Monday, November 14, 2005

hitting the wall (part I); knee story (part II)


I am sick. I don't know if the depression that crept up on me this weekend is the cause, or if being sick is making me depressed. I am never sure. But today I woke up with a horrible congestion in my chest and the feeling of being overwhelmed. I called to cancel my classes, which in itself makes me feel guilty. But I need to rest. I feel like each minute is an eternity. My body aches. Ugh.

* * * * *

Since Lodgerlow is experiencing knee trouble, I will recount the history of my own knee trouble. Maybe it will help her figure out what to do. As a kid, during my very serious competitive swimming days, I began to have severe knee pain. My family doctor suggested pulled ligaments. My parents did not pursue any further investigation. The trouble was intermittent, and I thought little of it.

Over the years I had little problem. Then in spring 1995 I was walking up the steps from the subway and my knee literally locked. I could bend it and the pain was excruciating. I pulled myself up by the handrail. I stood and waited. Then I felt a "snap" but suddenly I could walk again. I was perplexed. The next day it happened again. Same thing. I went to see the nurse at school. She said that my kneecap on my right knee had slid to the side and was unusually loose. She referred me to a prominent knee surgeon. He suspected a torn ligament, the ACL. I had an MRI, which revealed a strange ambiguity; there was no clear torn ligament, but there was no clear ligament shown at all. Hmmm. I began a regime of physical therapy and strenthening of the leg muscles. The idea was that this would stabilize the knee, and we would watch to see what happened. I was dedicated (despite having a psycho for a therapist, who told me about his time in the Israeli army and how he loved to shoot guns). After a year or so there was no significant improvement in the stability, although the pain was less. The doctor recommended surgery, which I put off for months. Finally there was no delaying; the knee had become quite painful.

So I had ACL replacement surgery: a portion of the patellar tendon (which holds the kneecap in place) was removed and used to form a new ACL. I had the surgery under spinal anaesthesia, so I was awake. I could smell the burning bone as they drilled holes in my leg bones. I was so doped up that this was not upsetting. I was laughing and drifting in and out.

Post-surgery, the pain was intense, and I had to pursue a very dedicated path of physical therapy. The diagnosis mystery was solved when the surgery revealed that I still had a ligament but it was impossibly stretched so that it provided no benefit to the knee. This is an unusual condition and afflicts other joints and explains my remarkable flexibility, an asset to a swimmer but not an asset to aging joints. Surgery on my left knee (the same surgery) is indicated. However, my right knee was damaged further when the surgery revealed torn cartilage, some of which was removed so that now I have osteoarthritis. All in all, while my knee may be stronger, the pain from the arthritis is often severe. I will put off the other surgery as long as I can. Wearing a cumbersome leg brace for several months cramped my style. Being physically indisposed in NYC is difficult, as I walk most places and was unable to do so. Looking back, I am not sure how I handled basic things like grocery shopping.