I recently got some very bad news: I have to stop running. Now! Notice that I didn’t say that I can’t run. I can definitely throw one foot in front of the other, pounding on my knee that no longer contains any cartilage. I can ignore the discomfort while I run however many miles my masochistic mind wants to travel until I finish and then need ice and Advil to cope with the swelling and, dare I use the word, p—-n.
But I now know for certain that I should stop. After a couple of weeks when nothing in my knee felt right, I went to an orthopedic surgeon who took X-rays that I knew would fail to show anything. As a veteran of multiple knee and foot operations, I was convinced that I had torn some ligament or meniscus that could be repaired but would only show up on an MRI. Boy, was I wrong!
In comparison to my healthy right knee with its thigh and shin bones appropriately connected by creamy white cartilage, the bones joined together in my left knee balanced precariously on top of each other with essentially no milky cushion between them.
There is only one solution to this condition: a total knee replacement. I stared at the X-ray in surprise, if not shock. This was not in my range of expected outcomes. Three weeks before I had been running regularly and playing tennis singles without discomfort. The doctor thinks my body and mental threshold just reached a tipping point.
My initial response to this news was despair. My self-identity is linked to running. I like it when people I barely know tell me they see me jogging regularly by their house at 6AM. I am familiar with the same early risers and their dogs with whom I cross paths at dawn.
I have run all around the world both in terms of the number of miles I have probably logged but also the variety of locations. I have jogged around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the hills of Hong Kong, the coast of Cape Town, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, the desert in Arizona, the bike path along the Santa Monica and Venice beaches, and the banks of countless rivers. I recently ran around theTiergarten park in Berlin, and the embankment of the Seine a few weeks before it overflowed.
On my runs, I think or I don’t, I listen to the sounds of birds or cars in the distance but never music other than what songs are on replay in my head. I love to run in the cold, hate the hot, but only outside. I am/was a pretty fast runner for my age and have run many races and trained with some very fast athletes, keeping them talking so I don’t have to. After recently aging up, I thought I would enter and perhaps win some races among my 60+ old lady peers. Not now.
But after a few days of self-pity, I decided to cut it out. No one handed me a death sentence. I have run as much as I wanted on borrowed time after all those surgeries. If I ignore my doctor’s advice and run, I will place stress and possibly jeopardize my healthy joints. I am not a total idiot. Now, I will try physical therapy and focus on non weight bearing exercises, hoping to give myself a little time before the big cut.
I don’t fear the knee replacement and surgery. I’ve gone through that process many times. As I have told my friends, one way I divide my adulthood is post surgical rehab periods when my activity is limited and then the years when my joints are operating without incident. The difference this time is that I won’t be able to run afterwards.
I already spin frequently, play tennis, attend Barre class occasionally, and I am no stranger to all the low impact machines and weights in a gym. I swam and played water polo in college and I could get in the pool again. Sometimes I see people walking with weights, listening intently. I asked my daughter today to download some podcasts that she likes and I can envision a whole new world opening up to me. My dogs won’t mind.
Finally, if I wait a year or two, there might be a new artificial knee that will allow me to resume running in the future. If not, it won’t be so bad. There are thousands of ex-runners, ex-all sorts of things who develop other interests. I can do that too. Hand me my iPhone please, I’m going for a fast walk.