Friday, March 30, 2007

ACHEY BREAKY

Oh my aching knees! Who knew how much they could hurt?

Many years ago when I was a bit younger and decidedly more reckless, I used to crash. A lot. When I was nine I flipped over the handlebars on my bike and smashed my face into the newly graveled road. I pretty much ruined my front teeth. My mom gave me a Tupperware to catch the blood dripping from my mouth and raced me to the dentist, who shoved my teeth back into my gums.

Metal caps and root canals ensued. Weekly trips to the dentist. But I still have my teeth. For a long time they were chipped and grey, though eventually I stayed with a job long enough for the insurance to pay sixty per cent of the cost for porcelain caps.

Months went by while I waited for the caps to be ready. My dentist was a perfectionist when it came to color and shape.

"When I get done with you, you'll look like a movie star," he said as I gazed out over the Los Angeles skyline.

"You'll have to fix more than my teeth!" I replied.

###

In high school I was on my bike riding down the street next to ours – our street was way too steep to ride a bike down. Any way, I was going fast. The street dead-ended at the cross street at the bottom of the hill, and as I quickly approached it, I realized I was not going to make the turn. My front tire hit the curb, and I was launched. Luckily I had a soft landing on the gently sloping, lush lawn of some nice lady's front yard. She came running out to see if I was hurt, but I jumped up like you do when you are body surfing and you wipe out, but you're cool, and you don't want any one to know how bad it hurt. Only my ego was bruised. Oh yeah, and my legs were stained green from the grass.

I'm not even going to get into the body surfing wipe outs. Can we just say: dislocated shoulder?

###

When I was seventeen I decided to visit a friend who lived in Trabuco Canyon. She had mono and had been in quarantine for a bit. When I found out she could have visitors, I got up early the next morning and rode my bike out to the canyon. It was a warm day, in the high eighties when I left my apartment at 7 AM. The ride to Trabuco was twelve miles uphill and one mile downhill at the end. When I finally crested that hill I was so hot and sweaty – it felt so good to stop pedaling and let the breeze cool me as I coasted down into the canyon. Back then, Trabuco Canyon Road was a narrow, two lane affair; I'm sure now it's probably four lanes. Any way, I was coasting down and going fast and really enjoying it. Cars were being careful passing me, until one asshole sped by -- missing me by about a half an inch. The slipstream from his car pushed me off the road and I saw I had a choice to make: Hit the big rock in front of me, hit the stone wall, hit the tree.

I decided to hit the rock – even though it was big, it was smaller than the wall or the tree. Once again, my front tire made contact and the bike stopped, launching me about twenty feet, where I landed, hard, then skidded. I couldn't breathe. I remember rolling from side to side, trying to get some air and thinking that ribs must have punctured my lungs, and I was going to die. I wound up in the hospital. Diagnosis: ruptured spleen sac. They kept me under observation for three days, ready to cut me open and stitch me up. No need, it healed on it's own.

Later I told my mom, "The one thing that went through my mind as I hit the ground – KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!" I did not want to wreck my teeth again.

So, you see a pattern here; I liked speed. I also went backpacking and rock climbing, but never got injured with these sports – couldn't build up enough speed.

I called in sick to work at the end of one week in 1980 to go on a ski trip to Mammoth with my parents and little bro. On our last day there, I was coming down a run and I hit a steeper patch with moguls. I was doing alright, even though I never really liked moguls. About halfway down this patch I was at the left side just starting a right turn and I realized this was one crazy mogul – it looked like someone had taken a slice out of it. The tips of my skis slammed into the sheer wall of snow and stopped. The sudden loss of momentum sent me twisting hard to the left. My right binding released. The left binding did not.

The next day I was sitting on an exam table and the orthopedic surgeon asked me if I heard any thing unusual when I fell.

"I heard a distinct 'Pop, pop, pop'" I replied.

He winced.

After the X-rays he said, "I have good news and bad news. The good is there are no bone chips. The bad is that just about everything else is gone."

Followed up by, "I'll see if I can get a hospital room tonight and an O.R. for the morning."

I had cleanly snapped both the lateral and medial collateral ligament, and the anterior cruciate ligament, also known as the ACL. Oh yeah, a little tear of the meniscus, too.

So the years have gone by, and the knee holds up pretty well. There are certain things I can't do any more – like straighten the leg all the way or bend it all the way. Or run much more than 20 yards. Or roller skate or do anything that would put excessive lateral stress on the joint (unless I am wearing a brace) (which I never bought). When I lived in L.A the knee would let me know when it was going to rain. When I moved to Seattle, it lost it's ability to sense that change in the weather – because, well, now it wasn't really a change, more like a way of life.

There were times when I'd have some pain. Times when it was stiff. But nothing that really impacted me. My doctor had told me that eventually I'd have arthritis in the joint, but I wasn't really worried about it. My mom said that someday I'd probably need knee replacement, but I had always disagreed with that.

Last year though. Last year was definitely a turning point. The arthritis seems to have kicked in with a vengeance. Every day the knee hurts. Some days it really hurts. Every step I take is felt. Sometimes when I sit at my desk I can't concentrate on any thing except the throb in my knee.

These days I find myself thinking a lot about knee replacement. I surf the web, looking at different artificial knee options. They say the artificial joint doesn't last for ever and that they can only replace a knee twice. Although maybe in 20 or 30 years that will change completely. I wonder how long my knee will last. Or, how long I'll be able to take the pain. Luckily I have a high tolerance for it, but constant pain does wear on one. And this is just the first year. It's only going to get worse.

I really have no regrets in my life, but sometimes I think, if I could have just one day to do over, maybe I would have skipped skiing on that that last day in Mammoth.

1 Comments:

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Miss Kris said...

I'm glad you are still mostly mobile. Due to my fear of injury, I'm a very cautious snowboarder. Almost everyone I snowboard with has had an injury that sent them to the emergency room.

 

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