For those who happen to be interested, herewith the continuing saga of my right knee ACL tear. After suffering the injury just under 5 months ago, I was initially convinced that surgery would be necessary unless I was ready to give up on a lot of physical activity, including in particular tennis. However, travel plans put surgery out of reach for the next two months, and then I decided not to ruin my summer by spending the rest of it in bed with painkillers and then on crutches. What with my fall teaching schedule, this meant that I couldn't have the surgery before early December. So, like Matt Harvey of the Mets, I decided to give rehab a shot.
I've taken the rehab pretty seriously, and the knee has just kept on getting stronger. ACLs don't fix themselves, any more than rubber bands do. But, while the ACL is the chief stabilizing instrument in the knee, serving to prevent dislocation and cartilage tearing from the stress of sudden lateral movements, there is a degree of redundancy built into the knee's design. So in principle you don't need it if everything else is strong enough.
In the early days, even rushing to cross the street and going upstairs were dangerous activities, to be done with great care if at all. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath, massive swelling in the knee strongly discouraged even just walking for any significant distance. But by late July I had progressed to the point that my physical therapist suggested that I try hitting tennis balls (with a big and bulky knee brace for protection). The first time I tried this, in late August, I could generate racquet speed but scarcely move at all for balls or even hit a serve.
Each time got better, though, and by this week I was ready for actual tennis matches, albeit just for an hour and with a firm resolve not to do anything foolish (such as running hard for a drop shot - but that still feels unthinkable anyway). I've now played twice, and I'd say that I'm at "80 percent" except that I'm not sure what that actually means. (Even if we can define the denominator, what exactly are we measuring in the numerator?) It's clear that I have to adjust my style a bit - for example, shorten the points, work on some of my trick shots such as topspin lobs, and make really sure to hit the ball deep. But it seems as if I can actually do it, at least pending the next injury (which might be something entirely different).
I had been planning to go this November to see one of the three surgeons I consulted early on, the one whom I had decided was the best fit. The idea was to discuss whether or not the case for surgery was strong enough. But at this point I think it would take a fresh injury or aggravation to bring me there.