Valjean Clark

Slow down

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on what I have learned from an ongoing, chronic knee problem. This post describes how I injured my knee and has links to the posts I have written about other lessons I have learned.

I remember finding my knee injury to be a kind of an inconvenience. I just wanted to get back to the things I was enjoying in life.

I’ve had other injuries since this one (thankfully smaller ones, like sprained ankles), and my approach is different now. I take more time to understand an injury. I read people’s experiences with the injury. I get multiple opinions. I ask questions on forums. I may get a profession opinion from a doctor or a physical therapist, but I don’t take their word as gospel, unless the situation is very clear cut.

I’ve done some reflection on how I injured my knee. I was feeling pretty tired at the end of a long day skiing, but I felt like I still had one more run in me. I didn’t need to take that last run - my form was getting sloppy because I was tired, and I was still a fairly novice skier. I now take this lesson with me to other activities. For example, prior to my knee injury, when lifting weights, I would often go for “one more rep” even if I was close to or at my limit, and now I never do that. One more rep, one more mile, one more ski run - that’s how injuries happen in the first place.

Sometimes it’s even helpful to just wait on a big decision like a surgery. Respect the tail risk when considering something like an elective surgery. There is no need to rush.

I’ll go into this more when I write about how to get great medical care, but I wanted to say a bit about how it’s hard to remember to slow down after an acute injury, because medical institutions can be very efficient systems setup to perform a very high volume of surgeries. This efficiency is great for routine care like blood tests or getting a prescription for antibiotics. I remember when I was first injured, I saw a nurse, who got me an appointment with an orthopaedic doctor the next day. Within a week, I had spoken to that doctor and a surgeon, and both recommended the surgery if I ever wanted to do anything other than run in a straight line in the future. That sounded reasonable, so we scheduled the surgery for two months in the future.

I allowed the medical institution to dictate the pace of my decisions. I’m not trying to say they forced me into doing the surgery; rather, I’m observing how easy it is to go through the motions when making big medical decisions because medical institutions feel so efficient and doctors speak quickly and confidently. Perhaps everyone has that feeling after their first major injury. Now, whenever I see a doctor or surgeon, I know that I am the only person in charge of my medical decisions, and I have to live with the consequences. Now, when something goes wrong, I take my time.