Monday, December 15, 2008

acl reconstruction: a personal experience (lessons learnt)

In no particular order:

1. No-one is infallible
. If you're anything like me, you'll spend quite a while after your injury annoying everyone around you with the question, "why me?" People will respond with anecdotes about others who have also needed an ACL reconstruction - whether as a result of playing soccer or basketball, doing hurdles at the school athletics carnival or simply by falling down the stairs. In other words, it could happen to anyone. So don't blame yourself (or your skiing companion!)

2. Ice is your friend. I'm not advising you to turn to recreational drugs here. The best thing for the inevitable swelling/ contained explosion of your knee if you've torn your ACL is lots of ice (of the frozen water kind). You don't need anything fancy - two packets of frozen vegetables (peas are best for their ability to mold around your body parts) are more than adequate. Apply for 20 minutes at a time, every hour if you can - I'm working on a freezer-style device with a leg-shaped hole as an alternative to this non-culinary use of frozen vegetables (and that's the other thing, don't eat the vegetables after using them like this... although I must confess we did eat one packet and survive...)

3. Cling wrap is your friend. After the surgery, wrap the stitches/ dressing in cling wrap before showering to prevent unwanted seepage into the operation site. Nothing worse than a wound infection. For ultimate frozen vegetable swelling-defying force, wrap the packet that is going on top of your knee in cling before placing directly onto your knee. Then put the other packet of vegetables directly under your knee with a tea towel underneath to prevent condensation dripping onto your floor/ chair/ bed. If you're extra lucky you'll have a small dog on hand to lick the condensation off the vegetable packet as the vegetables melt (that's yapflap for you!)

4. Your friends and relatives are your friends. You may not want to rely on others after your injury. You may feel like you'll a burden on them, or that you can cope on your own. It's actually better to ask for a bit of help rather than risk injuring yourself further, as difficult as it may be to say, "it'd be really great if you could help me..."Given how common ACL injuries are these days, chances are that you may be able to repay the favour sometime in the future...!

5. Hospital essentials: dressing gown and slippers. I think a lot of hospitals send a suggested packing list pre-admission. I don't remember sure if my hospital did, but if there are two things that you should bring, I'd say a dressing gown and slippers. They made me change into the backless gown before I got taken up to my room, so I had to sit in the waiting room for a while dressed like that. Probably best for all concerned that I had a dressing gown on over the top of the backless gown (although they don't make you take your undies off, in case you were wondering). The slippers were handy for the day after the operation - you don't want to walk around the hospital barefoot, and even putting on proper shoes seems too much of an effort when you're being discharged!

6. Get travel insurance. It's very tempting not to pay the extra money for travel insurance. I'm so glad I did though. It would've added up to a very expensive trip if I hadn't been reimbursed for the medical costs (around $NZ150), cancellation costs (around $AU600) and changed flights (around $NZ400). It's just one less thing to worry about when you fall on your face or discover that your luggage has been re-routed to Egypt.

7. Get a mobility parking permit. I know there have been a lot of scandals about rorting of mobility parking permits, particularly in the city. But if you've suffered an injury and the doctor is willing to fill in the eligibility form for you, you are entitled to a temporary permit and it can be a God-send. Suddenly everyone seems more willing to take you places. Funny that...

8. Get a good physio, and do as you're told. Having the operation is only a part of the recovery process - you'll get a much better result if you strengthen up your muscles beforehand, and have a structured rehab program afterwards. It's also important to get a physio as soon as possible after the injury - it's scary how quickly your muscles waste away when you don't use them. Sure, the exercises can be tedious - that's why you need someone who'll give you a rap over the knuckles when you're naughty (and a gold star if you've been good). Also on the subject of rehab...

9. Celebrate victories (no matter how small they appear). Whether it's being able to do 1/2 turns on the exercise bike instead of 1/4 turns, stand on the injured leg without having getting the wobbles in your quads or showering without using up yet another roll of cling wrap, celebrating your progress will help you keep on the road to recovery. Just don't expect everyone to be as enthusiastic as you are about the incremental expansion of your baby bovine muscle.

10. It will get better. It's been 3 weeks since my operation now, and every now and then I forget that anything happened to it. Call it selective amnesia, but as they say, time heals all wounds (and also wounds all heels!) So just hang in there, and in no time you'll be back on the soccer field, basketball court or indoor rock climbing wall (although don't rush it too much, because my workmate told me that he ruptured his graft on the soccer field 6 months to the day of his operation). Now, where are those Whistler brochures I ordered...?

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