A high school athlete stares blankly up as he is told he won't be able to play this season. He's physically strong, having survived hellish conditions to prepare for a season of a lifetime. He's mentally strong, having the determination to survive the hellish conditions and do so without thinking about quitting.
His body starts to shake and his eyes start to grow red as he fights back tears with nothing but his pride.
As I turn around to leave the room and see the next patient, I catch glimpse of his walls tumbling down. His pride fails him. His strength to stay strong slips away. His head falls into his open hands and he tries to take in a steady breath but its shaky.
As an athlete myself, I know how this pain feels. It's like breaking up with someone, but worse. You've spent literally your whole life dedicated to this sport. Hanging out with friends after school? Can't. Practice. Parties on the weekend? Can't. Games/matches/meets. Sleeping in? Morning Practices.
Suddenly, it's taken away from you.
This athlete got lucky, he's only out for one season. Yet, countless athletes recieve news that sends them spiraling into a whirlwind of emotions. The news that they are never allowed to participate in their sport again.
Cross country runners who have no more cartilage left in their knees and have to start wondering about replacement surgeries.
Football and soccer players who receive one too many concussions and have to stop or else face more severe traumatic brain injuries.
Swimmers who completely tear rotator cuff muscles in shoulders and loose mobility in the shoulder joint.
Explaining to athletes that their career is over (temporarily or determinately) isn't hard to do. Once you explain the injury, you can read on their faces that they are about to ask "this means I'm out right?"
Explaining that their life isn't over, that's the tricky part. Somehow you have to explain if it's a temporary "break" in their career that they are still in for another season in the future. You have to explain that it's better to rest the injury than to train through it and be out for life (then again, telling an athlete to rest is like telling a paparazzi to stop stalking celebrities. It doesn't fly well.).
For those who are out of their sport for life, it's scary. One of the worst case scenarios, depression takes over. If they truly care about their sport, try to show them how they can still be involved with their sport outside of being an athlete. Coaching? Mentoring? Sports Medicine? These are all ways that they can be part of their sport without having to compete.
True, nothing will ever take the place of stepping up onto the blocks/onto a field and feeling that killer adrenalin rush as everything you've worked for comes down to what sometimes is less than 30 seconds.
However, sitting around thinking your life just ended is pretty much doing exactly what you wish you never had to do, completely quit on your sport.
Explaining this to athletes of all levels is a struggle. (The struggle is real). You're no longer dealing with coaches or with parents. It comes down to the patient. It really is like you're the messenger from your patients significant other (that being the sport they participate in) and the message you're telling them is that the relationship between you and your sport is over (thanks to the injury).
This, honestly, is what I believe would be the hardest part of being a Sports Physician.