When we last left off, I was making my way through life post-ACL surgery recovery and having a rough time. But after a week of recovery, the doctor had me start an aggressive physical therapy plan that ended up improving not just my knee but my whole self.
I went to A&A Physical Therapy, a tiny little office I had passed probably hundreds if not thousands of times in my life – it was a small family-owned practice that my father highly recommended after having great experiences with them through his multiple knee and back surgeries.
I remember being hopeful – I couldn’t wait to get right into it and start moving that leg, get on that treadmill and see the miles per hour number climb back up to 6 and 7 like before. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening! That first day, all we did was massage the leg and assess the situation before sending me on my way. I hobbled out of the office after an hour, feeling kind of let down. This was going to be a lot more work than I thought it would be.
On Day 2, my therapist asked me to tense my quad muscle and I stared at my leg, willing it to tighten, only to find the whole leg dead. It was like the muscles had dissolved! They were completely numb; I had no strength. Three times a week I found myself laying on that table, focusing on each muscle and every tendon. Small movements – tiny, almost imperceptible! – but they caused huge pain and huge payoff. My mantra became “Do today what you couldn’t do yesterday, and do tomorrow what you couldn’t do today.” After a month, I was on the treadmill at one mile an hour and crying tears of happiness when I graduated to using one crutch.
Where I found physical victories, I could also see mental improvements too. Being out of work for so long was like hitting my mind’s Reset button. Going through my days focusing solely on healing brought me a new inner peace – each day I found new gratitude for something else, whether it was the fact that I could lift my leg into the shower without blinding pain or the fact that the sun was out and the weather was 10 degrees warmer and I could open the windows and breathe fresh air.
Soon, I came to love it at therapy! I grew there. I thought there and healed there. Each little step made me realize that I was capable of so much more than I previously thought, as long as I kept that positive attitude.
They say to be truly happy with yourself, find a memory of yourself at your most relaxed, happy, and perfect. Whether it’s on a beach during your honeymoon or under a tree as a child, find that one place where you remember being perfectly content, and remember that that person STILL exists inside of you.
Through the recovery process, I found that person. When things get stressful now, I think back to being strapped into that CPM machine on the couch, watching Frasier and Dinosaurs. Or driving from therapy and singing along to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”. Or hobbling into my favorite pizza place up the street on the first nice day of March and singing along to the Ramones on the radio while I waited for my lunch.
I especially remember that day – after I ate, I stopped by my parents’ house down the street and found my father cleaning out the basement. It took me 5 minutes to get down the stairs, but once I was down there, it was worth it. He had found a whole cabinet filled with mementos from me: he had kept every drawing I ever did for him, every handmade father’s day card, even the ones I made when I was 12 or 13 and knew I was growing out of the usual “Dear Daddy” stuff. He kept every Citizenship Award, every meaningless honor roll certificate I got in grade school – he had folders of them all, lovingly labeled and stored.
I don’t know if I can ever express how much that morning meant to me. Even now when I think about it, my heart swells and I get kind of choked up. But that’s my moment – when I felt perfectly content and happy and grateful and alive. That’s when I realized that I am truly lucky.
In fact, I’m the luckiest person I know. All because I tore my ACL at mile 12 of the 2012 Atlantic City Half Marathon.