I’ve never been a patient person. I’ve always had to fight hard for what I want and with enough persistence and perseverance, I have gotten what I want. I have always been competitive in every environment; whether in social situations, at school, in a professional setting or on the field. I have always had to fight for my spot, as if I was out to prove something to someone…or to myself.
I have always been drawn to high-impact and high-adrenaline sports and activities. I trained for many Spartan & ToughMudder races, played lacrosse and field hockey growing up, became a lifeguard as a teenager and that was just the beginning. Any sport I could sink my teeth into, I would. I got into kick-boxing, kayaking, rock-climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, kite-boarding, wakeboarding, sky-diving, CrossFit training, aerial trapeze, tree-top ropes courses, SUPing, SUP yoga, tennis, paddle tennis & yoga.
Over the course of the years, I broke too many bones to count, tore tendons, dislocated joints, wore down cartilage, and would continue running, hitting, boarding…whatever it was, I would push on. I never cared if I was bleeding or had a broken bone. It was an inconvenience. An annoyance. Just one more thing getting in the way of me and where I wanted to be. Pain became normal because when I pushed for something, my body would break in some way.
My most debilitating hurdle was my knees. Though I did all the “right things” with my bands and braces and preventative and post-workout care, I hobbled and limped. I iced my tired joints and took Aleve. I elevated, I tried to rest, and yet my knees ached and I grew tired of being held back every. single. day. Even sitting in a chair or trying to lunge forward into Warrior 1, my knees betrayed me, my body betrayed me, and I just couldn’t do what I wanted to. My knees were slowing me down, holding me back and I was in serious pain. Everyday.
Once my orthopedic surgeon and I had explored every single other treatment modality over the course of the six years I was under her care, she finally told me, at age 46, that there was nothing else they could do for me. None of the shots were working, PT wasn’t helping, and I needed to just go for surgery and have the knee replacement and ligament reconstruction done. I was terrified because wouldn’t surgery slow me down even more? How long would I be “benched?” How long would I be disabled? What if surgery made things worse? What if I wasn’t able to play sports again? I was terrified because my mental health and emotional well-being is so intimately connected to my physical health and strength. What would happen to me if I couldn’t move my body anymore?
As I considered my options, I kept my gaze down and started looked for scars. I was laser focused on people’s knees and when I saw the tell-tale vertical scars, I would question the person about their experience with their surgery. What was the recovery like? Were they happy they did it? Did it make them stronger? Who was their doctor?
By the time I was referred to Dr. Beth Shubin-Stein, I was beyond ready to take the plunge. I was practically begging for her to fix me and although she refused to do both knees at once (as I pleaded with her to do) she agreed to an aggressive timetable of how we’d space the knee surgeries apart, providing I’d meet my physical therapy goals and prove I was strong enough. That’s all I needed to hear. That I needed to prove to her that I could do it. I knew I’d prove it, and then some.
We did my first knee in September and recovery was simple except I couldn’t hit my 4 week range of mobility goal. I became increasingly frustrated and impatient and worried that this would jeopardize my surgery date for knee #2. I worked with Michele Cilienti, a physical therapist on Dr. Shubin’s Stein’s team, and she’d patiently worked with me while watching tears flow from my eyes because I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to, even with all the work I was putting in at home.
With Michele’s patience and support, we hit our targets, albeit late, but I worked out so hard at home to prove to Dr. Shubin-Stein that I was ready for knee #2 and “could we push it up a few weeks? I have things to do in the spring!”
What an exercise in patience. I waited and waited and worked and worked and hoped I’d get the “ok” that I was strong enough and ready to do knee #2. When we scheduled the date of my second surgery, I almost cried with joy and relief. I was going to get fixed up. And in time for the start of the tennis season. I could do this. I WOULD do this.
The recovery from knee #2 was one thousand times easier; I learned from the obstacles I faced the first go round, and was determined to do better, recover faster, be stronger. Michele would look at me during PT and say “you’re every physical therapist’s dream because you do all the work and we don’t even have to touch you.” I soaked in the compliments and we developed exercises to take me to the next level of my strength training and mobility work. I felt like I was training for the Olympics when I trained with Michele.
Once the spring approached and the beginning of the tennis season neared, our sessions lessened; we were seeing each other twice a week instead of three times, and then very quickly – once she saw I was ok – we would only work out together once a week… but I still needed her push, her guidance and her creative ideas for workouts to challenge my body at home.
Once I “graduated” from PT and was given the okay by Dr. Shubin-Stein, I ran to the courts and haven’t stopped swinging since. I threw myself on the yoga mat and lunged into the most powerful Warrior 1 I could, or watched myself in awe at how deep I could bend into a Warrior 2 – so low and yet without any pain. I was in heaven.
Though the huge scars on my knees are constant reminders of the measures taken to “fix” me, I accept, and am not ashamed of the imperfection on my skin and embrace the perfection inside my body. I am stronger now than I have ever been. I am happier now than I have ever been. My body is finally aligned with my heart and my spirit, my soul and my strength.
Had I not found HSS or Dr. Shubin-Stein I would still be held back. I’d be trying to perform, and never actually achieving the excellence I strived for.
I could not be happier with the results. I only wish that I had had the courage to have the operations sooner. Thank you, Dr. Shubin-Stein, for giving me my life back! I will be forever grateful.