“You don’t look it!” [19 Days Pre-Surgery]

I’ve completed my first week of prehab and will be back at it again on Monday. The 2nd and 3rd visit were much more challenging, and when I walk funny now it’s not because my knee hurts, but because we’re waking up leg muscles I either haven’t used in a while or just rarely use in general! But it’s nice to feel the burn and break a sweat again (and yes, even the soreness is rewarding!) Honestly, with just a little tightness within my injured knee at straight or all the way bent, I feel back to normal. I haven’t tried any running or sports (no point in adding another injury to my knee) but it’s an odd circumstance: feeling fine, but knowing it’s going to get a lot worse and then take lots of work to get back to having this confidence in my leg again. What an odd challenge.

I am learning the ropes of how the PT area works, and getting the vibe in general. It’s interesting to go in there and see people doing the same silly exercises I am (i.e., today I was told to ‘walk like Godzilla’ while I had a resistance band figure-eighted around my feet…) and to watch how people go about their routines. In just 3 days I’ve seen people across all ages, most fitness levels and definitely levels of determination. It was odd to see a woman, perhaps in her early 40’s, complaining. “I’m tired. I don’t like this exercise. Do I have to do more? Uggh…” If you’re in that room, you probably NEED to be there, and it boggles my mind that there’s another option than to go in, do your best at the exercises you’re given, and (unless it truly is too painful to bear) keep any negativity to yourself, because this is a place of recovery! Right? Aside from the one complainer though, I think most others share my view. There are lots of smile-and-nods as I cross people’s paths, and sometimes a small conversation (“What kind of surgery did you have?”) because no matter the injury, chances are we can relate!

My favorite moment of today was when I was side-stepping (again, w/ a resistance band around my feet) across the room and a gentleman (late 50’s? 60’s?) pointed at me and said, “You don’t look it!” At first I was confused, but I looked at the logo on my shirt (that explains the pointing!) and it was from last year’s softball team:

So, once I realized what he meant, I took it as a compliment, chuckled and thanked him. I know I’m still closer to 20 days away from my surgery, but I hope the vibe I give off is pleasant yet determined, and while it’s sure to cross my mind, that I never succumb to being “scared *hitless”!

[It also makes me wonder if he would have spoke to me in Spanish had I been wearing my 'Los Hooligans' soccer team shirt?] ;)

*Note* I've added a link to ‘ACL Calendar’ where I’ll track days of PT and what exercises I did each day. This will help me track post-op progress, and also help me remember the goal to get back to once I’m in the recovery stages. If you care to see what they’re having me do, open up any past entry!


Physical Therapy [22 Days Pre-Surgery]

Eric and I have coined my early visits 'Prehab' since it's a completely different focus than my rehab will be, post-surgery.

I arrived promptly before 7am and waited patiently in the lobby. At about 7:10 I decided no one was going to get me, so I went into the PT area and found Drew, the trainer. Note to self: Sign in, walk in, and get things started on your own if you don’t want to be waiting around next time!

After a 10 minute warm-up on a stationary bike, Drew took a look at my leg to see if straightness had improved since our initial meeting. Since I’d been doing the exercises he’d given me previously, I knew it was improved. He watched my gait as I walked the runway, and while it feels different in my left knee, my stride is even and balanced. From there we did a handful of things. Calf stretches, hamstring stretches, straightening my ‘surgical leg’ against a resistance band which went behind my knee, and calf raises. Easy-peezy lemon-squeezy! But as I thought my visit was winding down, he added just a few more exercises. First, surgical leg one-leg-press (he had me try it out when the weight was at 30#, but promptly raised it to 150# once instruction was over…!). This was more like the work level I expected at PT! Then, as a last gift and promise of soreness to come, I had to lie on a padded table on my non-surgical side with a 5# weight around my surgical leg ankle. I remember my mom doing ‘leg lifts’ like this when we were younger, while watching TV. Since I haven’t done these in… years, and I now had this fun 5# weight added, this was by far the activity that caused the most burn! 3 sets of 15, and I thought my leg was going to fall off at the butt! I laughed to myself wondering how this helped my knee exactly, and wondered if maybe my new friend Drew had decided for me that there were some other ‘problem areas’ for me to work on?! :)

Once I was done, I reminded him I’d be back on Wednesday morning at 7am. “Oh, and I did have one question. Can I go to the range and hit some golf balls before my surgery?”

“Absolutely not. That’s just the twisting and pressure you want to avoid in your knee before surgery.”

[With my tail tucked between my legs] “Well, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

This sudden stop of all sporting activities is going to be a lot harder than I thought. Meanwhile, at least I’ll have PT to focus on, and perhaps I can get back into yoga while I’m avoiding those impact sports I love so much.


Doctor Says... [27 Days Pre-Surgery]

I had spent numerous hours online doing research, as well as talking to teammates and friends who’ve undergone ACL reconstruction. As I sent out emails I received overwhelming support (even if it did start out, “Man, that SUCKS!...”) and I also learned that many people I knew, who were athletic and active, had undergone a surgery for this very injury. All of this helped me put this all into perspective. I will get through this!! I am trying not to play it down as if it’s not a big deal, because it is! For this girl (who’s never had a broken bone or stitches, remember…) this is a major surgery on a major joint. That doesn’t mean I am going to let it own me.

So, today I met with Dr. Shapiro again, and my dad came along to hear the discussions on my options. (I must admit, bringing anyone, especially my dad, along seemed like a very 1st grade thing to do, but it was nice to have someone there to distract me while waiting, and chime in with questions I might not have thought of…)

Enter Dr. Shapiro, stage left: “[To me:] Hi Again. [to Papa John:] Nice to meet you. [To me:] Your ACL is completely torn. There doesn’t seem to be any damage to your meniscus or other tendons or ligaments, so that is good. There’s some bone bruising, but that will go away in a few weeks.” Dr. Shapiro sees a manila folder I brought with me and says, “So, what questions do you have for me?”

I was surprised, as I figured he’d dive right into my options, what he recommends and how to go about it. But he didn’t have to make any small talk because he remembered I said I was in any sport I could get my hands on, and knew I’d want to get right back to it. And so I began, “Well, from what I’ve found online….”

Dr. Shapiro and I agreed on the procedure Uncle Jimmy had mentioned to me- the patellar tendon graft. Since this was the surgery Dr. Shapiro does 110 out of his 150 yearly ACL reconstructions, I was confident that I would not need a second opinion or need to search for someone with more experience. He answered all of my questions (Yes, I’ll start rehab the next day… Yes, I can shower soon after… I can return to work in a week [Nah, let’s make it 2 to be safe, I said…]…) From there, he asked when I would like to do the surgery, and if I had anything coming up that I wanted to do before having surgery. I got a little smirk on my face and said, “Well, [Detroit] Tiger’s opening day is April 10… If I have surgery right away can I be well enough for that?” He immediately said no, because there’d be too much walking. That decided it for us- the surgery would be Tuesday, April 14, 2009…. “See you then!” he said.

We checked out and proceeded downstairs in the same building to set up some Physical Therapy prior to the surgery to (1) straighten out my leg all the way, (2) strengthen my leg/knee to help with recovery and (3) to get to know the trainer and the facility to be sure I like it! I ended up getting an appointment with Drew, who would become my physical trainer, to do a baseline and get some exercises from him to do at home. At first meeting I wasn’t sure what to think, but I figure it’ll take a few more sessions before I’ll understand his process and how he’ll be helping me through what’s going to be my biggest physical accomplishment to date. We set up a few upcoming appointments and I was on my way. With PT and Surgery scheduled, I still don’t think an understanding has completely sunk in of what I am going to be going though!


Official Results [33 Days Pre-Surgery]

Thursday was finally here! Today I am leaving straight after work to head for Chicago and carry on the third year of our traditional St Pat’s Day celebration! Erica was flying in from Philly, and I’d be driving to Jordan’s apartment and we’d eventually be with Jen, Eric and Meagan too. It was bittersweet though- wanting to know so badly about my knee but also wanting to ignore it and be excited for my upcoming weekend!

I checked my cell phone around 930am and noticed I had a voice mail from Aunt Judy’s number. Turns out Uncle Jimmy had given me a call and before they ran off to Puerto Rico, I was to return the call. My heart was beating out of my chest as I dialed him, because who knows what he’d seen in those images?!

“So, what’d you do?” Jimmy said after we’d exchanged pleasantries… He may have meant “tell me exactly how it happened” but his emphasis on ‘do’ gave that hint of “How’d THIS happen?” I bucked up for it, told him my sob story (or, lack thereof) and he hit me with the news. “Well, from the images I was so privileged to see… you tore your ACL.”

Don’t cry. You’re at work, you’re 26, and you knew this might be a torn ACL. But no matter my inner monologue to my tear ducts, they welled up anyhow. Sports are my life outside of this cubicle I’m stuck in!

Jimmy and I discussed my options, how long I’d be out of work, and I said I’d try to get the official MRI report to him as soon as I could. I didn’t get it to him before he left for vacation, but I did have it faxed to me 15 minutes before I hit the road to Chicago- and it was just as we’d suspected…

To quote the MRI report: “The anterior cruciate ligament is blown out. There is grossly altered signal in its place…”

Needless to say, I had the next 4.5 hours to spend with myself and deal with the reality of my injury. I was jittery and nervous, for some reason. I think there may have even been an onset of a cold sweat. But I let the road sooth my jitters, and luckily it was a sunny and gorgeous evening, and I was on my way to spend time with people I knew I could lean on for support with the recent news!


Self Diagnosis [34 Days Pre-Surgery]

It’s 10 days since the dreaded POP. No major swelling had occurred (but a little did), and I was slowly but surely gaining back range of motion, and trust, in my left knee. I iced it, rested it, elevated it… I sat out of my indoor soccer, volleyball and flag football games since the injury and I thought I was on the road to recovery.

I’d spent a lot of my time researching. I had been asking around of friends and family in the medical field, and also friends who’ve had knee injuries, as well as searching online … What could this POP mean? For peace of mind, I made a doctor’s appointment with a doctor who’d done knee surgery on a soccer teammate of mine, Jeff. I didn’t think mine was as bad as his, but I wanted to see someone with experience. [Jeff was injured in summer of ’08 and was back out playing ultimate Frisbee by November ’08. I had to trust his physician!]

I almost cancelled my appointment. I didn’t want to waste the doctor’s time, my time, or my medical deductible money just to have someone tell me, “Rest it. You’re fine!” But since I didn’t use my insurance at all last year and wouldn’t mind a little time away from work, I figured I would just go to the appointment and be done with it. I imagined walking in, telling my story and getting a cock-eyed look from the doctor as he said, “and you bothered to come in for this?” as we chuckled about it, shook hands, and rode off into our respective sunsets.

Cut to reality – An assistant leads me into the exam room, I’m told to put on paper shorts and that x-rays will be taken before I see the doctor. Thinking with my wallet I say, “ACTually, could I just meet with the doctor first? My injury was over a week ago, it’s feeling a lot better and I think it may be nothing. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time doing x-rays if I don’t have to.”
The assistant didn’t speak up right away, but the look she gave me said This is not how things work here! She started to say, “Well…” but luckily the doctor poked his head into the exam room and said (quite hurriedly), “HiI’mDr.Shapiro; What’sthestoryhere?”

I repeat what I said to the assistant, mentioned what I was doing when I hurt it and of the POP I heard, and the doctor agreed he’d examine me in a minute, sans x-rays.

One small step for me, one big savings to my medical deductible! Ha! I think to myself, try and scam me with your ‘standard’ x-rays? No way. Noooo way. Needless to say, I think I’ll be out of there w/in minutes of the exam.

The doctor eventually returned, and took a look at my knee. Sitting on the exam table with my legs extended out in front of me, he asked me to straighten them. “That doesn’t look very straight!” he said. I kind of chuckle, saying, “Ok ok, now just a second, it is still a little tender!” and I gingerly work it as straight as I can, nearly identical to my other leg.

“Hmm,” the professional said. “Now, swing your legs over the edge of the table”

The next minute and a half (read: felt like 30 minutes) were… unpleasant. I’ve never been scared of the doctor, but then again I’ve never gone in for anything besides routine check-ups. Fillings at the dentist is the biggest ‘procedure’ I’ve had, and while maybe those aren’t pleasant, I’ve felt I’ve conquered such visits, however insignificant, with bravery and dignity! Now, I understand why people are scared of the doctor.

First, Dr. Shapiro took my ‘bad’ leg, and tried to jiggle the lower half away from the upper half (holding the upper half stationary) like it was a loose tooth. PUSH-PULL-JIGGLE-JIGGLE-JIGGLE. All the while I am gasping and sucking in air through my teeth like it’s going out of style. POKE-PROD-“DOESTHISHURT?”-“STSTTST;YEAHKINDA”-POKE-PUSH. Sweet Jesus, thank god THAT’S over.

He does the same thing to my right leg. This doesn’t hurt nearly as much (nor am I as scared when he goes to do it). Then he spoke these words and my whole body shuddered: “Now, try to remember how this feels. I am going to go back to your ‘bad’ leg and repeat what I just did [WHAT?!] and you tell me if one leg feels more loose than the other at the knee.”

Please no, please no, please no. Oh maaaaan. NOO! I think. “Ok,” I say aloud.

I try to relax my body and legs (HOW?!) and take a deep breath. Dr S then proceeds to repeat the PUSH-PULL-JIGGLE sequence (see above) and I am thinking just break the damn thing off already!

Needless to say he felt the left (injured) knee was looser than the other, and he said, “I think you have an ACL tear. You need an MRI.” If it wasn’t torn before, it is now! I thought… But at this point, I didn’t want to disagree because that might mean going through that exam again. My eyes did start to tear up at this point, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the unofficial bad news I’d just gotten, or the cost of the MRI, or because after 10 days of recovery my knee suddenly felt like the injury happened just minutes ago…

Luckily they were able to get me an MRI appointment for that morning, in the same building. After a long wait I’m told to follow someone into the room with the machine. We take a little lift up to the ‘control room’ of the MRI. It wasn’t like what I’ve seen on scrubs, and truly that’s all I had to go off of! But the staff was friendly and soon I was being slid into the machine with a setting around my left knee and headphones on my ears to try to drown out the noise of the machine.

A half an hour later I was out and had a CD in my hand which I was told had all the MRI images from my knee. I was to bring it to my next appointment with the doctor, and until then I just had to wait. When I went home for lunch I played around with the CD they’d given me, thinking I knew what I was looking at, when truly I didn’t. But it was fun to look either way!

After spending half a day at work looking for images of an MRI with a torn ACL, I was determined to self-diagnose. Once I was home and looking at the CD (and learned how to see ALL the images in succession) I found some key sections that looked exactly like the tears I’d seen online. This might be when denial stepped in and I told myself, hey, let’s let the professionals handle this, shall we?

Then it dawned on me. Uncle Jimmy! Of course! He’s an orthopedic surgeon, and I can send HIM the images and see! So, via Aunt Judy, I passed along the images and waited patiently for a reply…


The *POP* [44 Days Pre-Surgery]

We're 2 minutes from the end of the second half of our flag football game. The other team hikes the ball, and their QB is weighing his options.
“ONE-lite, TWO-lite, THREE-lite, FOUR-lite….”
There is no way this QB is going to get past me if he tries to make a run for it. In an earlier huddle, Rachel (teammate on the co-ed indoor team Eric and I are playing on) said she overheard the other team’s player say that I was our teams ‘best player’ (Hey, I made a few good catches!) and that makes me want to do even better!
“Five-lite… GO!”
The rush count is up so if this QB doesn’t throw the ball soon he’ll probably try to run by us. I listened to Jack (our QB and captain), so I’m not going to rush this QB, I just will move side-to-side and not let him past the line of scrimma.....
Ahhhh! My left knee! What the heck was that sound? That feeling?! Their QB threw the ball anyway, and no one else is around me. Jesus, I hope it’s nothing bad. Let’s see. I can bend it (mostly) and straighten it (mostly)… and the kneecap seems to be in place. OK! *Whew!* Let’s just sit here a second, make sure it’s all good. Yep, feeling kind of … different… but, no sharp pains, and nothing hurts enough even to bring tears to my eyes.

“Are you OK?” Rachel is probably the only one who notices I went down and stayed there. Everyone else was focused on the ball and when the play ended, they all went to the line of scrimmage. Slowly a few people start to realize, including Eric, and came over to see what happened.

“Yeah, I think I’m OK. I just heard my knee POP and felt it too. I can bend it and straighten it, it just feels kind of funny.”

“WHAT HAPPENED?!” Eric runs over just a little after Rachel, and I explain. I start to get up and Eric is clearly in protective mode, as he says, “No! Don’t move it!” and yells to Erin, the league coordinator, that we need an ice pack.

So, I sit for a minute, and the ice feels good but my knee feels… stiff. The only injury I can compare to is rolling my ankle, which I’ve done both ankles one or two times. A similar ‘pop’, a similar ‘stiff’ feeling and my brain has kicked in, not wanting me to move or jar the joint in any way. We’re winning the game so I am OK with sitting out these last 2 minutes (yes- the game was almost OVER!) … and I go to stand up.

“STOP. No. We’ll help you...” Eric insists on helping. I’m up and I start to hobble out-of-bounds, trying to put a little weight on it. Eric doesn’t like it, but it’s all I can do to think that maybe it’s nothing, just a simple slip in-and-out that created the POP, and since it doesn’t hurt that much, it can’t be anything serious… Can it?