The Clock Ticks

I figured it’s about time I wrote in here again. Very little has changed since 29 April 2010, which was the last proper post I made…or at least, from how I see it. That is why the only post I made from then until now was my mentioning of the merger of my Windows Live Space with this blog.

For over a full year, I have not been putting my brain to good use, and I have not been putting a lot of thought into things. Since there is very little else I can do for the next month other than shuffling about with either a crutch and/or a leg that cannot support my full body weight for more than five seconds, I thought I should at least try and think like I used to, because when I do, I cannot stop writing.

With such a massive backlog of boring events to go through, I wonder where I should begin. The start is always the hardest part…

Perhaps I should give the most attention in this blog post to any events involving my left knee.

In April 2011, I attended a health screening in preparation for the beginning of my two-year conscription period. Since I told the medical officer that the old injury in my left knee gave me little trouble when it came to mobility, he deemed it a minor issue but advised me to immediately notify anyone if it gives me trouble before or during my conscription period.

If there is any Singaporean male over the age of 30 reading this post, I will assure you that while Basic Military Training (BMT) has benefited from improvements in technology, the core concept of building the recruit’s body strength through countless bi-daily exercises, including punishment sessions, remains unchanged. It may be a little less tough than it was a few decades ago, but it is so close, you might not notice it. I cannot say likewise for the few companies that go easier on their recruits, but I can say this for almost every other company on Pulau Tekong. It is not as easy as you might be led to think.

BMT also does a better job at doing something that no health inspection can accomplish: revealing physical problems. It trains and toughens every single aspect of the body and demands the whole body to be functioning normally. If even one part of the body has a serious enough problem, there is a high chance that BMT will make the problem very obvious and will worsen the issue if the recruit who has the issue does not sound off promptly. Malingering has nothing on this. If the problem is genuine, the medical officers can spot it almost immediately, as they did in my case…

My first three days in BMT was fine. I took a while to adjust to a new environment, but such is the case for anybody. It’s not unusual. What was unusual was at the end of the third day, when we were told to climb down the staircase at night. As I went down the steps, I heard something in my knee click. I knew it was my old injury coming back for another round of abuse again; I just didn’t expect it to affect the rest of my time in BMT the way it did over the next five weeks.

As per the pre-conscription medical inspection, I was considered fit for all duties, and since I did not submit any NAPFA test results before the inspection, I was supposed to spend an additional eight weeks in BMT to build up my physical fitness to match those who got a Gold award for a NAPFA test session done just before the inspection. The meant that I should have spent seventeen weeks in BMT – eight weeks to build up my physical fitness and nine weeks for the actual training period.

In the end, I only managed five weeks before I dropped out.

I mentioned earlier that BMT does a fantastic job at revealing serious enough physical problems, and it did. The click I felt in my left knee on the third day of BMT was a harbinger of something much, much worse to come. I’m not talking about the area and bunk inspections followed by the punishment session that would inevitably follow, nor am I talking about the regimentation at Pulau Tekong. Those are perfectly normal, and I expected nothing less. What I did not expect was how my knee injury affected my progress through training.

When we were first told to squat in BMT, the pain that went through my knee was still manageable, about as much pain as somebody pinching your thigh very tightly. With every passing day, however, I found that the pain worsened, bit by bit, to the point where, after an exercise session, other recruits around me could visually see that I was wincing while squatting and not doing any exercise at all.

The next problem I encountered was when we did our jumping lessons. Any exercise that requires a lot of hopping on the knee gives me huge problems. It could be hopping in place, leaping hurdles during a shuttle run or even doing the Standing Broad Jump component of the NAPFA test, it doesn’t matter. Whenever I land after a jump, I could feel a surge of pain in the left knee.

While going through BMT, my mum and I also agreed to have my left knee checked, as it was starting to give me considerable problems. Pending the MRI scan, the doctor we saw at Changi General Hospital gave me a slip of paper to pass to a medical officer at Pulau Tekong. This slip of paper certified me fit for light duties for two months and unfit for any running, marching, jumping or squatting activities (my Sergeants took a chunk out of me for that last one). It was enough to drop me out of BMT, and I was given the option whether I want to drop out or not. Deciding that my knee would only worsen if I tried pushing it further, I took it. That was during the fifth week of BMT.

My Sergeants gave me writing assignments during the one week I spent waiting to be transferred out of BMT. They reasoned that, if they were unable to train me physically, they could still train me mentally, so they did. Initially, only my Platoon Sergeant gave me writing assignments, but near the end, even my Officer Commanding waded into the mess and told me to write an essay for all the commanders in my company to see. I’m glad I finished all of the more major writing assignments they gave me when I was eventually transferred out; it’s not nice to leave loose ends untied.

I was transferred to the logistics arm of Hendon Camp as a storeman, and I will not elaborate on anything that happened during the time I spent there since many things that go on in there are classified. Instead, I will tell you what the MRI scan of my knee revealed.

The scan, which took place last October, revealed that I had apparently torn my meniscus on one side. The meniscus is a hard, C-shaped rubber-like substance wedged between the leg and thigh bones. Its purpose is to cushion impacts. In each knee, there are two menisci – one inside, facing the other leg, and one outside, facing…well, outside. The MRI scan showed what appeared to be a tear on the outer meniscus in my left knee, as well as some minor deterioration around the joints. When the doctor went through the scan results with me, he explained that the joint deterioration was probably due to the bones grinding each other or the damaged meniscus grinding both bones. He also told me this: if what the MRI scan showed was true and that there really was a tear in the meniscus, they would need to remove it surgically as it could be impeding my movement. Since I could not decide to do surgery there and then, they gave me two years to think about it.

In February this year, my unit travelled to Thailand for a combat evaluation exercise. It didn’t really involve us storemen as much as the combatants we were supporting were, but we still needed to go there to handle their stores.

During the one month we spent there, I learned much about Thailand’s climate and its people, but very little about their culture. I also learned something that was arguably more important: that I could not go on in life without getting my knee sorted out first. I did not want to proceed with the surgery – I needed that surgery.

I went back to CGH in June to make my decision. The doctor passed me on to my would-be surgeon, who once again went through the MRI scan. He also told me some other things that either slipped my mind or I forgot. What he told me was this: from his look at the scans, he could tell that my menicus really was torn, and that it was probably impeding my movements at some point. However, the MRI scan does not show the extent of the damage, and he needed to know that first before he could decide what to do next. Unlike most decisions, this was just a mundane snap decision: repair if damaged, remove if beyond repair. A decision like this could be done in the surgical room, so he said that, should I agree to do the surgery, he would first conduct an anthroscopy, which is to insert a tiny camera into my knee so that he and his assistants could actually see what was going on inside the knee, then he would decide whether to repair or remove it based on the extent of the damage.

What he said next was perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever heard from any doctor.

The meniscus does not regenerate. If the meniscus was so heavily damaged that it cannot be repaired and must be removed, it will prevent the meniscus from impeding my movement, but it will not prevent my left knee from deteriorating faster than a normal knee. With the meniscus torn and part of the bones already eroded, it is almost certain that I will get arthritis earlier than somebody who has a pair of undamaged legs. With the meniscus gone, the bones will almost certainly grind against each other once they grow to fill up the void that the removed meniscus leaves behind. However, if they grew to accomodate that space, the bones would deteriorate at a slower rate as they have one less thing to grind on.

On the day of the surgery, I booked in for one night’s stay at CGH after the operation. It was the first time I went for an operation. It was also the first time I experienced two other things: having an IV shoved into the back of my left hand and getting pumped with General Anesthesia (GA). The first one was predictably unpleasant (having a straw shoved into the flesh is definitely not the most comfortable thing in the world); the second one was just…weird.

While I was lying down on the operating theatre with a straw inside my hand, I could hear the previous operation in progress. If I was blind, I would have mistaken it for construction work. Drilling works, to be precise. On floor tiles.

Shortly after they wheeled me into the operating room, they started pumping the GA through the IV in my hand. I didn’t feel any different at first, but after a while, the room started spinning quite badly. The two surgeons in the room (one of them as the surgeon I met the previous time) and their assistants kept encouraging me to relax. Although I believe I spent quite some time awake with the room spinning, I eventually decided to let the GA take over and blacked out.

After what felt like one second, I heard a voice say, “You can wake up now.”

My eyes flew open immediately. “Wha? It’s already over?” I asked. My head felt very light, and I was able to turn my head left and right rather quickly without feeling disoriented at all.

“Yes, sir. Your operation’s over,” the voice said. As I looked around, I found that I was in a completely different room. The voice came from a nurse standing near my bed. I spent some time looking around before asking the nurse the time. “It’s…just after 1pm,” she said. When I asked her what time I went into the operating room, she replied, “About 10am.”

I was impressed. Under the effects of that dose of GA administered in the operating room, three hours went by in a single second.

They wheeled me out of the recovery ward (that’s what they called the room I was in) and to the bed where I would be staying for the night, where I was encouraged to shift myself over from the bed-on-the-trolley onto the bed in the ward, which I did. The ward was initially empty, but after a while, they started to wheel in more patients who had also just completed their own operations and had woken up from their GA-induced slumber. That was also around the same time the after-effect of GA hit me: nausea. As it turned out, GA may cause vomiting after it has worn off completely, but rather amazingly, I didn’t. My wave of nausea felt somewhat mild, so I just took to swallowing my own saliva to stave it off, and it eventually went away. My appetite returned in full force six hours later, and as the surgeon had mentioned, I was able to eat rather normally by the next morning.

It’s been a month since I went for the surgery. Time will tell if I made the right decision by removing the meniscus that had hounded me all this time, but I am confident that I did. The rest is up to me.


1 Comment

  1. Vivian Misteria Tan said,

    24 September 2012 Monday at 9:34 PM

    That sounds… painful dude.
    God… I think your decisions are always so damn right though…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: