June 21st, 2016, five months after my last ACL revision, I had a post-op appointment with my surgeon to check in on the status of my knee. I was feeling strong and I had been ignoring the dates on my rehabilitation outlook in hopes I could trick the last bit of angst I had into dropping the countdown and enjoying the moment with the rest of me. It didn’t work all the time but it helped a lot. In fact, the time has been sweeping past me so quickly I had forgotten how important this check up was until I was there (5 months is a big turning point in ACL rehab-if all goes well it’s the start of return-to-sport rehabilitation and really says a lot about how strong your ligament has set. It also marks the time in which you’re starting to leave the danger zone of fragility that happens to your new graft between 3-5 months while it’s becoming integrated and vascularizing).
Due to a deep conversation with a man I admire to the highest of my ability and am so grateful for, Dr. Bert Mandelbaum (pictured above), this was an appointment that shifted my perspective on my life once again. Not to sound dramatic, although you should know I'm usually almost always being dramatic. But really, it was just as I had started to fall into a place of complacency with my lifestyle right now that a wall was broken down with this one topic of conversation: Spirit or as Dr. Mandelbaum would call it The Win Within. The Win Within is a feeling and an action. It’s also the title of the book he wrote after observing what drives the athletes he's treated to overcome seemingly impossible feats and how he believes that same spirit lives in everyone. I had read the book after my surgery and had the surreal experience of watching Dr. Mandelbaum transform from David Beckham’s-surgeon-that’s-also-my-surgeon-which-meant-my-body-was-safe-while-my-heart-was-fan-girling to compassionate-empathetic-would-do-anything-he-can-to-help-a-patient-succeed-while-also-knowing-and-understanding-the-struggle-and-motivating-you-to-get-through-it-"experienced"-is-an-understatement-class-act-of-an-inspiration. A true role model.
I’m going to be straight up. I don’t get star struck. There have been several occasions where celebrities, like real ones, George Clooney status and equal to, have been sitting at a table next to me and I’m so oblivious I would have never noticed had I not been excitedly told by friends. I don’t know, I just don’t look for them. Probably because I just don’t really care about social statuses anyway. But after reading this book I became smitten in the nerdiest of ways. So, yes I should admit the fan girling over my Doc hasn’t stopped, it’s gotten worse, but at least now it’s for reasons that get me off David Beckham’s Instagram page and onto the stationary bike.
As far as my knee goes it checked out great! He said my quad muscle was coming back nicely and was also really happy with my ROM. I hear a five star review is hard to get from him so I took this as a legitimate accomplishment. I was feeling serene as I stayed glued to Dr. Mandelbaum. He sat down across from me and started up a conversation. Only this time, for the first time, his underlying tone of caution in his coaching wasn’t there at all. In fact his tone was so light and full of passion. He didn’t ask the questions I had come to expect. He asked things like “What are you dreams?” and “What goals have you set for yourself?” He encouraged me to think big and visualize what it is I want and to keep the spirit, The Win Within, alive and pushing me forward. I could tell he cared for me far past me physical state. He made me believe in myself on another level because he genuinely believes in me. He’s seen it all, knees much more shredded than mine, so his confidence in my recovery came as a warm blanket to ease my chills. It became a reality that "wow" I really am doing this, this really is going to end and I really will be able to dance again- and sooner than I had imagined before that moment for fear I’d disappoint myself. I had been dreaming of course, but put up a guard of realism and non-expectation as protection. Now that I was invited to put that guard down and set goals to achieve my dreams it filled everything in my future with life and movement. We had a wonderfully detailed chat and I was consumed with care and support from someone I had grown to trust so much that his word could shape the picture of my path. I knew after reading his book, and especially after our conversation that day, that he must be aware of the ability he has to empower his patients and the importance of that empowerment in recovering. That is what I encourage people to look for in a doctor of any kind. Not just the ability to treat your body but also to be able to relate and help support you while you stand in the ring fighting the battles. Because trust me, the battle sucks most of the time and it's never easy. You need an army to fight with you. You need a tribe to comfort and support you. You need a team you can trust with your life.
After the conversation wined down I jumped at the opportunity to have him sign my book and take a picture with me. He seemed flattered and I seemed ...no definitely was... undeniably perspiring. And I’m telling you: I have a killer poker face. I didn’t even break a sweat when I was licking Tom Cruise’s neck for twelve hours while filming Rock of Ages. But I’ll be honest it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. It was a lot less sensual and way saltier than you’re probably imagining it right now. I walked out of Mandelbaum’s office with a burning desire to dream bigger for my life, which in turn led me to the idea that I should also maybe marry a younger version of Dr. Mandelbaum. If you know of anyone that fits this description please send them my way.
Side note: I highly recommend The Win Within to anyone who wants to learn how to harness the power and drive within them that gets **** done and makes dreams come true. You don’t have to be an athlete to play the game of life… and win.
Since my appointment I’ve been allowed to go to the beach (I can finally walk on the unstable sand and have been taking full advantage of it, yippee!!!). And equally, if not more exciting, I’ve been able to start return-to-sports training. Which basically means I'm integrating into more dance related training. I’ve gone from doing the most vibrant array of squat variations equaling up to what feels like 2700, but is probably closer to 250 squats per session to things like working on my Passé, practicing getting up and down from the floor, all sorts of extensions and transitions with a sprinkle of squat sequences stringed throughout of course. And soon I’ll be starting to learn to jump and run again. There are numerous days that I want to give up, stay in bed, and avoid the struggle. But when it comes to gaining strength in my rehabilitation I'm the only one who can make me it happen. I'm the one who has to CHOOSE to keep fighting for it even if it feels like I'm only moving forward a half an inch at a time. The inches keep racking up until one day you hit a point where you look back and realize you just conquored a mountain....a half an inch at a time. Life taunts and teases you with bold challenges as if it's testing your desire for the pay-off, constantly asking:
How hard are you willing to work for your reward?
I’ll leave you with this. The moment I realized I may have to endure another surgery and recovery I was severely discouraged. There was a part of me that questioned the risk I was taking by wanting so badly to dance again. I was scared to see a doctor because I feared the diagnoses. Now, after recruiting my doctors and having successfully gotten through a majority of my recovery, I can see that one of the biggest reasons I've been able to succeed is because of my TEAM. Because they are highly educated and experienced yes, but many doctors have that knowledge. What makes them so magical is that they don't just understand your circumstance just from a medical POV, they also understand your drive and actually share your passion with you. So that in the moments when you don't believe in yourself, they will always believe in you, keep you safe, and look for the possibilities in the detriment. Everyone deserves a doctor that will sit down with them and take the time to ask: "What are your dreams? And how can I help get you there?" I was so astonished at how much growth there’s been in the past 9 months and how much compassion my Drs. consistently share with me that I wrote this excerpt on my Facebook page and I want to share it again here. It captures exactly what I was feeling as I sat in my car reflecting/crying/laughing/smiling/singing/planning/dreaming:
9 months ago I walked out of my surgeons office bawling my eyes out. I had just been told my ACL needed a third replacement and I didn't know if I could do it all over again. I didn't know if I had the strength. I didn't know if my body could come back from it again or if my spirit was brave enough to endure. I took the risk and dove in because the thought of giving up on my dreams, on MYSELF, was more devastating than any pain and frustration the next year of rehab would bring me. I couldn't bare the thought of not trying and potentially living in regret forever. I walked out contemplating if my life would ever be the same again. I cried all the way home…
Today I walked out of my surgeons office bawling my eyes out. I had a post-op appt. to check on my progress and the stability of my joint. My doctor performed the Lachman's test (which measures the laxity of the acl) and for the first time in longer than I can remember I wasn't scared, I trusted it as if it has always been a part of me. My joint was so stable and he was so happy with my progress. He sat down and chatted with me about life, my goals for the future, and the pursuit of happiness (I don't know many doctors of his stature that take the time to sit, talk, and CARE about you OUTSIDE of medical matters, now THAT is the kind of Doctor you want). In the end he gave me a huge hug, looked me in the eyes and said "I am just so proud of you!"
I cried all the way home.... Finally feeling proud of me too. Isn't that what we all want to hear? That someone recognizes us and is PROUD of us? Isn't that we all want to feel? Cared for & LOVED? A lot has happened in the past 9 months. With or without us knowing our visions are being manifested into reality. And one day we will look back and see exactly what we've created. I hope for all of us that we create A life we can look at and truly think "I could not be more proud...."
A very special thank you to Dr. Bert Mandelbaum of Santa Monica Orthopedic Group, Nick Cutri of Sugarfoot Therapy and Dynamx PT my PT and the man who put me into the hands of the most brilliant surgeon I could have ever had, and Nick Florez and RJ Durell for being the angels that introduced me to Dr. Cutri... I couldn't do this without you all.