Houser: Healing the Husky – Part III
“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.
Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes the mistake is small and easily fixed without repercussions. Sometimes the mistake is made somewhere all alone, in the dark, where it can be quickly rectified without anyone ever knowing it happened. But sometimes, mistakes are big, and made in front of everyone.
This type of mistake necessitates a reevaluation of approach to prevent it from ever happening again.
The mistake I made during my recovery from knee surgery was the latter.
When I ended the last post [Part II], it was almost two weeks from the day I had reconstructive ACL surgery, and everything was going well. My range of motion was coming back, my scar was healing beautifully, and my confidence was high.
At my check up on the Friday exactly two weeks from my surgery, my surgeon surprised me with some unexpected news. Everything was going so well he said I could start walking around without my knee brace. While my knee was clearly still in the early stages of healing, we didn’t want my knee to become dependent on the brace. As a result, I only had to wear it if my knee was in any kind of dangerous situation.
Remember that last sentence.
Two days later, it was my team’s Sunday night off. While typical college students tend to party on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and any other days they choose, we did not. As in-season NCAA athletes, we had one night off per week, and it was usually a Sunday. Most of these Sundays my teammates would congregate at the local watering hole, which we acted like we owned on Sunday nights, mostly because we were the only ones there.
This Sunday was no different.
I threw on my new UConn issued athletic sweats, sneakers, t-shirt and hat. I notably did not accessorize my outfit with the large plastic brace that had been affixed to my left leg for the last two weeks. I was only walking a short distance to the bar, where was the danger in that?
Common Sense 101 wasn’t one of my first semester classes.
A few hours of fun and merriment passed at the bar before I decided it was time to go home. A friend of our team who wasn’t drinking that night offered to drive me back to my dorm. She put the car in park just outside the entrance.
“Are you sure you are ok to walk by yourself?” She asked. I wish I had said no. But my now slightly drunken freshman goalie self was full of liquid courage.
“Yep, the door’s right there, I’m good. Thanks for the ride!”
I hopped out of the car and waved as she drove away. I then started walking. I made it three steps before my left side gave out and I hit the ground.
Initially, I didn’t realize what happened. I didn’t think I was hurt but I knew if I was on the ground I had to be careful how I got up. Then I saw it. The bright white issued sock I was wearing was now bright red. I gulped.
I had been wearing my sweatpants rolled up above my knees because it was hot in the bar. As I slid the bunched pant up a little higher to examine my incision I almost gagged.
The top layer of stitches in my surgical incision looked like it had been blown apart by a landmine. What was left was a cavernous hole running two inches down my knee and one inch deep into it. I could see the internal stitches trough the blood that was now pouring out everywhere.
I clasped one hand over my reopened wound and grabbed my cell phone with the other. I did what any other scared freshman hockey player would do. I called my roommate.
“I need you to get a captain and come back to the dorms. I fell on my knee and it’s bleeding.”
To say it was bleeding was an understatement. It was gushing. My sock was red, my sneaker was turning red, and my sweatpants were turning red. Blood was pooling on the sidewalk next to me. I probably should have been freaking out at this point, but I was surprisingly calm.
My teammates came and got me and took me back to the seniors’ apartment. Fortunately one of the seniors’ boyfriends, was an EMT. Unfortunately he couldn’t stop the bleeding either. This meant we had to call our team trainer, who was also at home enjoying her night off, to come figure out what to do. She arrived at the apartment in understandably ill humor, took one look at my condition and exploded with a rage I didn’t know she was capable of.
“DID YOU REALLY THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO GO OUT DRINKING WITHOUT YOUR BRACE, HOUSER!?”
“Well no, not anymore.” I quipped. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I was just trying to lighten the moment and lacked the sobriety to know better. At any rate, it didn’t work.
The next few hours were a blur. No one could figure out why I was bleeding so much. No one that is, until we woke up our team doctor to ask his opinion.
“Ask her how much she drank.” I heard him say on speakerphone.
For those, like me, who didn’t know why Doc asked that question; alcohol thins the blood. I had a lot of alcohol, and now my blood was thin.
Combine that with a gaping hole in my knee, and that’s why two and a half rolls of blood soaked gauze wraps later, I was still bleeding.
I’ll save you the rest of the gory details and summarize the next 48 hours. After being half carried down two flights of stairs by the least intoxicated of my teammates, I was deposited in my trainer’s car to go to the hospital. The car ride to the hospital was draped in an uncomfortable silence, punctuated by me shifting into positions least likely to bleed on the upholstery. When we finally arrived the people in the ER refused to re-stich the post op wound. They claimed this was because it wasn’t their work, but they also may have had some unspoken vendetta against stupid drunk college athletes. So they taped the gash shut with steri-strips and administered a heavy-duty antibiotic because, on top of everything else, my new wound was incredibly susceptible to infection.
My understandably exhausted and disappointed trainer, who, I was sure, now hated me, drove me back to my dorms. She told me to go up to my room, put on my brace, and then call her to tell her I was ok. I did. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up, which with a knee brace on is a challenge.
I awoke the next morning with a pounding headache, throbbing knee, and most painful of all, the realization that everything that took place the night before was not a dream. I went to class, with my brace on, and then went to the football complex to meet my surgeon so he could re-stitch my knee.
When I got in the exam room it was packed with med students and fellows. Apparently a surgical incision ripped open by drunken strolls across unforgiving pavement is a pretty exciting sight to behold. As I took off my brace to expose the damage from the night before, I’ll never forget what my surgeon told me.
“I really shouldn’t numb this for you.”
“I know.” I mumbled without making eye contact.
It sounds cruel, but this was coming from an incredibly patient, understanding and supportive individual. He had just given me back my athletic career, only to watch me almost throw it away. Because lost in all this mess was the fact that while my gaping hole of an incision was disturbing, any real damage would have been done underneath. And yet somehow, despite it all, my only two-week-old ACL, being held in place by screws drilled into bones, remained unscathed.
I was lucky in this regard.
He went ahead and gave me a shot to numb the pain, then stitched his work shut for the second time in under a month.
“I’ll see you next week to drain it.”
I had no idea what this meant, but I wasn’t about to ask. I put the brace that could have prevented all of this back on my knee and left the office with my metaphorical tail between my legs.
As the pain medication began to wear off I was met with a new, almost nauseating pain. Painkillers were not issued for self inflicted wounds of stupidity. So after the long hobble back to my dorms I took a few Motrin, along with my newly prescribed antibiotic and went to sleep.
Little did I know the physical pain would be nothing compared to the mental pain and regret I would endure in the days to come.