In high school, I was on the football, skiing and track teams. I ran because I had to, but I didn’t enjoy it. Probably because my brother had started running marathons, I started running the summer after graduation and I’ve logged at least 15 miles per week for the last 32 years. Many weeks it’s been much more. So that’s at least 24,960 miles. I’m not bragging, I’m just grateful for the consistency and how my body has held up.
Last June I decided (foolishly) that I would run a seven-mile trail in a wooded area near our house. It was foolish because this trail is really for hiking, not running. Somewhere along the way, I pulled my right hamstring. I had no water with me and ended up walking much of it. I think I finally called my wife and arranged a pick-up before I finished.
I tried everything – ice, NSAIDs, stretching, massage. I even rested-ish. The hamstring didn’t get better, so I just kept running and living with it. I could do it, but my pace was slower and it was almost like I was dragging the right leg along at times. I was still putting in a lot of miles, often running eight or ten miles on a Sunday.
On Friday, December 19, I went out for my usual three-mile jog from my house at 6 a.m. One mile in, I felt a “tweak” in my right knee. I didn’t step in a pothole or land funny, but I definitely felt a quick shot of pain. I finished the run, showered and went to work. The knee swelled up and it was painful, but I could walk on it.
That night we traveled up to Maine to pick up our new dog. The knee was definitely stiff. I didn’t run or walk much through the weekend, then saw my PCP on Monday and had an MRI that night. On Tuesday I received the results — torn meniscus. “Don’t run or do any weight bearing exercise. Get a knee brace and see the surgeon on January 9.” I suspect this happened because I was not balanced given the long-term hamstring injury.
The loss of exercise hadn’t even sunk in before a good friend said, “Are you going to swim?” On Tuesday, Jan. 23, I was in the pool and, as of this writing, had missed only five days. I grew up swimming in a lake and waterskiing, but never much liked this lapping in the pool stuff. But it’s been a blessing in disguise. My swimming has improved, I’ve felt emotionally better in a lit pool in the morning versus the dark runs on winter days, and my hamstring might finally be healing. I have fantasized about registering for a short triathlon, but that will have to wait.
I saw one of the Partners surgeons — I love that we have such great doctors, nurses and facilities — and he explained what had happened. He said he could cut off the torn piece and remove the “floater,” or I could live with it. He described it like having a pebble in one’s shoe — it can be there, but it’s going to be a burden. When he told me it would be too painful to run without fixing it, my decision was made, and I signed the consent form.
Fortunately, I have been relatively healthy and haven’t had to access our system very often. Still, when I see my PCP or specialist, or in this case, prepare for surgery, I always find things we can improve. I was asked to complete an online pre-operative assessment. Did our patient portal folks know about this? Will it be converted and included in our new portal strategy? It seemed secure, but because it’s software as a service, it had different security methods than our standards.
A week later, the intake nurse called me to verify my entries, ask more questions and give instructions. I answered politely and assertively. She said, “Most people don’t know about these things.” I told her I worked for the system and was pretty familiar with the processes. We had a nice chat about our EHR implementation and I explained what would happen when and what currently manual processes would be automated. She was delighted, but told me to ignore the time I saw in the surgery scheduling system. I assured her I didn’t have access to the scheduling system — separation of duties.
The surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 27, but was cancelled because of the storm. The surgeon is part of the New England Patriots medical team, so he had to make the trip to the Super Bowl. (I know the rest of the country hates the Patriots, but for people who grew up cheering for the Pats despite so many sorry seasons, the new century has been sweet.)
My surgeon arrived back and I had the procedure on Tuesday, Feb. 3. I was incredibly impressed. We all know the safety issues and can tell whether appropriate procedures are being followed. The nurses were terrific and explained everything in laymen’s terms. They repeated what was going to happen and what I needed to do post-surgery. They checked my identity multiple times and particularly before administering medication. The team confirmed surgical site no less than six times — the final time with a nurse checking the surgeon’s mark and signature on my knee right before I went under anesthesia.
The surgery was a success and I’ve had little pain. Now it’s up to me to do the rehabilitation. I’m not as quick as Malcolm Butler, but I will savor the Patriots win as I get back out on my own athletic endeavors.
Scott MacLean is Deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare in Boston.