Physical healing can go hand-in-hand with an in-depth process. As I went through surgery to reconstruct my ligament and recover stability in my leg, I experienced an inner process to reconnect and stabilize myself at a deeper level. I am learning to take one step at a time.
I had injured my leg in April. I did not realize my limits against the elements. I was walking on the beach. My right foot was firmly planted in the sand when a big wave hit. My upper body twisted in an effort to not be swept away. When I lifted my right leg to take another step, it felt like my leg had turned to jelly. I could no longer bear any weight on it.
I went to the hospital and it turned out that my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) had been totally ruptured from the torque movement. This is one of the key ligaments that stabilizes the knee joint between the bone of the shinbone (lower leg) and the thigh bone (upper leg). This type of injury is common among active young people who suffer sports injuries such as when playing basketball or soccer. It could happen to anyone young and old from falling or other accidents. One woman in her mid twenties tore her ACL getting out of a car. We may not realize the force of movement that we can impact our bodies with through our activities. We sometimes do not realize our fragility until it hits us, and life forces us to stop and gives us a chance to restart.
Initially, I was in a lot of pain and struggled to walk. Throughout the month of May, with rehabilitation, I learned to walk again, slowly, step-by-step.
Firstly, I had to recognize and fix my unbalanced posture and gait. I was limping. My muscles and tendons were compensating for the initial pain and lost stability in my knee. This was causing even more problems. While the initial pain was an important indicator that something was wrong, as our posture and movement became maladjusted to protect the site of injury, I had unknowingly created new, and sometimes worse, pain and discomfort. Fixing it was also painful at first, but quite relieving. I needed to learn which discomfort to push through and which ones signaled my limits.
I had not been walking correctly. Fear sometimes stops us from taking the right steps. Our mechanisms to protect ourselves from pain can sometimes even injure us more. My instinctive fear of pain made me avoid standing on one leg. I was leaping from step to another, quickly swinging without truly balancing myself on each step.
The way I walked was the way I lived my life. I was in constant movement. I was used to rushing without thinking through what I was doing and really placing my foot down. There were frequent knee-jerk reactions and missteps (pun intended). Sometimes this caused problems for me and others. My body is now forcing me to relearn how to function correctly. I often feel frustrated for having to slow down after having been used to the thrill of racing through life, but I am closer to myself and more stable.
My body had to relearn each movement needed to walk. I learned how to move my feet leg correctly: lift my leg, place my heel down, straighten my leg, lock my knee, put my weight on my sole, then lift my other leg, and so on. Similar to reeducating ourselves from unhealthy functionings, I have to practice over and over again until I get it right, and remind myself when I forget.
Paradoxically, I have to learn to trust myself and feel safe to put weight on my injured part. It is safe as long as I remember to lock it in place every time. I have to commit to every step and not run away when I feel discomfort.
With time, I could walk again, carefully, at a much slower pace. In order to be able to recover more fully, however, I needed an operation to repair the ACL. The orthopedic surgeon who subspecializes in knee surgery takes healthy tissue from a tendon in our leg and attaches it to our bones to replace the torn ACL. The surgery uses probes and lenses (arthroscopy) to make it minimally invasive. Without surgery the injury may worsen with further complications, but surgery has its own complications to consider.
Some people choose to delay or not to have surgery at all. Some of us choose or have to live with our injuries which limits our potential, with the risk of instability, discomfort, and further damage. Some, like my elderly aunt, may not even realize the extent of their injury until they cannot move their leg. The young woman I mentioned above tried a year of physiotherapy and ended up with damaged meniscus (the cartilage that provides padding that protects our knee joints) and weaker leg muscles as well. She ended up having to have more extensive surgery and had to undergo longer and more complicated rehabilitation.
I am glad that my operation went well. Then comes the recovery process.
After ACL surgery, it takes at least six months of rehabilitation with consistent physiotherapy three times a week. I need to stretch my range of movement carefully. I need to work hard to train my muscles in many other ways, so that my leg does not weaken. I need to eat a lot of protein and take supplements.
I also have to deal with various limitations and be very careful. In the first 2-6 weeks we are not allowed to step on the leg. There are many things we need to do and pay attention to make sure we fully recover, like keeping my leg straight (such as using a brace) which can be uncomfortable for sleep. I need to make sure I do not put my knee in damaging positions such as hanging bent without support under my feet when I sit (this happens to me a lot since I am too short for my feet to reach the floor when I sit on most chairs), or lifting or kicking our foot up with a bent knee. Then I have to learn how to walk again, the third time!
As my friend, colleague, and fellow ACL survivor, the influencer dr. Vito Anggarino Damay, SpJP (K), M.Kes, AIFO-K, said, the real battle begins after the operation. Recovery takes determination and a lot of perseverance. We will need to deal with and often push through various pain and discomforts. That is the only way we could fully recover.
We often take our bodies for granted. It is precious, something to really take care of. My body is my home, my temple, my vehicle for life. It is the only one I have!
My body was injured because it was faced with a strain that surpassed its capacity. I need to respect its limits, yet at times I need to push through discomfort and even pain to regain my health. It is a delicate balance.
This journey of prioritizing and reconnecting with my body has truly been a journey of personal growth, to learn to take one step at a time, literally and in life.
Life's forces can also cause psychological injuries that limit us in life. In order to avoid feeling the pain, we might function in ways that hurt ourselves and even others more. We need to take courage to take steps to function in life as the best of ourselves. It is important to build our heart muscles and strengthen our core. We are not alone. Help is out there. We can take it one step at a time.