By Payton Simmons
My teammates are playing their last home game of the season this weekend. Instead of joining them, I’ll be hobbling around the sidelines. On Jan. 11, my basketball career ended with the sound of a simple pop.
Knowing nothing about the knee or exactly how it works, I didn’t really think anything of it. I thought it was just a tweak or a sprain. My knee immediately swelled up and felt stiff as if it were a jammed finger. I couldn’t walk, it was just the start of frustration, pain, and discomfort.
The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur, and provides rotational stability to the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament runs diagonally in the middle of the knee.
After icing and elevating all night and not being able to toss and turn in bed like normal people usually do, I went to see the doctor the next morning. The doctor yanked and pulled on my knee (medically referred to as the Lachman’s test) to test the ligaments and tendons. After he was done, he told me that by the feel of it he thinks its an ACL tear. At that moment my heart honestly did drop. I thought the things I love to do could be over. I thought about dumb things like the what ifs. What if I wasn’t guarding her, what if there was a time out one second before, what if I didn’t run back on defense that fast. There was another thought in the back of my head that he could be wrong. He can’t see inside my knee only the machine can. Maybe it’s not an ACL tear. Maybe it’s just a bad sprain. But in reality it is what it is, it sucks, but it happened and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body in both health and disease. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves to generate images of the organs in the body.
The doctor said the next step would be to get an MRI. The swelling makes it harder for the machine to see through. So I had to wait. Each day went by so slow. I continued to ice and elevate to keep the swelling down. A week later, the swelling was down and my knee wasn’t as stiff. I could bend and straighten my leg way better than when the injury happened, but I was still on crutches. The range of motion after the week of icing gave me hope for good news.
I went in for the MRI which took about half an hour laying inside the machine. The waiting started again. The nurse told me the doctor will call when they have the results. I had no idea how long it would take, but I was very fortunate to receive a call the next day. He wanted me to come in to review the results. That being said, I knew it had to be something somewhat serious. I went in and saw him. He showed me all of the MRI pictures and explained each one. The last picture he showed me was my ACL torn completely in half.
There were three different options to repair an ACL – the patient’s hamstring, patellar tendon, or a cadaver.
I had never heard of any of this in my life, I was lost, frustrated, and just had no idea. I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people to get different opinions on what was the best way to go. My surgeon was very confident that the patellar tendon was the strongest, and from what I read and heard that’s what I felt too. From there, I was scheduled a surgery date. Until then I continued my routine of icing. It was very strange being able to hobble around without crutches feeling like I was healing, but still needing surgery.
Pre-surgery prep is important. Range of motion is important to prevent arthritis in the future. Exercises include heel slides, knee extensions, and heel raises.
Two weeks later, I walked into the pre-op room nervous. The nurse gave me a gown, I changed, and got in the hospital bed. She took all of my vitals to then continue to put an IV in my arm. She started me on fluids and talked me through what was happening. The anesthesiologist came into the room and explained what medicines they were giving me through the IV. They not only put me to sleep, but they put a nerve block in my leg. The nerve block is optional and I would recommend it to anyone who is having the surgery. As soon as the doctor put the anesthesia in my IV, I started to feel woozy and things were blurry. It felt like I was going in and out of a dream. The last thing I remember before waking up was a blurry team of doctors rolling my bed through the blurry hallway and into the elevator.
Post-surgery symptoms include knee pain, nausea, amnesia, drowsiness. Some symptoms may last up to a week.
An hour and a half later I woke up in a different room than I started in. Again, everything was blurry but this time I was in pain. My knee was throbbing, my head was spinning, and my stomach was aching. The nurse continued to give me painkillers through my IV. The anesthesia made me dry heave. I felt like I was going to faint, and had lost all of my appetite. The doctors kept me in the hospital for a couple hours after my surgery. When I was discharged I was still feeling the same symptoms. I went home and iced my knee. I woke up multiple times throughout the night with discomfort. Over the next week I got out of bed just one time other than to use the bathroom. Time was the only thing that could help. I still couldn’t eat. I was able to keep down one ritz cracker in three days. I was dehydrated and sick.
My favorite foods didn’t even sound good to me. About the fourth day my appetite started to come back. I ate a grilled cheese. It tasted like the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I could finally drink water. I was bored out of my mind. I slept almost every other hour because of the painkillers. After the week of nonsense was over the nausea went away but the knee discomfort was still there. I was able to get out of bed on crutches without feeling like fainting.
Since then, I’ve been mastering my crutch skills and have been feeling good. There is still some pain but nothing like before. I started going to physical therapy three times a week. My recovery will be nine months of rehab and muscle building.
It is a long road ahead, but that’s life.