During the spring of 2015, my junior season of college lacrosse, I slowly came to the decision that I would never be able to play again. I had began the season with a disc herniation that I had managed to get under control through aggressive physical therapy, but as the season wore on, the nerve pain, combined with the accompanying back spasms and pins and needles left me confident that this would be my last time playing competitive sports again.
I was caught in a tough cycle. I was in excruciating pain but didn't take days or games off. With each practice, my back seizures became more intense and the nerve pain seared a little more. I found myself on a steady diet of muscle relaxers, pain killers and steroids, none of which helped alleviate my pain or discomfort. During the last few weeks of the season, I was averaging 30 minutes of sleep a night, an hour if I was lucky. No movement was comfortable and my spine and hips had shifted in an attempt to find a body position that wasn't in constant distress. I had only a short term view of things at the time, to get through the season and go as far as possible, but in the back of my mind I was unsure how I would live a normal life again. Looking back now, I am really not sure how I played those last few games. I think this just sheds light on the amazing compensatory capabilities that our bodies truly have.
Unfortunately, our playoff campaign was brief as we got bounced out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but through a recommendation of a teammate I was able to schedule an appointment with Dr. Albert a few days later. The first thing that struck me about Dr. Albert was how kind he was. I couldn't imagine being in a more uncomfortable situation, but his sympathy and compassion made me feel, for the first time in a long time, that things were going to turn out alright. He reiterated that I would absolutely have the ability to play lacrosse again, and although I was admittedly skeptical, a part of me believed that this would be actually possible. After my appointment with Dr. Albert, it became apparent that surgery was the best option for me.
Less than a week later, I showed up at HSS to get operated on. My back had deteriorated significantly since my initial appointment and I was severely limited in what I could do on a daily basis. My spine was temporarily shifted to the left as my body tried best to deal with the chronic pain that it had become accustomed to. I was unable to sit, stand, lie down, or basically do anything without going into spasm and/or having shooting nerve pain. The next thing I remember is waking up in the post-op room and the immediate relief that I felt from my nerve not being impinged anymore. I also remember a distinct conversation I had with Dr. Albert. After asking which All-American team I had been on that past season, and we both agreed that I was going to be a 1st team All-American the following season. This dialogue was something that may have been inconsequential to him at the time, but meant the world to me and was something I used to keep me focused during my rehabilitation process.
Right now, I am almost a year and a half out from surgery. I sat out the fall lacrosse season to rehab my back, and was fortunate enough to play my last season of lacrosse free of back pain. Unfortunately, I ended up tearing my ACL towards the end of the season (which was subsequently operated on by Dr. Altchek), but I still consider myself very lucky. I ended up being a 1st team All-American, as Dr. Albert and I had discussed. It was truly a team effort that required Dr. Albert, all of his staff, including Jamie Osmak, who I spent countless hours working with, and many many others.
As for now, I have a new project on my hands. After having a successful knee operation at HSS at the end of May (Big thanks to Dr. Altchek, Keith and staff), I am rehabbing to return to professional lacrosse for the 2017 season. Interacting with the staff and employees at HSS for a second time only reaffirmed my initial thoughts on how thankful I feel for having the opportunity to do my surgeries here. There hasn't been much of anything that I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish in my athletic career that I don't owe to those who have supported me, and HSS has played a special role in that over the past two years. They gave me a second chance to play the sport I love, and for that I can’t thank Dr. Albert and his staff enough for allowing me to get back in the game.