Life After Knee Surgery
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Life After Knee Surgery

What surgery taught me as a college athlete.

Life After Knee Surgery

There are a few things you learn about yourself after waking up from knee surgery. The first is that you can't feel your leg that has just been cut open and surgically repaired. The second is that you literally do not have the physical strength to roll out of your hospital bed, and put your bra back on under your hospital gown. Third, you realize that you're so pumped with fluids that you will be crutching to the bathroom every thirty minutes for the next twenty-four hours. Finally, you silently thank God for your parents, who will have to take care of you for at least the next three weeks of your life.

The spring semester of my freshman year of college, my soccer team was scheduled for a six a.m. workout on a Wednesday morning. It was our last early training with our strength coach, and we were all looking forward to the end of the semester and summer break. I remember tying up my cleats and being optimistic about the timed sprinting tests I would have to perform and beginning the routine warmup with the rest of my teammates. However, I didn't even make it through the warmup sprints. As I pivoted on my left leg to turn my body, I felt my knee pop and shift. Before I could catch myself I was on the ground, my left leg bent and refusing to straighten, and doing my best not to scream from the pain.

After that, several things happened very quickly. I was taken off the field and set down on the sideline and before I knew it I was lying down on an examination table in the athletic training room, crying and with a runny nose, as the Head Athletic Trainer performed "range of motion" tests on my knee. Jake, the trainer, tried to comfort me by telling me that I could have possibly just torn my meniscus, but somehow I knew it was my ACL. The importance of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament is that it controls knee stability and allows the knee to perform simple functions such as extension and rotation. Basically, you need it to run and change direction, and I had just torn mine as I would come to find out after an MRI later that week.

I remember calling my parents only an hour or two after the injury, and doing my best to sound as confident and contained as possible as I convinced them that no, I did not need them to drive from Louisiana to Mobile to come take care of me, that I was okay and that I had my friends and teammates in case I needed anything. Immediately afterward, I was crutching into my nine o'clock history class and determined to keep myself busy and keep moving forward.

During the next several weeks as I spoke to my teammates that had already gone through ACL repair surgery, I began to anticipate the difficulty of physical therapy and recovery. Six to nine months seemed like an extremely long time to be out of the game, and I worried that when I came back from recovery I would be too scared of re-injury to play my best. As a college athlete that has to compete for her playing time, that was the last thing I wanted.

So on my first day of physical therapy after surgery, I was determined to work as hard as I could in order to recover as fast as possible. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly how it worked. The first week or two of therapy were the worst weeks of my life. I was constantly in pain from the exercises I was required to do three times a day and I could barely sleep at night because of it. My mom had to help me with simple daily activities like getting in and out of the shower, helping me into and out of clothes, and assisting me in my home exercises for therapy. My dad brought me to physical therapy three days a week and encouraged me daily to keep working hard and reminding me that soon I'd be back on the field and playing.

However, I couldn't help but be discouraged. I couldn't walk on my own, couldn't get in the shower without the fear of falling and opening my stitches, and I hadn't left my house for anything but physical therapy for two weeks. I became depressed and started eating a lot because I was bored and ended up gaining a lot of weight because of it. I wouldn't fall asleep until two or three in the morning and I slept until one in the afternoon on days when I didn't have therapy in the morning. I was upset that I couldn't participate in my team's summer workout program and angry at the fact that I wouldn't be cleared to play again until the spring 2017 semester. It was shaping up to be the worst summer break I'd ever had.

Then, I visited my doctor in Mobile and he cleared me to walk without my crutches or my leg brace. I started gaining more freedom and I could drive myself around again since I wasn't taking pain medication anymore. I realized that I was through the worst of it, and felt encouraged by the progress I had made. While I still was not cleared to jog, it was enough for me to be walking without any help.

Throughout the summer, I slowly gained more and more confidence in my progress, and when preseason began and I moved back into the dorms with my teammates, I knew that I would have an extremely hard time going to training and watching them practice while I sat on the sidelines and watched. I was once again discouraged, only three months out of surgery and still not able to jog. However, my parents continued to encourage me; every day I would wake up to an inspirational text from my dad telling me to work hard and to remember that I would be back on the field in a few short months.

After four months post-surgery, I was finally allowed to jog. I'd never enjoyed jogging so much in my life! However, I realized very quickly how badly I was out of shape. I'd done very little in the past four months and while I was mentally ready to run a mile or two, my body was definitely not even close to ready.

Now, almost five months post-surgery, I'm still progressing and working as hard as I can to get back on the field with my teammates as fast as possible. I still go to physical therapy three days a week and work with the athletic trainers on campus to get stronger. This past summer that I spent learning to walk again and learning how to motivate myself taught me that I am stronger than any obstacle that is put in front of me. I know that I can come back from my injury and be even better than I was before. I push myself every day to be better and to work hard not only for myself but also for my team.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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