New knee, new me

I was talking to someone the other day and realized that it’s coming up on a year since I had my knee replaced. Wow, what a year it has been. I have been asked many times how my knee is feeling and I am not exaggerating when I say it has literally changed my life.

For those who don’t know my history with knee surgeries, the replacement was lucky #7 for me. I have had one ACL reconstruction on each knee and then several scopes on the left one. I was without cartilage for almost 20 years. Two decades without that cushion in your knee would be like driving your car cross-country with no tires, and wondering why the ride is so rough. For much of that time, I was in constant pain, even more so within the last 5 years. It was to the point that my left side of my body was numb from the compensation the rest of my body had to absorb because my left knee was worthless. My back. My hips. All the way to my neck and shoulders. Pain, 25 hours a day, 8 days a week.

I also tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t let the pain keep me from living my life, and I continued to play volleyball and softball, against the doctor’s wishes. I just didn’t feel normal unless I was doing something active. I had been an athlete my entire life. No way was I going to let a little pain take that away from me. This hard-headed, stubborn confidence led to many rough mornings where just getting out of bed was a struggle. Standing in the shower, not sure if I would be able to bend over to dry myself off, let alone get dressed and go to work.

I can now say I was addicted. I have never done drugs, never had any inclination to try them. Sports was and is my drug. I am like a junkie, strung out from the last pick up game, waiting for the next fix. I couldn’t stop. I knew if I stopped, life as I had known for 40 years would be over.

How can you give up on a beautiful 40-year relationship that has been so good to you? From the minute I picked up my first basketball, I felt free on any athletic field or court. I was good, I was damn good. Sports never let me down. I never had a fight with sports. Sports didn’t cheat on me. It is one of the most trustworthy friendships I have ever had. And I couldn’t let it go.

Over those painful 20 years, I also developed depression. Chronic pain is nothing to take lightly and it takes as much of a toll on your mind and your soul as it does your body. I had to come to grips that I wasn’t the player I used to be, my 30 inch vertical leap was long behind me. The days of out-sprinting someone to a loose ball were a distant memory. That is devastating to a competitor like me. I lost my identity, one that I would never get back because of the pain. I lied to myself A LOT to convince anyone who asked me to play anything that I would be fine, I couldn’t hurt anymore than I already did. But I could. And I did.

Today, my pain is gone. Aside from a little stiffness first thing in the morning, I wake up with a smile on my face instead of a grimace and a whimper. I can walk without a limp, which I thought had become my new signature move. My depression is gone, too. When I had scheduled the surgery, basically out of nowhere, I had no idea what to even expect. I went in with low expectations, thinking I would still have pain, but maybe not as excruciating and debilitating as I was used to. But what I have experienced over the last 10 months is nothing short of a miracle. I had accepted the pain for so long that I figured it would only get worse everyday and that I would be wheelchair bound by the age of 50.

I have life, life that I had long thought was impossible. I have a renewed sense of confidence and energy that I haven’t known since my 20’s. I was always tired, partially from the pain, mainly due to the depression and that has virtually vanished. I am a new  person and somedays I have to stop and remember what it was like to have pain in my knee. I haven’t taken any pain relievers since my surgery, and I was keeping Tylenol in business with my addict-like tendencies. I am recovering, in more ways than one.

I am proud of my new knee, and I might sound like a first-time mother doting over her new bundle of joy. But if you understood my journey and my struggle to get here, you would appreciate the love that I now have for titanium and the giddy laugh I get when I set off the metal detectors at the airport.

I wear this scar like a badge of honor because I know how it felt before this new scar and I don’t ever want to feel that way again, my knee or my mind.

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