Houser: Healing the Husky – Part II
“Glove Saves and GPA” is a blog written by former University of Connecticut Huskies goalie Christie Houser. She brings readers an inside look at a NCAA D-I goaltender’s experience, and provides her own foray into the world of the student-athlete. Look for Christie’s work every week right here on The Goalie Guild, and feel free to leave your comments below.
I woke up from surgery in a disoriented, pain-filled haze. The nurse must have been keeping an eye on me because as I tried to figure out where I was and why the pain coming from my knee was so much worse than it was a few hours earlier, she was immediately by my side.
“Scale of one to ten, where is the pain, hun?” She asked.
“Pretty bad,” I groaned. Numbers never were my strong point.
Rather than pointing out my inability to quantify pain with the number scale, the nurse simply responded by shooting what I can only describe as a ‘magical’ pain-killing agent of Demerol into my IV. Within minutes the pain had subsided and all was well in the world again. At least as well as it could be with an IV jammed in my right arm and bulging mass of ace bandage and bracing on my left leg.
Once the knee pain was under control I was briefed on how the next few days would progress. I was to take two Vicodin every four hours for pain, and a Naproxen every six hours for swelling. The nerve block I got before surgery would wear off in about eight hours, at which point the pain would probably worsen. I would have to keep my leg elevated as much as possible, and was only allowed to take off the brace and compression sleeve to ice my knee. Other than that, both should stay on until my trainer, doctor, or surgeon told me differently.
The ride back to the bed and breakfast was easy. The trek up the stairs was not. I was still somewhat out of sorts, so trying to traverse the stairs on crutches was ruled out. Instead I sat down on my butt, with both my parents spotting me, and scooted all the way up the 100-year-old, extra creaky stairs of the historic house.
At any rate, my journey to the second floor was so harrowing, or perhaps the pain meds so formidable, that I fell asleep soon after arriving at our bedroom.
I awoke four hours and twelve minutes after falling asleep and realized why the nurses had told me to take the Vicodin every four hours. I was extremely pale and nauseous. I almost passed out from the same pain that had just awoken me. From that point forward I set a recurring alarm and made sure not to miss another dosage.
The day after my surgery I began rehab. This was another indicator as to how incredibly blessed I was to have the UConn training staff supporting me. The day after surgery I began my progress towards getting better. As far as seizing the moment and turning things around goes, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I also learned, on that first day, that the road leading back onto the ice and into my blue painted crease would be a long and arduous one. As my trainer unwrapped my heavily bandaged leg I realized how much muscle I had already lost. Even with the swelling, my left leg was much smaller than my right. Once the ace bandage came off and my stitches were cleaned my trainer gave me a simple task. All I had to do was lift my leg off the table. Simple right? I’m a finely tuned athlete. No problem.
And here came the first of many humbling moments.
I couldn’t lift my leg off the table. I stared incredulously at my stubborn appendage. I glared at my knee as if shooting it disapproving looks would encourage it to do what was asked. It didn’t work. I was already considered an underdog at the Division I level. And now I couldn’t even pick my leg up two inches off of a table, let alone prove myself on the ice.
My trainer reassured me that this was normal, and I would be able to lift my leg off of the table in the next few days. She also explained that I was actually better off than a lot of people, because while my leg didn’t move upwards, she did notice my quad muscle twitch.
This was the part where I learned about small victories.
As athletes we often take for granted all of the little things that have to go right in order to perform at a high level. When we try to make sprint times, we overlook all of the individual muscles it takes to run. When we let in a rebound goal, we overlook all the things we did right in order to stay square to the shooter, follow the puck, and make the first save.
Athletes who perform at a high level are constantly focused on getting better. We are constantly striving to do more. And while that’s a necessary trait to be competitive, when you’re rehabbing from an injury, oftentimes you have to start from the beginning. You have to re-master the individual processes that you once took for granted, in order to regain the form you once had. They say you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. In my case my quad muscle had to fire before I could lift my leg off the table. This lesson would be repeated a thousand times over throughout my rehab.
The next few days were full of more small victories. I had my surgery on a Friday. On Sunday I went to a concert with my teammates, albeit in a wheel chair. I hated being in a wheel chair, but we did get better seats as a result, so I guess you could say I took one for the team there. On Monday I went back to class, still on crutches. After one day of crutching up and down the hills of Storrs, I decided I hated crutches.
I never did like the idea of something else having to hold me up.
So Monday night I practiced walking around the dorms, still in a 90 degree locked out brace, but without the crutches. On Tuesday I showed my new trick to my trainer, and she agreed that as long as I kept the brace on at all times, and kept my leg elevated when I wasn’t walking, that I was allowed to ditch my crutches. By Wednesday I walked to class with a noticeable limp and a massive brace, but I walked. Like I said, small victories.
Everything was going incredibly well. My incision was small and was healing up beautifully. The swelling in my leg had decreased, and I was mostly off the painkillers one week after surgery.
Almost my entire leg was covered in massive blue and purple bruises, however this too meant that everything was going well and right on schedule. When I asked why it looked like someone had beaten my left side with a baseball bat, my surgeon explained that I had gone through some pretty serious trauma during surgery. Specifically, a third of my patellar tendon was cut out and removed from its original position, holes were drilled in my shin and thigh bones, and screws were put into those holes to turn what was once a portion of tendon into my new ACL. So yes, bruising was to be expected. I was told not to worry, and to carry on with everything I was doing, multicolored limb and all.
As my rehab continued I occasionally caught myself watching longingly at my teammates as they skated on the ice each day. I tried to focus on making progress of my own so that I could skate with them as soon as possible. While the work was hard and the gains were usually small, each day was another step towards being able to fulfill my dreams of playing college hockey.
And the best part? I had yet to hit any serious roadblocks.
Unfortunately, that was all about to change.