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The Challenge

May 4, 2013

The summer of 1968 proved to be memorable. I was twelve that year and my younger brother and I got along pretty well back then.

One bright sunny day he challenged me to a bike race. We planned to ride westward down the alley, make a hard right on to the avenue, and another one in short sucession on to the street…then two more right turns at the far end, and back into the alley from the east, and home.

We never made it to the second turn.

I was on the inside track and Dale took the outer one. We’d built up quite a bit of speed on our way down the alley; our back tires spewed gravel in our wake.

I leaned hard to my right and put my foot down to skim the ground and maintain balance. I cut the corner and stayed as close to the fire plug as I could and still clear the thing.

Turned out my depth perception wasn’t what I thought it was. Or what it needed to be.

I smashed my knee into the hydrant and before I knew it, I was sprawled face down in the dirt. Which, incidentally, didn’t taste very good as I recall. But, eating a little dirt was the least of my problems. My knee hurt like the dickens and the pant leg of my new pink pedal-pushers was torn and bloodied.

Dale helped me up and we limped our bikes back up the alley to the garage. He walked upright…me; not so much. I hobbled awkwardly, leaning on my pink and white Schwinn for support.

My mother cleansed my scrape…picked the gravel out with her tweezers, dabbed at it with a soapy washrag, painted it with iodine and applied a band-aid, grumbling all the while. She didn’t much care for administering first aid, but as a stay-at-home mom, it went with the territory. So, she patched us up and waited for dad to get home from work.

He was much more comfortable taking care of the day-to-day cuts and bruises of three active kids. Being the breadwinner, dad worked as a milkman by day, and served as the family medic when the need arose. Which was fairly often, given that Dale, six years younger than my older brother Darrell, thought he should be able to do everything Darrell did. Only he usually didn’t have the size or strength to pull it off without bloodshed…mostly his. He cracked his head open a lot…and that always required a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

Dad examined my scraped knee…just a scrape, he said…kind of big, but not very deep so no need to bother with the doctor.

And so it went…I popped aspirin when it hurt.

And in time, mom noticed that the aspirin was disappearing quicker than she thought it should. So she sat the three of us on the couch and began her interrogation. Who was taking the aspirin, she asked, and why? No one was leaving until she had answers, and we knew from experience that she meant business. And, since I was easily intimidated back then, it didn’t take long for me to crumble. Both boys were dismissed and I was on the hot seat.

I only took aspirin when my knee hurt, I confessed. And yes, I told her, it did hurt pretty often… So mom made a doctor appointment for me. I was examined and x-rayed, poked and prodded, and none the wiser in the end. ‘Go home, take aspirin for the pain and it will heal in time,’ he doctor said. ‘Might be a deep bruise,’ he added.

But time didn’t help…it didn’t feel better. In fact, it continued to plague me over the next quarter century, until I saw another doctor…an orthopedist this time. By that time, the early 90’s, dye contrast x-ray studies had been developed…and they showed far greater detail, especially with soft tissue like cartilage. ..which turned out to be my problem. Torn cartilage; some of it flapping back and forth at inopportune times, and some of it was free floating.

Over the next three years, I had two arthroscopies of that knee, each of which eased my symptoms for a time. But they were just a temporary fix. At any rate, I was grateful it bought me a few more years of reduced pain and more normal usage of that knee.

Then, in 2010, I went for the big fix…total knee replacement. And that was rough. A ligament was stretched during the surgery and I had to wear a brace for a couple of months while it healed.

All I can say about that is this: knee braces are very uncomfortable devices; they keep sliding down and sorely test one’s patience. But, they are necessary sometimes, and one just has to put up with the frustrating aspects of it all. Nothing can be done to speed up the healing process.

But that knee replacement wasn’t the solution it was supposed to be, either. It healed after about five months and felt good for the next eight or so months before it began to talk to me once again in the universal language of pain. After reading yet another set of x-rays, the surgeon told me that the implant had loosened. He checked my blood work and found no indication of infection. He informed me that it would have to be revised sooner rather than later, quick to add that there was no indication that it would fail catastrophically, something I hadn’t even crossed my mind.

And, about a year and a half later, when it began to feel like it was going to buckle when I was going down stairs, Jim and I talked about it and decided the time had come.

I made the appointment. I saw the surgeon. We reviewed the details, and set a date. February 26th, 2013. We had to be at the hospital at 5:30 am.

And this time, things were different. At least from my viewpoint. In the hospital, I amazed the doctors and physical therapists alike with my progress. Forty-eight hours after surgery, I was walking the entire length of the hallway and back. The therapists didn’t think I needed to go to Rehab, but the doctors disagreed. Since this was revision surgery, not a replacement, both of them strongly recommended Rehab. And given the number of stairs in my house, Jim and I wholeheartedly agreed. There wasn’t as much pain, and I could walk quite a distance and do my exercises without much difficulty. Until I overdid it…which happened about every third day. Then I befriend my ice pack and pain meds. The three of us kick back for a little girl-time and some serious bonding.

On day seven post-op, it was the stairs. I wanted to try alternating my feet and climbing up a flight of stairs, but my therapist had the day off and her replacement didn’t think that was such a wise idea. That could wait until tomorrow, she told me, we could push it, but there was no need to jump off the cliff just yet.

On day eight, with my regular therapist on duty, I walked up and down two flights of stairs, alternating my feet. I spent that afternoon and evening with my ice pack. But it was worth it. I’d done it, and I had a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

After nine days in Rehab, I was cut loose…discharged…left to my own devices. I couldn’t drive yet, but I could go home. Progress noted.

Four weeks after surgery, I was back in water aerobics…modifying my workout, but there nonetheless.

I ditched my cane after about five or six weeks and didn’t need pain pills after seven.

Now, at nine weeks post-op, I’m almost ‘there.’ I don’t tolerate being on my feet for long periods…especially on concrete, but that will come with time. At any rate, this knee just feels ‘right.’

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One Comment
  1. donludeman@aol.com permalink

    Another good tale, which you had told me before. After “February 26, 2013,” you might have added, “at 5:30 a.m.” — or whatever ungodly early hour that was!

    Don

    P.S. Did they ever give you back the old joint?

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