This is the post I’ve fantasized about writing for longer than any other in my entire life. On the 16th of January, 2015, I celebrated one full year since having reconstructive surgery on my torn ACL. This date also marks my clearance from by the operating surgeon and physiotherapist to return to full contact sports.
Having torn my ACL, I can tell you that the desire to feel better infiltrates everything you do. Whenever I drive fast, I imagine I’m sprinting down the sidelines of the football field. When a good song comes on during my walk to work, I pretend I’m cutting in between defenders on a break. The bottom line is, your body may take a break from sport, but the mind and mentality of an athlete remains intact, caged, waiting to be sprung with nothing or no one in his way.
You’ve heard virtually everything that I have to say through my last 11 posts about recovery, setbacks, exercise, progress and advice. This post is a celebratory look back at the journey.
But First, Let Me Take a Selfie
January 16th, 2014 – On virtually no sleep due to nervousness, I checked into Mackenzie Health awaiting my surgery. My heart was pounding and every moment felt like an eternity. I wasn’t sure if life as I knew it was going to change dramatically as a result of that day, if it would be for the better.
This is the Part I Call: Perspective
January 16th, 2014 – The last of my blood tests before going in. As someone who [used to] be afraid of needles, this was especially uncomfortable. I can say though, having done it, it has significantly reduced my aversion to the prick.
This is the Part I Call: Butterflies
January 16th, 2014 – The last photo of me before surgery. My mom and girlfriend were trying desperately to make me laugh as my nervousness was palpable. They barely succeeded, but having them there with me made a massive difference. From here, I went to the pre-op room, the surgeon came out and introduced himself to my family, and he spoke a little bit about what to expect in a few minutes. When he reappeared with a gurney, I felt what seemed like a tennis ball materialize in my throat and hugged them tightly. From there, it was largely like you see in the movies. They wheeled me into a large white room, attached an IV, commented on my racing heart rate, made small talk with me, and then I felt the cool rush of the anesthesia and was completely out within 5 seconds.
This is the Part I Call: Preparedness
January 16th, 2014 – One of the (many) reasons I love this girl so much. On the way home from the hospital, she breaks out all of the research she had done on how to care for ACL recovery. Aside from me, she was the most prepared for what I was about to go through. Having her with me made such a difference in the first 48 hours, when I wasn’t even quite “there” as a result of all the medicine in my system.
This is the Part I Call: Hitting the Ground Running
January 17th, 2014 – Day one. Right to it. Had my first physiotherapy session 18 hours after I came out of surgery. It was aggressive, but as a 25 year old male in decent shape, I was a prime candidate to do the hardcore rehab program and was up to the challenge. Here I am putting on my brace for the first time, as well as my boots. The Canadian winter is harsh, and one wrong slip would’ve been disastrous for my healing leg.
This is the Part I Call: Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body
February 2014 – Incisions start to heal, stitches come out (minor ouch) and the hair on my shaved leg starts to grow back. What looked like a melon for the first few weeks from all the swelling finally starts to resemble what I see from my right knee. I come off the hardcore Oxycontin and force myself to only take the T3s when absolutely necessary.
This is the Part I Call: It Looks Worse Than It Feels
February, 2014 – For those of you who opt to have the hamstring tendon graft like I did, expect to see the severe bruising for a few weeks. This is essentially where my new ACL was taken, and it took a long time for the soreness and swelling to go.
This is the Part I Call: Hard Work
February 2014 – Doing simple leg raises was extremely strenuous and painful, putting significant strain on my hamstring. It took me a solid two weeks before I was even able to raise it this high with the 5 lb weight on it. My flexion suffered, but I stayed focus on getting my bend back.
This is the Part I Call: Lather, Rinse, Repeat
February 2014 – After 10 days, I had reached 84 degrees of flexion. From there, I bent more and more before finally hitting my total 132 in another month’s time. Heel slides, all day, every day. Literally, 10 times a day doing my exercise kept my weight in check, though my sanity took a hit.
This is the Part I Call: Tangible Progress
March 2014 – Shortly after getting my full range of motion back, it was on to the bike. For the first session, I could only do small half circles because I couldn’t lift my knee high enough to get the full rotation. My PT told me that first time it goes over, it will startle and maybe hurt you, but from there it’s all up hill. I thought long and hard about this and during my next session, I made it over, and continued cycling. This was the most tangible progress I had achieved to date.
This is the Part I Call: Stop Being a Baby
March 2014 – 5 weeks out of surgery, I was advised by my PT and my surgeon to stop babying my left leg. I resolved to stop using my crutches and return to my proper gait, and in mid-March I was even able to shed the crutches altogether and tackle a few stairs albeit slowly. This picture was the last time I dropped my crutches and was unable to pick them up myself without assistance.
This is the Part I Call: True Love
March 2014 – What is love? For me, this picture pretty much sums it up. I can’t put into words all that my mom, sister and girlfriend did for me during my recovery. The part they love to bring up regularly is that they carried my pee buckets for me when I was confined to the bed. But what I’ll always remember are the mundane tasks that we do for ourselves, that we take for granted, that I could no longer do for myself. Danielle would gently put my socks on for me before I had to go outside. Do you know how hard it is to put socks on someone else? Extremely.
This is the Part I Call: Motivation, Such an Aggravation
March 2014 – My motivational shrine. Filled with quotes meant to drive me when I had little left, and sources of inspiration. The text was deliberately written tiny so that I would have to get my ass up and walk in order to read it. It became a sort of game to me, until I had memorized every single sticky note’s message or proverb. Also pictured is a figure of Adrian Peterson, the modern day miracle as far as ACL surgery goes: he had the surgery, returned to the NFL 9 months later at a level higher than his pre-injury state, to win the league MVP. I often think of that when I’m in physio or when I’m running out of gas.
This is the Part I Call: Regaining Control
April 2014 – Able to walk, able to drive and with the snow melting, I was finally able to regain some of my independence. My PT was elated to see me showing up solo rather than being driven by my family. Here I am doing some rigorous floor exercises to strengthen the glutes, a key stabilizer and area of focus during the strengthening phase, which I had entered.
This is the Part I Call: A Team Effort
April 2014 – Care package from my team at work. The people at Staples Canada are by far, the most incredible I have ever had the privilege of working with. They sent me a package filled with goodies, inside jokes and their encouraging words which I refer back to even today. Special thanks to Alessandra, Alina, Michelle, Val and Maddy for helping me both professionally and personally. I couldn’t have done it without their support.
This is Where I Say Thank You
This is How It Ends
What I will always remember about my surgery is being reminded of all the people who love me. Thank you to everyone who came to visit. I’ll treasure those times always, because they meant the world to me in a time when mine had been largely taken away from me. Special thanks to those who took the time out of their busy lives to come over, stay a while, bring me coffee or food or whatever and lend a hand. To Warren, Mike, Josh, Ray, Joe, Sebbie, Brent, Sere, Fealy, Nick, Z and everyone else, I will never forget the awesome times we shared.
I don’t have any profound words of advice to close this, the 12th and final entry in my ACL Injury Update series. If you want to read any other part of the journey, please click here. To the many who have messaged me through my website, through Twitter, the #ACLChat and in person, best of luck. If I can do it, you can too. And I’m more than happy to come along for the ride with you, should you need anything along the way.
Today you, tomorrow me.