Sunday, August 31, 2008


When I was 15, I tore a ligament in my right knee. The ER doc barked, "You would have been better off if you'd broken your leg" and the medical treatment went downhill from there. As I recall, everyone paid more attention to my mother, who was green around the gills and in danger of fainting. (Medical stuff always made her woozy.) And the science of dealing with torn knee ligaments was apparently nowhere near as sophisticated as it is now, at least where 15-year-old girls were concerned.

After the initial injury, my knee more or less returned to normal. It occasionally locked up and made me limp for a day or two, but not very often and it never hurt. People who played tennis with me quickly learned that I wasn't much of one for running to the right, but otherwise the knee was a non-issue. Then, when I was 35, it locked up at a shallow angle and refused to bend further or straighten all the way. If I was insistent about moving it within its limited range, it made nauseating popping sounds that could sometimes be heard even by other people. Clearly, something had to be done.

That something was knee surgery to remove a chunk of cartilage that was jaggedly and irreparably torn, probably as a result of the original ligament tear, the healed scar of which was visible - and quite interesting - on the TV on which I watched the surgery. The recovery from knee surgery featured the worst pain I've ever endured, and I've endured a tonsillectomy, two C-sections, two herniated vertebral discs, migraine headaches, and the removal of my left inner ear. (This is an astonishing list, isn't it, for someone who's essentially been healthy all her life.)

Anyway, the 1989 knee surgery was a success. Once the initial 10 days of agonizing pain were over, I was again back to normal. Until last Tuesday, that is, when I stood up from my desk chair and realized my right knee hurt. There was no wrench, twist or other calamitous triggering event. The soreness continued, neither better nor worse, all week. No problems with strength or mobility, but the sucker really hurts. When I asked my husband what he thought was up, he very calmly, cheerfully even, told me the ligament was probably just degenerating - surgically repaired soft tissue degenerates more quickly than intact stuff, he explained - and maybe even torn again along the scar.

What the hell? Just degenerating? I don't like the sound (or feel) of that at all. I've never had a problem with my age, mostly because I like having already had the happiness and success of kids and career and having arrived at a stage where I can contentedly sit back and enjoy the fruits of both. But at least a little of why I like being 54 is that I look and feel younger. Or I did until I was callously informed that not only might my knee be degenerating, but that's not even big news for "someone my age."

Of course, my husband got more sympathetic the minute he saw the shocked look on my face, and the anti-inflammatory medicine he recommended is already improving things. If the pain goes away and I have no further problems, we plan to go back to ignoring my poor old right knee, whatever may have happened in there. But I have to admit I suddenly feel if not 54, then certainly older than I did before I had to accept that, where my own body is concerned, I no longer get to be alarmed or outraged by a phrase like "soft tissue degeneration."

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