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ACL – my road to recovery

My new ligament – the first part

I was recently asked to tell my story about tearing my ACL and my road to recovery, a journey that many others have taken. It was the weekend of Quebec’s fête Nationale and we were playing a game against a Canadian women’s team at Boston Invite. After many months of training in preparation for Worlds in Italy that were being held five weeks later, I was feeling at the top of my game. It was universe point. I cut into the endzone to receive the disc and I just touched ir with the tips of my fingers when all of a sudden a player from the other team dove into my left knee in a bid for the D. I fell to the ground and felt extreme pain all around my knee. I thought the worst…an ACL tear right before Worlds.

I thought about Sarah Latendresse, who told me about how she tore her ACL right before Worlds in 2010. Had this mythic injury, which had already attacked five players on our team, caught me too? The physiotherapist on-site did the famous “drawer test” and suggested that maybe it was not completely torn. I had hope.

Upon returning to Montreal, I went immediately to the doctor to get a referral for an MRI. A few days later, the technician who did my MRI said “I am not a doctor, but your ACL looks completely torn.” The results confirmed the technician’s observation, and more. Diagnosis: Torn ACL and MCL. A reconstruction of the ACL would be necessary if I wanted to play ultimate again. The MCL heals itself. My ACL was so completely torn that all the medical and physiotherapy students at the sports medicine clinic wanted to practice the “drawer test” on my knee. At least I was useful for something.

Finally, I was put on the waiting list to see a famous orthopedic surgeon who performs surgeries on many professional athletes in Montreal. Despite his impressive CV, I was still nervous. It would be my first operation.

In the meantime, I started doing physiotherapy to maintain the strength in my left leg before the operation. I continued with other physical activities as well, including biking and “prancercizing.”

I cannot tell you how much this pre-op preparation helped me after the surgery. At the beginning of August, we flew to Italy to bring home the gold medal. What an unforgettable experience. Despite my not being able to play, I did my best in my new role as team mascot. I was nicknamed “Tony the Tiger” by Madame Tremblay and I took my role very seriously!

Upon my return to Montreal, I met the famous surgeon who explained that he was going to take a piece of my hamstring to reconstruct my ACL and confirmed that I would not be able to play ultimate for six to twelve months after the operation. He also suggested I communicate with his assistant so I could put my name on the “in case of cancellation” list in a bid to have my surgery sooner rather than later. What luck in my bad luck! Students don’t want to be operated on at the beginning of the school year so I got a surgery date very quickly.

The big day was therefore scheduled for September 19, 2014.

The morning of the operation, I went to the hospital with my crutches and ipod in hand. I opted for local anesthetic instead of general anesthetic in an effort to avoid, among other things, nausea upon wakening. With local anesthetic it is possible to ask for enough sedatives to remain in an unconscious state during the operation. For sensitive folks like me, I strongly recommend this option if possible. Another thing to note: The anesthesiologist installed a catheter connected to a nerve in the affected leg that emits a local anesthetic to the knee for 48 hours after the operation. This is a miraculous way to help control the post-operative pain.

The operation went well despite the fact that I almost fainted when I woke up during the operation and learned that I could move my toes. Yikes! Luckily, the anesthesiologist at my side quickly gave me more of his magic potion and I fell back into a deep sleep. The same day, I returned home with my new ligament, my Zimmer brace, a ton of pills and my catheter with the local anesthetic.

In the days that followed, I became one with my couch. I profited immensely from the care package my teammates had made for me before my surgery. And thanks to the catheter, the pain was manageable and I avoided taking the little blue pills. I am also very thankful for all the help my boyfriend, Brent, gave me.

Three days after the operation, I started intense physiotherapy sessions. I am lucky enough to have a physiotherapist who had gone through ACL recovery a few years ago and who is very competent. I saw him three times a week for two weeks and then two times per week after that. At home, I follow his instructions to the letter. I did my exercises religiously and I rested. I rediscovered my mobility pretty quickly. By the second week I was walking with a cane and my brace. Brent calls me the pirate and I respond “but I don’t want to be a pirate.

By the third week, I was capable of pedaling slowly on a bike. My biggest challenges are to get full extension back in my knee and to develop the strength in my hamstring that was cut into to make a new ACL. Last Friday I celebrated five weeks post-surgery. I can walk without a brace or a cane and I can climb up and down stairs one at a time! My next objective: running in a straight line!

-Em

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