Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A sense of relief

Last Thursday I taught my last class of the semester.  I won't be back in the classroom until Tuesday, January 21, when Alan Auerbach and I will be doing the first session of the 2014 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium.

That makes this week the very week when I would have had ACL surgery, if I had decided to go under the knife for purposes of fixing my right knee.  The timing idea, had I gone ahead, was to finish fall classes, and then maximize the recovery time before I am next scheduled to teach a class.  I was told that I'd need at least four weeks to get back in the classroom, but the more the better.  I could also expect six grueling months before I'd be largely recovered as a matter of light daily activity, and probably twelve months before I could try anything as rigorous as tennis.

I suffered the injury at the tail end of April.  My first thought was that I definitely wanted the surgery, so I could be physically whole and (among other things) get back on the tennis court.  This was accompanied, however, by a queasy sense that getting surgery at my age just to play tennis (if that's how one thought of it) might be unwise.  Anyway, I'd need to finish my semester first and then do prehab.

I already had a couple of trips planned for the early summer, to Stockholm in May and Israel in June.  These, I determined, were still feasible, meaning that I couldn't have surgery until the end of June.  But one thing I absolutely did not want to do was ruin my summer, when I so vastly prefer it to winter.  There was simply no way that I wanted to spend my favorite months of the year lying in bed and then hobbling around on crutches, rather than enjoying the outdoors.  But once it was September, I'd need to wait for fall classes to end, hence the target date of sometime this week.

I met with three surgeons, decided which one I preferred, and started rehab (or at the time, apparently prehab).  But I hadn't definitely decided what to do.  I'm usually decisive about choices that I face, but this time I kept wavering, not that it mattered immediately, as the "go" decision still lay several months down the road.

By late July, my physical therapist was telling me that I was close to being able to go back on the tennis court.  But I didn't feel ready until late August.  My first time out, hitting with a pro, I felt as if I was a million years from ever actually playing tennis again.  All I could do was hit the ball if it was drilled right at me.

By late September I was actually playing matches, which I now have survived for more than two months, pretty much at my old level (as to both good days and bad).  I even run down a lot of balls - I'm almost as mobile as I used to be, if I'm on my toes and leaning the right way, though less able to change directions or manage a cold start.  I try to be careful in a couple of ways (including how often I play), but so far, mostly so good.  I also can rush to cross streets when the light is turning, as I always used to.  I simply don't do red lights, if I can help it, but early on this caused knee buckling if I even dared to try.

Meanwhile, I've been living my regular life, apart from the nuisance of having to keep up the regimen of daily knee exercise.  My current project (due January 15, but triaged until now behind other, more pressing obligations) is writing a short chapter called "The Economics of Taxation" (not my choice of title) for a forthcoming Oxford U. Press volume, the Oxford Handbook of Law and Economics.  Not as much fun for me, perhaps, as writing a more creative and original paper, but incomparably preferable to lying on my back with painkillers and an ice machine.

UPDATE: Great article about ACL tears, including why they happen.  I'd been noticing that, in the NFL, there seem to be a few every week, while in the NBA point guards have been falling from ACL tears like flies.  Also exactly my experience that it's a "mind-body" issue - ACL tears happen because you're surprised (which requires that you be playing with an opponent, even if there's no physical contact) - you change what you're doing at the last second and thus are awkwardly misaligned at the moment of injury.  Then you feel the  pop, and it's welcome to the world of diminished performance and (at least initially) pain.  The one difference between my experience and that described in the article is that, as merely an amateur / weekend athlete, I could get back to an adequate physical performance level without the surgery - obviously not possible for an NFL or NBA player.