Gate Closed

Yesterday a gate closed for me.  Others may close in the coming months and years.  All are a part of the growing older.

Grand Valley

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.

22 thoughts on “Gate Closed

  1. Virginia Pleban

    Pastor John, I understand what you are going through. I have had 2 knee replacements, many “scopre” surgeries before the replacements, 1 knee cap replacement, and now I am recovering from an infusion in my lower back. Many years ago I used to run, then went to walking about 3 miles and now I am faced with getting back to walking period. No I don’t use a walker very often, no I don’t use a scooter in the stores, I manage to use a plain cane and I am recovering ever so slowly. I wish you the best and your approach to this big change is difficult, but you will eventually get back to walking without too much pain. I will tell you this the pain after back surgery is the worst I have ever experienced, so I wish you luck in avoiding surgery. Getting older is not for the meek, it is for the strong and determined person. My prayers and Peace, Love, Joy, Faith to you. Virginia Pleban

      1. Virginia Pleban

        Pastor John, I read your last entry and it reminded me of about 15 years ago when I finally had to give into a knee replacement. I am now having cellulitis and had a fusion in my back last spring. I get cellulitis because of the knee replacement I had. Cellulitis is something you have to have treated immediately, otherwise the consequences are very serious. I have been hospitalized about 6 times with it and I continue the fight of being able to do some of the activities I did at one time, one is gardening. I won’t give it up as it is my way of showing God how important he is in my life. I do volunteer gardening and will do this at the church we now attend in North St. Paul. I think of you often when trying to gain my strength back from back surgery and now cellulitis. I thank God every day that I am able to walk, with a cane, and will start walking just as soon as we have spring arrive. I wish you the best in your journey and also to accept the fact of getting older gives us many challenges to face and that God is always there for all of us. I appreciate all that you have done for me in my walk of life and I also remember your generosity at the time of my mom’s death. It has been years, but I will never forget your kindness. God’s speed! Virginia Pleban

  2. zanny johnson

    John, you continue to inspire and mentor me. Thank you for your honest sharing. I am not a runner (cough cough), but as you know, the love of my life is, and I can’t even imagine how devastating this must be–as it would be for Mike. Bless you as you process and trust, and look for the face of God during this transitional time of finding other ways to move your body, exercise and relieve stress. Your faithfulness and openness will bear much fruit–it already has by your sharing. We are praying for you.
    ~Zanny (for Mike, too)

  3. Joanne Zehnder

    Pastor John, I am so sorry to hear about this gate closing for you~~~I know how much you loved your hiking in nature. But I love the way you are handling all of this. I can empathize with you because I have also had to close the gate on a sport I loved~~~golfing. Due to having both of my shoulders replaced due to arthritis and four back surgeries due to spinal stenosis, I have also come to accept these limitations and have found that now I spend more time in the Word and meditating on how thankful I am for all God has given me in this life. God bless you on this new journey, my friend!
    Joanne Zehnder

  4. donovanfour

    I am sorry. That is a game changer. Change is hard, even the best of change. Praying you through this transition and for healing of your knee and that no further damage is done. I turned to acupuncture to help treat my Ostoearthritis in both my hands. i noticed the weather factored into my hands hurting. The cold is especially bad for my hands and also high humidity. I’m just more careful not to expose my hands to cold or I’ll pay the price. Using heat pads in my gloves does the trip. The Ostoearthritis feels like there is a piece of glass in my joints and it is extremely painful at times to use my hands. The acupuncture really helped and some lifestyle adjustments helped! Sometimes it can be covered by insurance. There are other alternative treatments but it’s a it or miss. What works for some doesn’t always work for others!! All the best down your new path.

    1. Pastor John Keller Post author

      Leslie, thank you for sharing your journey. I am learning that there are a variety of medical responses to osteoarthritis that I will need to explore and see how they might work for me. Your experience with heat and cold is especially helpful as winter approaches. I am trusting that as one gate closes, new gates will open. Thanks.

  5. opreach

    Hi John. Sorry to hear your news, and I understand. I realized several years ago that backpacking could no longer be one of my pursuits, though I can still enjoy hiking. It’s that osteoarthritis in the knees. It’s a journey isn’t it! I’m glad you have a contemplative practice that keeps you grounded. Hmmm – grounded. Well surely the practice will keep you while you’re grounded.

    And for what it’s worth, I know that when I avoid wheat, my knee pain lessens. Of course that doesn’t mean I always avoid it. But I know the difference! They say it’s an inflammatory.

    Blessings and peace, Pat

  6. Sarah Storvick

    So sorry that a gate has closed, but yes, age does seem to close some paths or at least make them far less available. I appreciated your words “disappointed but not devastated” – so apt. Wishing you peace in the midst.

    1. Pastor John Keller Post author

      Thanks, Sarah. As I write this, a young man jogs by the church. Both a wistful longing and a smiling irony floats through my mind. He has passed by now, as has my longing. We live in a sea of change, with the one constant being God’s eternal, graceful, wondrous love. Peace be with you. JVK

  7. Jeannie LeMere

    John, I’m so sorry to hear this! I know how you love running, hiking and biking. God will open a new gate for you my friend. If anyone can find fresh insight during this journey it’s you! Praying for discernment and strength for you.

  8. Kitsi

    Dear John, Thanks for posting this. I have missed reading your blog, and hope you will continue to update all of your friends/fans on your progress. I loved the idea of the Centering and Welcoming prayer – what a powerful approach to the changes we all face but aren’t necessarily happy about. Please know that by sharing your challenges and choices, you enrich our whole community. Kitsi

  9. Becki Kvitrud


    As we age we keep fighting to remain active and moving. I also have had this wonderful woman give me 2 partial knee’s and a redo on my right shoulder. I had the gate close on me with tennis. This has been a bitter pill to swallow. I am not not a Man of God such as you, and I have I tried to find an activity my 63 year old body will allow me to do. Boxing really fit my need for a release for awhile. Walking 2-3 miles a day. Not running. Water exercises are 4 days a week and that is easy on my joints. The gate closed but I have opened a window which if my knees and shoulder were in tip top form I wouldn’t have worked so hard to try new exercises that I can still learn and participate in. I meet new people daily and enjoy my conversation with them. Again the process continues of aging and socializing.

  10. Wendy Schulze

    Dear Pastor John, even though you were interim pastor at CSLC for a short while last spring, I always had enjoyed hearing your stories of hiking and running and also have a love of those activities. I was saddened to read your blog and your diagnosis, but am happy that you are keeping God in your midst and not railing against Him. I would also cling to the hope that your doctor is stating that you may eventually do the running and hiking again in moderation. Also – have encouragement in finding other outdoor activities (like kayaking!) that you can learn and enjoy in God’s nature. Blessings, Wendy Schulze

    1. Pastor John Keller Post author

      Thanks, Wendy. I appreciate your words of encouragement. I will find ways to enjoy God’s creation, but more mindful of how my body responds. Greet the wonderful people of Christ the Servant.

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  13. Dirk Mudge

    With the loss of mobility, I am reminded of a ragged paper sign in a store window years ago. It said : “Dog missing, has only 3 legs, tail chopped off, one ear partly gone, recently castrated. Goes by the name LUCKY.”

    Even when our maximum mobility is taken away, relatively speaking, we are still LUCKY!


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