The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

August 19, 2007

You Kneeded Me, you Kneeded Me


Wary of his name being googled and this post being discovered, I am only calling him Dan.

He's a 6-foot-6, 313-pound offensive lineman and one of the nicest guys you'd want to meet. He's from Florida. And he eats like a horse.

Last season, he blew out his knee.

That is, he was hit in such a way that all of the supportive cartilage and ligaments that allow the knee to function as it does were severed, leaving the joint virtually useless.

He was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament, plus he had severe damage to his meniscus, another critical component of a joint that in his case must stand up to intense physical pressure.

He was gone for the season from an injury that, in later interviews with me, he described as "O-line killers" -- an injury that until recently, ended the careers of offensive linemen but also running backs and anyone else.

My interest in his injury was natural. Because the same type of injury happened to me around 1980, when I was on a 4 1/2-month overland bus trip from England to India and back.

I was playing Frisbee football on a hill in Turkey -- somewhere around Ankara, if I remember correctly -- when I was running as fast as I could and jumped up in the air to catch the Frisbee.

I caught the disc in mid-air but when I came down, my right leg landed in a gopher hole or something.

The rest of my body kept going sideways. Because I was running so fast sideways, I blew out my knee.

It was the first serious sports injury I had ever suffered.

The knee swelled up to about three times its normal size. I knew something was wrong but at the time, I figured I was invincible.

We applied ice to it, the swelling went down and I continued on the trip.

Several months later, back home, I had it checked out. I was told there was a slight meniscus tear and I had surgery to repair it.

But the problem didn't go away. My knee could bend unnaturally sideways. There was no support.

I could not play sports and just dealt with it. I got married, we had our first child and my knee kept collapsing on me.

One time it slipped out on some ice and I fell with my daughter, almost hurting her.

Eventually, after two more operations, I finally had what's called a total ACL reconstruct.

They cut me open in several places near the knee.

They took cartilage from my lower thigh and used it to take the place of my ACL, wrapping it through the knee joint and fastening it to a spot below my knee with a bolt.

That procedure was about 15 years ago and I now have pretty normal support in my right knee.

So I could associate with what Dan has gone through.

Except that while I have about 12-14 inches worth of scars from the procedure I had back then, all he has from his modern arthroscopy (scoping) procedure are three little pen-width-sized holes in his knee.

Even though he had the same procedure done, more or less, the same repair for the same problem -- he has had the benefit of drastically improved technology, knowledge, surgical know-how and recovery strategies.

His ACL is more solid than mine is now, but his is solidified by cartilage taken from a cadavre.

He's back playing and performing for the top offence in the league now, although he has to wear a knee brace.


I'm two decades older than him and my big physical activity will be playing in a benefit softball game next week for a former National Hockey League player, longing for those days when my body could do anything.

Dan and I became pretty good buds talking about our respective injuries and how drastically things have changed in medicine.

So I did a big story on it and the package finally ran in our paper this this past week.

And here are some of the pictures of the two of us together taken last season after his surgery, pictures that were never used for the story, but which I think illustrate how far sports medicine has come...

I don't know whether you can click on these pix to make them larger.

But Dan's thumb and forefinger are pointing at the little holes he has from the arthroscopic surgery he had, while my fingers are pointing at some of my scars from the under-the-knife procedures I had.

You might also be able to see a long scar running down the front of my shin, just below my knee joint. The bump you see at the bottom of that scar is the screw that's holding my knee together.

So I guess the moral of this story is that while he has much bigger calves, thighs, hands and probably most any other thing you can think of, my scars are a whole lot bigger than his.

So I should get a lot more of your sympathy.

And besides, he said feeling very small and old, it's all how you use it.