Recovering From Surgery

Regaining trust in my body

On September 10th, I had knee surgery to remove a part of my torn meniscus which had hindered my running for over two years. Luckily the surgery was a success and I was cleared to leave the same day.

I’ve had my fair share of injuries in my eleven years of running. Everything from shin splints that throb so hard that you can’t concentrate during math class, to running my very first cross-country race with a safety pin needle piercing through my shoe and stabbing me every step, to tumbling over a hurdle to knock myself out and take an ambulance to emergency room (Yes these all happened in high school). On one end of the spectrum, there are the acute one offs like twisting an ankle or scraping your knee. These are painful, but identifiable and treatable: you ice, you rest, you put a band aid on. But it’s the slow creeping injuries that are less obvious that I hate the most.

For my latest injury; I had a torn meniscus for over two years without realizing it. Meniscus tears are common and many people don’t get surgery to repair it if it doesn’t bother them. In the case of my body, I always thought I was dealing with some bad soreness after a run. I didn’t realizing that something in my body was torn until an MRI showed it 2 years later.

I lost trust in my body. I felt stupid that it took me two years to figure out what was wrong. How had my initial “diagnosis” been completely different from what was going on in reality? The advice to “listen to your body” quickly lost its meaning to me. What if you don’t know how to listen to your body? What if you fumble that translation? What if you don’t trust what your body says?

My initial frustration waned and processing these reflections coincided nicely with my phases of recovery. I can split what happened after that surgery into 3 phases:

Phase 1: Visibly Handicapped and Limited in Mobility

I hobbled around with a big limp and cane for about 3 weeks. Fortunately, I did not need crutches and I was able to function at the basic level around my apartment; making it to the bathroom, kitchen, and bed, all by myself. Although I didn’t need anyone to help me move around, I did still need people to help with carrying things. I didn’t leave my apartment alone.

When I eventually slowly walked on the street, I still had my knee wrapped, cane in my hand, and clearly walking slower than the average pedestrian. But the visibility of the injury made some things easier to navigate. The non-verbal image of me with a cane was helpful to communicate with strangers to hold the door or walk cautiously around me.

Furthermore, the physical tangible limitations were actually a helpful sign for me to take it slow. But that changed with the next phase.

Phase 2: Limited in Activities

After a few weeks, I had remastered walking; ditching the cane and excitedly returning to my longer New York strolls. Although this felt like a major accomplishment to me, I quickly realized it was a doubled edge sword; I could make my way around but couldn’t push myself hard. Without the cane reminding me to take it slow, I would need to remind myself no jogging to make the light, no skipping up onto the curb, no twisting, no jumping, no dancing, no long stairways, no long nights, no taking a knee to tie my shoelaces.

I didn’t expect this purgatory phase to drag out this long. It’s exercised a new level of patience. But a pleasant silver lining has been the satisfaction of slowly regaining strength and movements. Although the progression is slow, feeling strength and mobility return has felt hugely gratifying.

Phase 3: Returning to Full Activities

I am happy to announce that I rode a stationary bike for this first time this week. It was only 10 minutes at a low resistance, but am eager to regain the confidence to push myself on the bike. In a few weeks, I also hope to begin a run/walk program to ease myself into running.

Each week, I excitedly advance my physical therapy exercises with heavier weights, more reps, and fuller ranges of motion. Even though I still have a long road to regain my full running form, I’m encouraged by the slow and steady recovery process. It has helped me feel recovery beyond the expected physical changes to the mental and emotional changes to regain that trust in my body. Although the slowness was frustrating at first, it was crucial factor that I didn’t know I needed to regain trust in my body.

Questions to think about:

  • How do you “listen to your body?”

  • What injuries have you had?

  • What was recovery like for you?