'I was in the horrors, the pain was unbearable'
Simon Lambert is aiming to come back stronger for Dublin after suffering freakish knee injuries.
SIMON LAMBERT brings our attention to the back pages of his personal diary.
Thoughts and emotions. Handwritten and raw. Fear and hope in equal measure. A peek inside the mind of a cruciate knee ligaments victim.
Just seven days after playing for Dublin in an All-Ireland hurling semi-final, Lambert was dragging his body to the sideline of the local Ballyboden pitch.
Running for a loose ball in a challenge match against Galway visitors Loughrea, Lambert's left knee gave way in the most innocuous fashion.
He didn't know it at the time, but his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments were both ruptured and his lateral cruciate ligament would require reconstruction. With little force, Lambert had somehow suffered maximum damage.
The Dubs' ace was later told that his knee resembled a 13-stone rugby player who had shipped impact from a player perhaps four or five stone heavier. Simply freakish.
He remembers the ambulance arriving after 20 minutes and recounts what happened when he was transferred to a hospital that will remain unnamed. Because if he didn't tell you himself about what happened next, you would hardly believe it.
"They don't have the MRI stuff to test for cruciate damage, but they wanted to see if it was broken," Lambert explains.
"I was sitting there for ages – a friend who was watching the match came in the ambulance with me and my girlfriend came up. We were waiting for the results and I was told that it wasn't broken.
"The doctor came in and told me that I could have just strained the ligament. I said, 'Jesus, thank God'. I was delighted.
"Then this doctor comes over and next of all he pulls my ankle to the side. I let out some roar – I'd say people outside didn't know what was going on. I told him where to go."
Lambert went home and rang physio Eamon O'Reilly for a consultation.
O'Reilly examined Lambert's damaged knee which was now showing a considerable degree of swelling.
"He did the usual ACL test, pulling the leg forward, pulling it in again. He didn't think it was great. He was wondering why the side of the leg was swollen, the LCL side. He touched the ankle again and the leg started moving from side to side.
Scans at the Santry Sports Clinic on the following Tuesday confirmed the worst and Ray Moran performed surgery on August 31.
"When I woke up I was in the absolute horrors. The pain was unbearable and I was shouting and roaring. I was given painkillers and they kicked in. The next day, I was told that I could go home."
By then, Lambert had seen video footage of his injury on a camera phone.
"I wanted to see it," he confirms. "It was so innocuous – running for the ball and the knee goes. Such a simple thing."
There have been some dark moments since, documented by Lambert himself. He writes about the challenge of going to the gym every day and how it can be difficult to mentally gauge improvements when they become apparent only over weeks, and not days.
Lambert asked himself if his diet was as good as it could have been. "Probably not" as his weight jumped from 83.5kg to 90.4kg in less than a month.
Understandable, he reasoned with himself, when you're spending the first few weeks after a serious injury feeling sorry for yourself.
Hard, then, to watch Ballyboden play against Kilmacud Crokes and Lucan in the Dublin championship, particularly when they're such big rivals.
And then the "heart-breaking" game against Mount Leinster Rangers in the Leinster club championship.
"The last 10-12 minutes standing there watching us lose the head and I can't do anything about it," Lambert wrote. "That was a hard one to watch. Gary (Maguire) was sent off. They were trying to get underneath us and they did get underneath us. They were really up for it.
"It was hard, nearly getting involved in stuff on the sideline when you want to be on the pitch playing. That was the hardest part."
Lambert has wondered if he will ever get back playing and, if he does, whether he will be the same again. But to counter those negative thoughts, he's vowed to himself that he will return stronger, both mentally and physically.
He's a fair bit down the road now and the support he has had from his girlfriend, family, friends and team-mates has helped him along the way.
There was no work for four months, from August until December and, while he's a full-time coach for the Dublin County Board, they could pay him for only so long. So he signed on for a while and relied on friends for lifts to get around.
Lambert's first post-operative physio appointment was on September 3 and since then he has progressed through a number of phases of rehab. Baby steps with the summer in mind.
He's hoping to resume full-contact training by the end of May or early June, but remains anxious not to put any time limit on his recovery.
The strength of his leg was tested recently and is now closer to his 'good' leg, based on the number of quality sessions he's come through pain-free.
"The last few weeks have been good in terms of rehab," Lambert says. "It feels a lot better and the swelling has slowly reduced, which mentally helps everything.
"For me, getting back walking was a massive bonus after three months or so. People say running in straight lines isn't massive, that it's all about turning, twisting, jumping, landing etc. I don't agree. It's all about the process."
Dublin manager Anthony Daly and selector Richie Stakelum have offered huge support and Tony Griffin is there to lend an ear.
And, if Lambert wants to talk to guys who have been there and done that, he need look no further than Tomás Brady and clubmates Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney.
At the one time, when the three of them were members of the Dublin senior hurling panel, Brady, Hiney and Keaney all recovered from cruciate knee ligament damage.
Lambert now sees light at the end of the tunnel, the light of summer.
"You know you want to get back playing in All-Ireland semi-finals, winning Leinsters.
"It was hard watching Ballyboden go out of the club championship, At 25 years of age, that's not where you want to be," he says.
"This has taught me a lot of things. You don't know what's going to happen today or tomorrow, so treasure what you have. Touch wood it will never happen again and I wouldn't like to see this happen to anyone. No work from August until Christmas, sitting in your bed, on the sofa."
But things have changed since then for Simon Lambert. And he's only looking forward from now on. There can be no other way. Experience has taught him that.