The day is finally here. I took a physical assessment test, and my surgeon OK'd me for return to basketball. He urged me to return gradually; I'll do my best.
It's hard to accurately describe the feeling of having achieved my goal, but it's some mix of elation and vague disbelief. Between two ACL surgeries, for the past year and a half I've been so immersed in the process of rehabbing, that it feels strangely surreal that my reality can shift back to being able to play basketball. But just beneath that layer of disbelief, is so much happiness.
Much like the comeback after my first surgery, I feel compelled to think back on the whole process. I don't want to forget the many little lessons and triumphs along the way, and I don't want to forget the most miserable moments either, because were valuable too and because they remind me to stay consciously grateful. So here goes...
It was Monday and I was working remotely and waiting for the results of my MRI. Exactly a week earlier the doctor had assessed my leg and assured me it was no more than bruising or a sprain -- that same day, I'd insisted to him that I wanted an MRI to be sure. Finally, around 4 p.m., he called me. I knew it the second I heard his voice; then he confirmed: "I'm sorry, I can't believe it... it's a complete ACL tear."
I spent a good few minutes balling my eyes out, crushed. I was really glad to be working from home.
I called my surgeon to tell him what happened. "Corinda, they always get it wrong," he said of the doctor's assessment. Then we scheduled surgery.
Surgery is a strange experience, or more accurately, being under general anesthesia is strange. One second, the surgeon asks you if you're comfortable on the table; the next, it's over.
There's always at least one extremely painful and miserable night, usually the second one. The nerve block in your leg wears off, and so the dam breaks, and the pain rushes in. You feel trapped in your own body -- a frantic, claustrophobic feeling. Somehow, at the height of the pain, you find a way to resign yourself to it. The pain becomes your new norm, challenges you to keep up, so amidst the misery of it all, you feel the adrenaline of competition.
I'll never forget what my dad, who has endured multiple knee surgeries (and countless other injuries that I can't keep track of) -- and who is the king of insanely quick rehab -- told me in reflection of his night of agony post-op: either this pain is going to pass and I'll be alright, or I'm going to die. Kind of morbid, but it was oddly comforting. You know you're not going to die, so just outlast the pain.
A night later, I was in bed -- it was 3 a.m. and I was at that point of excruciatingly frustrated, helpless exhaustion -- all you want is sleep, and it altogether eludes you. The immobilizer brace held my knee in place, protective and suffocating. (Bending your legs while you sleep is something to cherish.) I was hooked up to a machine that pumps cold water to ice the knee and periodically compresses to help minimize swelling. It hums and clicks incessantly.
I wondered if the painkillers were causing more problems than they were solving -- my chest felt like a knot neglected for so long it had hardened into stone, and inside my head, drunken construction workers haphazardly hammered away. Then, and I can't blame the painkillers for this one, there was my bladder: officially at maximum capacity. Occupancy past this point is unlawful and dangerous. I knew I couldn't hold off any longer.
I gave myself a quick pep talk -- it was a fatigued and uninspiring speech: "Ok... Ok... OK." I unhooked the ice/compression machine and with both hands swung my heavy, useless leg over the edge of the bed. I grabbed the crutches -- major love/hate relationship -- and started making my way the seven feet to the bathroom.
Instantly, I was hit with wave upon wave of intense nausea. I started sweating profusely and it took every modicum of strength and will power in me to make it to the bathroom.
I finally made it successfully, and then eventually collapsed back in my bed: the amount of time, sweat, and energy the whole ordeal took was ridiculous.
Speaking of ordeals, taking a shower became a two hour process. The brace can't get wet early on, so we had to wrap my whole leg in trash bags and tape. Once you get in, while you're overjoyed to finally be showering, you are standing there like a petrified baby calf, fearful that an overzealous squeeze of shampoo will cause you to wipe out completely.
But with each day, things got better. I was also lucky enough to be at home during those first couple weeks, where the excellent food and even better company made the whole thing feel like a mini vacation. I was uncomfortable and tired and slow, but I was happy and thankful.
The first time around, after a week and a half, the pain fully subsided. It was just the crutchy treks to the subway in the thick of winter that were difficult to endure, but for those I at least had the energy to tell myself that I was building character (my silver lining for every unpleasant situation).
I figured this time around would be the same, except with better weather. The weather was indeed better but then there was an unexpected development: my leg had an allergic reaction to the glue used with the adhesive bandages on the incision (FYI, it's called Mastisol so if you're getting surgery of some kind, make sure you're not allergic).
My whole leg became mind-numbingly itchy. The skin around my knee blistered, my entire leg became red and firm to the touch. I came home one day and unwrapped my leg and succumbed to the urge to scratch -- the simultaneous satisfaction of giving in and exponential increase in itch and burn as I tore away at my leg was maddening; I could feel myself slipping into insanity. Scratching, not scratching -- both options sucked. That went on for a few weeks. (Not being itchy is maybe one of the greatest joys on earth.)
But like the others before it, that storm passed too, and from there life reverted to normal and time flew, seemingly moving in milestones rather than minutes.
It's still sort of surreal. I'm really grateful that I had the opportunity to have a concrete goal to be dedicated to, and a process in which, the effort I poured into it would dictate how I emerged.
I'm grateful for basketball and for the spark it lights inside me, for the chance it gives me to be the best version of myself, for the ceaseless motivation it provided, and for the resulting dedicated gym regimen it prompted.
I'm grateful for time, which is what you make of it, and which moves you forward.
I am infinitely grateful for the people in my life, who every step of the way, provided support in every possible form: tears, distractions, words of comfort and inspiration, positive energy and laughter, Heads Up games, pancakes, care packages, good company, helping hands, flowers, check in texts and calls, time off work, and love... so much love.
This beautiful journey taught me the value in reflecting daily on all things that are worthy of gratitude -- and once you realize that list includes "not being itchy," you see that that list is incalculable. And if anything negative remains, I can now go out and leave it on the court.