She said “Get to know your knee”.
Of all the words of advice, inspiration and support that I hear or read daily, trying to live my life to its fullest, making wise decisions, behaving mindfully, to love, these five little words are the ones that “drive” me today, and may very well rule my next steps (pun intended) and quality of life going forward.
GTKYK (for short) is not the serenity prayer, mind you. It’s not about journaling gratitude before retiring for the night, nor does it rank with more memorable words of say, Bob Proctor, author of “You Were Born Rich”. He says “If you do not get the chills when you set your goals, you’re not setting big enough goals”. These are all worthy of my attention, but for the immediate present, the advise I’m following comes down to these five little words. These words were spoken by my orthopedic doctor who will help me learn to live with osteoarthritis pain in my right knee (and in my knee cap, to be more accurate. It’s moderate patello femoral osteoarthritis, to be more specific, and to be even more specific it’s really patello femoral pain or PFP, a common and often chronic musculosketal condition that some physicians consider 10% of all visits to US outpatient sports clinics.
I first encountered PFP in mid-July after over-extending my knee while playing tennis (and winning for a change) against one of my regular opponents, an Indian guy nearly half my age. We’d played many times before and I had lost most of the matches, but this time I was winning. I felt good. I felt like I was turning a corner, but I didn’t realize I was turning the corner, figuratively, with my knee, as the X Ray proved. , Ouch!
I have been oscillating between pin point pain in the inside of my right knee, and stiffness ever since. If I really get to know my knee, I will learn how to live best with this chronic condition, and how learning more about its complex structure of cartilage, bone spurs (aka retro patellar orthophytes) and my small joint effusion (water on the knee) is playing out. I’ll learn to deal with it using various physical exercises and stretching, along with heat and cold and Tylenol. Maybe I’ll get a cortisone injection one day soon and join the Cortisone Club.
I will get to know my knee by working out at the gym. Multiple back, quad, core and knee stretching exercises, some with weights and some without, are being done on a frequent basis. My cardio (everyone has a cardiology specialist, don’t they?) says a minimum of four preferably five times a week. I have a slow heart rate and need to do cardiovascular workouts to keep my heart healthy and strong. My cardiologist plays raquetball seven days a week, before he starts his workday, so I should be able to go to the gym and cycle, do the elliptical and other non-impact exercises frequently as well so as to maintain and build my stamina and strength. It’s fun having a regular routine now.
My orthopedic (doesn’t everyone have an orthopedic surgeon?) says I should get to know my knee, and that way I will be able to build up my muscle groups, especially the quads, so as to eventually return to walking with my wife, hiking with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), make vacation plans to trek along the Amalfi Coast. Tennis too is possible she said if I can “tolerate it”.
“Hello Mr. Right Knee. How are you today?” I heard myself saying this morning before I proceeded into my morning meditation. It is getting better I tell myself. I’ve got the physical exercises that work for me (and everybody has a PT, don’t they?).
I have entered into a new phase of life. Older friends of mine call it “Old Fartdom”, by becoming an “Old Fart”. (My friend Angela received from her husband, all in jest, a large red and white button to wear on her chest with the words ” Old Fart” on it soon after she retired. No button for me, thank you. Even if I’m closer to age eighty than fifty.
Old Fartdom comes as part of retirement, as I’m officially an Old Fart (in age), even though I don’t feel like an Old Fart. It’s really up to me to know it. I’m not going to be an old Fart as long as I can work with my body, mind and spirit. “Richard Halpern is No Old Fart” I tell myself (and I tell my knee. Even Bob Proctor would agree, you are whom you think you are in your head. This is sometimes known as “self-talk”. My body may be breaking down but I don’t have to behave like my body is breaking down. I have control over my attitudes and beliefs, my values and my self-talk. I’m no Tom Brady, but I’m also no Old Fart.
It’s my job to conquer “seniority” or at least deal with it in a dignified way, now that I’m on Social Security, enjoyed a retirement party last winter, and have been diagnosed with patello femoral osteoarthritis. There’s no mistaking it. I find myself befriending men and women in their 70s and 80s when I attend social events in the Franklin Democratic Town Committee, or at my local synagogue. I relish receiving my senior discount wherever offered.
I’m not alone in fighting Old Fartdom. Scott, an old friend of mine, despite his politics, could be an Old Fart (considering his age and his two new knee replacements), but he continues to work, sees clients, travels, attends lots of musical concerts and best of all, skis in Colorado with others his age. He did ask me if I play pickelball, a tennis-like game that uses half the tennis court and is played by those stuck in Old Fartdom, ones with poor knees, little stamina, a paunch, and often poor muscle strength. Nope, I’ll cycle and swim and work out before any pickelball.
People say things happen for a reason. My osteoarthritis has occurred to teach me a lesson, and it reveals once again that I have great respect and gratitude for the entire medical community, for the physicians and specialists who understand the human body, who listen to me and treat me. They are my heroes.
Truth is I didn’t have to wait until retirement to have some serious medical matters. I’ve had to contend with various physical ailments starting several decades ago as a young adult. I’ve got a lot of practice. Today I’m in pretty good shape, really. But it’s amazing that I still know so little about how the human body functions. That’s why I’m going to soon take an online course from Great Courses on “Understanding the Human Body: an Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology”. I will learn about the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system (including the brain, spinal cord and nerves), along with endocrine system, digestive system, urinalysis and reproductive systems too. After learning about the miracle of the knee, the function of the tendons, ligaments, meniscus and cartilage, I’ll be a more knowledgeable consumer when the next physical problem with my knee occurs. Or any of the other systems that make up the body.
And the doctor who teaches the course is a local guy. Harvard, New England Deaconess, Lahey Clinic and Cambridge City Hospital. I know the Cambridge City Hospital. It’s where I was taken after being hit by a car while jaywalking across the street one night. I was thrown in the air about ten feet (I was told), landed on the hard pavement and was picked up by EMTs (everyone has an EMT, don’t they?). I stayed in the hospital for two days with a concussion. It happened about forty two years ago in 1976, just around Thanksgiving where I lived in Somerville with four other guys, one of whom I count today as my #1 tennis partner.