The miserable feeling of bone-on-bone kept sending me a message, one I really did not want to hear, yet one I could no longer disregard. My left knee was screaming at me to take action. It was that action, though, that I tried to avoid all summer. Microfracture surgery was my best chance of relief.
Any mention of KU basketball in a blog virtually guarantees me days of heavy story reads and praise from WordPress for the rush of hits to read this blog. Therefore, I now mention microfracture surgery veterans Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and, only weeks ahead of mine, KU coach Bill Self.
Here was coach Self’s succinct question, observations and key advice as we discussed his surgery and what I could expect.
“Randall doing your surgery…He’s the best…You’re in great shape…You’ll be fine…Go see Billy and get yourself a Game Ready…Just ice the s**t out of it.”
Now, let me decipher all this sound coaching advice. Randall is Dr. Jeff Randall, the esteemed Lawrence orthopedic surgeon who performed the KU athlete’s surgeries as well as Bill’s and mine. He is the best, having performed this surgery so often, his confidence that my knee would soon feel much better was a great assurance. Billy is Bill Cowgill, the men’s basketball head athletic trainer who provided me with his knowledge of caring for players and THE coach. Game Ready is an electronic machine that pumps iced water through an insulated hose into a leg wrap. The water circulates through the wrap endlessly for 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off and can even be set for various levels of compression. Finally, the advice from coach Self proved to be one of his perfect coaching nuggets.
All of the information shared so far only temporarily delays the medical details. Three small incisions allowed for a variety of tools to be used inside my knee cavity during arthroscopic surgery. Dr. Randall cleaned up the ragged cartilage on both sides of my knee. He smoothed the heads of the femur and the tibia bones. A ganglion cyst was found attached to my ACL and removed. Finally, holes were drilled, or awled, into the femur and tibia heads. With the knee in distress, the body responds by secreting stem cells from the bone marrow which, hopefully, leads to the creation of new cartilage. This new growth is not as strong or sturdy as the original, but it should give me years of relief as long as I follow doctor’s orders.
Those orders include no running, jumping or heavy compression of the knee for 12 weeks. There will be no regular weight work using my left leg during that time. As Randall said, “Just lift air with that leg when you’re in the weight room.” In my daily activities, I am to lift nothing heavier than 50 pounds.
It is all of the above that got me into this situation. Years of roaming sidelines, sitting cross-legged on basketball courts and hauling gear into many twisted positions certainly added to my problems. However, it was the years as a catcher in baseball and fast pitch softball, followed by 40-plus triathlons and biathlons, two marathons and all the training that finally caught up with me. Running, lifting and some of my work demands became painful.
While I might be 62, for the most part, I still feel as though I am 32. Knowing that, friends are skeptical of my conviction to restrict my activities until the New Year. I can only assure them that I realize this is my best chance to continue my gallivanting for years to come, which I really want to continue pain-free. I am going to be a good boy because I know in some ways, I am an old man.
The surgery itself went as Dr. Randall expected. Since I already shave my legs, a cycling ritual Laura finds appealing, the bare knee pleased the nurses. I would not let them take my wedding ring off and could not convince the anesthesiologist to only numb the leg so I could photograph the procedure. I liked how both Dr. Randall and I initialed the correct leg. No need for mistakes.
One of the nurses, aware of my KU job, peppered me with questions about football, just coming off the bad Texas Tech loss, and the question of the year, “So, Andrew Wiggins. Good as they say?” Those questions, and my answers, happily continued up to the moment I went under.
Having seen the viral video of the man waking from surgery in shock that the woman sitting next to him was his wife, and his subsequent joy over being married to her, Laura was hoping I would awake calling her the Angel she truly is to me. Instead, I was told I rambled through a long list of Biblical names.
Since I am averse to pain meds, I fortunately needed only a few Aleve to get me up and moving. The Game Ready ran almost non-stop through its cycles, keeping swelling to a minimum. By Wednesday, I photographed a KU volleyball match, a soccer match on Friday and the big KU vs. Texas volleyball match on Saturday with the help of a cane and icing as often as possible.
I am now walking normally. I still struggle on stairs due to the fluids pumped into the knee that weaken surrounding muscles. There is a weird sensation that blood is leaking from one of the incisions and running down my leg, even though everything is healing normally. With time, it will all pass.
God granted me the ability to heal quickly throughout an adventurous life. He also blessed me with a great doctor, a trainer with all his tools, a fabulous weight room with strength coach Luke Bradford working on a maintenance and recovery program as well as many friends concerned about my well-being. Laura and I always try to remember those blessings.
Of course, there is always the Lord’s blessing that is Laura. Her reaction to news that I was climbing a 12-foot ladder Saturday, with a remote camera mounted on a long pole, to get an image of the packed volleyball arena during the National Anthem was wonderful. She thought for a moment, then simply laughed it off saying, “That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen him do far crazier things.” Her unwavering support of the dedication to my craft and work constantly amazes me.
Finally, there is this blessing. After the sutures removal, Dr. Randall examined the knee just eight days after surgery. Pleased with the progress, he freed me to ride my bicycle as long as I rode flat or gently rolling roads and did no climbing out of the saddle.
Later that afternoon, back on my bike, I rode 15 miles with no pain. Same the next day. Thanks everyone for your prayers. Thank you, dear Lord. A warm and windless late fall and early winter would be appreciated. I will follow my orders. I will be fine now.