March 5, 2017

Last July I had the opportunity to cheer on my friend in the NYC Triathlon and was inspired enough to enter the lottery for registration myself. On November 15th, I was in the middle of a conversation when caught by surprise by an e-mail notification reading “Congrats, Anat | You’ve been selected.” My initial physical reaction to this notification was me literally springing up off the couch and exclaiming, the feeling I got from this was one of pure joy. That same feeling I had when reading the first sentence of my acceptance letter from my alma mater. Succeeding that feeling on my “List of Feelings of Joy, (1993 - …)” was when I got my first internship and job offers.

Looking back on my reaction to the e-mail, I have determined what some of the subconscious factors were in my excitement. To start, since graduating from college I hadn’t registered myself for competitions of any kind. I was over being tested and feeling competitive with others—I don’t regret taking a break from competing; I think I needed it. However, a point of failure that I had during the break was that any time I attempted to create a personal goal for myself–even with a date–I had not set any consequences for if the goal were not met. While it disappoints me to say this, I think an ulterior motive for my signing up for the tri was the intention of feeling accountable for myself.

Another reason I differentiate this from other “feelings of joy” is because I won in a true lottery fashion. Upon other acceptances that were a bit more merit-based, (e.g. school, job, etc.), there was a subtle feeling of confirmation that I had worked hard enough to deserve it. It is not typically in my nature to sign up for something that is strictly lottery-based like this. The only drawback of my participation in this competition was potentially losing my pride because of my performance on race day. Even if I didn’t necessarily deserve to participate, I had the opportunity to prove to myself that I did. Nevertheless, I was ready to set a new goal to work towards on my calendar.

There were a number of lifestyle changes that came from my intention to prepare for my first triathlon. The first of which was forcing myself to get a real gym membership! Until Jan 1, 2017 I was a member of the NYC Recreation Centers, a highly subsidized option that didn’t force me to utilize it as much. In choosing from the many gym options Manhattan has to offer, I was heavily influenced by those in proximity to me that have a pool. While I was wary of the decision to join the “luxury” gym, Equinox seemed to match my criteria well and I did my best to disconnect from some of its otherwise cult-like aspects.

17 gym visits later, on January 29th I found myself in the sauna trying to relax the muscles around my knee after a series of unfortunate events that led to an ACL tear. Barely able to walk, the following day I scheduled an MRI for my left knee and respective visit with my orthopedist to go over the results. Accurate self diagnoses are dependent on a reader’s competence in a certain area (WebMD will only get you so far), but there was something distinctive about the “pop” that I heard at the time of injury that prepared me for the doctor’s words. Reading the MRI report, he confirmed my assumption, to which I reacted in what will probably be high on my “List of Feelings of Disappointment, (1993 - …).” I don’t need to add imagery to the scene, as you probably know what it feels like to hear bad news.

I was planning on skiing in the Swiss, French, Italian, and Austrian Alps between jobs from the end of February to beginning of March. This was no longer an option.
I was excited to workout at my fancy new gym. Now there is no need for it.
I was expecting to continue walking, working, and simply functioning the same way I had been for my entire life thus far.

I left the doctor’s office, with a new brace on my left leg, thinking about the “6 - 9 month recovery” (how can there be such a high standard deviation?) for the ACL reconstruction, and coming up with a list of friends in med school to ask for their non-biased opinions. I signed up for a few sessions of physical therapy nearby, determined to recover my quad strength to the best of my ability prior to surgery. The new addition to my wardrobe happened to attract the eyes of many people who I otherwise would have had no idea had experiences relevant to my injury. It was helpful for getting references for doctors I ended up consulting for further opinions, discussing the drawbacks of each of the surgery options, and even discovering a clinical trial in Boston I seriously considered.

After two weeks of deliberation, I scheduled the ACL reconstruction with a doctor whose research and persona stood out to me. It is scheduled for March 6th at 11:15 a.m. at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side.

The underlying reason I wanted to write about this was not to share to the world that I am joining the hundreds of thousands of patients who will go through ACL reconstructions this year, but to address a topic that is seldom talked about: disappointment. We mostly share details of our lives that are joyous—ones that we are proud of. What I want to share is how something that was initially disappointing ended up strengthening my friendships, caused me to learn more about human physiology, and reminded me to be more cognizant of my physical limits.

When the initial sprain happened after missing the landing on a mogul during my first run of the season, I took my time getting back up and was determined to get down the mountain, taking in the pain as I know how to do. I remember feeling embarrassed that my friends were waiting for me at the bottom of the slope. I recognized that there was something wrong, but just got shorter skis to compensate speed for agility in my condition. I wasn’t discouraged, though—I even ended up going down the same slope a few hours later. After all, wouldn’t the Alps would be more difficult?

A few thoughts:

  • Once I get back on my feet, I plan on tackling the same challenges I initially intended to at the beginning of this year, albeit delayed.
  • This was definitely a wake up call to work on my weaker muscles in my legs that could have prevented the initial injury. I should probably also work on upper body strength since I was slacking on that, too.
  • I was lucky that I hadn’t booked my trip to Europe yet.
  • I was unlucky that I didn’t buy insurance for the triathlon’s registration.

I think the underlying lesson from this is simple, though: while we may have plans, we have no control over random events that affect us. This could have been so much worse. At least I wasn’t collided into by another skier or snowboarder, or have an uncontrollable seizure in the middle of the mountain. I was just absent-minded and ordered longer skis than usual for a first run, and didn’t stretch before skiing. I recognize that the fault is mine, but at least I feel accountable.