Monday, 11 March 2013

Back to Normal

On the 24th January I had my final appointment at the hospital. This, if everything went well, would be the end of the process and see me signed off from the hospital's care. I was confident all was well but still a little nervous.

The cycle to the hospital was uneventful and in spite of it being January the sun was out during the early morning ride. I arrived, as always, very early, but I didn't mind. I strolled into the hospital and walked past the door which had led, eleven months earlier, to my operation. It seemed like a lifetime ago and yesterday at the same time. I didn't need to but I also walked past the physio department. ACL club was a distant but somehow happy memory.

As I waited for Mr Green I saw a young man in his mid 20s hobble in on crutches with girlfriend and mum shuffling behind him. His right leg was in plaster and although his manner was cheery he had obviously done something serious. He was seen first and I discovered that he had come back from ski-ing having gone into a tree. He'd broken his leg and torn a lot of things around his knee. I winced at his pain and envisioned his next few months. From my end of the recovery tunnel it didn't seem too bad but from his it must have appeared endless.

Before I could get too depressed on his behalf I heard my name. A final new face, Mr Green, chief of physio beckoned me into his room.

"How you doing?"

"We'll, I think. You tell me."

Trousers were removed, mine not his, and I lay on the examination table. There followed a variety of bends and pulls and twists, none of which I could have done the first time I had been in this room a year earlier. Then, standing, I did some one leg crunches, bending down, trunk straight, keeping my balance.

"You can put your pants back on."

We talked about my recovery, what I was doing now, which is basically playing football as before, not very well, but with full vigour. By coincidence it had only just happened that I had gone a full match without once thinking about the knee.

Mr Green was looking at my notes and making more. Finally he sat up straight, I knew this was it.

"Well, it seems to me that your done. I have to say that apart from professional sportsmen who have 24 hour physio I have not seen a better outcome from this operation."

We both smiled. He continued.

"The thing is, although I'm signing you off from our care, you need to carry on doing the exercises. It's ongoing and the more you work at it the less likely you are to have it happen again. You've done brilliantly, as I said, but it doesn't end here. It's up to you. The operation, whilst it is an amazing thing, is only 10% of the recovery, most is up to you and so far you've done really well. Keep it up."

A few minutes later I was out the door and a free man, so to speak. A little bit of me felt sad that I would not being seeing the staff at the hospital again, but the reason I wouldn't see them again was because they had done such a good job.

Thank you to everyone involved in my recovery at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. The NHS is much maligned and whilst my diagnosis took too long, but once the wheels were moving it was brilliant.

On Saturday the 9th Feb 2013, exactly a year after the operation I played the full 90 mins in a 4-3 victory for Mayfield over Enfield Old Grammarians. Thirty minutes into the first half I went for a challenge with their hefty, youthful, athletic midfielder. We reached the ball at the same time and each put 100% into a crunching tackle. The ball spurted away from us both but as he got up I realised that my left leg had bent double under the weight of the challenge, the studs of my boot resting under my upper thigh. I stood up, shook myself off and carried on. The knee was fine, I was fine and life goes on.

The End.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Mosh Pit - The Wedding Present

Having my knee fixed was almost 100% inspired by my desire, need, to carry on playing football. I hadn't thought of anything else that the lack of an ACL would stop me doing, until last Friday.

I'm stuck in a time warp so my musical tastes have not changed since the 1980s, I'm sorry. One of my favourite bands is The Wedding Present*. Guitar and drums combining with heart breaking lyrics.


They're latest thing is to do a 21st anniversary tour of each album. Pre-injury I went to see the gig to celebrate this landmark for Bizarro. Post operation I saw that the Seamonsters tour was coming up. I emailed a couple of chums who, whilst they like some modern music, still have a place in their hearts and on their android phones for some of David Lewis Gedge's work.

Gedge is the only original member of the band, he writes all the music and lyrics, and is in effect The Wedding Present. The current line up has a lead guitarist from Hong Kong, a bassist from Scandinavia and a drummer from Southampton. The parts may have changed but the sound is still as good.

When I met with my chums in the pub next door to the Koko club I listened in whilst they talked about high finance and corporate affairs. We met in the 1980s working for the country's, if not the world's, leading credit checking firm. They have stayed in the same line of work and have successfully navigated the corporate world. I still like them both a lot, but often when we meet I sit there listening to them and don't have a clue what they're talking about.

Anyway, time moved on and we went in. We stood at the back of a packed house as The Weddoes came on. They went through a couple of new numbers and I was disinclined to force my way forward. It seemed rude to my chums and I was, as always, worried about the knee.

After the first few tunes, the guitars ushered in 'You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends'. I had done this. We were there together and suddenly my legs were taking me to the front before my head could say no. In the old days, getting to the front was difficult, now it is easy. 95% of the audience are in their 40s and are ever so polite. A little tap on the shoulder and you're let by. Within a couple of seconds I was right at the front moshing away with 100 other 40-something, balding, sweaty men. Bliss.

The songs got faster, and slower and faster again as we moved as one. My knee held firm in spite of the jostling. All the while I was thinking what a great test this was of my rehabilitation. Star-excursion test eat your heart out.

When the final note was played, The Wedding Present never play encores so you always know that when it is over it is truly over, I turned and walked back to the lads feeling chuffed.

The next day I played a full half for my Saturday team, had a few big tackles and came away unscathed. The knee had passed what I think is the final test.  This Thursday is my last visit to the physio for the proper final sign off.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Full Return to Football

27th July 2011 - Paddington Rec - My left Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is ruptured in a viscous attack by a centre forward who is reckless beyond belief.

10th February 2012 - Chelsea and Westminster Hospital - My ACL is replaced by a piece of hamstring from my left leg.

17th November 2012 - 4pm - Firs Farm, Palmers Green - As player-manager of Mayfield 3s I get the referee's attention for a substitution and call the name of the player to come off. He jogs towards the touchline and I hand him my red Adidas hoodie and jog into right midfield.

476 days after a mindless Italian used my knee as a shortcut to the ball my football life restarts with ten minutes left of a game in the LOB Drummond Cup. Mayfield have just conceded to go 1-0 down in a match they should have been leading. A game in fact that they should have sewn up. The opposition, Oakhill Tigers are three divisions above Mayfield but we have made them look ordinary without actually putting the ball in the net.

I had hoped that my return would be at a point in the match when it didn't matter but life never follows the script you write in your head. We need a goal, in an ideal world I wouldn't have come on but the player I am replacing has looked knackered for the last ten minutes. Maybe if I had been braver and come on sooner we would not now be losing.

So here's my chance. A comeback and the possibility of being a hero.

The game, at all levels, looks simple from the side. I have spent the last 80 minutes looking on in dismay as error has followed error and we have thrown away a game we should be winning. Having kept my counsel for most of it at least I haven't been set up for a fall. A few minutes earlier I had sent another player back on with the words 'now is your chance to be a hero or a zero', I hear these words in my head now. It is the same for me although hero is more of a chance for me as I have arrived with us in deficit.

The game seems quicker now I am in the middle of it and as time passes I begin to think I won't ever get a touch of the ball. Eventually I do, and it's not good. My first touch is too hard, and the ball skips away out of possession. Slowly though I gain confidence, I'm still worried about having a major challenge and manage to avoid any such situations. A couple of neat passes and I'm in the game.

Then the moment comes. The chance to make a difference. I receive the ball with my back to goal but surrounded by defenders. I turn and beat one man, almost by accident. Another comes in for a challenge and I can't shoot but the ball bobbles off my shin towards the player who had come on just before me. He is six yards out with just the keeper to beat. It's his chance, our chance, to both be heroes but now my fate rests in his hands, or foot. He shoots, making good contact, but the ball goes to the one place where it won't be a goal, straight into the arms of the keeper. I can't quite believe he hasn't scored. Neither can he as he kneels in the mud, head in hands.

A minute later and I am on the shoulder of the last man, our Scottish beanpole has the ball 20 yards out, if he rolls it to me I am in on goal but he decides to shoot. His strike is solid, powerful even but again it goes straight at the keeper. It drifts in the air, on the way and the keeper only managers to parry it sideways, on to the goal line.

My first thought is that it is going to go in and although I could probably poke it over the line it would be unfair to take away my team mate's glory. This causes a momentary hesitation on my part and it is enough to ruin my day. The ball doesn't cross the line and me and the centre half hurtle towards the ball, he is an inch ahead of me and clears it off the line. I appeal in vain to the ref that it crossed over the line, over that line between glory and defeat, but I know I am lying. I know he won't relent. In my mind and my heart I know that the moment of hesitation has cost me the glory of pushing us into extra time. I'm disappointed in myself but then I realise that for those few intense seconds I wasn't thinking about my knee, I was concentrating purely on trying to score. Yes I failed to put the ball in the net but in that moment I won a bigger battle, a battle with my sub-concious. I don't smile, or celebrate this, but I do feel better about life.

I'm back and playing and that is all I have wanted for a year and half. We're out the cup but I am back in the game.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I played football...with other People

On 18 October 2012 finally, 8 1/2 months after my operation, I played a game of football with other people.

It was just a 7-a-side, but considering I haven't played for over a year I did ok and most importanly I came home under my own steam, on my bike.

My feelings before the game were  mixed, partially excitement, partially terrified. My fears included things such as would I hold up to it, would a tackle make my knee collapse as it had done the previous time I played. All through the day I was doing the exercises; stretching, warming up, the star excursion test. I even went to the gym in the morning, to do a few sprints and some interval training.

As the day went on my excitement was getting less and less and my fears getting more and more. There was even a point about 4 o'clock when I looked out the window and part of me hoped that it might be raining. That would allow me not to go, and still to save face having told everyone this was the day of the come back.

The day had actually started with a humorous incident. I was walking back from the gym with my hoodie on, it was quite cold and I was cold and sweaty and I didn't want to catch a cold. I was walking along when I heard someone behind me shout: "Oi sonny.". I didn't look round because I'm nearly 50 and only people who are older than me will call me sonny, so I carried on walking. A couple of seconds later he shouted again but this time slightly more aggressively: "Oi, son stop.".  Again I ignored it but a moment later I felt a hand on my shoulder, not aggressive but very firm, and obviously someone much taller than me. I stopped, and turned round. To my astonishment I was being towered over by a young copper, no older than 23 at best.

"Why didn't you stop when I called you?"

"I didn't think you were talking to me. Your voice sounded quite young I can hardly be your son."

I realised at this point that he was as surprised as I was. So I asked him what the problem was.

Replying straightfaced he said "You should know you're not allowed to wear your hood up in this area, there's notices everywhere." I shrugged not really understanding him, he continued, "I thought you were one of the hoodies from the estate, up to no good but now I see your middle-aged and unlikely to do anyone any harm. Sorry to trouble you sir." He turned away and carried on looking for ner-do-wells. I just felt a little insulted.

I got over it, but I couldn't get over the fear nagging away at me. About half an hour before kick off, it still wasn't raining and so I got my kit on. I clambered gingerly on to my bike and headed off for the game.

On arrival it was heartwarming to see all the old faces running up to welcome me back. I wanted to chat to them all, find out what they'd been up to since I last played but I knew I needed to do a thorough warm up. I started, but every few seconds someone else came over for a chat. Eventually we were quorate and the game began.

Actually it didn't, just as we were about to kick off, Jenson shouted out to everyone: "No one tackle Daniel." He said it seriously, no one argued, and the game began. I had decided beforehand that as people weren't going to tackle me it would be unfair if I got in their way if they were running at me. I played a friendly game but soon got involved in the normal business of trying to win a football match. It's a pick-up game so the teams are never the same but once you're on a team you can't stop the competitive instincts coming out.

Every time I ran with the ball I was aware that I was consciously thinking ahead, looking for danger and working out how to get rid of it without getting my body, and legs, into tricky situations. It was fine but a little strange. A little like a brilliant artist suddenly having to paint by numbers.

My passing was good, my shooting not bad either. The few games of solo football had certainly got me ready. I even scored a couple of goals. I can't really count them as even I appreciate that scoring is easier when no one tackles you.

As the game wore on I took my turn in goal and used the time to do some sprinting and turning exercises. I came out and carried on and the game finished and I was still standing, on my own two legs.

By this point I think everyone else had forgotten about me being away for a year and not playing. It was just another normal Thursday night game to them, but for me it was another step, almost the last one, on a very long journey. As I lay in bed later, after the obligatory visit to the pub, I flexed my leg, it felt fine, and I closed my eyes and I no longer had to imagine playing football. I'd played and I'd scored, one a really nice goal. I replayed it in mind and smiled as I fell asleep.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

I Played Football

Just a day before my 48th birthday and a mere 7 and a half months after the operation I walked out of the front door with a football under my arm and my five-a-side trainers on my feet.

I jogged right out of the door, turned right at the end of the street and just a minute later I was in the park. I carried on jogging through the park until I had reached my destination; a concreted area with a wall at one end, high fences on the other three sides and a small five a side goal at either end.

It was 8.45am and the area was deserted. Not another soul was at the pitch. No, I wasn't ridiculously early, and no I had not been stood up by my footballing chums. This empty pitch was exactly what I had come for.

I dropped the ball in front of me and slowly, tentatively, gave it a little shove with my foot. I started to jog after it and did it again. This felt good. Before long I had reached the end where the wall was, I braced myself and gave the ball a proper kick. It flew away, crashed against the wall and came back almost straight to me. I tapped it forward, and then hit it again at the wall and started jogging along. This carried on for a few minutes, me just dribbling round the pitch and occasionally hitting against the wall.

I was playing football. Bliss.

Having been round the pitch a few times as a warm up I then did some shuttle runs, back and forth to different points on the edge of the semi-circular area from the middle of the goal. Just testing the push-off strength and change of direction ability of the knee.

Next came some zig-zag running between the two lines in the middle of the pitch which mark the edge of the two basketball  courts which are painted across the football area. I rolled the ball down the middle, then zig-zagged after it as quick as possible trying to catch it up. This was followed by a new form of zig-zag running which I invented myself. Running along a straight line at pace with my left foot landing on the right of the line and my right foot landing on the left.

Over thirty or so minutes I came up with many variations of these and other exercises. When I had finished I ran home with a smile smeared across my sweaty face. I was soaked through and knackered. I hadn't noticed how much running I had done, at no point had I felt the need to force myself to keep going. This is the difference between playing football and running on a treadmill. Katie always takes a tennis ball with us on walks. If I get tired, she throws it and I chase it. I maybe dumb, but she's not.

The next morning as I walked to the gym I noticed that my legs felt tired in a way they had not done for ages. I thought about it and realised that it was because I had exercised them in a way I hadn't done for ages. I decided that the end of the road to recovery was well in sight.

The day after my birthday I went to the gym and as I took my wrist band from the receptionist she piped up.

"Oh, sorry, I was going to say this yesterday. Happy belated birthday."

I'm a pedant, even when someone is being nice.

"I think you mean belated happy birthday." I said it with a smile but I knew before the sound waves had even hit her ears that it was cruel.

"What do you mean?"

Well I'd started, so I had to see if through.."It's your greeting that is late, not my birthday, so you need to be saying a belated happy birthday."

"Whatever." She looked at her nails.

"Thanks anyway though."

"              ", she replied. It was the loudest silence you'll ever not hear.

My knee may be almost better but I'm still and idiot.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Is it a Zig Zag or a Zag Zig

With less than two months to go until my target date for playing football again, but a month till my next Clodagh appointment I took matters into my own hands, or feet, and moved on to the next level of recuperation.

There's a great wikepedia page all about recovering from an ACL operation and because wikepedia is where I do all my research I took it on trust.

I've mentioned these two exercises before but never tried them. The first is the Illinois Agility Test. You can see it here:

At the gym there is, for want of another word, a gym. A cavernous space which is rarely used apart from the occasional game of five a side, the weekly mosque takeover and, whisper it, some basketball. After yesterday's running session I approached reception about using it. I had already seen it was empty.

"Hi. Is it okay if I use the gym for a few minutes?"

"Have you booked it?"


"When do you want to use it?"

"Now. Just for a few minutes. It's empty." I turned and pointed to it, you can see it through the double doors from reception. "See empty." I turned round to see that the receptionist was not following my finger but was instead studying his bookings' book.

I waited as he ran is finger up and down a dated and timed column. He started humming. the humming went on a long time. I could have done what I needed in this time but I waited patiently. He carried on humming.

"Do you know you're humming?"

He looked up. "What?"

"While you are running your finger around the page, you seem to be humming in time with it."

He ignored me and went back to the book and his humming.  Eventually he looked up.

"It's free now. How long do you want to book it for?"

"I don't want to book it. I just want to use it, whilst it's empty."

"You can't do that. You have to book it, so it's in the book, so we know it's in use." He looked at me as though the logic of this was beyond doubt. I tried to keep calm.

"You'll know it's in use because if you look up you'll see me in there."

"Yes, but what if there's an accident? We need the booking for health and safety. Come on mate, don't my life difficult. Just make a booking."

"Ok." I played along. "I would very much like to book your splendid gym for ten minutes, starting at.. [I looked at my watch]..9.17, today, now."

"The minimum booking is thirty minutes."

I walked away, went to the toilet and pretended to do a wee. I flushed, of course. When I returned I noticed that he was playing on his phone. I snuck into the gym and proceeded to do the Illinois Agility Test.

I didn't have any cones so I imagined them. It went well. I was worried, initially, that on each turn my knee would give way, but it didn't. I repeated the test, pushing harder. It was good, I felt good. The world record is 10.84 seconds, I was nowhere near that but I felt pleased with life and so moved on to the Zig-Zag Agility test.

It is not dissimilar to the Illinois test but wikepedia has them both as requirements and who am I to argue. I did it, and again it felt good. I left the gym with a smile on my face. As I walked past the reception, he shouted after me..

"Do you still want to book the gym?"

I hummed a bit too loud and ignored him.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Statistical Review

Short Distance Running Progress - Treadmill unless stated.

1510 metres - 15 mins at a speed of 6km/h - 15th May. (First Post-Op Run)

2030 metres - 15 mins at 8.12 km/h - 26th May

3040 metres - 20 mins at 9.12 km/h - 1st June

1950 metres - 10 mins at 11.7 km/h - 13th June

2880 metres - 17 mins 20 sec at 10.02 km/h - 24th June. (First Street Run)

5.06 k - 30 mins at 10.12 km/h - 1st July (First 5k for many years)

2.05 k - 10 mins at 12.30 km/h - 3rd July

5.54 k - 30 mins at 11.08 km/h - 27th July

1.5 k - 6 mins 50 secs at 13.17 km/h - 18th Aug

6 k - 30 mins at 12 km/h - 2nd Sep

So yesterday I ran 6 kilometres at a speed twice as quick as I managed to run 1500 metres when I first started running again. The distance, the speed and the length of time running are all important because it is a combination of the three that gives me an indication of the build up of strength. This is all very good and I like it because it is totally quantifiable.

What is harder to judge is the solidity of the knee. I've started doing all the exercises that Clodagh suggested and have also looked ahead to see what comes next. You can see all this and more on wikipedia: but here are the highlights...

The Zig Zag Test - Doing some high speed zig zag runs in a small area.
The Illinois Agility Test - A zig zag test from Illinois. Similar to Zig Zag but more changes of direction.
The Heiden Hop Test - A hop test from Heiden. Hop from uninjured leg to injured leg (is that not called a step?) and try to nail the landing.
Isokinetic Testing - Various tests which isolate very specific muscles and/or joints.

I have to pass all these test, or rather do well at them, before the lush grass of the world's football pitches are re-opened to me.

One thing that I have not really touched on in these updates is the fact that whilst all my energies are focused on my knee it is easy to forget how I have to keep the rest of me going. I'm 47 and bits start to drop off. I was reminded of this after today's run when I noticed a blister on my foot. The whole recovery process could grind to a halt if this gets worse. You can see now why people are so enthusiastic to push the concept of holistic medicine. I have a message for Mr Blister - Eff Off. I will not let a blister make me move back my 10th of November return.