Turns out you need your knees

Back in my Sophomore or Junior year of college, I once went on one of those “Spring Break” trips college students are supposed to do. However, I hung with a crowd that was responsible, practical and quite nice — so our Spring Break blowout was a ski trip to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. The wildest we got was a reenactment of Braveheart in the living room. I recall now the 12 or so of us descending on parental houses on our way up and greatly admire the fortitude of those parents putting up with us!

It was my first time skiing. My father has very bad knees and my mother no powder-ambitions, so despite living quite close to some first rate skiing, I had never in my life strapped on those devices. Our first day my then boyfriend, now husband, patiently took me on the bunny slopes, showing me how to move about on my rented skiis. I did pretty well. After an hour or two, he decided that I was ready for my first gentle slope.

I made it halfway down that slope on my own power. The second half was in the back of one of those ski patrol sled thingies. I had badly injured my knee.

I’ve never gone skiing again. I couldn’t walk properly for nearly six months.

The rest of that fateful trip was spent in agony. I hadn’t learned critical lessons like: pain killers help kill pain, going to a doctor when you’ve seriously messed up your knee is a good idea, or the critical “Always pack enough books so that if you bust your knee on the first day of a weeklong skiing trip you will still have enough to read.” The “bookstore” in town carried pretty much nothing I wanted to read. It’s a spot that happens to be convenient to our summer camping trips now, so I return not-irregularly, and always wince when I do.

So why do I bring up this fateful memory, now in the lushness of mid-May?

Well, I’ve had highly intermittent trouble with this knee. I likely tore the meniscus badly. The meniscus provides side-to-side stabilization, and does not heal once it’s been injured. So every once in a while doing something simple like stepping across a log, or putting a child into a car it “goes”. The knee slips out of position. It hurts like Hades for about 5 minutes, then I can at least go about my business. It aches for 24 hours, then is forgotten.

Yesterday, a lovely fine day, my husband and sons were playing baseball in our stamp-sized back yard, and Grey hit a “home run” over the fence. I had a few extra moments, so I figured I’d make myself useful by shagging balls. Now, there is no easy way down from my yard to the downhill yards. We have a 12 foot cement wall separating us. So at one point I had to jump down about 4 feet to the next landing (my neighbors yard is lower and terraced instead of having one big wall). I was quite careful (and had done this many times before). But this time, when I landed, excruciating agony was my reward. I laid there, frantic in pain, and called for my husband. He fetched me, helped me back up (the long way) and got me to ice my leg and take ibuprofin. (See? That right there? That’s called maturity and learning from your mistakes.) Thirty minutes later, out of town friends of ours appeared at our doorstep for dinner.

As it became obvious my leg was not going to “bounce back” (and I worked my way through a full injury-shock cycle), I called my neighbors, who are Physicians Assistants. My friend the ER PA came over, looked at my leg, and explained exactly what I should do. (Which involved going to the ER, getting an X-ray so if we need an MRI we won’t have to jump through that hoop, and getting crutches.) Now, usually going to the ER would be really hard for us. There aren’t any grandparents around to call for backup (although we do have great friends and neighbors we could’ve leaned on if we had to). But this time… voila! There were our Maine friends right there, happy to help. So that’s how it all transpired.

It’s not yet clear to me how badly injured I am or am not. It definitely not just a slip. I think there must be some additional injury or tearing (although it might be just a sprain?) I’m set up for a full-fledged Incident, with orthopedics etc. I have a knee immobilizer, crutches, and plenty of Ibuprofin. I slept in a looong time this morning, reckoning nothing does better for healing than sleep. My husband has set me up on the couch, and my plan is to let the knee be for as long as I can. I’m starting to feel hopeful I’ll be able to move about somewhat tomorrow (you know, go to work?) and not be a bump on a log for the whole week.

But I’m struck by how lucky I am in all of this. I have done that same “shagging balls” when I was home alone with the kids. I don’t know what I would’ve done if they were in the backyard and I was direly injured hidden in the fields behind them — especially if I hadn’t had my cell phone with me. But this time, my husband was right there and ready to help. Then having a neighbor so helpful and nearby was truly amazing. It certainly helped me prevent repeating my mistakes from the initial injury. Next, having friends happen to be in the neighborhood who could and would watch after my children while I went to the ER with my husband was a tremendous stroke of fortune. Handing over my insurance card at the ER, I considered how blessed I am to have good insurance, so I could seek treatment for this injury and afford to pay for it. And of course, I’m so lucky to be married to a loving, capable partner who can take care of me and our family through all of this. Finally, it just so happens that this is a week when it’s ok that I’m not 100%. Those weeks are rare.

No one gets through life without bad luck. We all get sick or injured sometimes. I feel remarkably blessed, though, that my bad luck came with so much good luck associated with it.