Yesterday a gate closed for me. Others may close in the coming months and years. All are a part of the growing older.
Last summer I backpacked in the Olympic National Park and my first day included a two thousand foot descent into Grand Valley. It was late in the afternoon and my right knee began to ache as I dropped altitude rapidly. I took some ibuprofen that night and hiked on.
When I returned home and started running again I notice that my right knee became sore after most runs. It usually subsided in a few hours, but not always. Occasionally the pain and discomfort woke me up at night. In late September after a full day bike ride, I noticed the discomfort as I drove home. I stopped running and biking. The pain continued. I started a series of trips to my family physician, an MRI, and finally Dr.Andrea Saterbak , a respected orthopedic surgeon who is the team physician for the US Ski team.
I went in knowing from the MRI that I had a torn meniscus but that it was “complex” tear. Many meniscus tears can be “repaired” with arthroscopic surgery. Friends had told me of their surgery and how they were back running within weeks. I hoped my story would be the same with a successful arthroscopic surgery soon behind me.
After examining my knee and while looking at the MRI Dr. Andrea Saterbak said emphatically, “This cannot be repaired by surgery.” Then she wrote at the top of on my treatment plan, “Early Osteoarthritis in Right Knee.”
She asked, “What exercise do you use to stay fit?”
“Running. I like to run marathons.”
“I don’t think marathons are in your future,” She responded.
A gate closed for me as she said this. She went on to explain that the pounding of running will aggravate the knee further, resulting in more arthritis. My heart sank a bit as she carefully explained that my tear was more like a “frayed” meniscus and that orthopedic surgery would only aggravate the joint and cause further pain. She didn’t rule out running entirely, but she emphasized I will need to be gradual in my approach and see how my knee responds.
Other aerobic sports will need to be monitored as well, including biking and hiking. Especially long downhill descents like the one I did last summer into Grand Valley. She said a specialized knee brace may be helpful for such adventures and she gave me a referral for the brace. The gates to bikes and hikes may be closing as well, but it is too early to know.
She gave me a four point treatment plan.
1. Lose 10 pounds (mostly by restricting calorie intake)
2. Cortisone Injection (she gave me one before I left)
3. Low impact activity
4. NSAIDS (Ibuprofen occasionally as needed).
I walked out of her office disappointed but not devastated. I could look for a second opinion. Dr. Saterbak said that I could probably find a surgeon who would arthroscopically “trim” the meniscus, but I would be back in the surgeon’s office complaining about pain and inflammation within six months. Overall, I trusted Dr. Saterbak’s experience, diagnosis and treatment plan. I may not like what she said, but that does not invalidate it.
My practice of Centering Prayer, a form of Christian meditation, has strengthened over the past three years. Centering Prayer has a corollary prayer called the Welcome Prayer in which I am instructed to welcome whatever new circumstance may enter my daily life with the prayer, “Welcome, Christ, in the midst of this new circumstance.” Whether it is a pleasant experience that I enjoy or drudgery that I wish to avoid, God will be present in my response. With this diagnoses of osteoarthritis I am practicing the Welcome Prayer as follows “Lord, I may not like this diagnosis, but You are here in the midst of it and I welcome you and ask you to help me respond with grace and compassion – towards my body, my community and you.”
One thought I have embraced is that this diagnosis is not life-threatening. I will not die tomorrow or next month. It is life-changing and that is the part I am seeking to understand and affirm.
Now I could respond with requests for healing, but somehow that seems unwise. God could miraculously heal my knee, but then I would miss out on what God is teaching me in the midst of this situation. I believe that God is present as I rethink, refocus and deepen my trust in God.
The diagnosis is still fresh and my emotions and thoughts are processing. This blog post is part of that process. I will probably write more in the coming weeks and month.
Thanks for taking time to read this. Peace be with you.