So if your name is George, this isn’t about you. Just sayin…
At one of my last PT sessions, my amazing PT David asked me how often I wore my brace. I said, “Ugly George? Only when I’m having a lot of pain.”
Yes. George because… I dunno it was the first name I thought of. Ugly because… it is.
I’ve learned a lot about Ugly George since March (when I had surgery.) First, all braces aren’t alike. And drugstore braces are not necessarily good for you. (Shout out to my PT to helped me learn what to buy and measured one that fit correctly.)
Second, a brace isn’t good for long-term use, but it can take the load off when there’s going to be extra stress on a joint. I wore it in the Pride Parade. I’ve pulled it on when I was going to be doing a lot of walking at a conference. And tonight, after a long day of visits, my knee ached– but I had an appointment with my Trainer! So Ugly George came along for the work out. 30 minutes of core, and 20 minutes on the treadmill.
I got home, showered, and iced my knee. I sprayed Ugly George with Febreze (cause he gets a little funky).
Life goes on. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly (George.)
There is progress. Slow and steady. Chaplain Tortoise, here, is almost ready to go back to work on Tuesday!
Almost 2 weeks out from surgery, I’m feeling encouraged. (I’ll spare you a picture of my knee, minus the sutures.) The swelling is going down and I’m able to do simple things like stand up and sit down without pain. I can navigate steps (going up is easier than going down) but still find it difficult to do things like pick up a bag of groceries from the floor, or squat. (I probably could squat, but someone would have to rescue me.)
Now, as my surgeon says, I have a “better” knee, but I do not have a “healthy” knee. It will take some babying and strict rehab to get closer to normal functioning. And, though I hate to say it, I will have to start going to the gym regularly. My whole body will benefit (and I know this), but I’m just not someone who enjoys working out. And most of my friends are readers and knitters, not joggers and weight-lifters.
One of the realities I am facing, though, is that to get back to my personal “best” it will take some work. So I decided to check out the local gyms and fitness clubs, just to get a jump start on where I will end up after PT.
It was… interesting.
There was one that smelled like every high school gymnasium you’ve ever been in, minus the pull-out bleachers and whistles. Yeah… no.
There was one that appeared to have delusions of grandeur, with hardwood floors and a “eucalyptus” steam room. (Why? I don’t know). And a “day spa” where I could get a bikini wax and a facial after I work out. (Um. No.)
There was one that had row after row after row of treadmills and row machines, and not much else. Also no one on the floor who could teach a newbie how to use these things. My comment to the salesperson: “Look. I got this knee injury from walking. On a flat surface. I need a little more than a smile and wave.”
There was one that had pushy sales staff and warned me that “the price will go up if you don’t sign today.” (My response? “Oh well. Your loss.”)
Then there was the guy who schmoozed so much, I thought we would be meeting up with our spouses for a drink this weekend. Dude. I’m just looking for a place to work out. Your son is not marrying my daughter! (Creepy.)
And… my last stop, when I was almost ready to say fuggedaboudit, my search yielded a place with fairly normal people. People who get that I am not interested in being anything other than a better version of my best self. I think I’ll probably end up there. We’ll see.
I’m operating at a lower speed than normal, which has been frustrating. However, listening to my body has been key. (My knee definitely YELLS at me when I try to do too much!) Stepping back into mindfulness practices, I remembered that knowing and caring for myself is the best way to walk into a healthier me.
So for now, I’m Chaplain Tortoise… taking those baby steps towards healing. Slow and steady wins the race.
Go tell my knee, My achy-breaky-knee, I really don’t like landing on the floor. So if you tell my knee, My achy-breaky-knee, It might straighten up and walk some more…
(apologies to Billy Ray Cyrus)
This has been a frustrating week. Frustrating in that aggressive rehab is “on hold” for several more weeks. Yes, the meniscus still has a tear. (No magical healing happening!) The effusion is back. The stiffness is back. The pain (thank the LORD for cortisone shots) is nonexistent, unless I try and do something stupid, like squat or kneel.
But the swelling isn’t “normal.” Not even an older knee that “hit the pavement.” I’m following a new regimen, and using what the orthopedist called “good old common sense.” Conservative, careful, and step by step. Home exercises, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Also regular anti-inflammatory meds, and a delicious mug of Turmeric-Ginger tea!
I’m not particularly happy with my knee at the moment, but trying not to let it color my world. There’s lots worse going on to other people in my life. I’ll be thankful for the healing process, however slow it seems, and for a doctor that listened to me. I’m hopeful we can push the bionic knee option way way way down the road.
For my own frustration level, well… I’m human. I’m learning what to crank about and what to let flow on and away. And that’s a slow, up and down process, too.
A note to all of you health care folks out there… if you want “buy in” by your patient to a new health care routine, you have to communicate! It’s something that we do in hospice all the time, and we find it makes all the difference. Teaching and re-teaching. Taking the time to answer questions and teach new skills. It’s hard to find the time because of the way that physicians are reimbursed by our current healthcare model (and I know that). But for this doctor, today… I am very thankful.
Well, the lesson has been a slow (and yes, painful) process of learning to listen.
Listen to my body. Listen to my pain threshold. Listen to the instructions on when to take my medications. Listen to the Spirit as I make decisions about when and where I will spend my energy and my time.
But there’s something else I’ve realized in a personal way, a reality that anyone with a chronic health condition already knows. (And I’ve been slow on the uptake!) It’s simply this: Being healthy is a lot cheaper than being sick. Doctor’s appointments, co-pays, medical equipment, prescriptions, procedures… it all adds up!
I am grateful for good health insurance that covers a lot of the cost of my care. But it is expensive. It eats into the little bits of extra cash that we might spend on “fun” things. An office visit co-pay is the cost of going out for dinner (a cheap dinner, mind you.) The cost of a prescription would fill my car with gasoline. And so it goes.
People with chronic illnesses have to count the cost, in every way: in time, money, physical activity and emotional energy. We lose patience with people who offer platitudes. (Seriously. “I’m praying for you” means nothing unless your prayers are sincere and tuned in to my current state.) It bears repeating that chronic illnesses are not usually the fault of the person who has them. Genes, environmental factors, access to care, and sometimes, dumb luck may mean that one person has a chronic condition, and one person does not. A simple tumble on my patio resulted in my injury. Imagine what I might be going through if the incident had been a car accident or on-the-job injury!
In the midst of all of my personal challenges, which are minimal compared to the issues that many of my patients and their families face, I know God is present. I know the love of the Divine. I know the gifts of humor, of self-care, of compassionate Presence, of close friends and advisors who ‘get me’. I feel God’s mercy every day.
And I also know that there are many who struggle alone. And if I were Empress of the Universe, I’d fix that.
For now, I’ll settle for electing officials who want every citizen to receive high quality and affordable health care. That means I’m a caring person who would not wish others to suffer when there are treatments, physicians, therapists, prescriptions, and rehab options available to them — if only they had access through affordable and comprehensive health insurance.
I’ll keep advocating for all of us. Because — you are beloved. And so am I. And we are worth it.
I have never been one to do a scheduled, planned exercise routine. Oh, I played team sports (ahem… not well!), biked, and ran laps (or stadium steps) for conditioning. I was a decent swimmer and worked as a lifeguard for a couple of summers. Before band tryouts, I jogged and practiced marching. I was never religious about it, though. (heh heh)
The closest I can claim to having an exercise “plan” was the morning walks with other moms once the kids were on the bus, a stint of doing Tai Chi (not my cuppa), and deep water running (hard to schedule when you work full-time.) I enjoyed a casual hike now and then, mostly when we went camping.
But now. Since I did my kerSPLAT on our patio, I’m an old fart with a knee brace. I’m loving my ice pack and my comfy shoes.
I’m motivated to avoid any surgery as long as possible, so I am trying hard to be consistent in my exercises. Quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Stretches. Clamshells. Clocksteps. A Sexxaayyy new knee brace. And my new friend, the Theraband.
It’s all about muscle tone. Or a lack of it. I’ll never be a body builder or swimsuit model, but I’m determined to get a little more strength in my legs, and eventually my core. I’m learning the smart way to do things (like go up and down the steps with a bum knee). And I’m learning what I shouldn’t do, as well.
When I’m doing my stretches, there’s lots of time to reflect. Let’s face it: unless you’re listening to music or chatting with a friend, you have time to think while you count your sets of 10. Unlike Janice, (“cycling is my passion”), I’m not scrolling through social media or on the phone. Other than focusing on body mechanics and which muscle group is supposed to be worked, my brain has space to work. Yes, occasionally, I’m making a grocery list in my head or thinking about my appointments for the day. And being a pastor, I also ponder the spiritual disciplines that I so easily let slide.
It’s gotten me back to listening to Pray-as-you-go and restoring a little breathing space into my day. Do I bounce out of bed, unroll my mat and start my exercises? (OK, you DO know me, right? You know I’m a “coffee before you talk to me” person!)
No, I’m trying to put in a little quality time with my Theraband so that I make progress. Eating right. Exercises. Stretching. Taking my meds on schedule. One minuscule step at a time…
What do pastors think about when they are working their sore knees in physical therapy? Lots of things. Putting new words to old songs. Coming up with punny playlists (church nerd humor). And laughing at themselves.
“A joyful heart is good medicine” says the Proverb. So it is… so it is.
Therefore, put on the full ice pack of peas so that you may withstand the instability of your medial meniscus. Stand carefully, therefore, with measured steps and unlocked knees. Wear your Buckeye T-shirt to deflect the cheers of That Team Up North.
With the Theraband and foam roller, strengthen your quads and your hamstrings so that you do not fall. (Again.) Put shoes on your feet that may be ugly but they support your arches. And finally, take up the KT tape of support, that you may lessen your joint pain and continue to see recovery.
But forget not the icepack!! For it brings comfort and ease to the knee of your aging self.
2 Hesitations 3: 2 1
Health update: Thanks to the prying eyes of an MRI, the verdict is that I have torn the medial meniscus in my left knee. I am in PT, taking appropriate painkillers, and trying to be good to myself. Humor keeps me from taking things too seriously. It IS a serious injury, but one that, with rehab and a judicious use of PT, is starting to improve.