I advised her that I’d be in touch later in the day and keep her posted on my situation. It was a quick ride from Kirkland to Overlake Hospital which is in the neighboring city of Bellevue less than 10 minutes away.

“What the heck did I do to myself?”

The picture below gives extra special meaning to me. If you look close you can see the jet ski in the distance. It really hits home and reminds me of what exactly happened that day and how quickly things can change if you don’t pay attention and/or behave recklessly on the water. I have since been on a jet ski many times, but every time I’m on one I remember and reflect on what happened this day. I have become very humbled after this experience or at least so I thought…

jet ski lake washington state leg quad injury
The ditched jet-ski in view in the distance.

The Assessment

When I arrived at Overlake hospital in Bellevue Washington I was given some more pain medication and waited to get x-rays done to rule out any broken bones. After the x-rays were taken and assessed by the doctor, he confirmed to me that there was no broken bones. He advised me to get an MRI since he felt it was a tendon rupture of some sort but he couldn’t give me specifics. I was given a referral of a specialist and was sent on my way.

I quickly learned that I was unable to walk normally meaning I couldn’t move my right leg forwards. I figured out that the only way that I could walk was and get around the ER was to walk backwards which was a sight all to its own. My parents had arrived soon after and the next challenge awaited me. Since I had to keep my leg completely straight to avoid the pain, sitting in the front passenger seat was not an option. So I decided to lay down in the back of the car and advised my dad to lift my leg while I shimmied my way into the car keeping my leg as straight as possible.

Hospital where I received my surgery - Overlake Medical Center Bellevue, WA

The Surgery

I arrived early to the hospital with my parents. My surgery was scheduled to be at 8 or so but I was advised that my doctor had another surgery before me and that he was running late. So my surgery was pushed forward around 2 hours. After I got changed into the sexy hospital gown, the nurse came and got me all setup before I was going to talk with the anesthesiologist. My mom was in the room with me and we chatted for a bit and she had mentioned that they will most likely offer you a nerve block. She didn’t steer me away from it but she did mention that there could be side effects from it. She had experienced side effects from one of her countless past surgeries.

The anesthesiologist came in. He was a young man probably around my age and he discussed what he would do while I had my surgery. He advised me of the nerve block and the decision rested in my hands, but he did mention that there are always chances of side effects but generally they were very minor. For whatever stupid reason I decided to decline the nerve block and boy would I find out the hard way what a dumb decision that was. After I signed some forms to opt out of the nerve block I was quickly wheeled to the operating room where the fun was about to commence.

I remember very vividly how cold and sterile it felt in the room as they wheeled me. Blankets were placed on my upper body to keep me warm and then one of the nurses disinfected my skin with the ever popular orange dye called povidone iodine. Soon after my orthopedic surgeon showed himself and described what was going to happen during surgery. He placed his hand where the incision was going to happen and that he will anchor the tendon to the knee cap with sutures. “Done under an hour” he said. Then the anesthesiologist spoke briefly to me and asked me to count down from 100 and I remember reaching 96 or so and I was out like a light.

When I awoke I was so very groggy and all I remember was the nurse trying to help me from the stretcher onto the bed in the recovery room. All I remember doing was yelling loudly in excruciating pain. I swear to you it hurts to this day to think of it. My mom was there advising the nurse to start giving me some pain medications and she, did but nothing seemed to help until I finally received some muscle relaxers which seemed to do the trick. That or all the meds combined finally kicked in and I was resting and I believe I was out for a bit.

I stayed in the recovery room for a few hours before it was time for me to be discharged. The next challenge was to get back into the back of my parents car which was a painful ordeal once before, but I managed since my dad kind of knew the protocol by lifting my leg up and keeping it completely straight. And then off we were to my parents house in Monroe, Washington where I would spend the next 3-4 days to recover a bit from my surgery.

The Recovery

The next couple of days were very challenging since I had a cocktail of medications to take to keep the pain down and I had to remain stationary for the most part which is very hard for me to do. I remember how sleepy I would get with taking Oxycontin and combined with the muscle relaxer I would be sleeping for hours a few times a day. One of the things that happened to me frequently when I was fast asleep is that my injured leg would just jolt violently out of the blue and it would wake me right away and it was so very painful. I started to get worried that I might tear my sutures by doing this, but the doc advised me that this was normal and that as long as I wore my brace while sleeping, all would be good. Regardless of what the doc said, it still freaked me out every time it happened.

bottle of rx prescription pills
Many new challenges were ahead for me with this newly acquired injury and bathroom duties was definitely high on the list. Now I am not talking about peeing, that was fairly easy. I didn’t think of using a pee bottle this time around so I always got out of bed to urinate and having the full brace made it easier than before. Before I always had to turn on my stomach and get out of bed that way since it was easier and safer as I didn’t want to take a chance on bending the leg at all. Going number 2 became quite challenging at first but I soon learned that as long as the injured leg stays straight, the other steps just required a little more movement so to speak LOL.
Another big challenge was being able to sleep normally while having this big brace around your leg. I quickly figured out and remember by reading other ‘quadders’ stories that by placing a pillow or two in between your legs helps a ton, that is if you are a side sleeper like me. When lying down flat on my back I would place a pillow under my knee and a few under my foot to elevate it a bit. I mainly did this when watching tv or doing computer work.
My parents had two sets of stairs in their house but it didn’t pose as much of a problem as it did for my 2013 bilateral injury. Having one good leg to put most of my weight bearing on made it very stable and easy to go down the stairs. Going down stairs is always a problem for quadders, not with going up at least that’s been my experience. It’s the whole bending of the knee thought that makes you cringe when navigating down the stairs when you have this injury since the last thing you want to do is re-injure the leg.
After my stint at my parents I had to get back home since I still had an online business to run. I had shipping labels to print and orders to pack and get to the post office. My dad helped out for the first few days but I got the hang of my new routine rather quickly. I was just a bit slower and a whole lot more cautious with moving around. The next biggest challenge I encountered was driving. Now I never asked the doc how long I should wait, I assumed I wouldn’t drive until my brace was off or until I reached at least 90 degrees ROM. However I felt I didn’t really have a choice. I needed to get to the post office a few times a week and actually being able to get out of my then very tiny apartment was good for the soul.
I devoted an entire post on QTR Driving so I will just summarize it here. Since I had an automatic I didn’t have to worry about shifting gears, but since my injured leg was the right one it would be controlling the brake and gas because that’s the leg you use right? The difficult part was getting my leg up and into the car or in my case my SUV. Remember the leg has to stay straight so as not to injure the tendon and so you don’t cry out in pain. So with the leg in the brace I used a small towel or bandanna, wrapped it around my ankle and lifted my leg up and into the car. I also found out that having a pillow or cushion to place under your butt lifted me enough so my leg was straight enough in the car to where it wouldn’t be painful and I could comfortably drive.
Once I got the driving part down I counted it as another small victory in my recovery. Remember small victories and/or improvements make a huge impact on your attitude with this injury. And a positive attitude is what you need when you are going through this. After conquering this challenge another one was to follow… namely that of Physical Therapy.
Quad Tendon Rupture Physical Therapy via Telemedicine during COVID-19
Once you start Physical Therapy the real challenge begins
I believe it was at the 8 or 9 week mark that I was given the thumbs up to begin my PT. The doctor gave me a list of several qualified and recommended therapists in my area and I chose one at random I believe. It turned out my random choice (this time) was a great choice. My PT was a petite gal from Canada who was amazing. She wasted no time in putting me through some tough sessions that would get me back to normal movement as quickly as possible. I stayed with her for a few months before I went out on my own doing rehabilitation and strength conditioning at my local gym.
The road to recovery from leaving my Physical Therapist to where I was somewhat of a normal and abled-bodied person took some time. The hardest challenge was getting my leg to have a ROM of 90 degrees and then past 120. Once you get past that it will just be a matter of time with strengthening and continuing your stretching (very important) that you will be back to your normal self. Being that I didn’t have to be at a typical 9-5 job for this injury I could focus on my recovery a whole lot more than my later incurred injury. My daily routine consisted of going to the gym to do strength training, cardio, and I would utilize the pool to do my walking. At home I would focus on stretching and isometric exercises. I eventually dropped the pool walking sessions when I could fully utilize the stationary bike as well as the treadmill.
Weight training consisted of very light one-legged leg extensions, machine leg presses, leg curls, abductor and adductor leg machines. I didn’t consider doing any kind of squat movement until much later say at 7 or 8 months post surgery. I realize light squats would have been ok to do, but something about the movement just made me feel very uneasy and I wasn’t looking to get the muscle size I once had back. I just wanted to get my range of motion as close to normal as before and strength back so I could partake in my favorite physical activities like snow skiing, roller blading, scuba diving and hiking.
greenlake washington state
Green Lake – Seattle, Washington
I really feel that this consistent daily training plan led to a faster recovery then if I wasn’t exercising as frequent. I should point out that I did take the weekends off from weight training. I believe variety in movements is important so I didn’t want to be stuck with always doing the same thing. So on weekends I would try to walk Green Lake or some other popular spots around the Seattle area (weather dependent of course). The last thing I wanted to do is slip on wet pavement and re-injure myself.

9 months after my right quadriceps tendon injury I decided to go snow skiing with my friend Shawn to Crystal Mountain Resort. I was very hesitant to go, but I felt my leg was strong enough and more than enough time had passed and that I made a full recovery. The truth of the matter was that my leg felt quite weak and I was putting more of my weight on my left leg while trying to baby my right side. My friend said he could see from a distance that I was favoring my left leg.

snow skiing crystal mountain washington state leg injury recovery
April 2008 – Skiing at Crystal Mountain Resort

Although my leg was feeling weak and unstable, I was extremely excited and proud of this day since I have come so far with what I had endured. From not being able to walk normally to being able to ski down a mountain was a huge milestone for me, but I still had a long way to go since my quadriceps tendon wasn’t a 100% or close to normal yet. It would take another 5-6 months, if memory serves me right, to really be close to feeling normal again with my right leg.

Enjoying a great day skiing at Crystal Mountain