Monday, May 24, 2010

What's the Hardest Thing You've Ever Done?

I've been thinking about this a bit--thinking about how absolutely wimpy I am. On March 27th I was skiing and it was incredibly icy; to make a long story sound as impressive as possible I fell while going about 78 mph (or so it felt) and because I am old and not as graceful as I once was and because my ski binding did not release I twisted my knee and spent the next half hour howling in pain.

As I lay there cringing and thinking that I'd most likely ripped my lower leg free from the rest of my body I thought, "I need to move because eventually Andrew is going to notice I'm not behind him and once he comes back for me he's going to think I'm dead if he sees me lying here like this."

So I moved my head--at least a little bit. When he finally came back for me and got my boots released and moved my leg for the first time I could feel the place where my tibia met my femur and how the bones scraped and slapped together around inside my skin and in my delirium I remember thinking, "Great! I must have dislocated my knee--I've heard about people dislocating joints and how much they hurt, so that must be the feeling of the joint going back together."

Oh how wrong I was and when he finally got my on my feet--or on my foot rather--I had my suspicions that it might not be so simple as a dislocated knee. Something just didn't feel right. Besides all that pesky pain one isn't supposed to be able to feel one's bones grinding away like that and slipping in and out of connection.

I crawled home and immediately slept--I think I might have been in a bit of shock because I was shaky. Not as bad as after you go through childbirth and you're shaking so hard that they throw one of those marvelous, wonderful, magnificent giant blankets they keep in their hospital ovens over you and you just melt with joy but still, I was shaking and I kind of collapsed into sleep and slept for hours.

When I woke up I started thinking realistically. About the inconvenience of going to a hospital, of the cost of going to the ER for help, of what they might tell me about what I'd done to my body so what did I do? I did what any other injured techy would do and I turned to Google.

Yes, Doc Google, who seemed to indicate that I'd torn my medial collateral ligament or MCL. The good news? It's usually not necessary to repair surgically but the bad news was it was painful as knee injuries go (as if I hadn't already figured that one out). Rest, ice, Advil and elevation were the best things to do so I decided to wait things out and see if muscle would heal on its own. Even if I eventually needed help everything indicated it would be 4-6 weeks of waiting while the swelling went down.

After a week or two I was able to get around on crutches with a brace in place and while the joint would give out completely if I wasn't very careful I started to see some gradual improvements. It was beyond frustrating to be stuck inside just as the weather was getting warm and I was crazed with irritation at my condition and isolation but most of the time there was no one around to hear me banging my head against the wall. So I waited and the weeks went by.

"Ha ha!" I thought as my knee joint began to hold together better, "I've outsmarted all you doctors and health care professionals with my sneaky no-doctor policy! I've beaten you all!"

But after six weeks of not being able to bend my leg properly and limping around like a chicken on pain pills I finally sucked it up and decided maybe I'd better see a doctor. After x-rays and an MRI (I tried not to think of how I could have bought five--count them five--tickets to Maui for the price of that one visit) they delivered the gracious and thrilling news that I had not only torn my MCL but had also torn my ACL (anterior collateral ligament, or that tiny ligament in the back of your knee) and my meniscus. I could tell that for the doctor it was an every day event to deliver this kind of news to an injured patient and the equivalent of handing me my two burritos with mild sauce at the drive-through window of Taco Bell but for me it was horrible. I cried all the way home, thoroughly crushed that I hadn't quite been able to beat the system and thinking of what I was now in for.

You see, everyone and their dog has a knee story and they'll tell it to you if you happen to have a knee injury of your own and can't run away as efficiently as the rest of the population. How many times did someone recount the story of their own ACL surgery? The most memorable was a tale of how the pain of the surgery was more exquisite than the actual injury and how, after having had his hamstring tendon harvested for grafting, the victim never regained proper flexibility and still remembers the pain of it all to that very day.

Then there was the thought of being back on the couch again and hobbling around on more crutches for weeks (no one ever tells you how uncomfortable crutches are--the palms of my hands hurt worse than my knee from the pressure of supporting my weight). Forget how much it would cost us or missing the part of the year Alaskans live for (June) but to be rather helpless and quarantined once again only to follow it up with months of physical therapy and nearly a year of recovery was depressing to say the least.

I guess you could sum it all up by saying I was bathing in self-pity. Soaking in it until I was wrinkled as a raisin.

But then I started thinking--thinking rather than just reacting and mourning. I thought about how much I had loved skiing with Andrew this winter and how good it was for us to have done it. I thought about how great it was to be healthy enough to go skiing and to be so healthy that the thought of surgery is new and scary to me rather than something I face regularly. I thought about how 100 years ago I'd be turned out to pasture in the village square as the newest Village Crone, limping from house to house to sell wilted bundles of flowers or something.

I thought about how much knee surgery has improved since my friend had his hamstring harvested and that as a result my own surgery wouldn't be so painful. I thought about how, expensive as it would be, that we have modern medicine to take care of things like this and that we could afford this procedure (kind of).

I was grateful that my kids are old enough to be able to take care of things while I recuperate and that if all goes well I will have a good-as-new knee in a year, though it will feel nearly normal in 6-9 months. And I'm grateful to have found a surgeon who seems to know what he's doing with his scalpel (not like that first guy at that Taco-Bell-drive-through-clinic).

It all got me thinking about how soft we have it nowadays and how soft I've become as a result. I tried to think about the hardest thing I'd ever done and couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer. I haven't gone to war, I haven't swam the English Channel, I haven't faced a life-threatening case of polio, scarlet fever or influenza. I haven't done anything that pushed me to the point where I really thought I would die or where I worried that I'd make it through yet found the strength to keep going. Sure I've done my small share of hiking and camping and playing at roughing it but as for epic battles of heroism or strength my life is rather empty and suddenly I felt that emptiness. Or rather, I felt sheepish at how much others throughout history have endured while I have had to endure very little.

Here I am facing a knee surgery and whining about how it will probably hurt. I think about battlefield amputations or 48 hours of laboring through a breech birth or of pioneers trekking across mountains and deserts just to settle in a new land and I think about how maybe this knee surgery will be a good thing. I'm going to have to do a bit of work to get myself back in shape and it's going to be pretty inconvenient but if I play things right maybe I can come through it with a greater appreciation for doing hard things and a greater reverence for the good life I have.

And who knows--with all that physical therapy and training maybe it'll get me to run a marathon? I might just surprise myself someday.

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Just Mom said...

You'll do great. I have several friends who've had knee surgery, and they're doing wonderfully now. The road to recovery was a long one, but they're glad they got it done.

By the way, I'm scheduled to have total hip replacement in two months. It's a surgery that's long overdue (as in, 17 years) and I'm really looking forward to it.

mother in israel said...

Well, you almost convinced me. Seriously, I wish you a successful operation and a smooth recovery. Just think of all the new skills your kids will be learning.

JanMary said...

I knew no-one who had this injury until this year, when a friend and the daughter of another friend both sustained the very same injury. Both have successfully gone through the ops and are well on the road to recovery (but both swear they will NEVER ski again! Will you?

Wishing you well.

Jolanthe said...

Our friend who was in a skiing accident in January {and almost died} messed up his knee badly and they didn't figure it out until about 6 weeks after it all happened. He's been working through all the post knee surgery stuff and doing amazing.

The coolest thing has been the static motion machine that he had to use at home ~ basically he had to keep his leg in in for all but 8 hours a day. That kept his leg in constant motion.

But I agree ~ thinking {especially in his case} of all that we can be thankful for today is amazing. If what happened to him had happened years and years would be a whole different story.

And knowing you...when you are 'resting and recovering' I have a feeling you will find something wonderful to do ~ and hopefully still REST! :)

planetnomad said...

Did you mention this before? Cuz I don't remember you telling us that you were totally injured! Wow.
Best wishes for a speedy and total recovery!

Suzi Dow said...

Three suggestions from one who has been there.
- Do you post-op exercise faithfully. I don't think it's a bad idea to start them before op. However, I found yoga stretches to be the most rewarding.
- Use one of those thin plastic grocery bags to sit on for making getting in and out your car easier.
- Be patient with your recovery.

You have a good outlook and lots of family and friends for support. I'm sure all will be well.

The Texas Bakers said...

So sorry about your knee! As a PT I have rehabbed plenty of people with ACL reconstructions. The recovery IS difficult but the good news is the surgeons pretty much have it down to an art now. Do your exercises faithfully and don't be afraid of the pain. The PT will know exactly how far and fast you can safely push it :) good luck!

Kayris said...

I had surgery to repair a meniscal tear in 1998. And it really was not a big deal. The bigger deal was some muscle slicing they did to put my kneecap back where it belonged. But I was off crutches in a week, and completely back to normal within about 4 months. And I can honestly say my knee is better than it was preinjury. Goo dluck!

Flea said...

I have never had a knee injury. So no stories here. Just sympathy. And glad to hear you making something positive and interesting of it all.

Shannon said...

Good luck with the surgery. Hopefully everything weill go just fine.

Chrissy Johnson said...

Maybe you'll take up slow, recreational sledding down minor hills after you recover.

Heart2Heart said...


My hubby had three knee surgeries after falling from a painting scaffold when someone thought they should just move it without asking him to climb on down.

He is doing so well and aced all his surgeries and even said the day they did it felt so much better than the days he was in pain.

We are praying for you and hope you'll be back and up in no time.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Jen at Semantically driven said...

Oooowwwww, I feel your pain. Have had a knee injury myself and I hated crutches. I like that you're thinking positively. You'll get there.

Inkling said...

You'll be like that blonde Canadian skier (can't remember her name) who was supposed to ski in this past Olympics but couldn't because of a knee injury and surgeries. She got to look cute and help comment during the events. Maybe you can do that from your couch - look cute with all the hair tips you learned from Suave awhile back and comment on the kids progress as they practice homemaking. And shouldn't this justify getting your husband to treat you to some pedicures or something fun. I mean, it sounds like you'll be staring at your toes for awhile and a cute OPI color does wonders for one's outlook. =)

Seriously, I'll be thinking of you and praying for you. This past 16 months as I've gone through the saga of a severe birth injury and complications (like what African women go through) and waiting for the Canadian system only to finally go to the States and pay to have surgery myself, I look back on all the endurance I've gained and all the precious things I've learned and understood in ways that only pain and hardship can bring. And while I'm still waiting for one or two more procedures and not quite able to say that "I have my life back", I am finding it so valuable to glean as much as possible from this time. I wouldn't have chosen it for the world, but it is far more valuable and lifechanging in a positive way than I'd have imagined. Maybe you could journal and see what you gain through this challenge. And maybe we'll even be lucky enough to have you share it with us.

Linds said...

Knees and I are well acquainted, believe me. Those static exercise machines are superb, by the way.I wish I had had one 2 years ago! Just do the exercises, and you will be good to go.

GR said...

I don't buy in to the adage that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. But I love the undaunted approach to your recovery, and the recognition of your blessings. No doubt your family will learn from your down time (more time to write?), and should you choose, you'll do the marathon. Wish you the best.

The Source said...

You'll be fine! I'm not going to tell you a knee story, but my daughter had her ACL and meniscus reconstructed/repaired two years ago at the age of 14. It wasn't too horrible. Find out if they will send you home with one of those contraptions that circulates cold water through a wrap around your worked beautifully at keeping our girl's pain at bay after surgery and the swelling down after therapy sessions.

After watching the John Adams mini-series...all I can say is I am eternally grateful I wasn't born in a time when vaccination for smallpox meant stuffing a piece of a pox under skin! Or removing a breast was done without anesthesia!