The coin flipped through the air — heads meant I would go in for the surgery, tails meant I would not. The coin landed on heads.
“Damn,” I thought. Maybe, I’ll do best two out of three. I flipped it again. Heads. “Damnit.” I thought maybe I should flip it one more time, just to be sure. The quarter made that high-pitched zipping sound after it left my hand, cutting its way through the air. It hit its apex and then descended into my palm. Heads. “DAMNIT!”
I brushed my teeth, put my shorts on, and headed to the hospital. I had just flipped a coin to help me decide if I would have surgery on my meniscus. It’s hard to say if that was a good choice, since I’m still recovering, but I’ll know in a few weeks. I mean, I’m not dead, so there’s at least that.
My knees aren’t in the best shape. This is my good one:
And the good news about my good knee is that it belongs to my good (dominant: right) leg. The bad news about my bad knee is that it belongs to my bad left leg. Right now, this is my bad knee on my bad leg:
Over the last 15 years, my left leg has been through some shit. It all started in 2000 when I dropped into a half-pipe and traveled up the wall for the first hit: 3-2-1 lift-off. I dropped my shoulder and head to start the rotation — the trick to be performed was a backflip-180. As I made my way around, I was expecting my skis to meet with the hard snow of the half-pipe’s wall within the second, but the sound and feeling didn’t come. What?
And finally, I crashed hard on the tails of my skis in the bottom of the pipe. The impact from the crash was so powerful that I broke my left leg’s tibia and fibula clean through.
BAM! POW! WHAM!
The surgery for that was, well, gnarly. The results left me with a titanium rod extending knee-to-ankle, and three screw (two in ankle, one in knee area) implants. This is the nicest video I could find of the procedure, which still gives me the chills, even though it’s just drawings/cartoons:
And if you’re really looking for some bloody stuff, you can watch this one:
A year after that surgery, I was playing soccer for my high school team. The season had just started, and we were in our second or third game. I was blazing down the right wing with the ball and a defender came in cleats up from a frontal/side angle. He smashed right into my shin guard and missed the ball, from what I recall. But for what he missed in ball, he made up for by fracturing my shin.
One might say that that kind of damage/trauma to a leg leaves a lasting impression. Physically, I had a shin that protruded near the site of the break, and it would change colors (get black and blue-ish) when I ran around for a long time. Naturally, I kept skiing and playing soccer, because it takes more than broken legs to stop this guy!
Fast forward about 10 years to February of 2015. I skied about 15 days, and everything was just dandy for my knees — at least I thought so. Then, in March, I was playing an indoor soccer game (super important playoff game, obviously) on a hard court.
It was late in the second half and I was backpedaling to get in a good offensive position, when, all of a sudden, my left leg just kinda gave out.
It felt weak and uncontrollable, like someone kicked all the mojo out of it. There were only two minutes left in the game, so I kept playing with my newly acquired hobble-run.
We lost the game, and afterward, I remember thinking that my leg felt weird, maybe a little shocked; I was also limping around like a feeble old man. When I got home, I got a good look at my knee; it was completely swollen. “Shit,” I thought. “Did I tear something? Shit! Shit! Shit!” I started icing it, took Alleve, grabbed a shower and went to bed.
The next day, I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t put weight on it; I wanted to cry.
I probably did. I had been in this position twice in my life already, with the same leg — “always this goddamned left leg,” I said, likely in a more impressive combination of four-letter words. But I tried to stay hopeful. I had my brother get me a pair of crutches from Craigslist and I set up a doctor appointment.
After getting a MRI, it was clear: my meniscus was torn.
The physician recommended that I do physical therapy for 4-6 weeks before thinking about surgery, because for a meniscus, it’s usually not something that is “repaired.” More often, he told me, the torn/frayed part of the meniscus is scooped out, which is analogous to removing a hangnail that bothers you. (One little difference between a hangnail and a frayed meniscus is that fixing one requires some clippers, and fixing the other one requires anesthesia, and, uh, knives and shit.)
I stopped playing soccer for a couple months and switched to running. Eventually, the pain I felt while traveling up and down stairs subsided and I could run a few miles pain free. A couple more months and I was playing soccer again, mostly without pain. Then one day, I kicked the ball in a weird way and it hurt so much I had to stop playing. Again, I stopped soccer and turned only to running. In June, I decided to schedule my surgery for September so I could enjoy some sweat-like-you’re-gonna-water-California’s-plants summer runs and the great outdoors.
Well, as it turns out, time turns (with the hands on the clock, duh), and it was September, and my surgery was in five days. To be certain about the decision for surgery, I went out to play soccer and gave it a good romping. To my dismay, I could elicit no pain. This is when I started to freak out and think, “Maybe I don’t need the surgery? Maybe I can just keep using it like this? This is fine. I like using it like this. Nothing to see here, folks.” This couldn’t be true — where had the pain gone?
To add to my predicament, I knew I would be skiing this winter, and had no idea how my knee would react to skiing and more specifically, skiing moguls (my favorite). To guarantee that I would be skiing pain-free this season, I had to decide if I would:
- A) use the lack of pain I felt while playing soccer as a predictor for what I would feel while skiing and not get surgery (but risk making the tear worse), OR,
- B) just get the surgery and settle with the fact that I’d have less meniscus to help protect my knee from arthritis in the future, but probably prevent future tearing, and probably be pain-free.
By the way, these options suck.
I slept on it, and the next day (Wednesday), I played soccer again. I hammered on it with lateral movement, twists and turns, but I couldn’t get much pain out of it. And that made my decision even more difficult. I was hoping that two days of soccer would bring some real pain to it. But instead, I felt like the 14-year-old boy I once was.
Surgery was scheduled for Friday, and I had all of Thursday to decide.
I called my doctor and my old physical therapist — one said to do it, and the other said not to. Perfect.
So, I slept on it again. And when I woke up on Friday, I was really hoping to have a definitive answer, but I didn’t have one. I was standing in the kitchen when I decided I’d flip a coin. I walked into my room to grab a quarter. And then…
…The coin flipped through the air and landed on heads.
I woke up in the post-operation room and I looked down at my leg; it was all bandaged up. Time had passed, and events had occurred while my consciousness was away. Now that it had returned, I took stock of the situation and was relieved that it was over. A nurse came by and I stated: “thirsty,” for which I was awarded a small styrofoam cup of ice chips.
It was time to go home.
- I don’t recommend flipping coins to determine whether you are going to do a surgery or not. You should be certain about your decision. In the end, if I really did’t want to get the surgery, I wouldn’t have shown up at the hospital. I think my brain calculated the odds and determined I was more likely to be pain-free this ski season if I went with the surgery. But, it really felt like a bet. And I hate betting.
- A meniscectomy (the procedure) is a quick recovery compared to other things, like tearing/repairing your labrum (https://sweet-as-tandy.com/2014/07/30/what-its-like-to-have-surgery-on-your-labrum/). If the procedure involves scooping, and not stitching, you shouldn’t need crutches, and you’ll walk out of the hospital the same day of your surgery. Your knee will be swollen though (GET SWOLL, YO).
- Your throat can hurt post-operation. Oh, you didn’t know? That’s usually because they stick a endotracheal tube (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_anaesthesia) down that guy.
“Hackathons are, like, my new favorite thing,” said not a lot of people. But I’m saying it, because I like building proof of concepts in a short period of time.
Hackathons are great reminders that great things can be built in no time at all.
Earlier this month, I participated in Sports Illustrated’s first hackathon, and this is a brief recounting of that sugar-filled, sleep-deprived, product-building experience. (No sports were actually played, unfortunately.)
We showed up around 9:30 a.m. because we were told that more people RSVP’d than the event space could handle. When I arrived, there were already about 10 over-achievers who had gotten there before me. I wanted to say, “damn them,” but then I realized, we were all probably sewn from similar fabric — the kind that welcomes waiting in lines to do work on a Saturday morning for the prospect of a unknown prizes (prizes had not been announced yet).
Around 10 a.m., the event started and we were allowed into the space (Time Inc. Photo Studio), which had a nice view.
There was coffee, donuts, bananas and plenty of other snacks to get fired up. My teammate, Brett, and I picked out a table and got settled in. Within about 15 minutes, there were speakers giving presentations to the group of hackers. This was a bit odd, and unfortunately, fell on the note of contrived. But alas, no donut is free. And the final speaker, Alex Bresler, said something that inspired what we would actually be building.
“It’s really difficult to determine who is more clutch than someone else.”
When I heard this, I thought, “Why? We can do that. We’ll do that.” I messaged Brett (sitting next to me), and asked what the thought about building something that rates the “clutchness” of players in sports, and allows users to compare different players. He responded that he liked that idea.
Shortly thereafter, the speech wrapped up, and one of the guys sitting at our table asked us what we were working on. I stated that we had an idea, but we weren’t totally sure. We asked him what he did, and he said he worked on “statistical modeling,” or something like that. I was skeptical, as I’m sure Brett was as well — I could see it on his face. I decided to give a little more info about what we were working on, and this statistician dude asked if he could join our team. I thought, “I don’t know anything about this guy, but, why the hell not. He could be great.” I said, “yeah sure, but let me ask Brett.” Brett was not yet convinced, but finally, he decided to say yes too. And so we accepted this stranger onto our team.
I asked him what his e-mail was so I could invite him to our git repo, and he said, [actual-email-address]@alum.mit.edu.
I laughed a good laugh inside. I knew regardless of what would happen, I was probably going to learn something. Our new teammate’s name was Dan (and still is, actually).
After officially becoming team-complete, I gave Dan the idea straight up, he seemed to like it. We discussed how we would build it, and then we were off and running. The unfortunate time was roughly 1 p.m.; this was not a true 24-hour hackathon.
We coded through the “early” night and Dan worked up some awesome model for calculating clutchness. By around 1 a.m., we had something pretty serviceable. Subsequently, this was about the same time my bed started to call me. The problem was, my bed was miles away, and it started to rain, and I did not want to walk anywhere in the rain. We also had some nasty bugs in our code that needed to be squashed, and squash them we did. It was around this time, maybe a little bit earlier, that we started to pair program, because this is when 1 brain is worth about 1/2 a brain. Dan took off for his bed sometime around 2 a.m., I think? Not sure.
Around 4 a.m., delirium struck, and I told Brett I was going to need some nappy time. Brett, as though he were cast of iron, turned to me and said that he was probably going to keep working. I admired that, but I also admired my potential time with the couch. I briefly napped and I returned to our table 30 minutes later, hardly refreshed, but it was better than nothing.
Brett was working on some insane bash command that was downloading videos, compressing them, converting them to another format, and probably sending them to the International Space Station. I kinda thought it was magical, but that’s because everything was magical at that hour, including water. A toothbrush would have been magical, too.
The sun came up; that was good. Dan came back early that morning, and pushed all of his work to our repository. Suddenly, we not only had data, we had a real mathematical model computing the clutchness, or, Clutch Rating of a particular player. We were ecstatic.
As we got closer to stopping-time, I built out a brief outline of our pitch, and we made some last-minute tweaks. The judges arrived (including the CMO of Sports Illustrated, Damian Slattery; the Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated, Ryan Hunt; and the CTO of Time Inc, Colin Bodell) and said some short words, and with that, the pitches started.
We got up on stage, and it felt like we nailed it. Our product was quite complete, by hackathon standards. Users could:
- Search through players, see a snapshot of each player and their overall Clutch Rating.
- Click on a player and see more stats about the player, including a profile photo.
- View all of a particular player’s plays that went into computing their overall clutch rating.
- Click on a play to watch game footage of that play (the product of Brett’s insane shell command).
We were the last team to pitch, and after finishing, the judges went on with their judging.
About 5 minutes later, the winners were announced, and we took first place.
Plenty of post-hackathon networking ensued, and we went to get a few whiskeys — not that we needed them. We were already mostly drunk with delirium. After the second or third drink, I turned into what some would call, a zombie. I promptly made my way to the train station without eating anyone, and found my bed.
The next day, we were all off to work like nothing ever happened.
Check out our project at clutchratings.com.
On Friday, May 1st, I was moving to a new apartment with a big ol’ U-Haul truck. On Saturday, May 2nd, I was at Techcrunch Disrupt for the hackathon, aiming to win. And win we did.
Earlier that morning, Jeff and I discussed some potential ideas over coffee, omelettes, and flapjacks. We came down to one: create a timesheet automatically by scanning your sent e-mails and evaluating your past meeting invites. Some people know how infuriating it can be to create a timesheet for clients, because if you don’t log your time immediately, you can forget what you spent the time doing in the first place. So, this was a hack to solve that problem.
When we started, I was already physically exhausted, but my brain was still fresh, and I was ready to rip. Because we were a small team of three, we knew we had to make something with a reasonable scope.
We hacked and hacked, as those who hack are wont to do. And this is the rest of the story in pictures:
The pitch video! http://techcrunch.com/video/holy-timesheets/518803556/
Jeff put together a nice write-up of the win here.
And that’s a wrap.
There’s nothing quite like having a 4-inch needle stuck into your shoulder, and then having dye injected shortly thereafter. Actually, there is something like this, and it’s called an arthrogram MRI. And actually, there’s another thing just like this too; it’s often referred to as “owwwwwwwwwwwww (actual medical name).”
Before we get to “procedures,” let me describe the environment of the 21st-century imaging facility and waiting room. I arrive at the packed lobby; it’s 10 a.m. I glide (stumble) over to the check-in counter, and say that I’m here for an appointment. “What for?” the receptionist replied.
“For the pain I’m having on my left ass-cheek,” I said.
Just kidding; I didn’t say that, but I should have. Instead I told the truth, that I was up in this hot mess of a hell-hole for an MRI. While I was getting processed, I overheard some real gems. The man to my right was complaining about computers and Obamacare. The man to my left had a tracheostomy and sounded a bit like Darth Vader. The woman behind me had a Nokia phone with the volume set to “Level 10: Deafening.”
I finished my paperwork and sat down right under the TV. Rachel Ray was on. The worst part was that the TV was being watched.
Carrying on, I sat in the first waiting room for 20 minutes, and then in some other random waiting room for another 10 minutes, and then in some dressing room for another 15 minutes, which is where I got to put on this haute couture:
I crossed my legs because that was the regal thing to do, and that dressing room was my palace, goddamnit. Then finally, some guy knocks on the door and escorts me to the Table of Terror (TOT), the origin of the arthrogram injection(s).
Once at the TOT, a doctor starts telling me how great this is all going to be. And I know that’s impossible, because I completely fucking hate needles. “Let’s just get it over with,” I say.
First up, local anesthesia to the shoulder area, which kinda hurts. Next, a little more anesthesia, and then, El Doctor sticks the 4-inch needle in my shoulder, which is basically brushing up against my joint. I am recoiling. The Dr. asks if it hurts. I say, “yes Mr. President.” And he hits me with some more Local A. Then he stabs me with the needle again. Whammy, I can’t feel it now.
There are other people in the room; they probably think I’m crazy at this point, but one of them is working an x-ray machine. The x-ray machine is used to get the needle properly placed at the glenohumeral joint (I Googled that). From what I can tell, the needle placement looks great, and I’m ready for the ink! Coach (the Dr.) tells me that I’m going to feel some pressure when he injects the contrast dye. I take a look at the size of the injection tube — not too bad– and I noticed that the ink was clear. For some reason, I was expecting blue — not sure why.
I look at my shoulder, and there’s a needle hanging out of it (awesome). At that moment, I wonder why anyone would ever do heroin. Then Coach goes for it and pumps me full of lead. It is hard to describe the feeling. I suspect it feels pretty shitty without the local anesthesia. I would describe it as an immense amount of pressure that you want to escape, but can’t go anywhere. It’s like a balloon being inflated, but it doesn’t have anywhere to go. And that was that (except for the part where I turned into Captain America).
From the TOT, I was on my merry way to the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine, a.k.a, I was on my way back to the future. I was passed off to some sweet gal from God-knows-where (because I suck at picking out accents, even when people have a strong one, like she did) hits me with the details:
- Don’t move.
- Don’t move.
- It’s kinda loud.
- Don’t move.
- It’s only 35 minutes.
I acknowledge that I understand her and stand there awkwardly in my sexy blue gown, waiting for the next orders. She hands me some ear plugs, and I decide to put them in my ears. Next, she has me lay down on narrow gangplank, and then she walks to the other room. Then, the gangplank starts moving into the narrow tube of the MRI machine. “Claustrophobia, here I come,” I thought. Moments later, the machine starts clicking, and zinging, and banging, and making all sorts of noises, so many that I started thinking the whole damn Chinese National Ping Pong Team had an exclusive reservation to play their sport, right inside my head. I closed my eyes.
“PING! PING! PING! PING! PING! ZZZZZN! ZZZZZN! ZZZZZN! ZZZZZN! PING! BANG! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!”
When the sounds finally stopped, the MRI was complete, and thirty-five minutes had elapsed.
And in that glorious silence, it became clear to me after remaining physically still for those many musical minutes that The Chinese National Ping Pong Team is actually a well-versed team of terrorizing torturers. (And I will probably think twice before playing ping pong again.)
After I left the imaging center, I walked right over to the Union Square market and got a brownie — just like the other 6-year-olds do after leaving the doctor’s office. I am twenty-seven years old.
P.S. Skip to 1:28 of this video if you want to see what the procedure is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPg_6bvpZfw
During my first year in New York City (moved out in October, 2009), I took quite a few photos of things that were, at the time, novel. Novelty photos are great because they unveil subject matter that excites an individual. I think we should always feel excited about our environment, and if you are not, it may be indicative that you need to change your life-clothes. Here are some of my gems.