Sunday, January 12, 2014

Torn ACL - anniversary of surgery

image source:
Yesterday in 1991, I underwent major surgery my first and only time to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my right knee.

The accident happened 5 days earlier (January 6, 1991). I drove up with my friend Alice's father and sister-in-law to Lake Tahoe. Up until the trip, I skied a few times, mostly at Sierra. On this trip at Kirkwood, I was just starting to get comfortable on the slopes. When we stopped to have lunch, Alice's husband Ryan told me I was ready for the intermediate slope.

After lunch, I got on the lift with 2 family friends of Alice's for my first try on the intermediate slope. As we were coming off the lift, my skis hit an icy patch (there wasn't much rain that season) and was going faster than I liked. There was a group of skiers in front of me that were going slow and having trouble maintaining their balance.

To avoid crashing into them, I tried to turn in the skis and snowplow to slow down. Instead, I lost my balance, legs out from under me, fell down, and then heard a distinct snap. I initially thought it was only a sprain and felt no pain. The guys stood between me, asked if I was OK and helped me stand up. When they let go, I couldn't support myself and fell down again. Ski patrol arrived shortly afterwards.

I got put into a sled and ski patrol brought me immediately to the first aid center at the lodge. The doctor on duty took X-rays and confirmed I tore ligaments. He gave me the X-rays to take back to San Francisco. It ended my short-lived love of skiing.

It wasn't until evening I began to feel the pain. Everyone at the cabin went out of their way to help me. Alice, Ryan and their son Kyle gave up their first floor room. The 2 family friends that were with me on the slope drove my car home. I got to the primary care physician's office the next afternoon. He immediately referred me to an orthopedic specialist. An MRI exam was done and my surgery date set up within a few hours.

After my MRI, the orthopedic specialist told me I also tore my medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus, and fractured my tibial plateau. What was originally scheduled for same day surgery ended up being an overnight stay. I barely slept due to the non-stop pain. Nurses gave me 2 shots of morphine which helped numb the pain and tingling.

For the first 2 months, I couldn't put weight on the right leg. I was on crutches and a brace (similar to the above picture) for 4 months. I couldn't work and was put on disability for 3 months. I spent 6 months in physical therapy. I didn't play softball for a year. Other than my physical therapy visits, I had painful at-home exercises I had to do to regain mobility and range of motion.

The ACL injury became one of the hardest, yet most rewarding experiences I ever had. At my first dining outing after the surgery, a woman who was waiting for a table at the same I was spoke to me for about 20 minutes about her ACL tear and post-op recovery. So amazed a total stranger correctly advised me physical therapy would be hard but I'd make it. Over time, others like her would approach and tell me the same things, all encouraging and positive. To this day, I find myself holding the same talks with other people I see with knee braces, with or without crutches.

After 23 years, the right knee now is probably stronger than the left knee. I do my best to remain active in one way or another which has kept the knee mobile and mostly injury-free. Sports is and always will be a big part of my life.

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