Article submitted May 7, 2019
Jan 20, 2019 — Derek Gold
For months, I have thought about putting in writing what has happened the past two years. On and off I would jot down notes in my phone thinking one day I would want to reflect on it. But I never had a reason to do it. Who cares? What good would it do for me to write about what happened? My intent of writing is not to gain pity or make people realize what I went through. If one person who reads this learns a lesson from my experience, or I can give some hope to one person going through a similar situation my goal will be complete. My hope is that when you are done reading, one thing becomes evident: Appreciate every day you have in this world. You never know when things are going to change or what will happen in the future. Just as important is to appreciate the people you go through life with. Those who are there for you; your family, your friends, and those who care about you. Overuse the words “I love you” and “Thank You”, because those words can never be said enough.
Never in my life would I have imagined myself sitting down to reflect and put to words an unfortunate series of events that changed my life forever. Indisputably, the past two years have been and I hope they will always be, the worst two years of life. Although I did not see it at the time, I have recently had a lot of time to think and digest what actually happened. It was simply put, a living hell, and one which I did not see a foreseeable end to any time soon. But, I am 100% sure that because of what happened I am a better person. I know more about my family, my friends, my body, my mind, and most importantly myself, because of what happened.
Where to start? I was an indestructible 18-year-old kid living the dream. As a standout on the baseball field and on the golf course, I had numerous State and County accolades to my name. As much as athletics meant to me, academics were always more important and anybody that knows me understands how important academics are to me. Early in my senior year in high school, I had committed to play Division 1 Golf at Towson University. With one season of Baseball and Golf left at the high school level I was set on having my best year yet. I was on pace to break school records on both the golf course and the baseball field and there was great excitement that came with that opportunity. In short, I was having the time of my life and was excelling in all aspects of life. I made a decision to play rec basketball in the winter off-season as an easy way to stay in shape and have fun with my friends before we all went off to college. What started as an easy decision to have fun with my friends, turned into a living nightmare that has lasted almost two years now and still affects me today.
So what happened? It was one of those events that is hard to explain but one that you remember so vividly. I jumped for the ball and landed funny on my leg. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. I had jammed my knee before and had many injuries through all my years of sports, but nothing like this one. As soon as I fell, I knew it was bad. I slammed the floor in frustration and immediately feelings of regret starting flying through my head. Why did I decide to play basketball? Why did this happen to me? There were so many questions I had that nobody has an answer to. The MRI results came back and it was worse than we thought. I completely blew out my knee. My ACL was completely blown out and I also tore my meniscus. I had so many thoughts going through my mind for days after. I was frustrated, angry, upset, disappointed, and mostly scared for the future. Just like that, my life changed. My life changed from so good to so bad in a matter of seconds. After a few days, I knew I had to change my mentality. At the time I didn’t know what I know know about mentality and how the brain functions with our thoughts and that is something that if I had to do it over again I would change completely. How you think, influences how you feel, and how you feel has a direct correlation to how you act. This is so important to everyday life and something that I wish I knew before this happened.
Fast forward months, the surgery was successful and the road to recovery was on. I had done a lot of reading before surgery about what it was going to be like and what to expect but honestly it is one of those things that you cannot truly prepare yourself for. The recovery was way harder and more painful than I ever expected. I am a very impatient person and it bothered me so much to not be able to play and not be able to function the way I used to be able to. When you go four-five weeks without being able to walk, it really makes you appreciate the little things in life. You have to re-learn everything; how to walk, how to run, how to lift weights, etc… I will never take the little things for granted anymore. The littlest things in life that you don’t think about on a daily basis like walking, showering, and sleeping are all not possible on your own. I will say this a lot in this reflection but it cannot be said enough. I can’t thank my parents and brother enough for everything! They had to help me with everything in the beginning and they were the best support system I could ask for, but they were also the ones that pushed me to try and get things done on my own and motivated me when I did not feel good.
I progressed through the recovery process, slower than I would have liked and with a couple setbacks but I was finally cleared to play golf again. It was now the Summer going into college and I was doing everything I could to be ready for College Golf. However, even though I could play golf, things didn’t feel right. Doctors justified it saying that the process takes a long time to feel “normal” and they kept saying it would come with time. I listened to what they had to say but deep down, I just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t the same athletic kid that I was before. My knee was still swollen, my running form wasn’t good enough, and it frustrated me so much. All I wanted was to go back and feel the way I did before the injury. I had never really had regrets before this happened but I quickly learned that one of the worst feelings in life is having regrets and wishing you could go back and do things differently. For me, I kept asking myself why I decided to play rec basketball? That was my frustration and excuse when things weren’t getting better. Everyone told me you can’t go back and change it, so I just need to move forward. I knew this, but it still bothered me and I had a tough time getting past that. Reflecting back, it is hard to tell how this impacted what would happen in the future, but I know for sure that it did not do any good for me to blame things on this. As I mentioned earlier, my regrets influenced the way I felt, and the way I felt, influenced how I acted.
To speed up the story, I progressed enough to get cleared to start playing in college in the fall. I still didn’t feel like myself but I did my best to make the most of it. I just hoped that the doctors were right and time would fix everything. October came around and I began feeling some tightness in my hamstring. Thinking nothing of it at the time, I kept playing and hoped it would go away. Eventually, it kept getting worse and I knew I had to get it looked at. The trainers and doctors diagnosed it as severe muscle tightness. They thought that my hamstring was weak still from the surgery and this was a result of working out and playing golf every day on a weak muscle. Days went by of getting treatment on it, trying everything possible to loosen the muscle and relieve the tension I was having in my leg. Eventually, the trainers determined that this was an issue beyond their capability and that I should get an expert to look at it. An ultrasound showed a collection of blood in my hamstring called a hematoma. Knowing nothing about these, of course the first thing that came to my mind was blood clot or a severe condition. Doctors said this was not uncommon and it was fairly easily cured. They said it would either go away on its own or that they could drain it with a needle to speed up the process. Days later, the doctor decided to stick a needle in and drain it to relieve the extreme pressure in my leg. They sent the blood to the lab to be tested but in the meantime I felt immediate relief from this and was optimistic that it may have worked. However, days later it came back just as bad if not worse than it was before. Halloween night of my Freshman year in college came around and that was a night that I will never forget and not in a good way. I sat in my dorm room in the most extreme pain and pressure my body has every experienced. I simply did not know what was happening or what to do. I was so scared that I texted my brother living in Towson and asked him to sleep with his ringer on in case I needed him. I did not want to scare my parents late at night about how awful I felt and was going to try and deal with the issue in the morning. I did everything I could to get comfortable and try to sleep but it was impossible. I called my parents in tears, scared for my life about what was happening. They offered to come pick me up, to go to the hospital, but honestly I didn’t know what to do. I tried my very best to hold it in and not scare them but deep down I was scared to death. It was the first time in my life that I was truly scared to go to sleep because I feared something was going to happen. I layed there in the darkness with a million thoughts going through my mind about what could be happening. It was so bad that I contemplated not going to sleep that night. All I wanted to do was wake up the next morning; that’s it! As crazy as that sounds, when things in life get that bad, all you can hope is that you see another day. That night, I did something that I very rarely do in life. I am not a very religious person and I do not know to this day what caused me to do this, but I prayed that night before I went to sleep. I prayed for my family and I prayed for myself. All I asked was to wake up the next morning. Eventually, I was able to relax myself enough to fall asleep for a few hours. I didn’t want to go to class or go to practice any more, all I wanted to do was go home and be with my family. But I continued doing what I did, because that’s who I was and I didn’t know any different.
The next day was spent on many calls with doctors as we tried to figure out what to do. My mom luckily knew a doctor and reached out for help. He told us he wanted to see us to diagnose the problem and assess what was going on. In the meantime, we sent him pictures of what my leg looked like at the time hoping this would catch his attention to the urgency. I guess luckily for us it did. I didn’t mention it before but my leg was not very appealing to the eye at this point, in fact it was disgusting looking. It looked like a grapefruit was underneath of my skin and it was all black and blue. After we sent him a picture of my leg, his response was something along the lines of “I’ll see you in surgery tomorrow. This needs to be taken care of “immediately”. While I guess this was good that I was going to finally get the problem resolved, this did not sound good to me. I do not know too much about doctors and how the medical field works but usually when a doctor is that urgent to rush you into surgery, it isn’t a good sign. A day later, I was in the hospital preparing for surgery and hoping this would be the end to all my problems. I came out of surgery hours later and heard the report from the doctor. He said it was infected inside and he had to cut a pretty big hole in my leg to drain all of the blood. While this didn’t sound great, he was very optimistic that this was the end to all my problems and he said these injuries heal very fast and I will be back to full activity in a few weeks.
If there is a trend in this entire story, it is that usually things didn’t go as planned or how we were told they would go. Weeks went by of “packing the wound” with gauze every day sometimes multiple times a day. If you can’t picture what this is like, think of that magic trick where the magician keeps pulling out more and more fabric and you don’t think it will ever stop. This is what it was like the first time the doctor pulled out the gauze from the surgery. I could not believe that much gauze could fit in one person’s leg but it sure did. This was a nightmare for me being in college, I was trying to go to classes and live a normal college life but at the same time I could not shower on my own time, I could not stick the gauze in my own leg by myself, I couldn’t do much easily and this made me very frustrated. More weeks went by and from the outside it actually began to look like it was healing but every time the doctor looked at it, they had to open it back up a little more because the inside wasn’t healing at the same rate. To speed the story up, weeks went by without much success. We tried the gauze, then we tried a wound vac which was another nightmare. It was a machine stuck to my leg that I had to carry around everywhere I went. A tube ran from inside my leg to this machine which was supposed to bring all the skin together and make it heal faster. Everyone told us these were miracle workers and it seemed everyone we talked to had success using these. Not me though! In fact, it made it much worse and was doing more harm to my leg than good. They stopped using that as it seemed we regressed back from where we were. We decided to see a different doctor to get a different opinion. He was simply put ,the best, and I firmly believe he saved my life. He had the most confidence every time I saw him that he was going to fix this and he did eventually. He used slightly different techniques but it was his attitude and outlook which really saved me. He told me to go play golf and live the most normal life I could. He promised me that it would be okay and he would fix it. Everytime we saw him I was hesitant and didn’t believe what he was saying but he kept his confidence and that meant to world to me. Every other doctor so far had failed me to that point and my trust was hard to be gained at that time but he slowly gained my trust. So if this story ever gets to you Dr. Franklin, I can’t thank you and your team enough for how you treated me. You guys were the best and gave me hope when I needed it most. Things were getting better for a while and seemed as if they were finally starting to turn for the better. Our home Golf tournament for Towson was approaching and Dr. Franklin had gotten me to a point where we thought I was healthy enough to play in the tournament as things seemed to be getting better. There was still a small hole in my leg and we were still packing it with gauze everyday but it was the best it had looked in a while.
To give some context to where we are now, it was around April at this point., 15 months since my original ACL surgery. It was about five months after the Hematoma surgery that they told me would take a few weeks to heal and I was still not healed. I went to our home tournament for golf and just like that, all the progression that we were having came to an abrupt stop. Sunday morning, I woke up early to prepare for the my second round of golf and I looked down at my leg to see a screw hanging half out of my leg! Yes, you read that right! A screw from my original ACL surgery that was supposed to dissolve over time never dissolved and 15 months later came to the surface and pushed its way out of the scar. I was speechless and didn’t know what to do. I’ve had some bad nights of sleep, but this probably tops the list when you wake up at 6am to see a screw sticking half out of your leg. I had no clue who to call or what to do but my first instinct was to pull it out. I pulled the screw out of my leg, and called my parents to tell them what was going on. I knew something wasn’t right and it destroyed me inside. I played the rest of the tournament but knew that there were much bigger things to figure out. I was sad, upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated, pretty much any negative thought you can think of, I was feeling it at that time. Most of all, I was depressed. It felt like this was never going to end. It was like something you would see in a movie that you wouldn’t think could ever happen in real life. It had been about 17 months after my original injury and I was still struggling. In fact, this was the worst I had felt emotionally since it all began. I didn’t want to get out of bed each day, I didn’t want to play sports, I didn’t want to be with my friends, I didn’t want to do anything that I used to do. All I did was lay in bed and go to class it seemed. I left the room the very least that I could because I found no excitement from doing anything. Days went by and we were going back and forth with doctors trying to figure out what was next.
The screw coming out of my leg prompted us to get another MRI and see what was going on. While one side of me was depressed and had no optimism that this would ever end, there was a little part of me that saw this as an opportunity or reason for all my struggling. Maybe the screw was the reason I had all these problems and finally we would get it all resolved. That was in the back of my head but believe me the negative thoughts greatly outweighed the positives. The MRI came back and you can probably guess what that showed. Following the trend of the story, more bad news. I had a pretty severe infection in my leg which was causing all these problems. They don’t know if the infection had been there from the original procedure or if it was relatively new but we all knew it wasn’t good.
It felt as if we were back to square one. All the positives I thought we were experiencing were all gone. The next step was to clean out and take care of the infection which of course required another surgery. The plan was to re-open the incision from the ACL surgery and make 2 new incisions as well and wash out my entire leg to clean out the infection. They put antibiotic powder in to treat the infection and I had an IV PICC line put in my arm for 6 weeks. If you don’t know what a PICC line is, it was a little tube that went into my vein and ran from my heart all the way out of my arm so that we could get IV antibiotics 3 times a day without needing a needle each time. Although it sounded nice and convenient, having a tube that runs from your heart out of your body which they tell you can’t move or pull at all or it could cause serious problems was nothing easy. The antibiotics made me sick and weak, I couldn’t sleep due to worrying about the PICC line pulling out. It was miserable.
By now you are probably wondering what else could go wrong? Because that is for sure what I was thinking. And yet, believe it or not, things did get worse. A few weeks into the PICC Line antibiotics, I became very sick. It started with some stomach pain and got worse and worse each day. It was by far the worst stomach pain I had ever experienced and ever plan to experience in my life. I couldn’t sleep at all due to this sharp pain. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach constantly. On top of the stomach pain was vomiting. This marks the second time of the story where I will never forget a night and not for good reasons. The stomach pain was so severe and the vomiting so constant. I didn’t sleep at all that night and my mom kept asking if I thought we needed to go to the hospital. I had never been to the emergency room and didn’t want to go (especially at 2 in the morning). I didn’t know if this was just a side effect of the strong antibiotics or if it was something more serious. Eventually it got so bad, we decided it was time to go to the emergency room. This was probably the lowest point of my life. I had open wounds all over my body, an infection being treated, a Picc line running through my body, the most severe stomach pain and was constantly vomiting. I was so scared that night for my life, I laid down on the floor and cried to my parents. The only words that could come out of my mouth at that time were “I don’t want to die”. I hated to scare my parents but from the bottom of my heart I was truly scared that I was going to die that night. To speed up the story, we went to the emergency room and after a ton of tests and scans then diagnosed it as another infection in my colon which obviously had to be treated with more antibiotics. I swear I had been on every antibiotic they sell by this point and had been taking some kind of medication for over a year. I wasn’t the same happy kid I used to be. I no longer cared about school, or golf, or anything. All I cared about was being with my family and I was scared to ever leave them.
Weeks later, we were finally able to treat all the infections and the PICC Line was removed from my body after about 6 weeks. It was now the summer and I was finally starting to feel a little better. I was starting to regain my strength, the wounds had all closed, and my emotional state was improving. The only thing that still bothered me was a very swollen knee still from all the procedures. I began to concede the fact that my knee may just be swollen and uncomfortable for the rest of my life and as bad as that sounds I was honestly okay with that because after everything I went through, that was nothing compared to everything else.
If you’ve waiting for the good news, well……here it finally comes. I returned in the Fall back to school and playing golf again. My knee was still swollen but I was feeling good enough. I was working out again and my knee was getting even stronger than it used to be. And just like that……. things seemed to make a massive jump just over night??? I woke up one day with much less swelling and I was feeling really good. Weeks went by and the swelling stayed to a minimum which it hadn’t done in a year and a half. I was finally myself again! I played golf, worked out, went to class, had a social life again, and most importantly was happy again.
January 2019, marked the 2 year anniversary of all my problems. While these two years of truly a living hell nightmare will be with me for the rest of my life, they are finally in the past and I am more optimistic than ever about my future. I am the strongest and happiest I have been in two years and forever thankful for everyone that got me through the toughest of times.
So what did I learn? Bad things happen in life, I never thought I would experience something this bad but I did and that was out of my control. More importantly, was how I faced the adversity and what I learned from it. I’ve said it before but I will say it again, my family and friends were the greatest support system anyone could ever ask for. They were with me when I was at my worst and always did the right thing. They sat with me, talked to me, listened to me, and sat silently sometimes, but them being there with me was everything I ever needed. There were times I was depressed and never wanted to talk but just the simple text from a friend or a grandparent saying “I am thinking about you, stay strong” meant the world to me. A simple text to someone having a bad day or fighting adversity can make their day. Most importantly, I learned to appreciate the little things in life. Never take a day in life for granted because just like that it can change forever. Smile at a stranger, say thank you, tell people you love them because sometimes it is something little like that which will make someone’s day, or give hope to someone going through adversity. That brings me to my next big point, you never know what someone else is going through. Be careful what you say to people because they might be going through stuff that you have no idea about. Although I didn’t really care what other people thought or knew I was going through, there were many times people would say something to me that really bothered me and I thought to myself “if only they knew”.
I want to conclude with some of the biggest inspiration I found during my struggles. This came from 3 speeches that I had saved to my phone. The speeches all are from recipients of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPY awards. Stuart Scott, Craig Sager, and Jim Kelly gave me inspiration to not give up whenever I needed it. I watched these videos probably 10 times a day. I would go through my day just listening to their words because they were an inspiration to me. If I can ask of you one thing when you are done reading this, if you have not already done so, I encourage everyone to watch these speeches as least once. They truly give a perspective on life and I think they are words every person needs to here. I want to leave you with some of my favorite quotes from these men that really meant a lot to me…
“Live, live, fight like hell, but when you get too tired to fight, lay down, and let someone else fight for you” -Stuart Scott
“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not an endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life” -Craig Sager
“Each and every day is a canvas waiting to be painted, an opportunity for love, for fun, for living, for learning” -Craig Sager
“Every single person can be a difference maker, if you have someone out there going through adversity, it can be just having a bad day, what you say to them and the smile you have on your face can be the difference in them making it to the next day” -Jim Kelly
If you made it through this marathon of a reflection with me I thank you. I hope you learned something and can apply a lesson I learned to your life.
Mom, Dad, and Brett- I love you more than you will ever know and I will never be able to thank you enough!
Never give up!
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