Tales of a blown ACL and shredded meniscus: fondly reminiscing about my first knee surgery

“Damn, Sam – that looks like it hurts.” 

On January 8, 1998, while playing basketball at my club, I made a beautiful back door cut, took a nice pass, and came to a two-footed jump stop in preparation for an uncontested layup. Last I checked, the man guarding me was still standing at the foul line looking for his athletic support gear.

When I planted, though, something went very, very wrong. My left knee executed a hard sideways shiver that exceeded standard design specifications, and I went to floor screaming. Stayed there screaming for quite a while, in fact. Like a little girl, only louder.

The diagnosis was uglier than an Arkansas sharecropper’s mother-in-law: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was gone (well, not gone, exactly – there was no exit wound, so we figured it was still in there somewhere) and the medial meniscus was torn.

On February 26 I underwent reconstructive surgery to repair all of the above, and in the process of jury-rigging the thing back together (evidently tendons turn into ligaments over time, and when you remove half the hamstrings in the leg they grow back – don’t ask me to explain it) the doctor took these nice arthroscopic photographs.

Top: This is the torn ACL. I think. It’s where the ACL is supposed to be, but isn’t, apparently. If anybody reading this is an orthopedic surgeon, I’ll gladly hear an explanation.

Second from Top: That’s my new ACL, which up until a few minutes before this pic was taken was serving nicely as my hamstring tendon. This was the part of the story it hurt to listen to the worst, but the scar looks cool.

Third from Top: If you look just below the forceps you can see the meniscal tear – that whole area that’s a slightly different color is supposed to be seamlessly joined with the stuff around it.

Bottom: That’s the repaired medial meniscus. Got a stitch in there, and what looks like a rivet or something. It made for an interesting conversation with the TSA agent in the Hooterville Kansas City airport some years back. I guess he thought I was smuggling high explosives in my knee or something. If you ask me, he needed to turn the gain on his hand wand down a little. (To tell you the truth, I actually had several ideas about what he could do with his hand wand.)

As I said, ouch. Don’t try this at home, kids…

I’m eternally indebted to Denver’s Dr. David Oster, the man responsible for the fact that I can walk right now. Everybody I have talked to – and that includes patients, physical therapists, and other doctors – says Oster is among the best in the state. Given the current pace of my recovery, I can’t help but agree.

This piece was originally published at Lullaby Pit in 1998.

Categories: Funny, Health, Personal Narrative

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