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It didn't kill me, so that's a start

Shown is Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau's, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, swollen knee after arthroscopic surgery Aug. 30, 2012.  The procedure removed a piece of torn meniscus at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo.

Shown is Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau's, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, swollen knee after arthroscopic surgery Aug. 30, 2012. The procedure removed a piece of torn meniscus at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo.

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE, Colo. -- It started with me taking off my pants.

As with most surgeries, this is where my story begins.

I went into the Sky Ridge Medical Center that morning to have the torn meniscus in my right knee removed, an injury suffered during my weekly Air Force physical training session more than a month ago. That day, our public affairs shop played ultimate football, a variation on ultimate frisbee, and I was thoroughly excited for the change of pace from the "run until you puke" we did for physical training earlier that week. During the game, I jumped up for a pass and landed awkwardly. A surge of pain ripped through my knee like a lightning bolt, leaving me writhing on the Astroturf field. I slowly got up and limped around a bit, realizing this was more than just a simple sprain.

A few doctor visits and an MRI later, there I was with a nurse handing me a light blue hospital gown. She told me to take off everything and put on the unflattering outfit with only small ties in the back. I looked back at her as she began to slide the curtain closed and questioned, "Everything?"

"Everything," she responded.

I donned the dress and waddled to hospital bed, very cautious not to "moon" the rest of the staff. I slid into the bed and covered myself with a warm hospital blanket, ready to get started.

From that point, there was a whirl of activity to prepare me for the procedure. A nurse shaved my hairy knee and washed it with soap that turned my skin brown. Another nurse plugged me into an IV line, which I promptly looked away from as I hate needles. An anesthesiologist asked me basic questions and explained the possible scenarios that could go wrong from the drugs. Lastly, the surgeon entered and asked me if I was ready and autographed the knee going under the knife.

I was wheeled into the operating room and flopped onto the cold, narrow table. For a moment, I felt like a Roswellian visitor as bright lights and surgical equipment filled the room. The anesthesiologist slipped the knock-out drugs into my IV line and told me to count back from 10. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six ... and I was out cold. Next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room with a kind nurse bringing me apple juice.

Then my recovery began. To me, this was the most critical stage of the whole ordeal.

Getting back into Air-Force shape would require hard work and dedication. I would rehabilitate a sore and pain-ridden knee, but it would set the foundation for a full recovery. I did not want this to become a lingering injury that prevented me from deploying with my team or putting me on the fast track for a medical evaluation board. Retiring honorably from military service was one of my lifetime goals, and I was going to make sure a knee injury did not keep me from achieving that goal.

However, what I didn't know was something even more deadly going on inside my leg, a complication from the surgery I did not foresee.

During rehab, I noticed a cramping sensation in my calf and intense pain behind my knee. With this being my second surgery on the same knee since high school, this agony became increasingly unsettling. So, I did what any 21st century man would do, I looked it up on the internet. After some researching on many websites I came to the obvious conclusion; I should just call my doctor.

An ultrasound determined I had deep venous thrombosis, or DVT. That meant blood clots formed in my leg, which if untreated could travel to my lungs and kill me. Not exactly the news I expected.

Like a good Airman, it was time to adapt and overcome. The first challenge was overcoming my fear, at least temporally, of needles. I was prescribed two medications -- one required an injection in the stomach twice a day and the other was an easy-to-swallow pill. With a little encouragement from my wife and a pillow over my head, I survived the needling.

The importance of stepping up and doing what is needed is crucial to my Air Force readiness. I strive to remain world-wide deployable at a moment's notice, because if I am not ready, some other uniformed warrior will be forced to take my spot. That is not fair for my coworkers or their families.

This surgery opened my eyes to the bigger picture, as well as the fact that this can happen to anyone at any time.

Proper stretching and conditioning, while knowing your limits, can go a long way to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. No one I know, including myself, thinks doing yoga-like stretches in our tiny Air Force PT shorts looks cool, but we should understand how critical those stretches are to preventing injuries.

It's been over a month since my surgery and the rehab is going well. The monitoring of my blood clots has become much more manageable for me and I have returned to my weekly PT sessions.

The examples drilled into me at basic training, like loyalty and dedication, have pushed me forward on my path to complete recovery.

The band of brotherhood I shared with those who toiled in the proverbial "trenches" alongside me wasn't truly appreciated until I was sidelined from my team. These are the things that drove me to getting back to where I was before I took off my pants.
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