Dave’s ACL Diary: Doing it Solo [Part 1]


No idea how I did it. I tore my left ACL, and I can’t for the life of me figure out when it happened. Sometime between February of 1999 and October of 1999, I must’ve done a number on it, but I don’t know how. Coulda been a fall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, coulda been the time I was crawling around my hardwood floor with a desk on my back (and mysteriously, my OTHER knee swelled, bled, bruised…but is stable and free of pain), coulda done it a hundred different ways. Maybe I’d already damaged it, and just finished it off, or maybe a change in lifestyle and driving habits showed an already injured ACL up. I just don’t know.

I wasn’t in pain, not unless I drove an hour in rush-hour traffic (clutch car…). It was unstable, but it’d never gone out on me. So why did I decide to have my ACL done?

  1. I didn’t like the pain – figured it was an indication that I was doing long-term damage. Had been told I showed “early osteoarthritis” in the knee.
  2. My friend Bev said someone at her office had to have an ACL done. “What happened to her?” I asked. “She just collapsed in the hall in agony”. I was looking to opt out of that little scenario.
  3. I enjoy backpacking and hiking. While the instability has been mostly annoying to date (particularly walking through 3 miles of mud downhill on the way home from what’ll probably be my last backpacking trip of the year), It does hurt a little after 4 miles with a full pack. I’m concerned that a more serious knee injury in the backcountry could quickly turn into a life-threatening event.
  4. I wanted the knee to just plain work, wanted to stay quite active. Don’t like the idea of managing my activity conservatively with a bum knee.
  5. I’m currently under a lucky star – I’m able to do it at this time, I was able to plan for it thoroughly, and who knows what happens next year.

Now here’s the tough part: I live alone. Atlanta’s way spread out, and while I can get friends to help a little, I can’t ask ’em to drive 40 miles to do everything for me. Can’t hijack people out of work every few days for appointments, PT, etc.

I plan, I delay surgery ’till after Super Bowl XXXVI so I can have a long-promised party. I research the surgery, and decide to go with a B-T-B allograft (donor tissue), trading a few risks (infection, early failure) for greatly reduced pain and quickest rehab and return to work. I tell myself that “if this takes”, I’ll have to finally sign my organ donor card.

(Update: During the time I got my (eventually failed) allograft, a Georgia company named CryoLife was cited for distributing donor tissue without proper handling to screen for and prevent infection. One lawsuit alleged that infected donor tissue lead to the death of a young patient after routine ACL surgery. I have no idea whether I got tissue from this company, but I want to point out that infected donor tissue is a small, but REAL risk of the allograft procedure. Read up on it).

I look at all the info on the web that I can, and read the helpful diaries of others who have gone through ACL reconstruction. I decide to try and maintain a diary of my own. No promises on how long I keep it up. I decide to put anything in the diary that I feel like, so that anyone considering doing the ACL solo will get a feel for what it’s like to be in my situation. I figure my state of mind will come through in the diary, and you’ll get an indirect indication of my mental state, and know what to expect.

I look at all the helpful pre-op tips, and manage to follow through on a few. The hospital won’t sell me “Canadian Crutches”, though, and the Doc won’t set me up with a “Painbuster” – a marcaine pump designed to keep the knee numb. If I had to do this over, I’d be pretty aggressive in trying to get one. (this is being typed 1 day post-op – my pain is being managed with Lortab (hydrocodone 7.5 mg and acetaminophen 500 mg), but while the original marcaine injection was working I was as close to pain-free as I’ll get to this point). Woulda been nice to get the nice leg-prop foam rubber thing like the hospital had, but they are paying $300 for ’em! Will have to make do with pillows.

I made a few logistical mistakes in preparing for disability. First, I ordered an ADSL internet connection – which isn’t due to be installed until AFTER I’ve been laying around the house for a week. Shoulda done it sooner. I set my bedroom up like a command center with video, stereo, CDs, radio, phone, laptop, etc., but neglected to give myself bedside control of the ceiling light (which shines in my eyes, making reading in bed QUITE frustrating. I had a buddy bring in my big Coleman cooler and fill it with sodas and ice, but it sits so low, it’s a tough stretch to get sodas out. I spent a good bit of money on a couple gel-pack cooling wraps, but have found that ice in double Ziploc bags works better and lasts longer. At least the fabric part of the wraps has been useful (to insulate the ice from my exposed skin). I ran out of time and failed to empty the perished food from the fridge before I was bed-bound. I didn’t get my buddy to put a REAL sock on my braced foot (can’t keep a sock or a slipper or anything on there right now ’cause I’ve been asked to wiggle it and it keeps coming off and I can’t reach it!). Oh yeah – the laptop ergonomics suck. It’s really on my lap right now.

Good news, though – no steps at my house (well, a single one to get in), managed to eschew the $40.00 metal-and-plastic shower chair and in its place picked up a $3.00 plastic chair from Home Depot. The laptop’s handy, and I am able to pursue a couple of independent projects as work-at-home. I was looking for propping pillows and found kids’ pillows for $1.50 each, and found no-muss-no-fuss Healthy Choice dinners on 2-for-1 sale. My buddy Roger helped me get a $20 toilet seat extension on the way home from the hospital.