I really miss running and running sports. How about I begin this week’s story in this way. You see, I damaged my left knee in 1997, damaged it so badly that I had to stop all running sports. It was a lifestyle-changing accident.
July 11, 1997 was the day of my accident. Want to know how I remember that date so easily? It’s was my wife’s birthday.
My wife and I have always been very active, separately and together. I’ve written about my preference for my girlfriends to be active in sports on several occasions and in fact, I believe I spelled out that the mold was set for me in this story (link). To that end, we had played coed softball together for several years. In ’97 we were playing together on a team in Hamilton, Ohio out at Ford’s ball fields in Hamilton’s north side. (Apparently Ford built more than cars).
We had moved back to Ohio from Louisiana a few years earlier. I was working in the Sharonville area while Kim was working in the emergency room at Fort Hamilton Hospital. The team we were playing together on was predominantly made up of nurses and other medical technicians, most of us married couples. It was a fun league. I was a very fast runner and I just loved to run. One of my favorite runs was to try to get to home from first base on a base hit.
We were midway into the softball season and it was my wife’s birthday the night of a regularly scheduled game. Kim didn’t really want to play that night. I was never the best player on the team, but I’ve always been extremely competitive and I really loved playing. Naturally then, I promised to take my wife out on a different night, a weekend night. After all, “we can’t call off, the team needs us. What if they don’t have a full team?”
Oh why oh why did I not listen to her that night?
It was relatively early in the game, only the top of the second inning if I remember correctly. In the first inning, I unknowingly ran my last at bat. In fact, my last at bat was a ball that hit the right field fence on two bounces, (I could never hit one completely out – best I ever did was to hit the fence on a fly a couple of times); I turned it into an inside the park home run. (I really miss running).
I was playing left field. I usually played infield, but we had a fairly decent shortstop and I was a much faster runner than that guy, so it seemed to make sense to have him play in and me out. The first batter had grounded out to the second base player. The second batter hit a decent fly ball that was headed slightly over my head, in between me and my wife who was playing left-center field. Unlike my mid 20’s when I had a brief time I required eyeglasses, (a story for later), I had a dead bead on this fly ball and knew I could get to it if I hustled. I was running to my left and backwards and as the ball approached me, I looked it all the way into my glove. At the moment I felt the ball come into my glove, I felt something else; something not quite as satisfying as catching a fly ball on the run.
My left foot had stepped onto the top edge of a pothole, causing my heel to bend downward into the hole itself. The natural movement then for my left knee became then to ‘bend backwards’. While this may be a natural movement for plain old physics, it is not a natural movement for a knee. Perhaps a younger, stronger knee could have survived without injury but this 39 year old knee said to me – the hell with this, you want me to bend over backwards, fine, here you go! And with that, a small “snap”. My initial private thought to was “this is not going to be good”.
Being that the playing field was filled with EMT’s and nurses, there was no shortage of help and leadership. I heard on my right, “I’m an EMT” and from my left, “I’m a nurse”. Me, (always the one looking for the comedic angle in every situation), spoke up with, “yeah and I’m the patient!” I saw the umpire right there in the mix so I asked, “was he out?” “Yes, you made a good catch, he was out”.
My wife wanted to take me to the emergency room right away. I guess she knew it was going to be serious. I however, was not ready to admit I was in trouble. After all, no pain, no trouble, right? I asked that they just help me to the bench. My mind was not ready to accept that I had done anything other than hyper extending my knee. Subconsciously however, the brain knew that the damage was far greater and as such, went into trauma mode, protecting me (temporarily) from pain.
Most of the team retook the field and I was left to sit on the edge of the bench. I had passed out once in Louisiana from food poisoning, (link), so I was familiar with what that felt like as I began to feel the same symptoms come upon me there on the bench. I began to get cold and felt sweats come pouring out from my forehead pores. I looked behind me and saw someone sitting somewhat close. This is what I said, “someone catch me, I think I’m going to pass out”. The next thing I knew, I had my eyes open, looking up at the sky, my head being cradled on the bench by someone.
And that’s when it happened. That is the point in time my brain took over and told my body, “hey stupid, you’re in some serious doo-doo here and since you’re not smart enough to realize it, I think I’m going to send you a few signals.” Ouch! Oh…the signals were then clearly evident. As soon as I opened my eyes, I felt the pain begin to come on in my knee. That’s the point in time humility went out the door and I announced that “ok, I’m ready now to go to the hospital”.
Someone either called the local staff or went to get someone with one of those small carts just like you see on television when they’re carting off injured players. I was certainly one of those. While they were loading me onto the football player gurney, my wife was getting our car and bringing it closer to the field we were playing on. They managed to help me into the passenger seat and while my wife drove to the ER, the pain in my leg grew greater with each passing minute and pothole. (By the way, you want to see potholes, come to California – we have the highest taxes and the worst streets).
Kim drove us over to Fort Hamilton Hospital where she worked in the ER. Being married to a nurse comes in handy, especially when you have a traumatic accident. Kim lined up a great orthopedic surgeon; Doctor Joe. The next thing I remember with great clarity is Dr. Joe and a male technician trying to pull my leg out of its socket. Ok, so they were really just straitening it out and packing it for the morning surgery, but the pain was telling me otherwise. I was told to grip the bars at the end of the mobile bed I was on and that “this is going to hurt, Rob”. That was an understatement but at least he warned me.
They had not yet given me anything for the pain, (which had intensified to a 12 on the 1-10 scale), and I figured that at least the worst was over. I was to find out in the morning just how wrong I was about that. They wheeled me into a holding cell, (I mean room), and administered the most amazing drug ever invented; morphine. Morphine – instant pain relief. I was given the ‘sleep like a baby’ dosage and that is what I did.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week: