It’s only 8.30pm and already the black “donor”-car in our backyard has an impressive covering of white ice crystals (The “project car” is probably a topic for another time, but, basically, my husband plans to drop the V8 from the Celsior into the body of the 1983 Corona – same shape as my first car, which is why I let him buy it – taking up most of the room in our garage. It’s just a shame we have run out of money, because it would be nice to see it get done).
It was early July (I think it was the 6th, but it seems I have finally started to put some details behind me) 2006 – winter here in the southern hemisphere. As a regular walker, I looked outside to check for ice and all looked clear – the ground was dry, the day was crisp but not freezing. Fabulous. I could walk to work free from fear of falling. Oh, how wrong I was. Less than five minutes from home, and so confident was I in the conditions that, I strode – yes, strode – head up, arms swinging . . . Right up until the point when I was on my bum. Now, between me walking confidently and being on my bum, something happened, of course. Usually, when nasty things happen, time seems to slow down (like the time a sheep walked out in front of me when I was driving on the “highway” – in NZ, they’re nothing like the States, or anywhere with decent roads – I remember having heaps of time to hit the brakes, realize I was pulling to the right (not a good thing when we drive on the left), and start pumping the brakes to pull the car up in plenty of time). Not this time. I went from a confident stride to on my arse very, very quickly. But, as I sat there, confused, taking the time to look and see the mass of black ice around me, I could recall what had, in fact happened. My right heel hit the ice, flung out in front of me, and my left knee went straight down, perpendicular to the ground, landing on a couple of pieces of grit (applied to the roads on icy days and flung onto the footpath by passing cars).
Now, my right knee was actually over-extended the wrong way by this incident, but, you may not be surprised to know that I didn’t notice it at all. No, I was all about the left knee. It HURT!
So, I sat by the side of the road and waited for my husband to drive around the corner – I had left before him. He saw me and picked me up.
I was grateful, that day, that my workplace had casual enough dress standards (at the time) that I could get away with tidy jeans, because the denim meant that I only got a couple of grit-dents in my knee. No broken skin. Yay.
So, I climbed into my husband’s van for a ride down the hill – normally a ten minute walk of relatively decent steepness. But, my husband was picking up a couple of guys at the bottom of the hill – one workmate and one on-the-way-er. So, including me, that would be three passengers in a work van – not set up for passengers (room for three across the bench seat – including the driver). Wanna know what I said? Wait for it . . . “It’s OK. I’ll walk from the bottom of the hill”. Ya.
From the bottom of the hill, to work, was a twenty minute walk on the flat. On a good day. The road I walked on was covered in ice. But, never mind. I walked it. Yep. Sure, it hurt. But, I didn’t want to be an inconvenience in the van.
I did a full day’s work, but in the middle somewhere I did dash to my doctor to make sure the injury was registered with ACC (A governement agency tasked with the mission to get injured people back to work asap – which often meant paying for treatment. So, it pays to register accidents, just in case). I told my doctor what happened. She strapped up my knee with one of those light-weight compression bandages and sent me on my way.
Six weeks later, when my knee didn’t feel much better, I decided to visit my doctor again. She sent me for an X-ray (!!) to investigate.
A few days later, the result was in – I had a “defect” at the end of my femur. A defect, eh? I wonder what that looked like SIX WEEKS AGO? (How long does a fracture usually take to heal? Oh, yeah. I remember having a plaster on my arm for SIX weeks when I was little . . . grr). Anyway, nothing to be done about it by then. Carry on.
Still in pain, but I had a wedding coming up (in 2008, but, still) so I didn’t want to stop walking. Plus, I knew people who had had knee surgery and their knees were stuffed, so I didn’t want that. So, I walked everyday on my knee. It hurt, but I did it.
Until six months later when pretty much every muscle in my leg said “NO! We are not compensating for this anymore!”. When did they do it? About halfway to work. All the muscles up the back of my leg cramped, including my arse muscles, halfway down the main street. Ouchies.
So, I signed up for physiotherapy (ACC-covered).
We worked for several months on me being able to stretch my left leg as much as I could stretch my right. And then my physio said “You’ve got shocking balance, we need to work on that.” OK, I’ll forgive her on the grounds that neither she nor I knew what was going on on the inside of my knee . . . but, there was a reason I had shocking balance. Read on for the full report . . .
Anyway, she had me stand on a balance board – a piece of wood on four springs. I wobbled for a while, then I went back to work.
The next morning as I swung my legs out of bed, my leg cramped up. It was the worst cramp I think I have ever experienced (except maybe that halfway-down-the-main-street time). My foot was locked in point for half an hour. I showered with pointed toes.
Three months of physio down the drain. We had to start stretching again. There’s a nerve that runs from around your arse right down the length of your leg (several, probably), but there was this one that, basically, all my muscles were squeezing around, and we had to work on freeing that up.
Eventually we got there. I could move my leg in a full range of normal movement.
But, it still hurt. A lot. So, this is a little over 6 months after the injury.
I kept walking to work.
I look at my wedding video now and notice that I walked with a bit of a waddle . . . not sexy. I danced, too. I love dancing. I used to strap up my knee and go out pubbing. In heels. It hurt, but, meh. What was I gonna do about it?
Anyway, I changed jobs (a longer walk by 15mins) and switched doctors – closer to work, and I didn’t like the old one, anyway. I mentioned the trouble with my knee to my doctor one day and she referred me to a GPSI (GP with Special Interests). This one was interested in certain injuries.
I went to the GPSI and he didn’t think there would be much wrong with my knee. He wobbled it around a bit, and believed me that it hurt (I think . . .). But, see, let me think about this. Often, when people damage their knees, they twist it in sports, or while out drinking. What I believe happened (from my memory, and going by the fact I damaged the end of my femur) is that my femur over shot my knee and hit the ground “directly” (through skin, of course). So, it wasn’t a twist. My knee didn’t have side-side instability – which was what he tested for.
Anyway, he referred me for an MRI saying “I don’t expect to find anything . . .”
Famous last words anyone?
Here’s a stripped down version of the results:
ACL: quite a marked increase in signal consistent with a significant strain or partial tear. There do appear to be intact fibres (oh, good).
PCL: a little kinked, but intact.
Medial meniscus: Intact, does appear a little thinned.
Patella (knee cap): Some mild increased signal in the lateral patella consistent with a degree of chondromalacia (I looked it up … basically, it’s inflammation at the back of the knee cap = pain).
Anyway … more “Increased signal”, to be summed up as: “Appearances are likely on the basis of soft tissue injury here with some mild haematoma formation (bruising). Appearances are suggestive of a SIGNIFICANT strain of the ACL . . .”
This was two years (almost to the day) after my accident.
I wonder what it looked like two years earlier?
Anyway. The GPSI said “Now, if you were an Olympic athlete, or an All Black, I would recommend surgery. But, since you’re not . . .” Yep . . . he really did. He suggested I ride a bike.
Which was exactly the right thing for me to do. It hurt, a LOT, to start with. I had to strap up my knee to keep it straight while I peddled for the first month or two. But, by about 6-12 months later, I was greatly improved. Yes, it took a long time. It might have taken a lot less time if I’d actually got off my knee for several weeks, which everyone else I know who was diagnosed at the time of their injury did. Going by the Wikipedia definition for “chondromalacia”, that’s what I should have done. But, I didn’t know that until tonight, in fact. I’ve just never looked it up.
I walked. I biked. I aqua-jogged (actually, that was the worst, because the water buffeted my leg around and undid the strengthening the cycling was achieving).
So, to anyone else who suffers a similar injury – REST your knee for several weeks. And then CYCLE. Yes, it will hurt. It will hurt a lot for several months. And then one day you will be moving about and you’ll suddenly realize you’re not in pain. (Of course, despite my poor experience with doctors in this episode, I would still suggest talking to your GP before taking up a cycling regime – just in case it’s not for you).
My friend who injured her knee when out drinking about a year after my injury, had surgery soon after the incident. She still has trouble. But, then, she believes a nerve was injured in the surgery. That’s something I didn’t have to put up with. I realize our injuries were different (she had more of the side-to-side thing going on), but still . . . I’m pain-free (except for the occasional grind when I bend down).
This post isn’t nearly as entertaining as it was the first time I wrote it.
Never mind. I hope it helps someone. Be the squeaky wheel, I say. Be the squeaky wheel. (Says the girl who talked herself through the root canal where she bled so much the anaesthetic bled out, too, by mentally repeating “If I say something, they’ll have to stop and numb me again, it’ll take ages. But if I stay quiet, it’ll be over soon . . . it’ll be over soon” . . . yeah. I fainted when I stood up from the dentist’s chair . . .).