ACL Surgery Part 1: Surgery Day

A big part of my journey to health is my knee surgery – almost exactly one year ago, I had ACL reconstruction surgery after tearing the ligament at mile 12 of the 2012 Atlantic City Half Marathon. It’s a huge part of my story now, in that it’s taught me how to listen to my body, where to dig deep for true patience, and when to push myself beyond what I thought possible.

Now, I don’t plan on going in chronological order in this blog – I’ll do my best to tag and categorize if anyone wants to read about one part of the journey or another. But for now, let’s start with what’s still relatively fresh in my mind: the day of surgery.

I woke up early on January 29th, 2013. My appointment was for 1pm but of course I got there early. It was a sunny day, actually quite warm for the date. I remember seeing on the weather forecast that the next day (January 30th) would be the most unseasonably warm day yet. You know that one weird warm day you get every year in the dead of winter that reminds you that things are all going to be ok and you’ll make it through the winter after all? That was the 30th. But I had to get through the 29th to get there.

So at 11, my husband drove me into the surgical center and we walked in to find we were the only people in the waiting room. The kind woman standing behind the check-in window smiled as we walked in and asked, “Jessica?” Talk about service! Soon after I signed in and filled out a few forms, my father showed up for moral support. As it tends to do when he enters a room, everything around us seemed to swell with his presence. He always animates any space he’s in, my father. It’s nice.

After five short minutes of small talk, they called me in to change into my little gown and blue slipper socks, and popped a blue surgical hair cap over my head. I looked ridiculous. They put me in a big plastic arm chair in front of a tv hanging off the wall – King Arthur was on, with Clive Owen and Kiera Knightley – and reclined me and covered me in blankets. It was actually kind of nice. I was toasty. But I was alone.

One nurse came out and gave me a wrist band. Another told me she’d set me up with an IV. Then my surgeon came out. Dr. Ryan – he’s a reassuring presence for me. Through all my phone calls and questions he’s never lost patience or his serene smile. I relax when he’s there. He’s even had the procedure done himself, so that’s even better. Who better to have monitoring your recovery than someone who’s been through the same thing? Finally, the anesthesiologist came out and explained that I’d be entirely under, but would also have what they call a femoral nerve block, with 16-20 hours of numbness. Sweet!

After he left, it suddenly felt real. I had a pang of anxiety – I needed a familiar face. I asked a nurse if my husband could come in and they invited him in warmly. When he saw me, he smiled and reached for his phone to take a picture. I scolded him, having stared at the “NO CAMERAS” sign on the opposite wall for the last half hour. I kind of wish now that we’d broken that rule. I’d love to look back at my scared pale face in my stupid shower cap in my recliner.

We sat for a few moments but it went by WAY too fast – soon the little male nurse was there saying that I was ready. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my husband yet, but I had to. He took one simple silver ring that I forgot to take off, and my glasses. I was officially blind.

He kissed me and wished me luck, and helped me stand before going on his way. The little nurse wrapped me in my blanket and told me to carry it with me like a cape. I silently told myself to enjoy these steps, because they were the last I’d be taking for a while.

We walked down a few hallways and suddenly, boom; I was in an operating room. Like a full-on operating room with the big circular lights and hard metal table and freezing temperature. Oddly, Creedence Clearwater Revival was blasting on a stereo by the window where the shades were pulled tightly. Everything was blue. The anesthesiologist was there, and my surgeon, and the male nurse, and another female nurse.

The invited me to hop on the table – funny, I actually don’t remember the last step I took. Then there was buzzing activity all around me. The male nurse kept talking to me. Asking me how I was doing. Earlier that day, I told myself, “Don’t be chatty. You get chatty when you’re nervous. Just be quiet and go with it.” Now, I realized, I hadn’t been chatty at all. I guess when I’m truly nervous, I clam up. Because they kept asking me how I was doing, and all I could respond with was, “OK.” Or “Good.” Or “Still here.”

Finally, they gave me an IV. That’s where it gets really trippy. I remember every moment like it’s the present:

They tell me I’m not going to sleep yet. But I’m going to get warm and heavy and relaxed, and I’m going to taste metal for a moment. OK, I say. And sure enough, it all happens like they say.

I almost panic, but don’t want to. I worry that I’ll fall asleep before they can tell me they’re putting me out. I feel especially heavy and warm and tingly from my chest up. It’s as if I’ve been injected with hot, warm fuzz all around my lungs, neck, shoulders, and head. I feel like I should be tense, but I can’t muster the energy.

“How are you doing?” they ask. I want to respond, but everything’s slow. “Still here,” I start, but my words slur without me even trying. It’s like I’m in glue.

Next is the nerve block. The male nurse explains what he’s doing at every step of the way. This is just alcohol. This is iodine. This touch is just to prepare the area. This is the needle.

Suddenly – boom – my leg starts jerking around on the table. It’s an awesome feeling – I would laugh at it if I could, but I’m a melting wax figure. I smile to myself and stare at the pockmarked ceiling as it continues to jump. They’re talking to each other. “10, ok, here’s 10. Now let’s ease up to 15. 20. Ok, no, back to 15.” I want to care about what they’re saying, but I’ve got nothing. Nerves I didn’t even know I had are jumping in my leg, making the skin twitch and bounce. Right when they say it’s about to calm down, it does.

Now they’re ready. “OK, now here we go, we’re going to put you to sleep.” I slur, “OK.” But it sounds more like “ooogaayyy”.

The last thing I remember thinking was “Hurry – pick a rock star to run away with in your dreams! Ajay Popoff from Lit or Art Alexakis from Everclear?” then boom, I was out. I didn’t even have enough time to pick a man.

Next up: ACL Surgery Part 2: Post-Surgery and Recovery!

4 thoughts on “ACL Surgery Part 1: Surgery Day

  1. Pingback: Want to Run Faster? Run LESS. | Jess Runs Happy

  2. Pingback: Happy ACL-aversary! | Jess Runs Happy

  3. Pingback: Listening to Your Body in Marathon Training | Jess Runs Happy

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