You never forget the sound. Never. When your knee snaps and you know something is terribly wrong, your body immediately goes ice cold and the sound — more like a short crumble when you smash a soda can — is forever a part of your life. It can make you sick to think about even long after your knee is healed. And let me tell you, you can never, ever, ever watch a knee injury on TV without feeling physically ill. I blew out my left knee in December 2002, a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear the sound. Unfortunately, now Melina can hear that sound too.
You become members of a strange fraternity. As soon as you hear somebody is recovering from knee surgery you immediately ask: “So how did you do it?” Then you tell the person the details of your own experience. It is almost like comparing war stories. The conversation is always the same:
“Yeah, I tore my knee up pretty good last winter.”
“Complete ACL tear?”
“How did they fix it?”
“Used a cadaver…”
“Huh…I blew mine out 2 summers ago…basketball injury…chose the hamstring.”
“How’s it feel now?”
“Pretty good…hurts when it rains.”
Both people chuckle.
The recent rash of injuries to female wrestlers has been jarring. Melina tore her ACL, Daffney suffered a bruised sternum, Mickie James had a serious staph infection, Angelina Love tore her ulnar collateral ligament, and SHIMMER star LuFisto suffered a stroke, all in the span of a few months. And these are just the injuries that got reported. Each and every wrestler is probably working with aches and pains that most of us would use as a reason to call in sick. There is extreme pressure to perform even when not 100%, and combined with the increased physicality of the sport (i.e. high spots, ladders, tables, etc), serious injuries are likely to occur. These are trained professionals but obviously accidents can happen. Remember, just months after her debut, Beth Phoenix broke her jaw and needed reconstructive surgery causing her to miss close to a year of action. (Hard to believe she has 12 screws in her jawbone. That surgeon deserves a medal.)
In fairness, this is a dangerous job that requires a tremendous amount of trust between each wrestler. The WWE urges people at home to not imitate what they see on TV. For a few years “backyard wrestling” was taking hold and “regular” people were getting severely injured. (I never got too crazy like this. Remember I wrestled in my high school talent show? Well, trust me we didn’t throw any hurricaranas into the match! Just a lot of chops, punches, and clotheslines. The finisher came on a Hogan leg drop that would have made Betty White proud. Actually, come to think of it, it was a like a real Hogan match in the 80’s) Their ads show wrestlers getting hurt with the tag line “Please – Don’t Try This at Home.” One thing I knew growing up…I didn’t want a job where the risk of injury was so great that I had to warn people “not to try this at home”! As a project manager I guess I got my wish. Tough to hurt yourself too badly playing with Microsoft Excel.
Fortunately for today’s professional wrestlers medical treatments are much more advanced so their recovery time is shorter, their bodies almost perfectly repaired. When I had my final exam eight months after my ACL surgery, the doctor told me that my left knee was 100%, every bit as strong as my right one. Technically that may or may not have been true. But there was no way I believed it. I had been changed forever and I firmly believe that “the body never forgets”. I am constantly amazed by the ability of professional athletes to mentally erase their injuries and compete without fear. I played on baseball teams with ex-minor league players and they all said the same thing: those who can mentally overcome injuries have a chance to make it to the big leagues.
When I heard about Melina’s knee it hit me harder than the other recent wrestling injuries. I don’t know what Mickie James is dealing with. I don’t know what Daffney is dealing with. But I know what Melina is dealing with. The ACL controls the stability and rotation in the knee and tearing it causes profound weakness and imbalance in your lower body. Fortunately for Melina this is 2010. 25 years ago this injury would have most likely ended her career. We saw this in other sports all the time, especially in pro football. Great running backs like Billy Simms and Earl Campbell saw their careers cut short by knee injuries that today would have cost them only 9 months. Former Minnesota Viking Robert Smith recently finished his career playing with TWO repaired ACLs!
Also, fortunately for Melina this was a knee injury and not a shoulder or back injury. I don’t know 1 person who has had those surgeries and been thrilled with the results. For the most part knees are pretty straight-forward to fix. Of course, the big difference between us is the level of recovery needed. Melina needs to recover world-class flexibility, strength, and athleticism. I needed to be able to dress myself and walk to the refrigerator without my wife feeling sorry for me. But there are some similarities. So here is a “first-person account” of the surgery and subsequent recovery that Melina will be faced with.
I first hurt my knee in 1991 playing high school basketball. Running down the court I twisted my knee and heard a small “pop”. I tried to keep playing but I couldn’t move very well and had to come out of the game. Turns out I had a partial ACL tear that would not require full reconstruction but did require several months of rehab. Being young and stupid, I rushed back from my injury to play baseball that spring and never really allowed my knee the time to heal properly. I also didn’t strengthen the knee as I was told. As a result I always had to wear a knee brace when I played sports and I never regained my strength and full range of motion. And obviously the RoboCop look wasn’t exactly a big hit with the ladies at the gym. So there are some important lessons in there, kids…don’t rush your recovery and definitely listen to your doctors!
I came to believe that having a weak left knee what just something I would always have to deal with. I had twisted it again a few times over the years and I would just ice it and let it heal, each time ignoring the obvious, that I probably needed further surgery to completely repair the damage. Then in December of 2002 I was helping my wife move some furniture and finally my knee completely snapped. I knew this time was different…that this time it was really serious. I heard the sound. Sure enough I had a complete tear of my ACL and needed full reconstruction.
When consulting with the doctor he informed me I had three options to repair the torn ligament. 1) Use a knee ligament from a cadaver. Yikes! Sounds morbid, doesn’t it?! Plus the body sometimes rejects tissue from another body. Ummm…next option please! I told the doctor “the only Deadman I like is the Undertaker” and he looked at me with a blank stare. He probably double-checked that I had insurance when I left. 2) Use part of the patella tendon, which I was told is a good option except you always have tenderness on your kneecap. Hard to put Christmas presents under the tree. No thanks. And 3) use a part of your own hamstring, which the doctor told me is the “hardest for him but the easiest recovery for me.” Give me option #3!! I wonder which one Melina chose (anybody know??)
The surgery went off without a hitch. I had a good feeling about the doctor because 1) he was the Redskins team doctor (I didn’t tell him I was a Cowboys fan…yes, I believe in karma) and 2) he came to the pre-op room looking like a million bucks. Nice shirt, nice tie, etc. Trust me you look for any positive sign when you are about to get put to sleep. Had he walked in with his breakfast all over his face I might have asked for a postponement. The craziest thing about this type of surgery is that your leg shrinks IMMEDIATELY to 1/3 of its original size. Plus they shave your entire leg before surgery. So…um…yeah, it’s not a sexy look for a guy. But the recovery starts almost immediately.
Unlike ACL surgery 20 years ago, I barely had any incisions – just two “poke” holes and a 2 inch cut below my knee. ACL surgeries used to make a person’s knee look like a AAA map. I had little pain except I felt like I had a severely pulled hamstring because of the surgical option I chose. But within 7 days I was hobbling around the house using just a cane for balance. Within 2 weeks I was going up and down stairs (slowly), and within a month my wife stopped laughing at my pirate leg. Once I began real physical therapy I saw dramatic improvement. This time I was determined to follow doctor’s orders 120% although it took several sessions to actually trust that they had my best interest at heart. “You want me to do what?!? No f-ing way!” The physical discomfort was no where near as scary as the mental block. I felt vulnerable to even the simplest movements. I was scared of hearing the sound again.
But once we established a trust and I pushed myself through cardio sessions (mostly bike riding), balancing exercises, and light weight training, my knee improved each day. It was energizing. Eventually my daily regime included jumping exercises (by far the worst and most exhausting), shuffling exercises, and “corkscrew” exercises all aimed at working on lateral movement and balance. We did lots of stretching. I went jogging for the first time after 4 months, and finally was able to run after 8 months. Now, almost 7 years later, the knee feels great but mentally I will never play a sport without a brace again. Maybe I like the Robocop look after all. I noticed Tara wears a similar knee brace. She and I would have a good conversation on the subject.
When I heard that Melina blew out her ACL last December my heart sank in my chest. But then I found myself encouraged, even hopeful, because modern medicine is amazing and she will have the best trainers and doctors available. These types of injuries don’t end careers like they used to. More than likely Melina will make a full physical recovery and regain her flexibility and strength. She is an unbelievable talent in the ring and I look forward to seeing Beth bend her in half again very soon. It is the mental part that I worry about though…if she can overcome the sound that she will hear every day. Being the professional she is, I bet she can.
— Mr. Glamazon (One half of the WWE Unified Women’s Championship)
PS – I was going to write about Extreme Rules this week, but I need to first gather my thoughts so I can write a coherent sentence on the subject…I’m still having trouble sleeping.