My knees. My needs.Posted: March 1, 2014
The facts. For the past year or so, I have had pain in both the back and front of my knees that ranges from “oh, ouch,” to “when did it get so hard to put on a pair of tights?” to “God, don’t let me fall down on the train tracks.” I tried to rationalize it, because if I can find a way to intellectualize something, I can avoid involving my feelings. I shaved off a few pounds. I blamed bad shoes, a too heavy handbag, various chairs and other forms of seating and when I was cranky and fatalistic, old age sneaking up on me.
But I knew it was none of these and I would be called on my lying ways eventually. My dad was in a wheelchair for the last ten years of his life and died a very difficult and painful death from complications of arthritis. I didn’t want to go there.
My doctor noticed the swelling a few weeks ago during my annual check-up and sent me for x-rays that afternoon. And last week, I got the diagnosis. Turns out I really am my daddy’s girl. I have fairly severe osteoarthritis (happily, not rheumatoid, the other kind that slowly kills your immune system) in both knees, with a host of complications like joint damage, and “loose bodies,” which are tiny shards of bone that float around the knee area and hurt like crazy when they come to rest on a nerve. My once rather cute kneecap is totally AWOL and the level of swelling officially makes shorter skirts out of the question.
My doctor told me surgery—either to “scoop” out the bone shards (I immediately pictured getting the procedure done at a Baskin Robbins) — or to rebuild the knees in total is pretty much inevitable. But to buy me some time and help to manage the pain until…well, I can’t manage it anymore, I am now, for the first time in my life, in physiotherapy and a rehab program (I always thought if I ever wound up in rehab, it would be for something more pleasurable like excessive consumption of chocolate or a video solitaire addiction.)
My assessment was this past week and not only are my knees totally trashed, to compensate for the pain, I’m messing up my hip. But the exercises seem to help (not that I needed another hour of activity added to my day), the hot vibrating mini-electric chair thing-gummy they hooked up to my knees felt great (once it stopped making me howl from the tickling) and I’m starting to think that maybe this physio thing isn’t the quackery and insurance grab (and I am so well insured!) that I initially suspected.
So I do this. Two sessions a week and two to three sets of exercises a day. Until I can’t do it anymore. My doctor says I’ll know when we get there. And that I’m the boss of this.
But none of this is the point. The point is something I’ve learned about myself that I’m more concerned about than the pain in my knee, the eventual surgery (five days in bed to read and drink London Fogs from the Second Cup in the lobby. Sign me up!) or what the future holds for my mobility and independence.
Here’s the thing. I got my love through major surgery and the possibility of cancer—that wasn’t, touch wood. I nursed my mother through a triple bypass. I can navigate hospitals, doctor’s appointments, medication and therapy; I can take time away from my busy schedule to deal with any kind of health issues—for everyone else.
But I’m really having trouble getting my head around taking care of me. I’m trying to balance physio appointments to make sure I don’t miss meetings at work. The very idea of taking time for two rehab sessions a week—I talked them down from three—boggles my mind. The exercises aren’t difficult and I feel better having done them—but just the same, locking myself up in a room to lie on a mat on the floor, move my legs this way and that, squeeze a small beach ball between my knees 30 times and balance a pillow up to the wall for a while (Isometrics. I don’t get it, but it seems to work.) feels somehow selfish. And the idea of being post-surgically laid up, dependent and unable to complete the daily race-cum-endurance contest-cum-high jump event that is my life—well, I’m sorry but that just won’t compute.
I have to make this clear; no one is “making” me feel this way. No one is telling me I’m not worthy. My love, my friends and everyone at my place of work have been fully supportive. Coddling even. This is totally and completely my own baggage.
I wonder how I picked up the message that everyone else’s pain and problems are serious but mine aren’t. That through my superhuman strength and remarkable endurance threshold, I don’t need time or space or care. That I can will or ignore my own needs away. And frankly, since I’ve never exactly been the long-suffering selfless doormat type—really I’m not—I don’t know how or when these feelings came about. Maybe they snuck up on me when I was busy doing everything else—for everyone else.
Trust me; this has been one of those turning point moments. I’m angry that I’ve been treating myself with such little regard. But at least now I’m aware of it. I’m thinking of the revelation as a slap to the head by my own knee (oh, if only I could do that). And I’m hoping that by going through this process, the future holds not just pain-free dancing, stair-climbing, getting the wiggle in my walk back knees—but also the recognition that I am fully deserving of a little attention now and then.