After a summer of externships, I was excited that my first patient care block back in the hospital would be my favorite – Large Animal Surgery II. Taking the block a second time (along with taking Large Animal Medicine and having 6 equine externship rotations) meant I felt a lot more comfortable navigating the hospital, communicating with clients and clinicians, and caring for my patients. I was excited to jump into 3 weeks of large animal surgeries – the path I want my own career to take.
Over the weekend headed into the second week, I got off my horse and felt I tweaked my knee. Not unusual for an equestrian after a hard ride, so I took the next day, Monday off. I rode my horse again Tuesday and felt the same twinge when I got off that evening. I took Wednesday and Thursday off, figuring that I just needed longer to rest whatever I tweaked. I was continuing along as normal on my block, but after sitting during rounds or in the chart room for extended periods of time, when I stood, my knee definitely smarted. I could walk it off, so I wasn’t too concerned.
Thursday night, my knee became so painful it woke me up, and by Friday morning, I was consistently walking in pain, unable to fully extend or bear weight on my right knee. My patient in the hospital was not critical, and so while the afternoon was slow, I got permission from one of my residents to go to the doctor because I was in so much pain. My blockmates offered to take over treatments until I got back.
I was able to get in and see a DO, and after passive and active manipulations of my knee, along with radiographs, she ruled out ACL/MCL tears, which I was insanely relieved to hear. But she continued to tell me that I had a quadricep strain and that in order for it to heal, she wanted me to be completely non-weight bearing for the next 3 weeks. She wanted me to treat my leg as if it were broken and wanted me on crutches.
Immediately, my head was swirling. There was no way I could do patient care in the large animal hospital on crutches! I’d have to go off the block, I’d be delayed in finishing 4th year; I was instantly defensive. Could I just use the crutches most of the time and then when I needed to be with patients or clients not use them? Could I wear a brace? Could I just push through it? Could I just get meds? The answer was repeatedly ‘no’, and if I tried to push through it, I would be risking serious, permanent damage.
I haggled with the doctor through tears, and she finally agreed that if a brace would help relieve the pain, she would be okay with me trying that first. I left the doctor’s with specific instructions on the type of brace I was to get, and I returned to the school. I went to find my resident who asked how my leg was. I told her that they wanted me on crutches, but I got them to let me just wear a brace to which she replied, ‘don’t be dumb; go back and get your crutches’. I put the brace on – really hoping it would relieve my pain – and was sorely disappointed when my knee was still painful. I called to the clinic and asked if I could pick up my crutches the next morning. Meanwhile, my resident found me in the chart room and told me it was my decision to stay on the block or not – but that if I wanted to stay, they would make it work. I didn’t have to think; I told them that as long as they were willing to work with me, I wanted to stay.
The next few weeks found a lot of creative solutions, learning to ask for help, and leaning on an amazing group of blockmates and clinicians. On crutches, I was allowed to take cases that required minimal hands-on, and I was allowed to help my blockmates by scribing for their cases and staying on top of their paperwork when things got crazy in the hospital. I was allowed to observe any additional appointments that I was interested in, I just couldn’t take anything limited by the crutches.
My blockmates dutifully wheeled me around in an office chair for rounds several times a week (complete with racecar sound effects from one enthusiastic peer), helped me dump water troughs and palpate digital pulses, carry feed tubs and medications, and lead my patients to treatment rooms for procedures. I pushed the limits of what I could carry with a set of crutches including patient charts, flakes of hay, and more, and got quite adept at doing physical exams on one leg.
My clinicians continued to be concerned for my well-being and let me partner up with classmates for my cases, so I had extra hands if I needed them but let me keep the cases I currently had. They made sure I was doing alright and were incredibly supportive through the entire process.
As a very independent individual, I initially hated asking for help. I’m the first to tackle things head on and asking someone else to do the heavy lifting (literally) is not my style. But over the 2 weeks that I was on crutches and patient care, I learned that I am surrounded by a spectacular and caring group of classmates. They readily came to my aid over and over and continued to yell at me when I tried to do things I shouldn’t have been doing.
After completing my required 3 weeks on crutches, my re-check resulted in being crutch and brace-free much to both my and my DO’s surprise. We’re still highly confused as to what caused the injury as well as how quickly it healed but I’m not complaining. My first day off crutches was greeted with well-wishes from my peers and clinicians, and I have never appreciated the ability to walk and carry things at the same time so much.
I don’t recommend getting injured during 4th year, but if you have to, I hope it’s with as amazing a group of clinicians and blockmates as I had.