ACL reconstruction: one week on
“So tell me, what do you work as?” my friendly anaesthetist asked in a casual tone, clearly trying to distract me as he tapped on my left hand for a popping vein to insert the needle.
I was not in the mood to be sociable, but I answered him anyway. He followed up naturally with more questions, standing up to get more anaesthetics from another corner of the surgical theatre. It was a conversation with zero eye contact. I lay on the flat, narrow surgical bed and explained to him in detail the workings of my industry, all the while staring straight up at the three huge metal disks above me with bright white lights shining down. Exactly like in the movies, I thought.
The cool liquid anaesthetic was slowly injected and I feel it coursing through my vein. My speech slowed down, with more effort needed to continue talking now. Eventually, I succumbed and dozed off.
10 weeks, it had been, from the day I fell off my bike in Laos – tearing both my anterior cruciate ligament (acl) and medial cruciate ligament (mcl) – to the date of surgery. It’s been quite an emotional rollercoaster ride so far. Disappointment from cutting short the trip. Relief when the x-ray in Luang Prabang confirmed no broken bones. Hope that I don’t require surgery with the inconclusive MRI scan results back home. Panic realising my personal accident insurance policy hadn’t been renewed. Guilt for wrecking all my plans – upcoming trips, personal promises and work commitments. Most of all, regret.
On good days, I’m thankful that it’s just another problem in life that, at least, has a solution to it. But some days I wake up and replay the last moments of the accident in my head with a million if-onlys. Although I joke about officially joining the badass club of athletes, it’s an experience I’d much rather live without.
A mere hour later (most meetings in office take even longer), the doctor had harvested 7mm of my hamstring and strung it through my knee joint, drilling a small hole each at the upper and lower leg bones. Ligaments are like cables that hold our bones together; To make sure this new piece of cable does its job, the top is attached to my femur (thigh bone) with a hook while the bottom end screwed tightly into the tibia (shin bone). Simple mechanical engineering at work, not unlike one of our home renovation projects.
It wasn’t that bad in the end. By the time I woke up, the local anaesthesia was still going strong and all I felt was numbness in my knees. I’ve heard horror stories of patients waking up to excruciating PAINNNN of 10/10 (for me it was maybe a 7/10). I guess my doctor must have been pretty generous with the meds, added on by the nurses who would come in every 6 hours with painkillers and antibiotics injected through my IV drip. This, coupled with the fact that I stayed put in bed all day, refusing to mobilise my operated leg even to pee (and in the process, made the wonderful discovery of a bedpan, an innovative solution that helps relieve bedridden patients effectively).
One week on, I’ve learnt to live with a constant 6/10, the increase to 7/10 in the middle of the night when the painkillers wear off and the surge to 8/10 whenever I need to swing out of bed for the toilet or get a drink. Coffee came in the form of stocked Nescafé cans from the fridge, where I would bring a bag over each time to transport my dose of caffeine around since both arms have to be on the crutches. The pain changes every day – it could be a bone ache around the screw, soreness at the back of my thigh or a stinging sensation at the incision wound; on bad days it feels like the hook is literally tugging at my femur.
I’ve also mastered the art of taping over my bandage with NTUC plastic bags to waterproof my wound. After keeping the masking tape and scissors, KT would then open the portable plastic chair in the bathroom so I can sit and lean back – just like in a salon. Preparing for a shower every time is akin to setting the stage for a performance. And my husband has been fairly decent in his role as a professional hairdresser, keeping water and shampoo from my eyes – but more importantly, from my dressing.
Can’t wait to remove my bandage and stitches when I see the doctor tomorrow, so I’m done with this plastic bag shit. Hope I get clearance for weight-bearing on my left leg soon. Can’t wait to ditch the crutches too. And can’t wait to start intensive physio, so I can run again.
But first, to stand firmly on both feet.