GET OUT: On the Mend Mentality

By on April 5, 2016

How to stay calm while rehabbing in a mountain athlete’s mecca.

Top: Post-op and just so pretty. Left: Kate Sullivan knows that no bag of ice is too big for knee rehab lounging. Right: The author gets high without the aid of painkillers. (Photo: bree buckley)

Top: Post-op and just so pretty. Left: Kate Sullivan knows that no bag of ice is too big for knee rehab lounging. Right: The author gets high without the aid of painkillers. (Photo: bree buckley)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The dreaded ACL tear is the bane of athletes everywhere. Becoming a fixture of the sidelines, surrendering the ability to sit cross-legged for tedious therapy, and learning to regain flexion, extension, and explosive movements can blow your upcoming nine months to pieces. It’ll shatter your confidence. It’ll deprive you of your identity. And it’ll leave you twiddling your thumbs in endless boredom.

Jacksonites joke that blowing your knee brings you one step closer to earning the sought after true local status. “There are those in this town who’ve blown their knee, and those who will, so congratulations on joining the clan of those who have,” my surgeon joked as he wheeled me into the operating room. Congratulations? You have got to be kidding me. As if I elected for myself a nine-month recovery and $20,000 surgical bill as a rite of passage. But after scoffing at his attempt to comfort me, I realized he had a point. I was not alone in my recovery and if there is ever a place to gain sympathy or advice after surgery, this is it.

So, town of Jackson, hear me when I say that an injury is more than a dagger through your spirit. It’s a chance to relearn, reevaluate, and revamp your routine. I’ve had two knee surgeries in two years, so what have I learned through my months of hobbling, fear of frozen parking lots, and scar tissue?

Well, you’ll feel pathetic, but it will get better. The first month of recovery is demoralizing; you can’t carry a cup of water by yourself, grocery shopping becomes your nemesis, and for many, driving is out of the question. I moped in my own self-pity until an expecting mother joked that we were in the same boat, except that as she continued to get more pregnant over the next nine months, I would continue to feel better. This “ah-ha” moment completely shifted my perspective on being a fallen soldier for the winter. She was right: My pain would decrease, I would be able to walk again, and then I’d be able to come back stronger, more motivated, and with a greater body awareness than ever.

I have even expanded my circle of friends. My physical therapist is my new bestie. Three days a week, you will look forward to that person encouraging you that, yes, you really can walk downstairs without gripping onto the banister for dear life, or that pushing through the pain of extending your knee is, in fact, beneficial. They’re legally required to listen to your Oxycontin induced rants and while your friends spend the day making figure-8s down Cody Peak, your PT is anxiously waiting to welcome  you into her office.

This is a good time to focus on the little things you’ve been avoiding. With each surgery, the optimistic angel on my shoulder reminds me that I want to learn a second language and find a way to better the world.

But honestly, when I wasn’t rehabbing or working, I was just flat-out tired. Two surgeries have flown by and I haven’t learned a new sentence in Spanish, revamped my Swahili, or run for president. But what I have done is hammer through the tedious tasks that I avoided when I was able to run through the mountains. If you have health insurance (which I pray that you do), take advantage of your already-met deductible and visit a new doctor every Monday. Dermatologist? Check. An hour here and there is what you’ll have for extra time, so find small goals to accomplish rather than taking on a new full-time job.

And for my last two cents, I will say that regaining quad strength doesn’t mean your ACL is fully healed; I went a year without knowing I had a torn ACL because my strong legs masked my injury. So remember, patience is a virtue (it is never, ever worth taking a risk or flying out of the gates too early) and fanny packs are always in style. PJH

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