There are some unavoidable realities in our lives, the little and relatively short and inconsequential lives, of human beings. Of these, one that seems to consume so many – to the depths of mania – is aging. I joke, often, that my immaturity has been the best anti-aging strategy. This actually turns out to be less of a joke and a truly beneficial practice, and I find that I rarely “feel” or self-identify with my age. “Ain’t nothin’ but a number” or “X is the new X” aside, age just does not seem like something worth the headache of fighting. So, I attempt to be reasonable. I accept that I am no longer in my 20s (a totally over-rated decade anyhow) and basically look at my 30s as a well-lived decade (rather than the apex of one’s existence). I take my vitamins – lots of them. I try to not sleep with make-up on. I try to sleep. I try to pay attention to what I eat. I dye my hair (okay, it can’t all be acceptance, some things I fight). And I exercise.
Or, I did.
It turns out that there are things that the most mindful among us are unable to prevent. In my case, this is a rather impressive degenerative knee condition. In the big picture, this is not surprising. Rheumatoid arthritis exists on both sides of my family. And osteoarthritis is right there in terms of popularity among my relatives. Lots and lots of knee and hip replacements. It turns out that perhaps consistent, competitive, aggressive participation in sports may not have the health benefits we all thought. Though it kept me (mostly) on the straight and narrow throughout high school and college – certainly something that parents consider when encouraging their kids in sports – it also seems to have left a pretty significant physical imprint on my body. Much of this has to do with my own attitude towards sport. Like my soul-brother R, I see little point in doing something half-way. Mediocrity being so, well, mediocre. I always liked to win. So I worked very hard to be competitive. Always. We are both suffering for this now, our days of glory far removed from the reality of bodies that are no longer taking orders the way they bloody well should be.
On Memorial Day Monday my left knee locked at approximately 45°. I could not do anything to release my leg. It didn’t exactly hurt, unless I tried to move the knee or leg… at all. I ended up in the emergency room at SF Kaiser – basically like being thrown into an episode of Law and Order. The guy to the right of me had been stabbed just inches from the jugular, the guy on my left was OD-ing on something I could not work out, but definitely expelling a lot of bodily fluids. There was a police interview taking place and then there was the guy with the “bad back” swearing that the last time he came in, he got Percoset and he just knew that would be all he needed and so if they would please just give him the pills he would be on his way. I laid there for several hours. Eventually, the decision was made to simply force my knee straight. I screamed in a way I am sure I have never before. The whole ward shut up for one moment.
And then my leg was straight and I went on my way.
But not exactly.
Since that day, three weeks exactly today, I have been through a progression of emotion similar to that of the Kübler-Ross model of grief, as melodramatic as that is to admit. First I was set to ignore it (stage one). But Kaiser called and I was in seeing a sports med specialist within two days. He said all signs pointed to a meniscus tear, which had a couple of surgical options. Then I got really angry (stage two.) To cut the damaged cartilage out was a quick procedure that would require limited rehab, but often subsequent surgery and also arthritic complications. To repair the meniscus would be better, but four to six weeks in a brace followed by eventual rehab. I felt myself getting fat just considering it.
Then I definitely started bargaining, “if I could do this, then I would be okay with that” (stage three.) I could give up going to Europe and deal with taking care of this if it got resolved. But I was not the one holding the bargaining chips, as the MRI disclosed.
Within a week I had the MRI and was told to stay off the knee until we had a better idea of what was going on. This meant I could no longer do the things that generally keep me sane. My daily yoga practice disappeared over night and I was too pissed off to try to find ways to maintain the elements of the practice that would help me, focusing only on what I could no longer do. I was finishing the school year, totally busy, totally grumpy and generally not acting in any sort of healthy way. I kept trying to bargain.
The MRI results showed something I was not prepared to deal with. In keeping with the tradition of my life, I could not even have a normal injury. The MRI did not show the kind of meniscus damage that should be causing the knee to lock as it had been. There was nothing to fix with surgery. There would be no scope. This should have been good, except for the reality that I was unfixable. There is evidence of significant arthritis in the knee, and the cartilage on the exterior side is nearly worn to nothing. There is some damage to the meniscus that has caused a Baker’s cyst to develop being the interior side of the knee. None of it surgically repairable. I was completely depressed.
Hello stage four.
The decision to go with cortisone injections, which may address the area of the meniscus that is damaged and causing the cyst as well as relieving the pain and inflammation of the knee, was made. We would revisit the situation in a couple of weeks to see what changes. “In the meantime, do not bend the knee beyond 90°, lose some weight” and have a nice day.
Thanks a lot.
The final stage in the Kübler-Ross model is acceptance. I am definitely not there. This is NOT how I wanted to spend my summer vacation. Who did not get the memo? But the cortisone has definitely helped. There is no pain in the knee and I feel like I could do all of my normal activities on it. This is not life threatening. I actually do have the tools to make this all okay. I am not using them. I miss my daily yoga practice, for the physical and mental parts of it. I miss the ritual of my teachers and I am not finding the same sense of vidya in my home practice. In fact, I feel consumed by avidya. I need a new knee situation. A new knee would probably help this, but I am not going there yet. Just… something to make this better. I have been amazed at how easy it is to just feel totally hopeless and want to give up in the face of something so obviously out of my control. And, let’s face it, the situation could be much worse. But if anyone says that to my face I will certainly want to punch them in the junk.
I return to the orthopedist on July 5.
For now, I have to try to find a way to gain a little perspective on this. R says I can do this. He has a lot of strategies he has has been developing over the past couple of years and a perspective that I know is better than mine. I will do some stretching. I will breathe and aim for acceptance that there are just some things I am no longer going to be able to do because that is what happens as we get older and we change.
Mostly, I think I am going to remain thankful my hair is not grey.