(Re)Learning How to Walk

It all started with a POP, POP, POP, THUD.

The burst of heat that shot north and south of my knee felt like an unexpected chem lab explosion—by the time I hit the ground I was already curled up in the fetal position.

Falling to the grass and screaming is not exactly the way I had hoped to make a memorable first impression on my intramural soccer squad. I’d relocated to a new town for a new job and knew absolutely zero people in said town. Running for me tends to be a solitary endeavor so I figured—hey, what better way to meet some cool new people than to play some soccer?

Showing up to my first practice I’d felt buoyantly optimistic at the sight of not one but two handsome, plaid-wearing, Brawny-paper-towel-esque-soccer-guys and made fast friends with a few players on the field.

Fast-forward 15 minutes and I was sobbing like a banshee—terrified to look down or let anyone touch what was certainly a bloody and twisted mess. Brawny #1 ran over and offered to help me off the field. Brawny #2 kept his distance.

Lobster-faced, I managed to locate enough gumption to venture a glance southward only to discover that my knee looked perfectly normal.

What the hell was going on?

One trip to the ER, three X-rays, two crutches, and an MRI later, we had the answer:

“You’ve torn your ACL and your meniscus.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you’re in for a long year.”

“Fuck.”

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I had reconstructive knee surgery the day of my thirty-second birthday and thus it began—a very long, very slow year.

For two months my leg was locked into a merciless straight, stiff position. My muscles twitched and spasmed at the immobility and everything from my ankle to my buttocks felt like it was on fire—though my leg was perpetually wrapped in ice.

I was prescribed a potent cocktail of meds and my world became a highly-regimented rotation of painkillers and supplemental drugs designed to keep me alive and in minimal discomfort. Oxy for the pain, Benadryl for the Oxy, and Ondansetron for the nausea. Cyclobenzaprine (muscle spasms), Aspirin (blood clots), Duralax (constipation) and dangerous levels of doctor-prescribed Ibuprofen (pain management and swelling) and Acetaminophen (more pain management).

My life became wholly dependent on other people. I couldn’t take the stairs, shower, or get a cup of coffee without someone there to steady me or provide a functional set of hands and legs with which to carry something across the room. Worst of all, I was not allowed to drink any wine—lest I add liver failure to my expanding list of ailments.  

I was really only capable of doing one thing: sleep.

The thing about being stuck in bed is it’s only fun when you have the liberty to get out at will, unencumbered, and to return again when you damn well feel like it. When the freedom to roam is stripped, that once-cushy piece of real estate starts to feel like a lumpy, uncomfortable prison cell. Made worse by the fact that it is actually impossible to get comfortable in any configuration because the thing that landed you there is so painful you can’t get up, much less lie still comfortably.

Don’t lose heart, faithful reader. All was not lost for our tragic, complaint-ridden heroine. Horizontal became ever-so incrementally vertical and two months into physical therapy I was allowed to bend my knee further than 90 degrees (though it took me three to get that far). Life became about the small victories: I ditched the brace, lost one crutch, then the other, and after three months of total and utter dependency I took my first unsteady steps into independence.

I was reborn. And as a toddler, I had to relearn how to walk…

I’d hate to bore you with that part of the story. Instead, imagine one of those inspirational movie-montages set to buoyant music as our heroine goes from klutz to human, winter transforms into spring, and that cocktail of painkillers is replaced by a big, delicious margarita.

We just passed the six month post-op mark. I can’t do most of the things I used to do though I have recently made the slow return to yoga and limp-less walking. Stairs are still a challenge and I had to remind myself to practice patience, allow room for error, and to give myself a lot of extra time to get around.

My surgeon says I’m on track to start running again in 3-6 months and the thing that I’ve learned from all of this is: running is way better than soccer.

Mallory is a Texan who’s forsaken the motherland to make her home in New York City where she’s living the dream as an Art Director for children’s books.