ACL surgery and life with a perennially swollen knee

I heard a crack when I landed on my left leg. A few seconds went by and then the pain kicked in. I struggled like when you’re about to run out of air underwater. It was bad. This had never happened before. Injuries were sustained in the past, but never like this. A type that no amount of Advil before a match could cure (believe me, I tried). A nervousness that’s difficult to explain. A truly, “holy god damn shit” moment. Tearing your Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is a big deal.

Here’s the basics, and I really mean basics because they stuff people in the medical field do, especially with such confidence, is unreal. Anyway, the knee cap is where the three main bones in your knee meet to form your knee joint. These joints are connected by ligaments that act as strong ropes that hold everything together and keep the knee stable. So if you cut one of the ropes, such as the ACL, most of it falls down, and so do you. Like a big sack of holy god damn shit potatoes.

Pain wise, the act is vicious and to this day the smell of the turf on an indoor soccer pitch still gives me chills. Close to a year later I found myself sitting in a bed in the pre-operating room calling the anesthesiologist “buddy” as he inserted the IV into my left knuckle while I tried to stay calm. That lasted about 30 seconds as I was rolled through the halls and into the operating room. It felt like you could see your breath it was so cold and the bright lights reminded me of being trapped in a Walmart checkout line. You get the idea.

The whole experience of being in an operating room gives you an uneasy feeling that has your gut screaming at you to get out. I liken it to being trapped in a room with an ex-girlfriend, her mom and her friends that unfriended you on Facebook a week after you split up. Yeesh. I used to say that haunted houses were the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Move aside clown, five people in scrubs and surgical masks staring at you and asking your birth details as if you were a spy behind enemy lines takes the prize from here on out.

Waking up after surgery, I tried to act cool as if it wasn’t a big deal, even giving the guy who just had shoulder surgery across the room a thumbs up. He returned the gesture. Barely. Good lad. Do you want morphine or Percocet they asked. I enjoyed that part. There was no god damn way they were sticking me with another needle so I took the percs like it wasn’t my first rodeo. Not really – I had to ask for more water (I’m not a cowboy). I passed out after that only to be awoken by a nurse asking if I wanted something to drink. Now, the details are a little fuzzy, maybe because of the percs or the anesthetics, but instead of answering yes to the orange juice she offered, I asked her name. She didn’t bother answering – just smiled (I hope) and shook her head.

The afters are no cake either, although I was hobbling around with one crutch the day after. The initial rehab involves at least a week of it taking 10 minutes to get the ice pack from the freezer and your hamstring feeling like it’s been ripped to shreds. In most ACL surgeries, they cut the hamstring tendon out of the affected leg and use that to recreate the cruciate ligament. In some cases your hamstring tendon might not be the right size and the surgeon will use a donor tissue. Again, the things they can do. In my case they used my hammy tendy and a piece of the donor to shore things up. There’s a great video on YouTube that walks through the whole procedure, but viewer discretion is advised. Seriously. Viewer freaking discretion is advised. It took me 20 minutes to watch this seven and change video.

It might sound trite, but the best way to learn about anything is through experience, not from a book or sitting in a lecture hall. Blowing out my knee and not being able to do things I was accustomed to since I could walk basically (I was known for running at an early age) was absolutely heartbreaking. But that’s the way she goes sometimes. And by golly she went. Tore the rope like it was someone after a twizzler when they haven’t eaten in months. You recover though. You learn to move the way you used to and with some perseverance (and a ton of squats, box jumps and hamstring curls), you can get back to where you were before. You also get a great story out of it too! As much as people point out about how weak we as humans all are, our bodies tend to differ.