Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good knee, bad knee

For the past year I have been living with a “good knee” and a “bad knee.” The good knee, the left one, has served diligently without complaint. The bad right knee has buckled under me. The good knee left me free to have conversations while I walk upstairs. The bad knee begged for attention so I couldn't  think about anything else. The good knee has been quiet, well-behaved, and admirably flexible. The bad knee woke me every night like a cat who thinks breakfast comes before sunrise.

The bad knee has kept me from doing all kinds of things I like in the last year. No biking, no hiking. I've meditated in a chair while the cooler, hipper yogis balance on their zafus on the floor. I wore flat shoes to parties and I rode the elevator to go up just one flight. At the library where I work, when I would get down on the floor to talk to little kids, my grimaces made them hide behind their mother’s legs. 

Ten days ago I had surgery to fix the bad knee. A doctor took about twenty minutes to open up my knee, stick a camera inside, find the raggedy piece of torn cartilage, and trim it back into a neat shape with no frayed edges to flap around and make me squinch my face in pain. “Minor procedure,” the doctor said. I guess it was minor for him, since it only took twenty minutes out of his day. 

For me it’s been more like a two-week vacation on a cruise ship you really, really want to get off of. On this ship, the post-surgery cruise ship, the bed is uncomfortable, the food has no appeal, the bar is locked up and the entertainment is basic cable. I understand I’m getting better, and I can see progress day to day, but – allow me to say something breathtakingly obvious here – pain is exhausting, and pain pills make you blotto.

As an aside, how many of the Seven Dwarfs could be my avatar right now?

Sleepy – check.
Dopey – check.
Grumpy– doublecheck.
Sneezy -- I'm not Sneezy, thank goodness, but I have a strong resemblance to Sneezy's cousins from the wrong side of the tracks, Itchy and Scratchy. 
That leaves Bashful, Happy, and Doc.  I'm usually quite Bashful, really, but the pills I’m taking make me talk without constraint about anything that comes into my head. Junior high school crushes, constipation, everything. Happy hasn’t been around here much lately. either As for Doc, the opioid pain pills have been giving me kind of crazy dreams that sometimes feature my knee surgeon. But on the other hand, the surgeon really did have an uncanny resemblance to Mitt Romney, so who's to say what those nightmares are about.

This morning I woke up and realized that for the first time since the surgery I had slept all the way through the night without waking up in pain. I went to the dentist and had my teeth cleaned, and the effort neither made me sweaty nor did it make me cry. So yes, progress. I found myself thinking kindly towards my bad knee. I told it, “You’re not going to be the bad knee very much longer, are you. You are really shaping up. Thanks, I appreciate it.” 

And then – I distinctly heard the voice of my bad knee speaking up, like a voice-over in a documentary called The Knee Whisperer.

My bad knee said, “HEY! I am your right knee. I am the strong side of your body. I am the one who has been doing more of the work, carrying more of the load. I take longer steps, I push harder on the bike pedal, I go first up the stairs. I have been compensating for the left knee – and the rest of your ungrateful carcass – for years. I have been the GOOD KNEE your whole friggin' life and I deserve a little more respect and care. You better take notes on this, chickie, or we are in for a whole bunch of a painful and broken-down decades."

That took me back a little bit. My broken-down knee thought it was the good knee. Who does that remind me of? Oh, me, the good volunteer, daughter, librarian, and friend, the person who tries to fix the world’s problems between migraines. And look what happens to the ones who try to carry more than their share, so they can acquire a lovely row of gold stars next to their name. We break down. And funnily enough, the very people who are pushing us the most may not be that sympathetic when we fall. We have to be kind to ourselves first and not wait for other people to do that for us.

I said that my knee told me this. More realistically, maybe the narcotics I've been taking had something to do with it. But just because it might be opiate-induced doesn’t mean it isn't true.

1 comment:

  1. anne, you are a very good writer xo

    i've been there, done that. it is a much longer recovery and rehab than most ortho surgeons think. but it will get better. i've been doing pilates for my knee(s) and that has been a good thing for me.

    kj (karen) :^)