Ben Cairns – ‘How quickly things in professional sport can change – The Op!’
As I knew I was going to be out of action for a significant chunk of time I started to plan for this and, besides investing in some comfort clothing, Playstation games and a few TV series, I decided to keep a diary.
This has been a vital part for me in terms of being able to stay positive and deal with the inevitable hiccups that would arise along the way. Being able to look back at each stage and see where I had come from gave me an unwavering belief that I would get back to full fitness, no matter what obstacles were thrown in my way.
My physio also drew up a plan, a week-by-week progression from day one through to my return to play, with key milestones marked out in bold. This again helped me stay on course and keep positive through each stage of the rehabilitation process. Of course things on this timeline were not fixed and would move forward or back depending on my progression, but it was a great guide for me to be able to see where I was in relation to the bigger picture. The first entry on the outline ‘week 0 – Operation’ but, even before this came, there was the work I could do pre-op.
The first couple of weeks pre-op was all about reducing the swelling and increasing the range of motion (ROM). This meant; icing, heel slides, VMO (part of your quad muscles) contractions, leg lifts, prone knee bends, prone straight leg lifts and prone bent knee lifts, all done hourly.
This was ridiculously tedious. I was someone who was used to training every day and playing rugby to the highest level, and was now stuck at home mustering all of my energy to try and bend my knee past 90 degrees. Grim. However, I was determined to do everything possible to overcome the injury and this started from day one. By the time my operation came round I was performing two pool sessions a week, which consisted of four sets of:
- 2 lengths walking
- 2 lengths kicking
- 2 lengths arms only
- 2 lengths speed walk
- 15 squats
- 15 lunges
- 15 step-ups
- 15 calf raises
In addition to this, I was completing my rehab session three times daily;
- Swiss ball squats (2 x 10)
- Squat with 10 sec holds (2 x 10)
- Hip abductions in 3 positions (2 x10)
- Calf raises (2 x 15)
- Step downs (2 x 10)
It was pretty hard to get my head round the fact that I was able to do all this as well as cycle for 30 minutes at a time, leg press 100kgs, walk without crutches, including stairs, and had a good range of movement, but was not going to be able to play rugby for at least another nine months. It’s amazing how perception changes, these were all exercises that I would have taken for granted in the past, but, from where I had come in only a few weeks, to be able to do these exercises pain free, made me feel like I was flying. I knew I had done everything possible to get my knee in the best shape pre-op and the next stage would be the surgery.
In my consultation a week prior to my op, the surgeon explained exactly what he was going to do. I was having a hamstring graft to replace my ruptured ACL. This involved taking two tendons from two of the lesser used hamstring muscles, fusing them together and then feeding this graft through my knee to create my new ACL, before pinning it in place. It was probably more technical than this, but in my mind this is what was going to happen.
I checked-in to have my surgery around midday and was pretty nervous about the day, but not as anxious as I thought I might have been. I had spoken to a few people who had had the same operation and the surgeon had been brilliant in briefing me on what to expect on the day so, when the time came, apart from a few butterflies, I was fairly calm.
I was due to have the surgery mid-afternoon, so I didn’t have a massive wait. Before this, the surgeon came in to have a chat to alleviate any final concerns and to ‘mark up’ my leg. I thought this was going to be some accurate markings to guide his incisions but instead he proceeded to draw a massive arrow in black ink on my right leg, to make sure there was no doubt which one was to be operated on.
The anaesthetist also made an appearance in order to chat about his role in the operation, make sure I was happy about going under and understood the medication I would be on post op for pain relief etc. Now it was just a case of waiting until I was called to go up for theatre.
At around 3.30pm I was called for and I made my way up to theatre. The first stage was to be put under general anaesthetic and was asked to count backwards from 100, I reckon I got to 92 and I was out.
I vaguely remember coming around a few times in the recovery room and being asked for my level of discomfort. The first time it was pretty high, around seven or eight out ten. I would then fall back asleep for a bit before the process repeated itself until my level of discomfort was down to around four out of ten. I was then moved back to my room where I would be spending the night on observation.
I was pretty groggy for the rest of the evening and I had a wobble on my first attempt to get up to eat something, because of this I would spend the night bed bound to make sure I didn’t damage my knee. I didn’t get a great deal of sleep that night. The fact I had essentially been asleep for the majority of the day probably didn’t help. The main pain was from my hamstring, which felt pretty stringy. The knee itself was heavily wrapped and swollen but not painful.
The surgeon did his rounds fairly early in the morning after and he was happy with how the surgery had gone. There had been no other issues other than the ACL and he was happy with the graft. The surgery had lasted for about an hour and a half and I was in the recovery room for another hour. The road back began now…
Until next time