“Minor setback, major comeback”. I have said this a lot in my journey, far too much for my liking, at this point ‘Major Setback minor comeback’ is seeming a lot more accurate. 2 steps forward and another step back, hard luck I guess. My very own wilderness experience. I begin my first draft of this blog at 4:37am unable to sleep because of my own anxiety. Tonight it’s anxiety, tomorrow it’ll be overwhelming regret or deep despair, some nights it’s a mixture of all three and those nights are undoubtedly the worst. I played in a friendly game at university and I ruptured my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). I found out around two weeks later during the peak of my exam season that I’d need reconstruction surgery if I was to continue playing at the level I was at. Then, to add insult to injury (no pun intended,) I was told I would have to wait 3-4 months before I could have an operation to BEGIN the recovery process, a process which takes 8-10 months. As you can probably imagine, it was anger that kept me awake that night.
For those unaware, the ACL is one of the four major ligaments that hold the knee together, it doesn’t self heal hence the need for surgery. Generally, during surgery they take a new piece of tissue from elsewhere in your body (hamstring or elsewhere) or from a donor and reconstruct it in your knee as a new acting ACL since an ACL year is normally unrepairable. For perspective on the gravity of the injury, an ACL tear occurring as recently as 15 years ago could have meant the end of your playing career. Crazy I know. Anyhow, sparing you the details I managed to sort my surgery for a lot sooner than previously mentioned, which was a massive bonus. The surgeon operating on me was a lot more specialised in the field of knee injuries so things seemed to be looking more positive for me. Then there’s the dreaded wait, I’d confirmed the date of my op roughly 3 weeks before so I had 3 weeks of intensive pre op therapy; strengthening the muscles in my leg and getting full range of motion back. I was getting restless, seeing the physio everyday and doing the same mundane exercises. I just wanted the surgery done, 3 weeks seemed like a lifetime away.
As the operation date grew nearer, things changed. I was still sleeping at 4/5am every night but this time I lay awake doing research. I’d just read, read everything there is to read on the ACL; People’s success stories, rehab stories, the whole shebang. An ACL reconstruction enthusiast I was, I just wanted to know my chances of coming back as the player I know I am. How will a reconstructed ACL affect your power? Your speed? Your explosiveness? I had so many questions. They say too much knowledge is a curse (I don’t know who but I’m sure someone has said it) and it makes sense, I became so anxious with thoughts of what could go wrong, I mean I was faithful that everything would be fine but there’s always that little annoying ‘what if’ thought. On the really bad nights I’d just plan my life outside of being a footballer.
‘After uni I’ll get a job, maybe go into computing and coding? Work in finance? A teacher perhaps, I’ll do some coaching on the side, get married and just be a family man…God will make a way man’ – A conversation with myself. The whole period before my operation was incredibly hard. My friends would always ask how I am, bless them, and all I can say is I’ll be fine because how do you tell them that you’re just a moment away from completely losing your sh*t, that somedays you’re fighting yourself to hold back tears and literally smiling through it, or that you don’t even look forward to going to bed at night? It’s not a good feeling at all, and I honestly wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Often I wish I’d wake up and it’d be the morning of the day of the game, and I get a second chance to evaluate my choices. There were good days though, days where I felt like this was indeed a minor setback and my targets were still well within reach.
It’s the night before the op, I’ve packed my overnight bag and I’m ready, laying in bed filled with excitement. The day has finally come, I’m eager to start my recovery journey after weeks of doing pre op therapy and increasing my chance of rehabilitative success. I’d never had surgery so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was looking forward to getting everything over and done with. I got to the hospital at around 10, checked in to my room and the nurses were so kind, helpful and reassuring. For the first two hours I was walking from room to room doing different pre op tests, taking my blood and whatnot, I’m pretty sure every room had a bigger needle than the last room. They also took my pulse and blood pressure every 15 mins, and every 15 mins they’d ask me ‘are you nervous’ probably because my pulse was sky high. I’d say ‘maybe a little’ when in reality I was shitting it. After all the tests were done and I was waiting to be taken into theatre, another long nerve racking wait, I started entertaining some crazy thoughts, ‘what if the anaesthetic doesn’t work’ , ‘Imagine I wake up and my leg is missing’ – as in the operation had gone so badly that they had to amputate me. It sounds ridiculous now but somehow I convinced myself that it was a possibility., I prayed a prayer with my mum and they took me in theatre for surgery. They injected me with a general anaesthetic and off to sleep I went.
It felt like no less than 30 seconds later and I woke up, but in reality when I looked at the clock, 4 hours had passed. I was completely disorientated and confused. I just remember seeing my leg and being relieved, even though I couldn’t feel my leg at all, I was talking too but I don’t think I or anybody else knew what I was saying, I was wheeled back into my room and saw my mum. I’m sure we spoke but I really was out of it and I don’t have much recollection of what happened next. I didn’t even know how the operation had gone, I was too heavily drugged to ask. I remember my friends coming to visit me. I went on insta live, I don’t even remember doing it but I watched it back. Safe to say I entertained a lot of people that day. What I do remember is an extreme feeling of nausea, I couldn’t eat because I felt so sick and any slight head movement would make me feel as if I’m about to throw up. I had to have anti sickness medication administered to me which consisted of a massive needle being injected into my left bum cheek, again I have no recollection of this happening but my friends were witness to it. Nurses were in and out to do their routine post op checks whilst I was chilling with my friends. Having friends to visit you and keep you company changes your experience so much and makes it much more pleasant, so thank you friends! Throughout the night, sleeping was quite uncomfortable I was waking up every hour, but I found out that it was quite normal for people to experience that post op.
I was discharged from the hospital the following day and I still couldn’t feel my leg but they said the feeling would return in the coming days. I was essentially bed bound for 2 weeks, not allowed to bend my leg, or put weight on it. For someone as active as I am, I knew it was going to be long and hard. I was basically useless, but I wasn’t particularly stressed or disheartened. I don’t know what I was expecting post op, but the pain and discomfort was so intense in the first few days. I told myself yeah this is not going to be easy, it is only by God’s strength I have come this far and I know He will see me through the whole injury and rehabilitation, and this is why I was able to remain strong throughout everything. You can take on a situation from two angles; you can l think your life is over and give up, or stay positive and know that better days are coming. I chose the latter. I’m a strong believer in mind over matter, your mind alone is powerful enough to heal you from certain ailments, the release of certain hormones boost white cell production and strengthen the immune system. I could wake up with the attitude that my ACL is ruptured during a vital time in my career so that’s it, I could be angry at the world but in reality I am so fortunate by His grace, I’m at a place where I can get good rehab, I will play football again. Injuries are part and parcel of the game and it’s unfortunate but you have to see the good in the bad and even outside football, I am blessed enough to go to university, my family and friends are alive, I am alive. Do you know how many people are fighting for their lives at this moment in time, we are not anymore deserving of life than they are. Life isn’t guaranteed. For me it’s all about perspective, it could always be worse! Be grateful for what you have and know that God is in control and He is faithful!
Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’
That’s my ACL experience thus far, I’ll keep you updated as time goes on! Thank you for reading, it’s been a pleasure.
The RealTalk Team