Weak in the Knees

After a recent kung fu accident, I found myself weak in the knees…but not for long.  I’m glad to report that I’m swiftly recovering from my recent ACL reconstruction—but be warned: the photos below are not for the faint of heart!

I knew right away as I fell from a spinning jump and heard that familiar pop that it was probably the ACL.  It didn’t stop me from walking out the door and down the stairs, though.  (Last time around, I strapped on pointe shoes and showed up to ballet class the next morning).  I couldn’t get an appointment with a specialist for a week—ah, New York—but I knew.  It only took the doc one quick and nerve-wracking yank to confirm my suspicions, “Yup.  You tore it.”

This is my second ACL reconstruction, so now I’m even on both sides.  Doctors say that it is especially common for young women who tear an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in one leg to ultimately do the same on the other side.  It’s probably not caused by compensating for the injury, but due instead to a number of structural issues in the knee, like a greater Q-angle (angle where the femur meets the tibia, which is greater in those with a wider pelvis) or a narrower intercondylar notch (the notch in the femur that the ACL passes through).  Some people are simply designed to be more prone to this type of injury than others.

I’ve found that doctors are always excited about doing this surgery.  I remember Dr. Bauman, the doctor who did my first ACL, saying “It’s a beautiful surgery.”  Dr. Struhl was no different, exclaiming “I love doing this surgery!”  It’s a long haul—about four and a half hours on the operating table, whereas full knee replacements are finished in less than an hour and a half.  But don’t worry: you’ll be in the most pleasant of Dilaudid dreamscapes; you won’t mind it at all.  Have you seen the look of Dilaudid on my face in the photos below?  Redefining pleasant.  I think I came out of it talking about Twilo and Ketamine and the NMDA receptor at the PCP-2 bonding site.  Then I realized I was in a hospital.

Luckily the recovery process this time around is turning out to be much quicker than the last time.  Both reconstructions were done using a graft from the hamstring, probably the best choice, versus the vaguely creepy cadaver sliver or the graft from the front of the knee.  From experience, I can tell you that the hamstring graft stays supple and has given me no trouble since I had it done in my other knee, about 9 years ago.  And if this time around is anything like the last, I’ll be back in kung fu kicking myself in the head in no time.

The recovery nowadays is more rigorous straight off.  I remember being on crutches, in a brace and not being allowed to bear weight on the injured leg for months with my first ACL reconstruction—in New York in the snow, no less! (No fun).  But now, the doctor expects me to switch from crutches to a cane in one week, and leave the cane behind a week after that…and be climbing my 5-flight walk up in 3 weeks!

I’m not going to lie: it’s been a pretty significant challenge, but ultimately I think it’s better to regain motion as soon as possible.  I did use painkillers this time (Vicodin), which is unusual for me.  I’m one of those crazies that likes to tough it out and feel what’s going on inside.  You know: the brain needs to know what needs fixin’, right?  But with the intensity of making comparatively immediate efforts to get back on my feet and walk, it was just too much.  So, yes: Vicodin.  I have to admit that on my birthday, about a week after the surgery, I somewhat unwittingly downed a half glass of champagne a couple of hours into my Vic pill.  After waving my arms in the air and dizzily proclaiming that, “Everything’s a carnival!”, I have came to know first hand why you’re not supposed to do that…but also why so many people want to.

In any case, I have physical therapy three times a week for the next few months, but by May, I’ll be as good as new.  So if you’re going in for an ACL reconstruction, don’t worry.  There will be swelling and you will need ice.  But with a bit of hard work, it’s going to be just fine!

Special thanks to Henry Corra for taking these photos.

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