In my nearly 30 years of covering sports, I’ve seen or heard of hundreds of athletes who sustain an injury, undergo surgery and then return to the court or the field to play. What I didn’t see or hear about was the rehabilitation process?
Some folks know, I tore the patellar tendon in my knee just before Christmas. I had surgery in February and I’m now going through rehab three times a week. It’s tough, much tougher than I ever imagined. And I’m not trying to play ball. I just want to get back to walking again.
Honestly, I thought I could do it alone. I can’t.
I’d like to tell you about the two ladies who are assisting me and a lot of other people, going through similar struggles.
To protect the guilty, I won’t mention their names or the rehabilitation center where they work. I’m going to refer to this duo as the Sisters of No Mercy.
The Sisters of No Mercy are the physical therapists who take turns working with me. They’re not sisters but as far as the “no mercy” part, it fits. Let’s call them – Dr. Death and Dr. Doom. These masked purveyors of pain are determined to get me walking again … even if it kills me.
On my last visit, Dr. Death accused me of “milking it” as my face contorted in pain during an exercise. The mask she wears for “protection” no doubt conceals a sinister smile of delight at my discomfort.
Dr. Death is young and impatient, at least with me. I can sense her annoyance when I don’t hear her instructions the first time. She’s a scolder. “You’re only cheating yourself,” is what she said after catching me in a shortcut.
Dr. Doom is more experienced and a bit more subtle. She’s a stickler for technique. “Straighten that leg. Turn your foot this way. Bend your knee more, more, more.” Dr. Doom will often punctuate her critique with a laugh or a playful yet clearly sarcastic, “Good job.”
Dr. Death stretches you, taunts you and dares you to complain. Dr. Doom can make a grown man cry without leaving even a red mark as evidence.
O.K. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m joking … sort of. These physical therapists are great at their jobs. I know I’m benefitting from their effort and I do appreciate it.
They’re tough. I mean, really tough and demanding, which is what I need. I wouldn’t be doing half of these exercises if they didn’t make me do them. And, yeah, I admit, I’m not the best patient. I do complain a lot. When something hurts, I let them know. And on me, something hurts a lot.
But, for the most part, they show remarkable patience with me. They go through patient after patient after patient throughout the day, often working with two or three at a time.
Still, none of the patients get a break. The Sisters of No Mercy have eyes in the back of their heads. Even while working with one patient, they can spot me slacking behind them and on the other side of the room.
“Mr. Burns, you need to keep that knee straight,” Dr. Doom will call out. Dr. Death will just shoot daggers at me with her death glare.
Their methods, though heartless, are working. I’m getting better. I stopped wearing a brace a couple weeks ago. Honestly, I think it’s more of a mental than a physical battle for me, right now.
Dr. Death had me stand on my bad leg with my opposite foot in the air while bouncing a ball against a wall. It’s so simple but I just couldn’t do it. I tried to focus on the ball and not my knee, but I just didn’t trust it. I almost fell twice. It was such a struggle, even Dr. Death finally revealed a heart, took pity and cut the exercise short.
The previous day, Dr. Doom put me on one of those balance boards. Or at least she tried to. I was hopeless, couldn’t do it for even half the time she ordered.
I injured my knee in a fall and, to be honest, the thought of falling again is terrifying. I don’t trust my knee. This mental hurdle might be my toughest but I’m confident the Sisters of No Mercy will help me clear it.
(Tony Burns is sports editor for the News-Times.)