The dreaded ACL tear is the bane of athletes everywhere. Becoming a fixture of the sidelines, surrendering the ability to sit cross-legged for tedious therapy, and learning to regain flexion, extension, and explosive movements can blow your upcoming nine months to pieces. It’ll shatter your confidence. It’ll deprive you of your identity. And it’ll leave you twiddling your thumbs in endless boredom.
My community jokes that blowing your knee brings you one step closer to earning the sought after true local status. “There are those in this town who’ve blown their knee, and those who will, so congratulations on joining the clan of those who have,” my surgeon joked as he wheeled me into the operating room. Congratulations? You have got to be kidding me. As if I elected myself to a 9-month recovery and $20,000 surgical bill as a rite of passage. However, after scoffing at his attempt to comfort me, I realized he had a point. I was not alone in my recovery and if there is ever a place to gain sympathy or advice after surgery, a mountain town is it.
So, hear me when I say that an injury is more than a dagger through your spirit. It’s a chance to relearn, reevaluate, and revamp your routine. I’ve had two knee surgeries in two years, so what have I learned through my months of hobbling, fear of frozen parking lots, and scar tissue?
You’ll feel pathetic, but it will get better. The first month of recovery feels demoralizing; you can’t carry a cup of water by yourself, grocery shopping becomes your nemesis, and for many, driving is prohibited. I moped in my own self-pity until an expecting mother joked that we were in the same boat, except that as she continued to get more pregnant over the next nine months, I would continue to feel better. This “ah-ha” moment completely changed my perspective on being a fallen soldier for the winter. She was right: My pain would decrease, I would be able to walk again, and then I’d be able to come back stronger, more motivated, and with a greater body awareness than ever.
I have even expanded my circle of friends.
Your physical therapist will become your new best friend. Three days a week, you will look forward to that person encouraging you that yes, you really can walk downstairs without gripping onto the banister for dear life, or that pushing through the pain of extending your knee is, in fact, beneficial. They’re legally required to listen to your Oxycontin induced rants and while your friends spend the day making figure-8s down Cody Peak, your PT is waiting to see you in her office.
Forego the alcohol and focus on eating well. Alcohol will do nothing beneficial throughout your recovery. It’ll increase your swelling, your chance of reinjury will skyrocket, and your feelings of boredom and loneliness will consume you. So, swap out your happy hour cocktail for a therapeutic shake. Blend together one scoop of Gnarly vanilla protein powder, banana, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and almond milk for a creamy, restorative treat.
Focus on the little things you’ve been avoiding. With each surgery, the optimistic angel on my shoulder reminds me that I want to learn a second language or find a way to better the world. But honestly, when I wasn’t rehabbing or working, I was just flat-out tired. Two surgeries have flown by and I haven’t learned a new sentence in Spanish, revamped my Swahili, or run for president. But what I have done is hammer through the tedious tasks that I avoided when I was able to run through the mountains. If you have health insurance (which I pray that you do), take advantage of your already-met deductible and visit a new doctor every Monday. Dermatologist? Check. An hour here and there is what you’ll have for extra time, so find small goals to accomplish rather than taking on a new full-time job.
And for my last two cents, I will say that regaining quad strength doesn’t mean you’re ACL is fully healed (I went a year without knowing I had a torn ACL because my strong legs masked my injury); patience is a virtue (it is never, ever worth taking a risk or flying out of the gates too early) and fanny packs are always in style.