Updated: Nov 9, 2020
A View From the Other Side: How Knee Surgery Changed My Professional Perspective (Part 2 of 3) Kelsey Griffith, MS Performance Enhancement and Rehab Specialist, The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention
I’d always heard that when it happens, you just know. And boy, did I know. I went down hard and fast, music blaring, dancers surging onto the stage. At 30 years old, I crawled off into the curtains, grasping at my knee, and begging someone to get me ice.
Interestingly enough, until my MRI results came back, I never actually said the words, “I tore my ACL.” But I just knew. I knew that the road ahead was long, that I was destined for a summer of surgery, cumbersome knee braces, and a whole lot of PT. I was the patient once again. The journey ahead led to a significantly new perspective in my role as a mental skills coach.
My first day back at work, I was posted up in a treatment room, leg resting on a stool, and my crutches, with their handy-dandy cup holder and pouch, leaning against the wall. A new client walked in and we immediately laughed at our matching Bledsoe braces. “Research,” I joked, “Just want to ensure I fully understand the mindset of an injured athlete.” Underneath my joking, I was struggling. I was tired, I felt like things would never get better, and I couldn’t even fathom the day I’d be able to return to dance.
I can’t count the number of times I heard my mom say, “What would you tell your clients?” While at the time it was incredibly infuriating, she was right. Being the patient put me on the other side of what I do, professionally. And let me tell you, there was quite a learning curve!
I had to be careful not to compare my journey to anyone else’s. I was a candidate for the Bridge-Enhanced ACL Repair (BEAR) clinical trial here at Boston Children’s Hospital, the brain-child of one of our amazing surgeons, Dr. Martha Murray. While the BEAR trial presented some unique benefits – including contributing to science! – the recovery was substantially different from a traditional ACL reconstruction. This was my first challenge: remembering to focus and stay on my path and my path, alone.
Additionally, I had to continually remind myself of the following things:
The little goals matter. If I’d gone through my recovery thinking only about my return to full function, it would have been a bumpy ride. I had to capitalize on my WINS — whether big or small. • Today, I walked on my crutches without pain. • Today, I showered on my own. • Today, I got rid of my crutches. • Today, I was able to drive! It’s not that I ever lost sight of the end goal, but I set intermediary goals to boost my motivation and confidence.
Imagery WORKS! A physical therapist friend of mine had warned me that following surgery, there would come a day when I simply couldn’t lift up my leg. She was right and I remember the exact moment. Day after day, I thought about lifting my leg, seeing my itty bitty muscles squeezing tight to move my leg from the couch to the floor. I imagined the strength I knew I’d someday feel again. Then one day – bam! I went to get back on the couch, my dreaded home base for much of the month of August, and I lifted my leg seamlessly.
Your brain is an incredibly powerful thing. I remember one night, trying to get down to the floor to grab something that had rolled under the couch. The table was too close and I couldn’t bend my knee to fit myself in the tiny space. I was in pain. Once on the floor, I realized I’d forgotten something in the car. “I just can’t do this!” I thought and before I knew it, I was in tears. I lived in this self-pity for a few minutes and then boldly changed my previous statement: “I can and I will.” Would it take me longer than usual to get out to the car? Yes, for sure. Would I come back in, sweaty from the August heat and the extra work of using my crutches up the stairs? No question. But would I feel a decent sense of accomplishment knowing I’d done it on my own? Undoubtedly. Through all of this, I learned that it’s okay to not be okay.
Was any of it easy? Absolutely not. With some gentle mom-nudging, I was able to take my professional work and use it to my advantage. My accidental “research” has played an immense role in how I work with my injured athletes, both with regard to tools discussed and even more so, my empathy towards their experiences. There is another side. The journey there is just as valuable as the destination.