I remember the day I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) like it was yesterday. It was my birthday and a gorgeous Saturday in September. It was also the day after I left my dream job to go back to school for a Masters’ degree and the last soccer game of the year for my co-ed recreational team.
It was near the end of the game when I stopped a hard shot by a guy on the opposing team. I felt was a “pop” and a shot of pain that dropped me to the ground.
I’m not a delicate player, so when my teammates heard my scream they knew something was wrong. I was helped to the side of the field and my boyfriend was called to come pick me up. When he arrived I was in less pain, but still unable to walk so we made our way to the emergency room. After an 8 hour wait to have an x-ray and see a doctor who told me it was probably a sprain. As we packed up to leave the doctor suggested I see a sports injury specialist the following Monday to confirm a diagnosis. And so I did.
I was just starting school at Carleton University, which to my advantage has a reputable sports injury clinic with a highly qualified knee surgeon. My appointment lasted about 10-minutes and after a couple of measurements the doctor pronounced it was a full tear of my ACL and that I would need surgery. It was a simple clinical diagnosis, but at that moment I felt like my whole world collapsed. I had just lost my extended health benefits, was “unemployed”, starting school again, and just enough savings to make it through the school year. I didn’t know how I would cope with surgery and trying to recover on top of all the other changes in my life.
With tears in my eyes, I made my way to the physiotherapy clinic down the hall where my journey back to full strength began. The receptionist kindly squeezed me in to an appointment with Terry, who would become not only my physiotherapist, but my life coach. He met me in a state of complete vulnerability and fear, and returned me to a confident competitor in sport and in life.
During my first appointment I wished I had seen Terry first and couldn’t understand why the system points patients to a Dr. or an emergency room, rather than a physiotherapist. Terry was more patient-focused than any Dr. I had seen. It was he who helped me understand my injury and how to recover. He took the time to explain the basics of my diagnosis, starting with what an ACL is, why I need one, the degree of injury which warrants a surgery, and the importance of building strength before the surgery. He also helped me get over the fear of pain and the fear of re-injury, which would act as road blocks to a full recovery.
In terms of treatment, the first order of business was getting me off my crutches – which he gave me three days to do. I thought he was crazy, but through movement, stretching, and I started toregain my confidence and I was also able to gain strength. I took his prescription for recovery seriously and put in a lot of work to achieve what felt like minimal success. We started with regular visits, but as I reached my goals he encouraged me to continue with my strength routine on my own until I had my surgery.
I had my surgery almost five months after my injury. Up to that point I thought I had been through the worst of my injury, but I was not ready for the toll that surgery would take on my body. I was in more pain and fell into a depression because I was not able to do the activities that I took for granted before. I’ve always been active, so to be faced with the inability to walk was devastating for me. Every physical task was a challenge, and was compounded by complications from the surgery that led to a buildup of scar tissue.
Looking back, I was not a very good patient following my surgery. I was so afraid of the pain I struggled to maintain my commitment to Terry’s professional advice. But, he didn’t give up on me. His goal was to never see me again, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. It took time, but he helped me work through a lot of pain and motivated me to do things that I didn’t think I would ever be able to do.
My experience with Terry changed my perception of the Canadian health care system. I now believe in seeking out the most appropriate health professional for treatment, not going to an emergency room looking for a “quick” diagnosis. I also have a more realistic understanding of the issue of wait times for surgery. Based on my experience, I realize that surgery is not a quick fix; patients need to take their time to work on their strength and stability to be prepared for surgery. Finally, I gained a new appreciation for taking responsibility for my health and my recovery. It was hard (physically and mentally) to go to the gym at 6am to sit on a bike, do my exercises and stretch, but I did it because it was the one thing that made me feel better. The result was 11-months after my initial injury I was back to playing soccer, running, cycling and as active as I had ever been.
It is now almost 10 years later and I’m stronger and have a higher level of fitness than when I was 25. I haven’t worn a brace in over five years, and have taken to trying new challenges. Terry put me onto a life path that has focused on strength and conditioning as a means to injury prevention. While I’m not an elite athlete, I take care of myself, I’m smart about how I train and I continue to use the knowledge I gained from Terry to keep me healthy and active. I haven’t seen Terry since the spring of 2005, but I still think of him fondly because I know he changed my life.
May 2, 2014