Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Knee Story

This is me right now. I am down to one crutch! I have one extremely strong leg and one skinny leg with a big swollen knee. In early December I had surgery to replace my ACL. I tore it playing soccer, though, I have mentioned some alternate explanations. 

I took six weeks medical leave from my job and went to Michigan for the surgery so I could stay with my parents while I recovered. Now I am back in Brooklyn but the old knee is still on my mind.

To replace an ACL, the surgeon removes the middle third of one's patellar tendon and a bit of bone from the patella and tibia. Then they drill a hole through your femur and tibia and string the patellar graft through the hole, connecting them at the same spot your ACL once did. Like they're sewing your knee back together. Eventually, your tibia and femur fill the holes, which secures the graft, and your body grows a new ACL around the graft. What??? Yes. Your new ACL will eventually be even stronger than your old one.

For the first week after surgery, however, I could do literally nothing without help. Luckily my parents tended to blob-me and my blob-demands well and I slowly got better. I also went to physical therapy three times a week, and did even more physical therapy at home. 

Still, to do anything--like, get the TV remote from a few feet away--took concentration and planning and some pain. I would plan my trip to a new room like I was entering a foreign and possibly hostile country. Are the lights on? Do I need food? Where is the nearest blanket? When do I take my next round of meds? Where are my meds? It took seven minutes for me to walk from the couch in front of the TV to the microwave and back with a cup of coffee. I timed it. Because here is the joke with crutches: you can't really hold anything but the crutches. You can crutch to the coffee pot, but how do you carry the cup of coffee? When I graduated to one crutch, it was amazing. Maybe the ability to hold things is not what separates man from animals, but I felt human again. 

All that to say, when I was at home I spent A LOT of time thinking about my knee. I still do. I can think about my knee, uninterrupted, for like half an hour. Like a zen master. I practice bending it and straightening it and strengthening the muscles and I think about whether it's more or less puffy or hot or painful or if the scar looks weird or better or what my knee will be like in a year or tomorrow.  

I've learned a lot about the science of how your knee functions and heals, but I'm still amazed by what your body can do. What magic, exactly, is going on in there?? Your body is basically building a new knee out of sandwiches. Or whatever you eat. In my case, mostly Mexican food. For the last month I did nothing but eat and sleep and move my knee around in front of a therapist and my body was like WE GOT THIS HERE IS A NEW KNEE BAM.

Now, I'm back at work and things are going back to normal. It's incredible. If anyone else is getting surgery, listen. Here are two things that I wish I had listened to when people told me. First, sure you're taking time off of work, but you won't get anything done. Don't beat yourself up about it. You won't get a chance to draw more or work on the computer or even read many books. Because you can only lay on your back, holding the book/computer/sketchbook above your head. Just rent every 007 movie and call it a day. And take lots of naps.

Second, it gets to your head. You'll have good days and bad days. But the magic healing genies don't care if you are feeling good or bad or bored or get cabin fever. They just want you to keep doing your PT and taking naps and eating sandwiches. And then one day you realize that you're better, and you adapt, and before you know it you're down to one crutch. Which means people give you a seat on the subway every day, so maybe hold on to that crutch for a while. Good luck, future zen masters.


  1. This is great- I'm glad you are feeling better!

  2. This is amazing! I can totally hear your voice reading it and it makes me miss you. Plus these drawings are fab, but that's a given!

  3. I hope this is the beginning of "Bri Explains SCIENCE (onpostitnotes)" series. Glad you have a better, stronger ACL!

  4. A relative forwarded this to me seeing as I just recently had ACL surgery as well. You had me laughing when I read about the coffee. The first time I made my own cup after surgery it wasn't until it was steaming out of the cup, that I realized I couldn't go mobile with it. I just stood there and enjoyed every sip and hobbled back to my resting nest! Great piece!

  5. Thanks guys! It was fun to make. Erin, you know I love science like I love post-its. Lis, I miss you too!

  6. And, thanks Metafilter community! I've love reading the comments. It's great to know that other people can relate to this experience.

  7. Nice Story !!! It was great to see you "healing at home for the holidays". If I only knew, I would've been happy to carry your coffee... Glad you're on the mend!

  8. This is so wonderful! Fun little read...

  9. Brianne:

    very cool and well done good job on the PT, I have some experience in that area.

    I dont think we have met. You know the story...grew up with your Dad and Uncle Steve in Sag town.

    MIke Mason

  10. This is hilarious and rad. And like Lis said, I too can hear you telling the story! Hope you're healing quickly and PT is going well.

  11. This is very helpful, Brianne. Undergoing a surgery is really a difficult experience. There are lots of limitations, plus, the pain can be a distraction and a burden. Good thing that your parents were there to support you all through your recovery stages. Anyway, it's good to know that you recovered well and got back on your work. I hope it will continue that way. Kristal @