Living with an Injured Athlete

All three of my children have played on sports teams since they were little. The risk of injury is always present, but I am well aware that simply playing in the backyard, or riding a bike in the street hold their fair share of potential injuries. At some point, a child who is passionate about their sport and plays with that passion will go down. You stand there on the sidelines watching and waiting, hoping for the best. As a parent it is devastating to watch a child go down on the court or the field, but even more devastating is watching their face when the doctor tells them they will need surgery. Then the final hammer comes…. you cannot return to the sport for 6-9 months, or maybe even not at all. No one prepares you for what to say to make it all better (all you really want to do is make it go away). This has unfortunately been a part of my parenting journey for the last three years, and twice in the last four months. Taking care of a patient after surgery is exhausting, but it is hardly the worst part of the recovery process. In the weeks following an injury and surgery, an athlete can become increasingly depressed about what the future will look like. There is the physical pain to deal with and often that is excruciating. There is sleep deprivation that comes as part of not being able to even find a comfortable position to sleep in. Then there is the loneliness. Life goes on for everyone else. People initially come to visit but then must get back to the routine of their lives and the athlete becomes an observer, often feeling like an outsider in their own life. No parent can fix this for their child. Getting back into the routine of school, while difficult, can be good and often helps some of the feelings of isolation to subside.

Going to physical therapy is a positive. Yes, it is one more thing to add to a busy schedule, but it does provide a way for a young athlete to begin to see what their body can do.(potential for hope here) This can be exciting but all too quickly can make them aware of where they “want to be, and not where they are”. Again, the feelings of depression can set in. I have learned (the hard way) to say less and just be physically present. This is hard for someone like me who likes to fix things. It is also important for the athlete to continue to be a part of their team. I was not a believer on this one at first, but I have come around. This part of the journey is much like the worst roller coaster ride you have ever encountered. They put their uniform on, sit with their team, maybe even keep the stats…. they look fine, and yes kids are resilient. They would not be strong athletes if they had no resilience. But there are many tears of frustration, loneliness, and isolation. Yet again this is not a pain you can take away for them. If you try too hard to suggest you understand what they are feeling you run the risk of angering them further. It is hard to find a way to connect. What I recommend at this juncture is patience (and maybe a friend to make you laugh a bit). As your athlete is able to return to various levels of physical activity you will see improved mood but this too is a bumpy road and requires patience. Ask what they would like from you. Sometimes you will get lucky and they will tell you. Again, this is all about being emotionally present in the moment (if you have read any of my blog posts in the last 10 days you should be seeing a pattern) I began running again as part of my daughter’s recovery process three years ago. I am currently swimming laps and doing lots of ab work with my two athletes recovering from ACL injuries. While this is a challenging process the benefits of time spent together are endless and incredibly meaningful.

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