A few years ago I was playing in an over-32 basketball league. I'd kept myself in pretty good shape, & checking with other guys on all the other teams, I realized that being in my upper 40's made me one of the oldest players in this very competitive league.

Five years earlier, in the same league, I had been aggressively blocking another big man out (I'm 6-4) on a rebound when another player on my team took a charge, then landed on my firmly planted left ankle, shattering my fibula. It took a plate & 6 screws to put it all back together. But I was back playing my beloved league basketball within 4 months. Later I learned, thanks to the 20-20 TV show, that, for a short time, basketball shoe manufacturers were, in-effect making shoes with suction cup bottoms, leading to numerous knee & ankle injuries. I had noticed when I first used my new Reeboks that they really gripped the hardwood better than anything I had ever used before...thought that was a good thing till that evening when that player fell into my leg which just firmly stuck to the floor. Something had to give...unfortunately, it was my ankle.

So here I was, careless & reckless as before, playing my usual physical game in that same old-guys league, but in a brand new gym. This season, it seemed that there were more overweight guys than ever before & I was a bit concerned about that. I hate playing against tubby big guys. In this league, you were only allowed to fast-break in the last 5 minutes of the each half. Inevitably, I'd run the floor when these guys couldn't, getting several easy lay-ups during that last few minutes of the first half, making the chunky guy guarding me upset & out for vengeance. He'd pound on me, foul me hard & otherwise try to inhibit me from running in that last 5 minutes. We were about 5 games into the season when, sure enough, in the second half of a game, here was one of those guys, holding my arm & trying to get me off balance in another rebounding situation. So, there I was in a WWE type scenario in the middle of the lane, when BAM, another fat guy on the opposing team came sliding through the floor & bowling ball style, slammed into my right leg.

Immediately, I felt a pop. There was no serious pain, but the knee joint felt weaker. I tried to stay in the game, but my teammates, hearing that "pop", convinced me to head to the bench. We had only 6 players that night, & my injury happened with about 12 minutes left, so I tried to go back in the game to relieve an exhausted teammate, but luckily for me (I found out later), all of our players were adamant that I not return to the game.

That night, as I tried to sleep, the pain came. I was trying to avoid the doctor, but that long night I knew convinced me that I needed to see my orthopedist soon. I knew the guy that had fixed my ankle because I'm an RN & had worked with him at 2 different hospitals for several years before I had needed his services. Of course, when I called his office, they said he could see me in 3 weeks.I asked them to please let him know it was me & I needed to see him right away. Sure enough, an hour later I got a call saying "OK, he'll see you this afternoon". I always feel sorry for other folks that don't have such connections, get an injury & either have to wait the 3 weeks, or hit the ER with a vague referral for 3 weeks later.

Anyway, when the orthopedist examined me, he had me lay on the table while he manipulated my leg to check stability in my knee. Took him about 10 seconds to diagnose a complete tear of my medial collateral ligament, or, as its more commonly known, my MCL. He also told me it was a good thing that my teammates didn't let me return to the game as further running, jumping & cutting would have surely resulted in another tear in my ACL! He explained that an MCL tear usually doesn't require surgery, that 8 weeks in a brace should heal it completely. So I was fitted for a brace & sent on my way.

The pain lasted for a couple of weeks, but that brace became my constant antagonist. On 24 hours a day, it soon became very aggravating. I wore it under my scrubs at work, trying my best not to limp so that nobody would know I was hurt. I was working as an agency nurse, so if I got sent home, I got no pay.

Excited to lose the brace, I headed back to my orto's office sure he'd give me the good news. Checking stability again, he shook his head & said that it hadn't healed & that we'd schedule on MRI, with surgery soon to follow. With no insurance, I was not happy with that plan. Got the MRI, & sure enough, the tear hadn't healed properly. In lieu of immediate surgery, I asked if we could try physical therapy. The orthopedist agreed, saying "I'll give you 2 weeks", that I had to keep wearing that infernal brace & he'd schedule the surgery for 2 1/2 weeks later but we'd cancel if I healed by then. He also recommended I try riding a bike...had to be a stationary one as we were in the middle of a cold Kentucky winter.

I tried right away to schedule myself at several PT locations, but the earliest I could start was in a week & a half...almost all the time my doctor had given me. So, also saving the high cost of physical therapy, I was determined to heal myself. I had an old stationary bike that my parents had given me several years before stashed in the attic. Out it came, & I put in 5 miles every morning & night-daily increasing resistance. Having also a weight machine, I did 3 sets of 12 leg curls twice a day, gradually adding more weight. I'm a firm believer that our bodies will tell us when we're using too much weight or exercising too much rehabbing an injury.

By that 2 week deadline, my right leg was feeling stronger than ever. I was back laying on that table as the doctor again checked the stability of my right knee. It took about 3 seconds of manipulating for him to say "get out of here"! We canceled the surgery & I've had no ill effects since.

This experience, & a somewhat similar (but longer) situation with that ankle fracture have convinced me that when we have a sports medicine type injury, it is up to us as the injured party to do the bulk of the work to heal ourselves. Too many patients & others that I've known through the years when injured have turned to bed rest & couch potatoing after injuries. Come on, our ancient ancestors would've been gobbled up by a sabre-tooth tiger if they had turned to inactivity after being wounded. No, we were meant to be active, so actually increasing activity after an injury in most cases speeds healing & leaves the injury with fewer lasting, long term symptoms. I've recommended such activity to several injured patients & acquaintances, including a few physicians. After healing, many have thanked me for that self "drill sergeant" advice. Remember, self-pity & loathing never heals any body.