A year of zombie life

September 16th is one of the dates I remember. On September 16th, a year ago, I became a zombie.

Apple picking with knee brace
Apple picking with knee brace

The story is this: 14 year ago, I went skiing for the first time and snapped my ACL. Being young and dumb, I figured six months of limping was normal for a sprain. Then 18 months ago I jumped off a wall and tore my meniscii – both of them – badly. A summer of physical therapy, then I re-injured it and the MRI showed that I had massive damage to my knee. I was scheduled for an ACL replacement surgery and repair of both my meniscus.

I think that exactly this time last year I was fading in and out of consciousness, in and out of pain. I don’t remember that day too well. The rest of the week I spent ensconced on this very couch, an awesome ice pack circulating cold water over my bruised and violated knee. It was a long, slow, obnoxious journey back to (mostly) full mobility from there. I hated the crutches stage. I limped for months and months. Even now, I can feel that my knee is different than it’s partner on the right.

There are a few things I bring out of this experience.

First is gratitude. My new knee with its excellent function is a gift. There was a person who chose to be an organ donor. There was a family who affirmed that donation – in grief – after they lost that loved one. We all think about donating hearts and lungs and livers: the life-saving organs. But there is so much more than just that. There are tendons, eyes, skin – things that make life better. I carry a bit of my donor with me – and it carries me. There is a person who lives on, in some small way, in me. And I am grateful.

Second is also gratitude. It turns out that chronic pain and difficulty moving are mentally, emotionally and physically debilitating. Last year was one of the hardest – the worst – years of my life. This year has, so far, been one of the best. There is more to it than just pain and disability vs. no pain and ability… but that is a huge amount. It is salutary for the young and able bodied to see the world through other’s eyes. I’ve been fearful walking across slick ground in a way I never was before. That gives me sympathy and care for the octogenarians who always walk with such caution. I also being to understand the toll chronic pain takes on its sufferers.

Finally, there is the moving on. This appendage has taken up a tremendous amount of space in my psyche in the last year: with the pain, the fear, the disability, the limitations. But that’s pretty much over with. Now I have all this lovely extra space in my thoughts for new things, like guitar!

So that’s a wrap. One year later, I am signed up for the next Red Cross blood drive and saying, “Sayonara knee preoccupation!”

A Tale of Two Summers

One of my last ambulatory days of 2011
One of my last ambulatory days of 2011

I’ve been enjoying myself quite a lot lately. Other than the breathless busy-ness that is the inevitable outcome of trying to DO ALL THE THINGS, we’ve been having a lot of fun. This past weekend we spent at the beach, my children increasingly fearlessly ducking through waves. We’ve been hiking and camping and beaching and farmer’s marketing. I walked through London.

I was thinking, the other day, how much more pleasant this summer seemed than last. Of course there’s a lot that goes into that. I’m in a different job, which plays a role. My sons are 6 and 3 instead of 5 and 2, which also plays a role. But one of the most critical factors to my family’s happiness has to be the condition of my left knee.

As you all well remember, last May I epically blew it out. Or rather, I prosaically finished a long slow decade of disintigration with two major tears of my meniscus, precipitated by the fact that I had no ACL to protect those secondary tissues. I spent last summer in physical therapy, in my doctor’s office and in constant pain and fear. Pain obviously, but fear that I would step wrong or it would hurt worse. Fear that was, I should say, regularly reinforced by coming true.

Camping ended up being brutal. The shifting sands and rolling rocks of a beach, plus the fear that my then two year old would attempt to swim his way to France, meant that we entirely avoided the beach the entire summer. Last summer vacation, right after the MRI revealed the massive extent of the internal damage, I spent my summer vacation processing the reality that I would need my first ever major surgery. Mt. Rainier’s shoulders went unmolested by my feet – except for the tamest trails. I did PT in the hotel room and packed a large bottle of extra strength Ibuprofen. I planned ahead for my next “vacation”, quickly exhausting my paid time off and attempting to work through the sheer exhaustion of a healing body and pain-ridden system.

It’s amazing how much more fun it is to be out of pain and relatively healthy.

That’s where this post was intended to end two weeks ago, when I first thought it up. (What can I say, I’ve been too busy having fun to actually write about it!) My knee had finally reach all better, about the time I went to London. Look ma! I can kneel!

And then something went oogly. I’m kind of so used to limited motion and pain that it took me a bit to notice my knee hurt and I was favoring it again – limping a bit. I know it’s not the ACL, but I have to wonder if there’s still a tear in the mensicus, or even a new one. I think the way I was sitting might have “caught” it.Or maybe it’s the new normal – I have very little cushioning my knee now, with the meniscal tears removed. Maybe running for a bus one day is an action I pay for over the course of the next few weeks. I realize that the right thing to do is to call my dear Orthopedist and ask to be reviewed.

The idea of initiating anything like that is appalling. So instead I’m ignoring it for now. If it is a really remote meniscal tear that only gets activated when I sit a particular way, well. I can learn not to sit that way.

My husband and I were commisserating the other day. He was going through his extensive nightly ritual of caring for his hands and feet. When not attended to with slavish devotion, the skin on both tends to crack and not heal, which is just as painful as it sounds. This accumulation of familiar aches and chronic (minor) issues is almost like a rite of passage itself. It marks – as if our increasingly gigantic and independent children did not – our transition from the flower of youth to the fruit of middle age. You notice you’re walking with a limp – after 26 sessions of PT and two hours of surgery – and you kind of wonder if you will ever spend a full year in which you do not limp, and what it might mean to be the Mom that Limps a Little. (Of course, putting it that way almost resolves me to call my orthopedist. After vacation.)

What about you? What aches and pains have you accumulated, that have become as familiar as your own face in the mirror? Or tell me about ones you have resigned yourself to, only to be unexpectedly and permanently freed from them.

Placebo effect

The snot-plague is lingering, watching, just outside my peripheral vision. While Grey seems pretty ok (apparently he was fine yesterday – I overreacted. It’s hard to gauge when your kid throws up at the drop of a hat), Adam is not. No, he has a very sore throat. With white spots. And a fever. Alex, I’ll take “Strep Throat” for $200, please. He sees the doctor today.

But Thane is snotty and coughing. Grey is snotty and coughing. I… well, my throat just started hurting. Hmmmmm….

Now this is important. If you think taking Vitamin C, or Cold-eez, or Airborne is effective for helping prevent or diminish a cold, STOP READING NOW. Just stop.

Have you stopped? Good.

Anyway, the plague afflicting my house got me thinking about an article I read recently. Right here:
Placebos are Getting More Effective. Go read it. I’ll wait.

It’s a great discussion on how the positive effects of placebos are getting bigger — really significant!

I really, really wish that I could have a placebo right about now. Just one problem, of course. I’m too skeptical/over-educated to get one. I’m pretty sure that those cold prevention items: Airborne, Vitamin C, Cold-eez (although maybe NOT zicam) are placebos. Which is to say that if they’re your thing and you trust ’em, they’re actually very effective against the cold. Quite possibly, they’re the most effective thing we HAVE against that wily virus. And I can’t take them, because I really don’t believe they’re effective except as a placebo. Which, I’m pretty sure, means that the placebo effect will be at best muted and at worst non-existent.

Wouldn’t it be great – and true! – if they actually sold a pill that was a well-marketed, universal placebo? One that was shown to reduce colds and flu by XXX%. FDA approved. Look it up on the internet and check out the active ingredients. Basically, a big ol’ benevolent scam so that people like me could take a placebo and not know it was a placebo. That got me to wondering how I would know that exists if it already does. And that got me thinking about the cold remedies that have been all the rage lately. What are they if not well-marketed placebos? Right. Well done, self. Way to talk yourself out of a whole therapy option.

Well, I totally plan on using the placebo effect for the gullible young people in my control. They’re actually not bothered by much, but if a sick day ensues I’m sure a few of these here pills (Pez) will fix it right up. Trouble sleeping? Here’s a nice glass of milk that has been scientifically proven to assist in sleep! And thanks to big pharma, I won’t be telling my sons lies. I’ll be telling them truths made so by their own minds.

I’m also planning on doing a complete cease and desist on expressing skepticism about anyone’s little wacky remedies. You think that what you’re doing makes you feel better and makes you healthier? You’re right. It does. Glad you’ve found something that works so well for you!

What wondrous things our bodies are!

(Hmmmm I wonder if the semi-magical aura I’ve applied to coffee counts. Darn it! Stop thinking about it! Ooooooohmmmmm…. coffffeeeee……. oooooooohhhhmmmmm)