Byko: Facing a long rehab, but thankful

I JUST SPENT five days in the hospital, and I am feeling thankful.

When I went in to the Rothman Institute, I had a left leg that seemed dead and some lurking fears it would remain that way. It won't, but I face a long, grueling and painful recovery/rehab.

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I am thankful recovery is possible and the injury will not affect my goal of being a hurdler in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. After rehab, my chances of making the team will be exactly the same as before the accident. Thankful for that.

You want to hear this offbeat tale of thanks, without the Pilgrims and Native Americans?

We begin at the end of August, when, doing nothing more exotic than standing up from an office chair, I kind of wrenched my knee. Since I'm male, I knew what to do - ignore it. It would cure itself - you know, like autocorrect always correctly fixes words.

After the knee buckled on me once - getting on a SEPTA bus, embarrassingly - I bought a soft knee brace at CVS, which helped. I used a cane occasionally and was taking SEPTA to work, instead of walking, my favorite - OK, only - form of physical fitness.

Over the next month, the knee was getting better - until the night of Nov. 8, when I took a serious fall, and I know some of you are thinking that is a metaphor for America. I crashed smack on the improving knee as I walked the dog and listened to election returns.

I have no memory of being tripped, but after hitting the sidewalk, I rolled into a sitting position as I assessed myself.

My left knee was bent, my right knee was straight, and I was immobile. I could not get up. A cell call to my girlfriend went to voice mail because she was in the shower. So here I am giving thanks for the three millennials who rolled up in a Jeep at 10:30 p.m. and offered to help. Jon was with his girlfriend, Kelly, and a friend of theirs they were dropping off.

They wanted to call 911 because a cut on my head was oozing blood, and they feared I had a concussion. I explained that the ER wouldn't take the dog, so they drove me the few blocks to my home. It was excruciating getting into and out of their car.

My girlfriend drove me to the Pennsylvania Hospital ER, which was almost empty, and I watched the returns on CNN. Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia were all in play, with Virginia soon falling to Hillary Clinton. As to the other states, it was clear Wolf Blitzer was having an existential crisis. The pretty video charts were showing longtime blue counties turning red.

I was happy my charts - X-ray and CAT scan - showed nothing broken. My attending physician, a handsome young guy from North Jersey named Wang, suggested I see an orthopedic doc. (Spellcheck tried to make that an orthodontist! See what I mean?)

At Rothman, Dr. James Purtill looked at the X-rays and put his fingers lightly on my kneecap, and his expression changed.

Not for the better. Fear begins to bounce in my gut.

The operation, Purtill said, is easy, the recovery will be rough. The tear of the quadriceps muscle is what ended Charles Barkley's career, he said. Barkley was 36. I am not, and it won't end my career, but it will make it difficult in the months ahead.

For the next six to eight weeks, I am wearing a high-thigh to ankle rigid brace that permits no movement of the knee. I am on a walker. Just walking around the apartment is difficult and dangerous. Going out on the street would be more so, so I am not doing that.

I haven't had a full night's sleep since the surgery last week, and that is liable to continue, although my surgeon, Jim Krieg, chief of orthopedic trauma at Rothman, said everything went according to plan.

So there's that to be thankful for, also.

Nurses, too, always. Living in a city with so many top docs, that's something we ought to be thankful for.

And when it gets taken from you, you realize how thankful you should have been for good health that you took for granted.

stubyko@phillynews.com

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