My Pain

October 8, 2017
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I had collided with other girls before. It’s part of soccer, the collisions. I knew what I was getting into. I had been playing, unafraid and aggressive, for 6 years. The risk was high for injury, multiple girls simultaneously sprinting full speed towards the same 50/50 ball. I’d been knocked down, kicked in the stomach, hit heads together, anything you can think of. One particular collision, however, hit me hard. A girl barely half my size knocked me off my feet, leaving me in a state of shock. When I felt the turf embed itself into my leg, some of the rubber bouncing up and falling into my leather Nike cleats, I hadn’t given it much thought. I sat up on the ground with my right leg stretched straight out across the green plastic for what felt like an eternity, but it couldn’t have been longer than a minute. My eyes were dry, there wasn’t any searing pain like I had heard others describe, there was no burning sensation causing me to scream out like I was in an electric chair. There was only a dull tingling running down my leg, hitting every nerve and muscle causing a numbing sensation, like you would feel if your leg had fallen asleep. I reached down to touch my knee, which had, already, begun to bruise. The purple-yellow was a contrast to the translucent skin of my leg, and even though I pressed hard against it, there was no pain. There wasn’t the familiar dull ache that you would usually feel while your fingers pressed up against the injury, there was no sharp pain, or even any slight force from my hand. There was nothing. At the time, this hadn’t exactly registered with me, and, my head, still in game-mode, had one thought running through, You have to get up. I reached around next to my leg, my hand grasping for the smooth plastic of my shin guard that had fallen out of my knee high blue, cotton socks. I stuck the rounded piece of equipment up against my numb leg, tugging up my sock to cover it completely, preparing myself to stand up. By now it had been another 30 seconds, so I placed my hands up against the tough ground and tried to push myself to my feet. Now standing, I saw my coach walking onto the field from the sideline. I began my limp off the field so the rest of my teammates could continue on playing as soon as possible. I didn’t go in the rest of the half. In fact, I didn’t play for a minute the rest of the game, and I wouldn’t kick another soccer ball for 9 long months.

Two prolonged weeks of waiting, and there I was, a nervous wreck. I was petrified of going into surgery. It wasn’t the thought of being in surgery or getting back afterwards that shook me to the core, it was the needles. I hate needles. The feeling of the long, thin sliver puncturing my skin and muscles was not an ideal situation for me. So, I sat there in the gray waiting room, on a blue plastic covered chair, knee in a huge foam immobilizer straight in front of me, staring blankly at a T.V. showing some morning talk show, internally panicking not about the fact that I was about to be sliced open, but about the needles before hand. My mom was sat in the chair next to me, almost in tears and about ten times more on edge than I was. At one point I remember she had gone to get herself a bagel at the hospital cafe for her breakfast, but I could only stare hungrily at it, eyes as wide as saucers as I was not allowed to eat or drink for 12 hours before my operation. Just as I was sure my mom would have a heart attack right in her seat, a nurse opened the wooden door a little ways down the gray wall to my left. The stout woman paused for a second, seemingly reading off her plastic clipboard, before she spoke, “Anne Marie?” I struggled to stand on my one good leg while my mom handed me my metallic crutches. We walked and hobbled down a few hallways that all looked the same to me before stopping in front of an open room with no door, only a curtain. I was sat down on a gurney, ripping off my heavy brace and carefully hauling my swollen leg onto the bed, and the nurse wrapped a tight black band around my forearm, quickly puffing up the band with air to check my blood pressure. My mom and I kept making eye contact, laughing away the nerves and trying not to panic, distracting ourselves in anyway possible. Though this surgery was not life threatening, if failed, I could never walk again, nevermind play any sports. After the nurse checked my eyesight, shining a light directly into my cornea, she stuck sticky pads to my chest that would stay on the entire surgery so they could keep track of my heart rate. At this point my dad had finally arrived, and sat down next to my mom, across from me. The nurse left, but another one quickly came to replace her, this one slightly older. The first thing she gave me was a small paper cup filled with water, about the size of those mouthwash cups. Along with the cup, she had a metal table on wheels, with a needle, two pills, and some saltines. I downed the pills she handed me without ever finding out what they were, and inhaled the saltines, not even sparing a glance at the needle. When the nurse took my arm and said to relax, I knew what was coming, but I didn’t want to feel it. I turned away, glancing at the heart monitor in anticipation. I felt the pierce of the needle into my skin, and I felt like I could hear the pop that I most certainly felt as the metal was driven into my vein. I saw my heart rate jump, and I would have laughed if not for the strange coolness running up and down my arm. Turning around, I realize the needle is connected to a drip, and the drip was bringing not only coolness into my body, but also a sort of dizziness, like I wasn’t thinking straight. According to my parents, it was at this point where I started to make references to The Office for who knows why. I was way out of it by now, and I thought the worst was over, I already had a needle taped into my arm, I was drugged up, I just wanted to sleep. But the worst was saved for last I had found, as the nurse forced my parents out of the room, and a special nurse came in with three huge needled and a machine. I can’t recall most of what he said, but from what I understand, he was inserting a nerve block, which was supposed to help me with the pain after surgery. I ignored what he said, and focused on the needles. They were the biggest needles I had ever seen, and I did not want to experience them, but what choice did I have? I could only watch as the nurse rubbed a salve on my leg, prepping for the nerve block. He told me to turn away, but I didn’t. I watched each time as the silvery metal went into my leg, and felt the sting and ache of it simultaneously. I slowly lost all control of my leg each time another shot was put in. From the hip down was dead weight, numb an unmovable, but I just laughed and kept trying to lift it up off the table to no avail. At that point, the nurses changed my drip and I got colder and colder until I passed out, frozen.

 

 I thought the needles were bad, but the first 8 months after surgery were literal hell. For two weeks after my surgery, I was rendered immobile, in too much pain to lift myself off the couch in my living room on the first floor. Every time I would move my leg, I felt the stitches sewn in with precision, pulling my shin taut and seemingly sliding through pin holes like pulling a bead on a necklace. I was in constant irrational fear of tearing my skin, and I had nothing to do but watch X Factor and the US Women's National soccer team play. After two weeks, however, I got a machine known as the CPM machine. I have never hated something more in my entire existence. I sat, eight long hours everyday after school, watching the metal machine pull my leg up and back, working to help gain range of motion, beginning at 1 degree and working my way up to 90 degrees. This took two and a half months. Eight hours a day. Every single day. I got out of the cold machine, the bane of my existence, the day before Thanksgiving, and man was I thankful for that. By now I had been going to Physical Therapy for two months, and I would be going for another 7, but this was when I hit my first wall, my first plateau. The stress became too much, and I felt like I wasn’t improving in the slightest. I had lost muscle, and I had to wear a full leg metal knee brace locked straight so that my knee didn’t collapse in on itself. I was getting stiff and restless. I hadn’t run in the longest time in my life, and I realized that I had nothing to do now that I couldn’t play any sports. This was around the time that I began teaching myself piano. I taught myself songs like The River Flows Within You and Clocks by Coldplay. It was the only thing I could really do to distract myself as my friends went to Screeemfest and my older sister went away to play with the U16 US national team. The emotional pain was just as big as the physical pain in my case, and I found a way to deal with it. The months passed and I was left out of many activities. I had missed my last season of basketball with a team I had played with for 5 years, I had been the lead scorer on my soccer team since 3rd grade, but now all I could do was watch as my streak was broken. I had to watch from the sidelines, but at least I could still had music, and, by now, I had gotten somewhat decent at piano. I was never to great with music, but for some reason it just felt right, watching my hands fly over the black and white keys, creating melodies I never thought I could play. Of course, without a teacher, I wasn’t the best, but I was happy with what I was doing, and it took my mind off things while I waited until I was strong enough to come back.

 

After December, time had flown by and I was cleared for play again by late May. The day I was cleared, I asked my dad if I could play in the game that was going to happen in two days. He had told me no. At the time I had a fit, after waiting months, I was finally cleared, but I can’t play? I was full of rage, seething and pleading, I only wanted to get out and run. My my parents held strong, and made me go to three weeks of practice before participating in a game. Come game time, I was pumped and full of energy, expecting to run on the field, play 90 minutes and dominate the game like I had been used to. I used to take shots and hit them from far outside of the 18 yard box, my foot skills were on par and I could outrun many of the other girls, I was a driving force on our team. But I got on the field and lost every 50/50 ball, I was timid, not wanting to run into anyone else, and I was insanely out of shape. I couldn’t score, and that game killed me inside. This routine went on for a while, and a month after I was cleared, I had club tryouts. I was filled with exuberance, obviously my coach would take me right? I go to tryouts, try my best, and my coach will understand and put me on the roster, that's how it works, right? I did get hurt playing on his team, I’m sure he would see me and want to let me play, am I wrong? Well, yes I was wrong. My best wasn’t good enough, and I was sent an email directly from my coach. He had spoken about how he enjoyed me on his team, and he would very much like me on his team this season, but that it would be better for me to be put on a lower team so I can improve my knee in a less competitive environment. I had been cut for the first time in my life, all because of this damn injury. I cried for hours, my brother trying to talk to me about how he had been cut from varsity hockey before, attempting to comfort me, but I only felt the heat of my tears and the pounding in my head, my heart dropped like a stone, and this wasn’t the last time it would happen. After being cut this time, I worked harder than ever, waking up at 6 and doing a high school soccer camp for 3 months, 5 days a week, every week for my entire summer. I ran at night, trying to get in shape for my next tryouts. I gained confidence, slowly improving until I was better than a lot of the other girls at the camp. My one issue was my speed. I was slow, and I wasn’t improving, so when tryouts came along, I was cut yet again. The coach had told me, “Any other year. You killed it every other year, but your knee is holding you back.” I was in shock. My knee was keeping me from doing anything I have ever wanted, one of which would be playing on the same team as my older sister, Olivia. Liv, is a player for the US National Team, (U16), and is committed to Notre Dame, so it would have been so amazing to play with her, but my knee and that coach kept me from ever being able to do that. That was the worst feeling I had felt in a while. It was a hundred times worse than the first time I had been cut, I couldn’t get a hold of myself, I love my sister and looked up to her, but my knee had screwed me over yet again, the crippling sadness took over, and I couldn’t console myself. I was in shock, cut for the first and second time, I thought my career was over, I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I picked myself up, I wasn’t going to come this far just to give up.
 






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