More Confessions of a Weekend Golfer: Playing
on One Good Knee
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008
I watched the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines from a special vantage point. I was on my couch, recovering from knee surgery 10 days earlier with my left leg elevated, icing it off and on all day. I watched in awe as Tiger Woods put on one of the most amazing shows in sports history against Rocco Mediate. I couldn't help but wince along with Tiger's obvious pain, partly because I was in pain too. Every time I stood up to use my crutches to get somewhere, I couldn't believe how much it hurt. And watching Tiger, we all knew that something wasn't right with him.
Of course, a day later we all knew. Tiger was headed for surgery on his left knee, and then he would be rehabbing it for six to nine months. In the back of my mind, I asked the question: can an injured athlete return to top form? Names that jumped into my head were Tiger, Ernie Els, Joe Namath, Tom Brady and The Shotmaker.
My introduction to the world of sports orthopedic medicine wasn't quite as dramatic as Tiger's. On Wednesday morning, May 28, I was in New York City attending a meeting. When I stood up, I heard a popping or snapping sound from my left knee. I felt excruciating pain and could not walk.
I was told to have an MRI immediately. The results confirmed a torn meniscus. My surgeon, David Altchek, an orthopedic surgeon at the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, advised me that it should be repaired by arthroscopic surgery. The surgery was scheduled for the following Tuesday, June 3, at 7 a.m. With a warm smile on his face, Dr. Altchek said he thought I might be out two months . . . and that my summer would still include golf, but later than usual. Inasmuch as he is an avid golfer, too, I felt like a "brother" was going to be taking care of me.
A LARGE BUMP IN THE ROAD
During surgery, Dr. Altchek found crystals (a preexisting condition) in my left knee. Pathology tests confirmed I had chondrocalcinosis. The next six weeks were the most painful in my life. I was constantly miserable. Getting up to walk to the bathroom each morning was unbearable. At first using crutches, then later a cane, I hobbled along. During my agonizing recovery, my personality changed. I was always depressed. Because of my pain, I didn't want to be around people. Even my friends. I found comfort, almost strangely, by focusing on losing weight. That battle was victorious. As I write this draft I am about 180 pounds (I lost about 25 pounds), my lowest weight in many, many years.
FRIDAY, JULY 18, 6:30 a.m.
(six weeks after surgery) I was watching the British Open. At the time, my friend Greg Norman was surprising everyone by leading the second round at 1-under. Also, Camilo Villegas (who would go on to win the BMW Championship on September 7, and was on the cover of Cigar Aficionado back in August 2006) had just shot a 5-under 65 and was one stroke behind Norman. Neither result was expected. As you may remember, the golf world was watching Norman with bated breath.
But today was an even bigger day for me. Pain or no pain, I was starting my return to the one thing that I had missed so much in the previous six weeks . . . golf. I was going to have a one-hour lesson with Jeff Warne, my golf teacher and the pro at my club, The Bridge, in Bridgehampton, New York. I was nervous and excited. Even though I still had pain in my knee, I couldn't just sit on the sidelines anymore. My physical therapist, Sinead Fitz Gibbon, told me, "It's OK to begin playing golf . . . but go very slowly."
The annual two-day Member-Guest tournament at The Bridge was a week away. Being an optimist, I signed up for it but knowing when the time came I might not be ready. After all, I didn't want to hurt myself further and complicate my recovery. But I wanted to play so badly.