Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ACL Diary: The Long and Short of It

Six months. It’s a time period that normally flies by. And the six months that have elapsed since Willow’s ACL injury have, indeed, roared by with all the speed, sound and intensity of an F-16.

In retrospect, however, it feels as though it’s been the longest six months of my life as I’ve lived vicariously through—and paid for—the medical bills of my first-born, 16 year-old child.  The last three weeks, in particular, have been especially challenging.

Dr. Tucker's thumbs up
Willow’s surgeon and physical therapist officially cleared her to play soccer three weeks ago. Those were happy appointments, and as a result, she showed up on the soccer field ready to go. She, however, was met with equal doses of congratulations and welcome back, side-by-side with skepticism and apprehension.  Her club team, which picked up several talented players over the summer, had been doing just fine—excellent, in fact, in her absence.

Some apprehension may have come from her teammates, but it was also palpable from the one person for whom it counted: Willow.

And who could blame her? Anyone who has suffered this injury will tell you that after the successful surgery and rehab, it is—more than anything—an emotional experience.

Players/patients ask themselves: Will I be good enough? Will I be fast enough? Will I be strong enough? WILL I BE THE PLAYER I WAS???

On September 21, 2011, Willow was cleared to play, but only in practice. Competitive play in a game situation would be limited for “two-to-three weeks.” Then they wanted her back “full-on.” Take a few baby steps, they said, and then jump into the deep end of the pool. They assured us her knee was strong and it was all about her commitment to return. From the beginning, they treated her as a Level 1 athlete and all decisions—from her type of surgery to her rehab protocol—were based on getting her back on the field as soon as possible.

Given that Willow has been a textbook kid since the day she was born (on her due date with high APGAR and not a spot or stork bite to be found), she had the track record on which to base her good health. She proved it, once again, by working very hard at recovery and physical therapy, and even impressively restrained herself at various activities when she wanted desperately to forge ahead.

Coach Walter
Willow has been very lucky to have understanding and supportive trainers and coaches. Walter, her head coach, for example, is a man who loves and treats each girl on his team as though she is his daughter. For example, last spring on the day Willow was injured, I witnessed his immediate reaction. Coach first, he stood up and THREW his hat to the ground. Parent second, he could hardly watch as a team dad and an assistant coach carried her from the field. Walter knew, in the midst of his State Cup challenge that he was losing one of his key defenders, and displayed on his face during those minutes was the special language of love, fear, disappointment, and COACHING, that few possess and/or comprehend.

Coach Kate
God bless Walter, he saved a roster spot for Willow, and consistently checked in with us over the past six months to monitor her progress.  This is what a good coach does. And when you have a coach who believes in your kid, even an injury as serious as ACL is bearable.

In addition, this season’s new assistant coach, Kate, is a young woman who has also undergone knee surgery, and she knows as well as anyone what it takes to get back on the field after this experience. From day one of Willow’s clearance, she’s been an empathetic ally, and has monitored Willow’s progress/return.

Willow last weekend
Empathy is important; however, it’s only one aspect of assisting your child with full-on recovery. And trust me, hard as it was for Willow to sit on the bench watching her teammates play over the past three weeks, it wasn’t easy for us either.

This past weekend at a soccer tournament in Scottsdale, however, Walter threw Willow, #24, into the deep end of the pool and kept her in that first game for sixty minutes.

They were, without a doubt, the longest sixty minutes of soccer I’ve ever watched.