It seems like my joints have always been my weakest link.
I prepared for ninth grade football all summer. I was going out for tight end and wide receiver. In the third week of preseason practice, I planted my left foot in a stalk blocking drill and my knee couldn’t take the pressure as I smashed into somebody.
I went down and my teammates gathered around. Coach told me to stand back up and as I did, the knee gave out completely. One of the guys said he was grossed out because my knee bent in a direction that knee’s aren’t supposed to bend.
I went to see an orthopedic surgeon specializing in athletic injuries in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This guy had patched up many a football player. He told me that I had torn an interior ligament (which I later learned is called an ACL – anterior cruciate ligament) and that they would need to operate to tie it back together.
ACL Prep and Surgery
I remember a few things about the surgery prep for my ACL surgery. Most notably I had to where a hospital gown with nothing underneath. That was fine until the nurses hiked my leg up in the air, slathered it with a yellow liquid and shaved it – farther up than was necessary I’m certain.
The other memory was the process for “going under” anesthesia. They gave me a drug to help me relax. The nurse took my vital signs and commented that my resting hear rate was in the mid 40’s. She said “you must be in fantastic shape”. My mind was completely blurry and I remembered trying to say no, that’s not right, I’m not in that good of shape… but I drifted off to sleep and don’t know if she even heard me. I woke up after surgery with my heart still ticking so I guess there was nothing to be alarmed about.
Recovery from knee surgery
I spent a couple of days in the hospital. There was another athlete in the bed next to mine. The doctor and nurses praised him for how well he was doing his post-op exercises. So I naturally did twice as many as he did. Was I that desperate for recognition? The nurse came in right after I had finished exercising and panicked when she saw that my heart rate was over 150 even though I was just lying there in the hospital bed. I told her I had just finished 200 leg lifts and she felt a lot better.
I was in a cast and on crutches for a couple of months. It was itchy and inconvenient but nothing worse than that. When the cast came off, my knee was stiff and it was somewhat painful to bend it. My thigh had atrophied some but it wasn’t too long until I returned to a normal level of activity. The doctor told me I could do pretty much anything I wanted to but that I would develop arthritis and accompanying pain in the knee within the next 15 to 20 years. I was 14 years old at the time.
I didn’t go back out for sports during my high school years in a formal way. I stayed very active and although my knee didn’t slow me down too much, it did feel a bit loose and I felt better wearing a knee brace to keep things tight.
The Picking Up Girls Part
Four years later it was orientation week at college. A newfound friend and I were walking across campus and saw a sign saying “Learn How To Pick Up Girls” with a big arrow. We followed the arrow. It lead to another similar sign and then another, and we entered a building where there we found a group of cheerleaders. So far so good.
It turns out they were recruiting male cheerleaders for the squad, so they taught a handful of us how to lift the girls above our heads. We also tried our hand at some basic gymnastics.
I think my friend and I considered ourselves a little to manly to ever seriously consider becoming male cheerleaders. But I never got to make that decision because somewhere during the tumbling my knee decided to have a break. Literally. It was the same left knee I had had surgery on the last time I had been a new Freshman.
This time it was cartilage surgery
This time the doctor said it was a cartilage problem. The plan was to take care of it with arthroscopic surgery where they poke small holes in the skin and insert an instrument that could both look around and also do some surgery if it didn’t get too complicated. I was put fully under anesthesia again for the surgery.
When I awoke there were more than just arthroscopic holes in my knee, there was another incision. The doctor had needed to remove a big piece of meniscus and apparently had to make a cut to do it. Whereas my initial incision and subsequent scar was about 5 inches long going from the top left of my kneecap around the inside to the bottom left, this incision was about dead center in the knee and cut perpendicular to the first scar, actually bisecting it. So I actually had a cross of sorts.
Recovery was similar to that of the ACL surgery. There was an outpouring of support from all the kids I had met during orientation all entering their freshman year.
That was 32 years ago. Over that time I remained active with lots of swimming, getting a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, some running, tennis and golf. Over the past 8 years the knee has developed stiffness, pain and swelling. It is especially painful when I do things that require running, starting and stopping. Capture the flag has about killed me several times. And when I really abuse it the swelling isn’t temporary. The back of the knee balloons up and sometimes it takes as long as 3.5 weeks to return to normal.
I’m now 50 and haven’t seen an orthopedist since those surgeries 32 years ago. I’m starting to feel like the knee is really slowing me down so I really need to make an appointment. I’m afraid that knee replacement may be the only option, so the prospect of that news and the entire process has been enough to keep me from looking into it further. I’ve read that you shouldn’t run or jump after having knee replacement surgery. Really? So what good is it? That’s where I am right now. When the pain gets bad enough, or my activities are limited enough, I’ll probably make the call and have it checked out. And when I do I’ll be back here with part two of the story.