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On October 1, 2019 I was walking around our campus and felt completely fine. A week later I felt as if when I walked, there was something slipping or moving in my right knee. I grew up playing basketball and soccer, as well as skiing in the winter, so having knees that did not always move the way they should or hurt from time to time was incredibly normal. While the slipping made it slightly uncomfortable to walk around at times, it was far from unbearable. To be completely honest, I did not want to make time in my week to go to Student Health Services and pay the $12 fee for them to tell me to go and walk it off. About a week into this discomfort, I decided I would just mention the situation to my mom through our daily texts so we could see my doctor when I went home for Thanksgiving. In my mind, it was not too uncomfortable, and it was not really taking away from my day-to-day activity, it was just annoying more than anything else. 

Slowly, my condition started to get worse. I was having to alter the way that I was walking to purposefully straighten and just swing my right leg to walk. It was not very painful, but when I would walk somewhere with my friends and have to stop every five minutes to push my knee around, it was inconvenient. At this point, we were about four, maybe five weeks from Thanksgiving break. I could certainly make it until then to have to see a doctor – or so I thought.


The Thursday night before Homecoming weekend – something we were looking forward to all semester because Homecoming was going to be double seated with Halloweekend – I was helping one of my friends organize her dorm. I was putting her snacks into categories, we were washing dishes, doing laundry (basically anything that would keep me away from the homework I should have been doing), to have a clean room before the action-packed next two weekends. I was propped up on my knees putting things away in her drawers, and she left for a minute to check on her laundry. In the few short seconds she was gone, I meant to turn my legs about and move to sit flat on the floor. Mid switch, I heard a loud POP, and I felt the most pain I have ever felt. 

My friend walked back into her room with a pile of laundry to me balling my eyes out, clutching my knee and curled up on her floor. I imagine it was quite a shock, it certainly was to me. She tried to ask what happened but all I could do was cry out in pain. Luckily she was able to pass me her ice pack and just kind of sit with me to figure out what to do next. At this point, it was about 1am on a Thursday night/Friday morning. We decided I should try to go back to my room to my bed and try to sleep off the pain. If it was worse tomorrow, then we could go to the Emergency Room. 

I had been texting my roommate and our friend throughout this whole time, so when I made it back to my room, she and our friend (who was also a Pre- Physical Therapy major) were waiting for me to hop my way back. Our Pre- PT friend started asking me questions about where the pain was centralized, and lightly moved my knee around. Primarily she just suggested, “maybe there’s a problem with your meniscus but it could be your ACL”. I remember thinking, there’s no way. My friends growing up could tear their ACLs or menisci on the field or in a game, but I had stopped skiing and playing sports years before.


Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

The next day we went to the ER, and the doctor’s met with me after an X-Ray to tell me that I needed to get an MRI. That was when the panic started to set in. I had insurance, but since I was an out-of-state student, it really would only cover me for a short visit to the ER. I would have to go home to get the medical attention that I needed. I had to go home, which is a six hour drive from campus. Since I could not drive, I went with my friend. For the next week, I was bouncing back and forth from doctor to doctor, emailing my professors with updates upon updates, and ended up with the same assessment that my friend had given me in my dorm room: I tore my ACL. Unfortunately for me, it was not just my ACL. I had also torn both my lateral and medial menisci in my right knee.

I had no idea what I would have to do next. I thought I would maybe get a few exercises or have to schedule a surgery for a few months out, and be on my way back to campus. But that did not happen. I had to go through two months of preperatory physical therapy just to prepare for my surgery, and then another three months of PT post-op to get back to normal. That was the best case scenario. Worst, it would take me nine to twelve months to get back to full strength. 

I’d say the uncertainty and shock was probably what hit me the deepest. The injury and process was painful and physically taxing, but no one ever discusses the psychological element to recovering from a major injury. My whole life was interrupted. I had to move home, take my classes online (months before the pandemic and the emergence of Zoom), and deal with the implications of my injury. Not being able to walk or do much activity at all was incredibly debilitating. I was watching everyone else have fun at school. I had to ask my family to do everything for me, since I couldn’t do anything for myself. I owe a lot to my family, because during this time, they were my anchors and cheerleaders (and to the chagrin of my brother, chauffeurs).

Basically, anything fun was off limits, and I ruined the holidays by having my surgery the day before Thanksgiving. I worked so hard to get through physical therapy to be cleared to go back to school in late January. I did it, but along the road of recovery were a lot of mental roadblocks that have stuck with me, even a year later. 

Girl with closed eyes and praying hands
Photo by Ben White from Unsplash

I’ve learned that continuous communication with friends, professors, and employers makes a major difference in keeping connections and opportunities alive. I’ve learned that things can always be worse. Above all, I’ve learned that you’ll still have setbacks even after meeting what you thought were your goals. Now that I am – according to my orthopedic surgeon – “Totally cleared and back to normal,” I still fear asking people for favors, take extra caution going down stairs, and I walk a little more slow. A little over a year ago, I couldn’t do any of these things. 

I’m guessing I’ll never be back to 100% normal or my old self, because injuries and trauma shakes you. It’s fun to be in an ACL scar club (which is a better conversation starter than you may think), but above all I am still thankful. I had friends, family, and a team of doctors and physical therapists that were ready and able to help me get back to accomplishing my goals. Maybe in a year, I’ll be better, but for now, it feels good to be sturdy on two legs.

Rachel Hageman

West Chester '21

Rachel Hageman is a senior at West Chester University. She is majoring in Communication Studies and has minors in Political Science and Applied Ethics. In her free time, she loves to paint, draw, bake, and spend time with her friends.
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