Friday, May 30, 2008


i twisted my knee in a soccer game last friday night, my first game of the season. it was a perfect night for soccer: calm, clear skies, not too warm, no wind. the ground was soft after a few days of rain. the pitch had give. i was wearing new cleats, adidas' latest magic with a weighted last and supple calf leather. "i'm overcompensating," i joked to my teammates before the game, "letting technology make up for the fact that i haven't played much lately." not a lot of soccer, but i've been working with a personal trainer and i felt fit.

the game was humming along, a good match. i was making a play, not a particularly spectacular play, just one of those moves you make from the midfield wing, when the injury happened. thinking back, i believe i was changing direction, but it was such an unmemorable moment in the overall flow that i can't really recall the details. had i already kicked the ball? was i going after it? had the play moved infield? my left cleat was planted, my body moved right, the knee complained. just one of those things. i jogged a little, tested it. it seemed fine: tweaked, but okay. at half-time i stretched. the knee kept swelling until finally, with ten minutes left in the game and another slated for sunday, i came off the pitch. no point overdoing it.

by the time i got home it was really swollen. saturday i couldn't bend it at all. couldn't walk, couldn't really drive. but that's the way with knees: once they swell, they're hard to bend, and it's hard to tell what's going on. i did what we all do, an internet diagnosis. collateral ligament strain? maybe something where the hamstring attaches -- that left hamstring has been iffy of late. could be a tear in the meniscus. i was pretty sure it wasn't ACL. i contracted my quadriceps again just to be sure.

what with aunty jo, it's been a busy enough week that only yesterday did i make time for a physio appointment, and even then it was just so that i could give my team an answer about tonight's game. by yesterday, the knee wasn't that painful. still swollen, but only with these comical little goose eggs. sure, it buckled occasionally, and it was awkward to get in and out of the car. the pain keeps shifting, but it isn't serious -- nothing a little naprosyn and ice can't handle. i was smart enough not to try running, but i went to pilates monday, yoga wednesday, and tuesday night did a long bike ride through the river valley. sure, everything made the knee swell more, and there were certain poses i couldn't do, but it was a positive relief to have an alibi against one-legged planks, to have an excuse for not getting up the hills faster, not holding my lunges longer.

for all these reasons, i was totally unprepared to hear the physio say the fatal three-letter word. "i just don't feel an end point," she said apologetically, after manipulating my knee this way and that. "how does it feel to you?" "weird," i said, "hollow, empty." and then i burst into tears.

see, i've been down this road once before. i tore my right ACL in january 2002. i know something about the wait for surgery and the two-year rehab, not to mention the catastrophic personal consequences. i just don't know that i can do it again. i know, i know, it's too early to make such a call -- i've barely absorbed this news, and still feel dismayed. but none of the options look good to me.

on the one hand, there's the surgery. which is amazing, from a purely scientific point of view, and, for most people, from a personal physical point of view. the surgery is arthroscopic. the surgeon makes four small holes in your leg, grabs a little hamstring tendon with a crochet hook, folds it over a few times and strings it through your knee, thereby building a new anterior cruxiate ligament to connect your upper leg to your lower leg. over time, your body accepts the makeshift ligament as the real thing, and builds blood vessels and neural pathways along the new ligament. it's an incredible process, when you think about it. it's also a long and painful one. for me, the knee was strong and stable within a year, but the hamstring has never fully recovered. when i'm doing a hamstring curl, you can still see the gap where the tendon used to be. when i think about the surgery, i remember lying face-down on my bed trying to straighten my leg, crying and crying in agony. it took four months? five? to straighten my leg after i had surgery. post-surgery rehab was a lot of work -- and i was six years younger then.

on the other hand, there's no surgery. what that means long-term is still opaque, but some things are certain: no soccer. no downhill skiing. no surfing. longterm knee instability leading to higher potential for other knee injuries. it means wearing an ugly brace at least some of the time. what about running through the river valley in a perfect summer morning? what about my goal of running from canmore to banff this summer? what about swimming? how will an unreconstructed knee age; what will it be like when i'm aunty jo's age? nikki the physiotherapist said, "don't worry, you'll be active again." what does that mean: when, and how? and in what ways?

i feel numb, dumb, not even angry or upset anymore. just a gloomy sense of should-have-known inevitability. a formal feeling.


Unknown said...

my dear heather...if I could I would give you one of my knees, take your pick, they are almost 69 years old but they work reasonably well. I have no future plans to run from Canmore to Banff so giving it to you would be OK with me. I would then take care of your knee until you needed it back.

Someday I am sure we will be able to do that sort of thing but until then I can only send my love and healing vibes to you.

Anonymous said...

When my beloved terrier cross Hurston (1992-2005) tore his ACL in his second last year of life, it was repaired within days, for $362.
He spent a few weeks in a cast-type contraption. He healed well. Alas,
he did not ever ski downhill thereafter nor did he run from Canmore to Banff. However, he did put quite an impressive run on an armadillo that made its way into our yard one evening in search of whatever it is armadillos go in search of. Perhaps a new sport awaits you. Feel better.

catherine said...

sending a big hug. any updates? will you need surgery?

Kimmy said...

you don't want my knees, darlin. i have the knees of a 90-year-old. otherwise they'd be all yours...

would you do me a small favour and update your link to my site? i've rebuilt it. the new URL is


Casey said...
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