How I Lost the Most Valuable Ligament

Name: Erin Lemberger, Class of 2020

Undergrad: University of Northern Colorado

Hometown: Littleton, CO

Fun Fact: A one humped camel is called a Dromedary and a two humped camel is called a Bactrian.

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Let me just tell you about my first semester of PT school. I’ll start off by saying that PT school is a lot of work, so of course, the first semester was stressful. But regardless, there are 80 of your closest friends that make studying, adventuring, and everything that happens in between a whole lot easier. I started the semester by buying a season pass to ski all winter long and to use as a major de-stressor when school became difficult. I have been skiing since I was a little tike, so what could go wrong? I had never been hurt skiing nor seriously injured so it couldn’t possibly happen now. Here’s my advice, kids. When the mountain does not have enough snow to open up more than one run, there’s not enough snow. Just trust me.

 

So here’s how it went. I go to Arapahoe Basin (lovingly known as A Basin) with my now boyfriend, Preston, and we’re having a great time just enjoying the weather and the snow. We ski about three runs before the resort is flooded with people also trying to ski the one run that is open. We spend about 20 minutes waiting to get on the lift that will take us to the top, so the decision to get to the top, ski all the way down, and head on home is smart. I’m happily skiing along trying to keep up with Preston, but when I get to about 50 feet from the bottom, realize I’m going a little too fast. Preston is down at the bottom and I go to stop and my ski catches a patch of ice (remember the not enough snow comment?) that takes me out. I flip over backwards and roll hard, and although the details of that fall are fuzzy, I’m sure now it was a classic plant and twist. My skis don’t pop off and my right knee is screaming in pain; I can’t stand on it, so I get my first toboggan ride down the mountain to meet Preston.

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About 20 minutes before I fell. The view is pretty right?

I’m going to start this part of the story with the advice that I would not recommend getting hurt in PT school, but I want to brag about our professors for a little bit. I think I was in denial that I ruptured my ACL, so I went to Dr. Tom McPoil and asked him to check out the knee. Tom tapes me every morning for about 2 weeks while we are trying to get MRIs and doctors appointments scheduled; he was a saint. After a few days of taping, he decides Dr. Mark Reinking should check out my knee too, thus getting two amazing faculty giving me advice. You probably know what happens next: I have surgery to reconstruct my ACL with a semitendinosus/gracilis autograft (they took my hamstrings to make a new ACL). I was thankful I could do surgery over winter break. Over the month that we had off, I got time to recover and relax instead of worrying about school. I started PT off campus and then switched to seeing a PT in our faculty once the new semester got closer. Our faculty are incredible, understanding, kind, teaching, inspiring humans who are the reason I am fairly active for 5 months post-op. My PT, Nancy, is one of the many reasons I am certain that I want to go into this profession because she makes me laugh when PT for an ACL reconstruction is painful. Although I would not recommend tearing your ACL, I have gotten more perspective than I could have imagined from the process.

 

Okay, now go back. I tore my ACL. It was an absolute pain (in the knee) 90% of the time. It was hard watching my friends all ski while I was stuck at the lodge, it’s terrible that I still have pain running even though it’s normal, and I have a huge mental block doing most physical activity now, which is hard. Here’s my advice: Take care of yourself. Have fun, but within healthy limits for yourself. I recommend you also know that life simply happen. Having a positive outlook has made a huge difference for me. Sometimes you just have to see the brighter side. That all being said, I am here, I am passing, and I am chugging along just fine in PT school. So, if you do injure yourself while in school, remember that it is all doable. That’s a promise!

Here’s some other friends that are going through injuries in PT school and some advice they have for dealing with it:

Ryan Pineda, Class of 2020: Lisfranc fracture, surgery completed, in PT currently

“Find a good Netflix show to break up the studying and try not to think about

how much fun your friends are having. Also make sure to buy pass insurance for

your ski pass.”

 

Gabe Lawrence, Class of 2020: meniscal tear, surgery happening this week!

“Make sure to stay active and find something to take your mind off the injury

while you’re rehabbing. It’s easy to be lazy when you have an excuse. Just

because you‘re down a limb doesn’t mean you can’t use the other three.”

 

Jake Berndl, Class of 2020: bilateral inguinal hernia, surgery completed, progressing back to normal physical activity

“Don’t sustain a more serious injury like the above three. Put a positive spin

on your down time – catch up on studying while your classmates are out

having fun instead of studying. This way, when tests or finals roll up, you’re

prepared. Also, don’t forget to ask your surgeon the important questions…”

 

Injury, surgery and rehab during PT school: Meet James Liaw

Name: James Liaw, Class of 2018

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Undergrad: University of California, Davis

Fun Fact: Climbing! More Climbing, snowboarding…let’s go climb.

 

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Getting injured is always going to be hard to deal with, but you never realize how much it will affect you until you’re experiencing it firsthand. The summer after my senior year of high school, I hurt my left wrist; I did not find out until this semester—six years later!—that I had broken the scaphoid and it had never healed. Deciding to get it fixed in my second semester of PT school was tough, but necessary: as we will be learning many hands-on tests and measures this summer to use for our first fall clinical, I figured now was the best time for the surgery. Since I’ve always been interested in hands, I did a lot of my own research. A vascularized bone graft over my scaphoid would normally be the best option, but, because my fracture was practically ancient, my surgeon and I decided that the best option was to get a four-corner fusion.

After waking up from surgery, though, I learned that there was a complication. The goal had been to fuse the carpels and have my lunate articulate with the radius instead of the scaphoid; when my surgeon began, though, she found that there had already been damage to the surface. She decided that it was best for me to get a proximal row carpetomy (PRC) to preserve as much ROM as she could. So, essentially, the surgeon took out the scaphoid, lunate and triquetrum in order to have my wrist articulate at the capitate.

It was only after undergoing my PRC that I realized how much I utilized both my hands for everyday activity—and, particularly, that I could no longer climb. Losing my main source of both stress relief and fun hit me hard. I tried to find other things to fill the time and to burn off the excess energy that I had from sitting in class all day, but, to be honest, nothing really worked. Not climbing made me restless and unmotivated to study. My life had been built around climbing and school, so losing half of that was devastating. Everyone was extremely supportive and assured me that I would get back to climbing in no time, but this “short” stint of five weeks of immobilization felt like forever—and, almost just as paralyzing as the cast was the constant worry that I would lose the climbing ability I had worked so hard to attain.

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James created his own customized walker to practice in the Class of 2018’s transfer and mobility lab

That time in the cast gave me more insight into what my future patients will be feeling:  I felt helpless as I sat in lecture, hand over my head to reduce swelling, and thinking about my four years of climbing work slipping out from my fingers. This is the kind of thought that we will have to deal with. Patients will come in with an injury and with goals and fears of never reaching them, and I can see more clearly now that it’s going to be my job, as a clinician, to assist with both physical rehabilitation and help motivate them to push past their fears.

Dealing with an injury can be large distraction from school. Luckily (or unluckily), I have other classmates that are going through a similar process with their injuries, and we have formed a support group to talk about our experiences. All the professors have been very supportive, and I’ve also learned a lot about wrist and hand injuries in the last month through obsessive research (it’s reinforcing Regis’ emphasis on evidence-based practice!). I will be starting physical therapy soon and I’m looking forward to getting back on track—and, hopefully, more energized than I have been in the last month. Even though I have a long way to go, I can’t help but be excited about healing up and enjoying the beautiful Colorado climbing!