At the beginning of this year (January 2–the same day “Mean” Gene Okerlund left this mortal coil), I slipped while hiking and sustained a complete rupture of my left quadriceps tendon. Well, that wasn’t how I’d planned to start the new year! But, I had surgery the next day to reattach the tendon to its parent kneecap and set about my rehab. Onward and upward.
Until it happened again. On a Saturday morning in February, a few days after I’d started using a more flexible brace, I slipped in my driveway and re-ruptured the tendon.
The old saw about time slowing down? Truth. The second fall was nearly identical to the first, just in a different setting. There was the loss of balance, the sensation of getting some air, and then, slowly but surely, the realization that I’d done fucked up.
The re-injury presented a little differently than the first, however. After a few days of back and forth and several practices, my surgeon called me from out of the country (bless her heart, during a vacation) and told me that the MRI showed some ligament involvement and a different tear site than the first injury. She used the phrase “high velocity trauma” (don’t look it up), mentioned that the radiologist hadn’t seen something like this in ten years, and suggested I get into Boston to get it looked at. Well, shit.
I’ve learned a bunch of lessons along the way–5 if you read the title–but that brings us to the first:
1) Freak Out For A Day (or an hour, or a half day). Hearing the doctor tell me that I may have dislocated my knee and there was the possibility of arterial damage made me sit up and take notice, that is for sure. There’s sort of no real way to put a bow on that one, and I knew at the very least we were dealing with a lengthy rehab, so I gave myself permission to freak out for a day. This sucks, I’m never going to get better, why couldn’t it have happened to that guy from Spin City instead of me?, etc. The next day I felt a hell of a lot better because I’d gotten that frenzy of worry and histrionic thinking out of my system. When you love to train, an injury of any sort is a loss–there will be anger, sadness, and a kind of mourning. I did that in a day. The alternative seemed unpleasant. Get ‘er done.
2) Take What People Give You. Everyone feels for you differently. I’m in a couple of training groups online and one of the things we’ve chewed over is how weird it can be when one of your lifting partners get hurt. A pall casts over the room, and no one really wants to talk about it. You kind of get iced off. I experienced that occasionally, and what I came to realize was that for some folks, asking me about how I was doing was tantamount to acknowledging that this crappy thing could happen to them too! They were happy to see me, they shook my hand and gave me hugs and fist bumps, but they would not let their eyes or questions drift to the offending limb. I dig that. I didn’t dig it at first, but now I do and I feel like a better person for it.
3) You Are A Science Experiment. This is painful for me to think about, but as my buddy Jeff at RPR put it, my left hip gave up my left knee. When my right foot slipped, my left leg didn’t pick up the slack and boom! This was a freak accident and yet, would this have happened if I had been warming my squats up properly and taking some extra backoff and conditioning work? The left hip that had been nagging me for months–what if I’d addressed that, like, at all? That’s the thing about training on your own–you can just sort of cowboy your way through shit…and then you end up in shit. But the flip side is pretty awesome if you let it be: you get to solve your own puzzle. What do I need to do to hedge against this happening again? What were the weak spots? What cracks in the foundation do I need to fill? Should I do more cardio and stop eating by 8 PM? (Yes, and yes.)
4) You Can Do The Stuff You Hate To Do If You Trick Yourself. I wasn’t always this way, but I’ve come to love training in 2 or 3 sweaty fifteen minute segments. I like doing things in a circuit because ticking things off in my training log makes me feel awesome (like seriously, when I made the executive decision to signify ‘four’ with three dashes and a line through it the same way ‘five’ is four dashes with a line through it, the skies parted and I felt like Al Jarreau in the “Mornin'” video), so I just put a stretch or a therapeutic movement in the middle of some heavy kb swings and cleans and voila, the crappy movement I dread is now something I am almost inclined to prolong so I don’t have to go back so quickly to the harder stuff.
5) Be Thankful. Yes, I know this is some Grade A Hallmark Card type shinola but…if we are talking about gym injuries, it sure could be worse. It sure could always be worse. That doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel crappy or sorry for yourself or that life is some kind of misfortune bingo, but there is almost always a bright side and usually pretty soon after you start finding something to be happy about, your day turns around. One of my favorite moments in this whole rehab was the Sunday morning my coaches took a picture of themselves at the gym and made a joke about how many of them it took to replace me. That made me feel pretty special, and it also made me realize how lucky I am to have such great coaches working for me. There’s a silver lining and once you find it, things go gold.
So…don’t rupture your quad tendon but if you do, or go through anything that sets you back, I hope this helps. Hang tight and stay loose.