How a ‘baller’ worked her way back to give Wisconsin volleyball a boost

As an aspiring doctor, Caroline Crawford isn’t the squeamish type. So she had no problem watching her first surgery being performed.

That the surgery was performed on her made the experience more than a little unusual.

Crawford, a junior middle blocker for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, underwent surgery on her right pinky just over three weeks ago after having it broken in the match at Illinois on Nov. 3.

Crawford went up for a block and an Illinois player — “I don’t want to say who it was to give her the satisfaction of knowing she broke my finger,” she says —  and it didn’t take a pre-med student to know it was serious. First, there was the pain, somewhere between 8 and 9 on the scale of 1-10. All it took was one look to know it was broken.

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“I came down and it was horizontal,” Crawford said.

X-rays confirmed the break. And, of course, she studied the X-ray. “A bone with a giant slit through the middle and a bunch of different shards going up the shaft,” she said.

Her prospects at that moment didn’t look good.

“I thought the worst case scenario was that I wouldn’t play again this season,” Crawford said.

But then she was told that with surgery there was a chance should could return to the lineup in a couple weeks. That would put her on track to get back in time for the last week of the Big Ten season and the showdown matches against Nebraska and Ohio State.

She couldn’t get to the operating room soon enough. And when she got there she passed on the anesthesia, opting just to have nerve block in her arm.

“I got to see my finger get cut open,” she said. “It was pretty cool. I like medicine and not many people get to say they sat in on their own surgery. So I thought I might as well try it. It was really cool. I couldn’t feel anything in my arm so from an observing standpoint, it didn’t bother me at all. I was just looking at a finger that was cut open.

“Everyone on the team thinks I’m crazy for watching my own surgery.”

It took a plate and nine screws to put the pinky back together again. Then she went about the rehab work, moving the finger forward and backward at each joint to speed the recovery. It may be a few months before the finger has full range of motion.

She also was told to keep the finger elevated to keep it from swelling.

“I never saw her with her hand down, ever,” coach Kelly Sheffield said.

Crawford’s trick was to hook her other fingers on her shirt collar to keep her hand up.

“The team liked to joke that I walked around doing the…

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