Wednesday, May 9

Never Whole

Occasionally, I am reminded of the ACL surgeries I've had...

Though the context varies my immediate reaction is usually "Well, that's in the past, so whatever." But something deeper is usually triggered. As I look down at the scars on my knees (One big one down the center of my right knee, two smaller ones on the inner part of my left knee, and those little arthroscopic holes surrounding each) a twinge of sorrow always sneaks through my emotional armor.

When you go in for ACL surgery, you're agreeing to have your body altered. Either to have something alien added or parts of your own body repurposed.

For my right knee (the one I tore playing soccer senior year of High School), the surgeon's repair of choice was the"Gold Standard" (a phrase he would unendingly repeat during discussions) of cutting out the middle third of my patellar tendon of the same knee, part of my patella and part of my tibia, drilling a hole through my femur and tibia and then assisting the bone-to-bone graft in those holes with screws. He also performed a partial meniscectomy while he was in there. My knee is still scarred and deformed. The "donor site" on my tibia is like a ditch you can see if you compare knees and easily feel with your fingers. Don't press hard though, that motherfucker still hurts. If I bang me knee on a stair I'll likely be in debilitating pain for 5-10 minutes. Oh, and a big patch of the outside of my calf is surface-numb. And I can't completely straighten my leg.

For my left knee (the one I tore playing ultimate junior year of college), the surgeon swore by replacing the ACL with the semitendinosus hamstring tendon from the same leg. The surgeon cut/pulled out one part of my hamstring on the same leg, drilled a hole in in my femur and tibia, and attached the tendon using some sort of bone-adhesive screw and loop procedure. I'm not sure which method, exactly, this surgeon preferred. While he was inside my knee, he sewed up part of my meniscus, performed a related partial
meniscectomy and widened the intercondylar notch. My knee is still scarred and deformed. One particularly notable pea-sized bit of scar tissue gives me a horrible burning sensation if I sit with my leg at approximately 85 degree angle for too long. Oh, and there is a larger portion of the outside of my calf that is surface-numb, as is a portion of the interior of my ankle. Also, my left hamstring will always be ~5-10% weaker than my right in addition to being unable to pull my knee up to my ass without assistance.

The sadness isn't due to the affect it has had on me athletically, (Even though I still can't jump as high or run as fast I am more determined than ever) but rather the what it drained from me emotionally. Rehab is fucking hard. Those first couple of days/weeks after surgery are pain pain and pain. You can't stand up for more than 15 seconds before the pain is unbearable. You can't get to the bathroom on your own. You can't do anything other than elevate, ice and push through the tears in rehab.

The sadness extends to the notion that, in some way, my body wasn't built right. In some fundamental way, I'm less than everyone else. My knees weren't sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of competition. As a result, the rest of my legs have been ravaged by surgery to compensate for my structural shortcomings. They'll never be the same, and I can never go back.

Surgery masks the larger issue and causes other problems. I'm not whole again, I'm differently put together.

The knees don't often hurt these days (save for that one fucking bitch-ass piece of scar tissue), and when they do, it isn't the troublesome sort of pain. I'm just sore from a good workout or a tough game/practice. That actually feels good, in a way.

The thing is, there is no way I'd be playing ultimate without suffering that first torn ACL. I'd still be playing volleyball. The thing is, I probably wouldn't be playing for Pike if I didn't tear that second ACL. I wouldn't feel the same need to prove myself everyday.

When I look at those scars, I almost feel the pain again.
When I look at those scars, I definitely feel the weakness again.
When I look at those scars, I know I can overcome anything.
Workout Total:
2 hours throwing in Central Park

1 comment:

Bill Mill said...

My girlfriend had surgery almost exactly like your second surgery, except she got a dead dude's ligament. Between you, you have every type of ACL surgery covered! (although neither of you tore a PCL, missing a knee ligament trifecta).

A year on, she's just starting to get back to ultimate. She's a medical intern, so she hasn't had the time until recently to do proper rehab.