During the three-hour operation, Heidt and Welch hammered a 15-inch-long, ½-inch-diameter stainless-steel rod down the middle of the tibia, the large bone in the lower leg, which had been broken in two places in the shin area. Next, they secured the rod with four screws, two just below the kneecap and two above the ankle. The rod, which will remain in place for 18 months, reinforces the tibia as it heals. The fibula, the smaller bone that runs beside the tibia, didn't require surgical attention.
"I can't believe it hurts so much," Tim told Cheryl a day later, when he stood on crutches for the first time. The next morning Cheryl bathed him on his hospital bed. When she finished, she inadvertently dropped the towel on Tim's uneaten breakfast. "We both started laughing," says Cheryl, "and we laughed so hard that we started to cry. I guess we both needed to release our tension."
Says Krumrie of his fears, "My career is my legs. My position is in jeopardy. You know what they do to racehorses."
His spirits were lifted by an outpouring of sympathy from strangers, who sent him 2,000 letters. One woman sent him a huge bedpan filled with cactus plants. On the card she wrote, "O.K., tough guy, try this without anesthesia." At various times more than 150 people sneaked past the check-in desk in the hospital lobby; they were stopped by security guards near Krumrie's room on the eighth floor. Student nurses clamored for his autograph.
Krumrie was released from the hospital on Feb. 6. In the month since his recurring dreams stopped, life in Eau Claire has been rather dull. On weekday mornings there is physical therapy. Three times a week, starting at 6 a.m., he "runs" in a local pool, floating by means of a life vest as he strides in 10 feet of water. Every weekday at 9 a.m., Tom Morgan of Northwoods Therapy Associates massages Krumrie's calf, stretching his Achilles tendon. At first Morgan spent two hours kneading the leg, which was an ugly yellow, black and blue. Now the kneading takes only an hour, and the skin looks normal. Morgan manipulates the ankle to keep it from becoming stiff and then ices the leg. After that, Krumrie slips into an air-compression boot to inhibit the swelling further.
He spends his afternoons managing his beer distributorship. In a few weeks he expects to be back riding the trucks, delivering kegs. "At first I felt helpless," says Krumrie. "Kelly had to get my clothes out, put them by the side of the bed and help me get dressed."
Now he has to rein himself in. Two weeks ago he hobbled through the snow to watch the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Hayward, Wis. Afterward he wanted to boogie in the lodge, but he resisted the urge.
The leg is X-rayed every Monday, and seeing the bones heal gives Krumrie peace of mind. Still, at the end of last week he could put only 60 pounds of weight on his left leg, and he probably won't walk without crutches until April. A tibia fracture usually takes four to six months to heal, which means Krumrie could be ready for training camp in July.
He has different kinds of dreams these days. "I visualize about football constantly," he says. "When I'm riding the exercise bike, I'm seeing blocking schemes. Any other March, I'd just be taking a break from football. I wouldn't think about it at all. But this year is different. I'm looking forward to healing. I can't wait to play again."