Journal entry 012011: Deterioration and recovery

I have been reading about Abraham, the original patriarch of the Bible and founder of the Jewish people and Arab people. I am always surprised by the trajectory of his life, how his growth into a man of God, whose very name defined a life of faith, was not a simple linear progression. His maturing came in starts-and-stops, advances and regressions. One moment he showed great faith and trust in God, the next he gave away his wife to save his own life. I expect better from one of the Bible’s main characters.

In these past two weeks I’ve discovered once again how non-linear my own life is. I suffered a regression of my own. In this particular case I’m talking about my physical life rather than my spiritual life, although I’m increasingly aware that they are one and the same.

Only four weeks ago I was joyfully running with my granddaughter Madden, pushing her high-tech stroller through the neighborhood. And then, a few days later, I was struggling down the street on an aching knee, hoping someone would have pity on me and give me a ride back to the gym.

I went running for five miles Tuesday last week, and the first three miles were very good. I ran well, and lightly, and pushed the pace. But when I left the Par Course and walked across the street to avoid traffic, my right knee got suddenly stiff and tight and weak and I couldn’t run on it any more. I was done. I limped the two miles back to the gym. This was my RIGHT knee, my good leg. What was this all about? It made me nervous. It scared me.

It wasn’t my first experience with knee pain. In fact, if you are a regular reader of this journal you are probably sick of hearing about my knees.

Sometime during the fall of 2004 I started noticed pain in my LEFT knee. If I sat at a table or in the movie theater where I couldn’t straighten my leg it would begin to throb and ache. Eventually, it began to wake me up at night, and it often got swollen and puffy.

I stopped running on it. I would walk three miles four or five times a week and it didn’t seem to get any worse.

In May of 2005 I saw an orthopedist. His office took X-rays but didn’t see anything he could fix. He sent me home, telling me it was time to find another activity.

I slowly and gradually recovered, learned to tolerate the discomfort, and returned hiking and backpacking and marathoning back into my life.

That is, until last week when disaster struck again. Only it was my RIGHT knee this time, and because I was afraid I’d done real damage, I scheduled an appointment with Cyndi’s orthopedist. I was jealous that Cyndi recovered so quickly after he repaired her knee last summer, and I didn’t want to go through six more years of limping if I didn’t have to.

They X-rayed both knees. The PA put me on the table and pressed all the pressure points and moved and twisted my knee and leg. She said there was no evidence of tendon or ligament damage. She said the problem was the same thing I heard back in 2005, arthritis. I have lost cartilage in both knees. She showed me several bone spurs that were evidence of meniscus damage. I also had a strange elongated bone spur on my left knee cap that probably resulted from an ancient fracture.

(I looked it up when I got home: I fell on my left knee while Rollerblading with Katie on Wednesday, June 8, 1994. I hit the sidewalk pretty hard that day, and on occasion afterward I would point out to Cyndi how I thought there might be a tiny bone fragment moving around my kneecap.)

My doctor’s visit was disappointing. I had been hoping for a torn ligament or damaged tendon, something that could be repaired and restored. No such luck. Osteoarthritis can’t be repaired overnight.

The PA said the only real solution was eventual knee replacement. I told her I would need to feel a lot more pain than I’ve felt before I would think about that. She recommended treating my knees with Aleve, Glucosamine, and Synvisc. The good news is I won’t blow up or tear something if I keep moving. The bad news is all I have to look forward to is more deterioration. I have to learn to be patient, even resilient, take the long view, and all that. Like Abraham, be prepared for ups and downs.

I don’t know if Abraham had bad knees. Odds are everyone had bad knees 4,000 years ago. His grandson, Jacob, had a bad hip and walked with a limp, but we don’t know how Abraham walked except that he walked with God. And his life was as much about recovery as it was about accomplishment

That’s not so bad. I can live with that. I’ve started the recovery process already.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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