When my wife collected me at the hospital, the look on her face went from incredulous to amusement. I was still groggy from a general anaesthetic after having my right knee scoped when she asked what had been learned about my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“Dr. Deakon said it grew back,” I replied. (Which brought on the look of disbelief.) I then added, “And he was wearing sailing boots—bright, yellow Henri Lloyds.” (Which brought on the smile one gives to a child who’s sleep-talking—or the funny drunk guy.)
Over a period of about four weeks last spring, Harkley, Ski Canada’s ad-man in Whistler, Pemberton actually, had all the irritating torn and dangly bits of his knee’s meniscus removed by a man who knows a lot of skiers, J. P. McConkey MD. Leslie Woit, our U.K.-based humour, poise and etiquette editor returned home to have her knee surgically “washed” again by another skier-knee specialist, Dr. John McCall in Collingwood. (“I’m not queasy after a general anaesthetic,” reported Leslie when I queried her on the procedure. “I love it—I can’t get enough!”) Ski Canada Test Editor (ret.) Paul Cunnius went the full monty and had Banff knee-guy, Dr. Greg Buchko, replace his ACL with one from a cadaver. (I’ve wondered about the donor’s past since Paul’s girlfriend told me he’s much better on the dance floor now.)
Dr. Mark Heard (who trained under Dr. Deakon incidentally) covers the Greater Banff Metro Area including Golden, B.C. where technical Editor Martin Olson and his case of Lakota tablets reside. Marty jumped the gun on the rest of us at the magazine last autumn and had Heard do his knee. It occurred to me that Ski Canada editors and contributors have different problems, and work-related injuries, than those at say Chatelaine or Cottage Life.
“It’s an epidemic,” described Dr. Tim Deakon in reference to all the serious knee injuries seen in our sport. The Oakville, Ontario-based orthopaedic surgeon fi gures he’s operated on more than 120 members of his former Collingwood ski club, Georgian Peaks—which has about 1,600 members. Having experienced his own knee problems, Deakon is now an avid cross-country skier. One bright light is the overall trend of serious knee strain going down, in part, because the length of unnatural levers we strap to our feet—skis—is decreasing.
Long-time Ski Canada contributor Monica Andreeff has one or two personal anecdotes about serious knee strain—counting endoscopic procedures (normally day surgery performed through tubes in a knee pumped full of saline solution), she’s had 12 surgeries in fact. Like Jaime Sommers (well, not much like her but I couldn’t resist the ’70s TV analogy), the rebuilt bionica-Monica skis the entire mountain, and well beyond, at speeds no slower than when her ligaments were all in original condition, but now with two exoskeleton knee braces. Monica wrote our story that begins on page 92 this issue on the skier’s most vulnerable joint. And if you can get past her strong personal anecdote, you’ll fi nd all sorts of useful and entertaining information, including how you can ski and what you can do to lessen the chances of knee injury.
I feel somewhat vindicated after my own experience, not just because I’d been told earlier my ACL was fine, but, more importantly, what I learned later at my postop appointment after the anaesthetic had long worn off. Dr. Deakon does wear brightyellow sailing boots in the OR (“it gets pretty wet and messy in there”), and in an even more bizarre epiphany, especially for my wife who’s had much more serious reconstructive knee surgery by Deakon years ago, it turned out my ACL did grow back—sort of.
Evidently in rare cases, if blood rather than other fluids surrounds the two torn ends of the ligament, and your joint is kept relatively inactive, scar tissue can form on both ends and indeed fuse the two torn bits together. “It can be almost as strong as a replacement ACL after reconstructive surgery,” Deakon told me.
So after the little camera in a surgical tube examined my ACL and the dangling bits of torn medial collateral and lateral collateral ligaments (other soft tissues that also give a knee its stability) were snipped off via another little tube, my knee has gone very quickly from painful to pain-free. With a brace under my ski trou next season, I can get out of (at least for now) the months of physio that Twinkle-toes Cunnius endured all this summer with his ACL replacement.
Now, my left knee…