Knee pain? I wonder if people who look at me like I am a wimp when I tell them about my mobility limitations due to knee injury and chronic pain understand what the the words “chronic” and “injury” and “pain” mean?
There was a time when these bad-boys (aka, The Knees) didn’t grind, pop, and complain every time I blink too fast. My entire adult life I’ve never known anything but chronic knee pain and the pain that radiates from it – namely my lower back, hips, and ankles. There is no joy in knowing that I’ll be the first to be eaten during the zombie apocalypse. Even the obese kid who drinks gravy from his thermos will out pace me. It is what it is. I’m learning to live with it.
Lets rewind a bit.
When I was in sixth grade I learned of a thing called Osgood-Schlatter. A growth spurt over the previous summer had left my knees in a very uncomfortable state but it wasn’t by any means debilitating. I took some pain killers when it got bad and I went on with my life – running, jumping, and doing stupid things to my immortal teenage body.
In 1994, I graduated High School. I distinctly remember the misery of walking to the stage, wind blowing at about 20mph, hobbling along in my leg immobilizer. I had tried for weeks to walk up stairs without it on, but it was for naught. I took the stairs, one at a time, and trudged across the stage in that awkward hip-ankle pop-up wobble I’ve since become unhappily familiar with. I had damaged my knee two months prior and without surgical repair, I could not bend it or exert any weight on it without the broken bits of the joint overwhelming me with pain. Two days later, I underwent arthroscopic surgery and lived happily ever after.
If this is my happily ever after, I’d rather have that knee pain back. It’s worlds apart from the torture I go through now.
Four years later, I was back for a second arthroscopic surgery on the same knee after tearing the hell out of it working at the YMCA. Though the first arthroscope had done wonders for my overall daily knee health, pain was a part of every day life. But it wasn’t unbearable. It was the kind of pain you tell your girlfriend about so she’ll rub it and say “poor baby” in the most playful but condescending tone she can muster. Then you laugh about it and eat a burrito. That was my daily deal.
Not this time.
The knee pain was terrible. It came in waves and would only subside if I iced and elevated it. The real oddity was that my foot no longer worked properly. It would respond to my commands fine, but it did so with a little bit of malicious compliance – like it was sticking it to the man. When walking, I had to be extra careful of not only how my foot landed with each step but also how it lifted from the ground. Any twisting motion would bring me down in a heap. The knee would simply buckle and my foot would look at me with this “I tried to warn you” expression of shook. Stairs were completely out. I actively avoided uneven ground or tiny inclines. I was fighting every day to make sure that all my foot-travels were downhill. You can probably guess how that worked out.
For multiple reasons, I resisted going to the doctor. I’ll get into those reasons in a later update. After a few weeks, my mother put her foot down to her 22-year-old bull-headed son, and I went to see the surgeon.
X-ray and MRI results showed multiple tears in the meniscus and articular cartilage. A small perforation in my ACL was apparent. The doctor also suggested that the pain I was feeling above my knee was the result of twisting motion as I fell which had aggressively strained the tendons attaching to the quadriceps as well as the patellar tendon.
I distinctly remember the doctor speaking words that would define my path for the next two decades. Not because they were incredibly poetic or thought-provoking or even inspiring like an Independence Day presidential speech right before flying off to battle. No, these words would forever be an absurd reflection of life with chronic severe pain. They were disparaging and damned inaccurate. “Some of the damage is irreparable.” He said. “We’ll do another arthroscopic surgery for the broken cartridge. You’ll be fine.” He then educated me that I should make ibuprofen a part of my new morning routine, even if the knees were feeling well.
If you don’t have chronic knee pain – or any kind of chronic pain for that matter I reckon – you might not get the significance of that understatement.
You’ll. Be. Fine.
I’m not sure what fine is, but I can’t believe that fine is how I live now.
Thank you for reading part one of my knee-pain flashback! I had no idea when I started writing it that it was going to be a ‘part one’. If you are bored with it, why are you reading a blog about knees? I’m pretty sure that’s on you. Otherwise, come back and visit next week for part two, “Keith Saves the Gamma Quadrant From Pot-bellied Lavapeople.”