Grounded in San Francisco; a story about knee surgeries and more

September 23, 2018

“This is it. I’m going to die”. That’s the last thought I had before I crashed.

I’m cycling in Dolores Park for the first time in years (I’m more of a runner, and Classpass studio lover), and in a few seconds, I find myself in a predicament: a car is coming behind me, and I’m stuck between the trolley tracks. What to do; Option A: get run over by the car behind me, Option B: I try to cross the tracks with my bike.

I try to do the latter. And that’s when it happened. The 80 pound electric JUMP bike catapulted me out of my seat and into the air and I smashed onto the ground while it fell on top of me — crushing my right rib, and my left knee so badly cartilage was exposed.

Holy shit, I screamed. The pain was unbearable. I grabbed my knee, wishing I could reverse the last few minutes. What happened next felt like the movies: cars stopped, people came out to help. They offered to call the Ambulance. I crawled to the sidewalk, thankful for the helmet I grabbed at the last minute, and thought about my next steps.

Back in my 20’s, I was a rather adventurous soul; I played soccer, went cliff jumping in the Swiss Alps, sky diving with abandon, scrambled for hours to the top of mountains, and competed in Olympic Triathlons. My tolerance for pain is fairly high, and I figured, nah, I don’t need an Ambulance. I also didn’t want to pay the ridiculously high fees when I knew that they could probably do nothing more than clean my gaping wound.

The deep wound was something I could manage by creating a mini-wound clinic at my apartment. What I really needed was an X-ray and MRI. I needed to know what I broke or tore. I decided the best next step would be to find a top orthopedic surgeon in San Francisco, and schedule an appointment the very next day.

Since I’m a Product Marketer and launch software products for a living, I spend A LOT of time online and have jokingly admitted to getting to the end of the internet when I’m researching something. I’m the kind of gal who reads every single Amazon review before I purchase a product and every Yelp review before I decide to commit to any service.

I found an amazing orthopedic surgeon in San Francisco, and went through the usual tests. The X-ray cleared me of a broken bone, but I still couldn’t walk. Is it possible that I tore my ACL again? Nine years ago, I played club soccer 6 days a week in New York City and tore my ACL during a rather competitive match. I swore that I would never go back to playing sports because the ACL recovery rehab in the winter of NYC still gives me post traumatic stress. (Note: I used my hamstring graft rather than a cadaver and still cringe when I think about using the NYC subways with crutches!).

When I mentioned to my dr that I may have torn my ACL, he said it was highly unlikely to tear an ACL with a bike crash since they usually tear in sports like tennis, soccer and skiing — hyperextending the knee and twisting it at the same time. But after some preliminary tests, he found that my ACL was looser than expected. And sure enough: the MRI results came back with a full ACL tear.


Okay, ACL surgery on my “good knee” was not something I thought I’d ever have to go through again. I hadn’t cried at the time of the accident. I hadn’t cried when I poured alcohol every two hours on my deep wound creating my own sound machine in my bathroom while I tended to the gaping hole in my knee that had exposed cartilage.

But when I crutched out of the dr’s office with the results that I tore my ACL, and potentially more — I panicked. I called my parents and then I stopped for a moment on a bench outside of the hospital and cried. Really hard. It wasn’t that I was in pain. It was the anticipation of the road ahead: the 2 months I’d have to wait until the bleeding on my knee stopped before I could even get ACL surgery, and the rehab of 6 months or more that would follow. It would be 8 months before I could even think about running again.

I would have to mentally prepare for my sedentary lifestyle. I would have to learn how to sit at home and most frightening of all: I would have to learn what life was like without being in control of my physical body.

I also had to learn to forgive myself for thinking that the unthinkable — another ACL knee surgery — would never happen again.

Let’s rewind

I spent the first 8 months of of 2018 on the road; I completed more than 60 flights by September, and the small shops at SFO airport confirmed my relentless travel schedule by speaking my first name out loud when I ordered something. I was consumed with a full life: writing a book which I published on Amazon, filming a movie I wrote called “A Star In The Desert” with an incredible team in LA, and building a consulting practice around Product Marketing with multiple clients.

But when your body becomes a liability rather than an asset, everything about your sense of self in the world changes.

November 14, 2018

My mom flew in from Chicago, committed to celebrating Thanksgiving with me in my 1 bedroom apartment while I recovered from my ACL surgery which took place the morning of November 14th.

The morning of the surgery, I woke up, and immediately burst into tears. It’s okay, I told myself. You’ll get through this, like you did before. It’s no fun to wake up to your leg in a big compression sock with major bandages and images from my last surgery floated in my subconscious. I still carried the imprint of the pain from my last knee surgery 9 years ago.

Post-surgery, I came to and found out that instead of just ACL surgery, I had multiples surgeries: ACL using my hamstring graph, and two meniscus tears that needed to be repaired. The recovery for meniscus + ACL repair is much longer than just an ACL repair: no weight bearing or knee flexion past 90 degrees for at least a month or more.

My mom, who flew in from Chicago to play caretaker, was a hero during the 10 days post-op, and brought our relationship to new heights. While she was giving me a sponge bath, I jokingly turned to her and said, “Next time, I’ll be giving you a bath”.

November 14–20th, 2018

The first few days after the post-op were some of the most painful moments I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m not a fan of medicine, and my hyper sensitive body doesn’t really agree with it most of the time, so after 2 days I decided to go medicine free. But the pain was real: it felt like a sledgehammer went through my knee, and I was in a constant state of despair. My body tightened as a result of the pain, and it took every ounce of strength in me not to fantasize about the future, but to just sit with the present moment and breathe into it.

I didn’t sleep more than 90 consecutive minutes for that first week, and would wake up in a hot sweat, holding my brace and putting a hand over my elevated knee, wishing that the pain would subside. I thought to myself: “This can’t be my life”.

I’ve never spent an entire week indoors, and during the first few days of post-op, I started to lose my composure. Thankfully, my parents were staying with me, so I had great company and was taken care of during that time, but it felt like I dropped into a vortex. It was only after Day 6 post-op that I finally went outside (sliding down my stairs), and breathed in the fresh air.

But I soon found out that spending time outside of my apartment wasn’t generally worth the difficulty: getting into an Uber/Lyft with crutches and a brace is an event in itself.

November 25, 2018

“Bye my dear. We love you.” I heard the door close as I dozed back off to sleep. My parents had to leave and head back to Chicago that early morning. When I fully awoke at around 9 am, it dawned on me that I was truly and finally alone in my apartment, and mostly immobile.

I hadn’t realized how limited I was until that moment. I tried to make myself breakfast that morning and it took me close to 45 minutes to make oatmeal while I fumbled around on crutches. I took one plate off the shelf in my right hand and placed it on the closest counter. Then moved it from that counter to my table. Next, a spoon. Next, the hot water. And so on.

The rest of the morning had a similar tone; it would take me 10x longer to complete even the most simple actions. By noon, I was exhausted — both emotionally and physically, and decided to get back into bed.

I had a mini-meltdown when I stirred from my rest, and decided to withdraw my overwhelming drive to be independent. I phoned a friend.

December 4th, 2018

It’s been about three weeks since the knee surgery and three months since the bike accident. While some days are harder than others, and I still haven’t slept a full consecutive 8 hours yet, I’ve learned that human beings are so malleable. We can adapt to just about any situation. I’m in awe of the strength that I have within me.

Since I live alone, in order to move any object from one room to the other, I need to carry a backpack, so I have fully invested in new camping gear and have strapped a knapsack and camping bag to my body. Soon enough, I’ll be crawling on the ceiling like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. We adapt, and we learn how to survive and make the best of our situations.

This situation has given me a perspective about my body and about life that I did not have access to before, and I’m very grateful to have gone through such a big lesson. Switching from a mode of proactivity to a mode of receptivity is not easy. For as long as I can remember, I have championed values like independence, self-sufficiency, and tied those characteristics to my sense of worth and power.

But there is a power and grace in allowing someone to contribute to you. Because I can’t even do basic things without the help of others, I am learning how to be really vulnerable, and how to ask for help without feeling the need for an exchange or a transaction of some sort. I am humbled by the kindness of my friends and family and how beautiful it is to be in a space of receptivity.

It’s still hard for me to ask for help, but it’s getting less and less painful. Every difficulty I experience forces me to re-examine my ability to do so.

While I used to spend a lot of time at events, or on the road, my home has suddenly been filled with dinner companions and never-ending social hour. To date, I haven’t eaten alone for a single night since the surgery. And I’m learning that’s it’s okay to “be” instead of “do” — that I am worthy and capable of love not because of my job, or relationships, or what I contribute externally in the world. I am worthy of receiving love because I exist.

December 14th, 2018

I am not the same person who fell off that bike on September 23rd.

I hope with this story, that I can inspire others to sit still and find solace in the idea that nothing is good nor bad — instead, there is something to be learned in every situation.

And when I am able to walk again, ever so slightly, which will be very soon, I will celebrate that day with a stroll to Aquatic Park by the water filled with swimmers dodging seals, and I will put both of my feet in the sand, and scream out loud YES, I AM ALIVE. I will breathe in and fill my lungs with fresh California air, stare out in wonder and awe at the beautiful trees and plants around me, and I will promise myself that I’m never taking another day for granted again.

Every day on earth with a healthy body is a great day and deserves a celebration. What a gift. I hope you cherish every single day with yours.

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

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