Thursday, September 4, 2014
I blew out my left knee in 1977, when I was about 22 years old. I tore my anterior cruciate ligament when I fell off a trapeze.
It's a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. I was working as the head electrician for a small urban circus in New York City. We were playing a tent show in a Hell's Kitchen parking lot for three months, two and three shows a day for six days a week. The trapeze act, a guy named Warren, had a practice trap where he'd work out during the off times. It was a simple trapeze, about eight or ten feet off the ground, and there were athletic mats beneath it.
I asked Warren to teach me trapeze, and he did. This was single trap, not the flying trapeze. I loved the tricks, where you'd wrap your legs around the ropes so that friction would hold you. Warren was a good teacher. He emphasize two really important rules - 1) never practice without a spotter and 2) if you're getting tired, stop.
I broke both those rules, and one day I was coming out of a trick and my sweaty hands slipped off the bar and I fell - I was already upright, but I came down a little crooked and when my feet landed on the athletic mats, my weight distribution was wrong and I heard a sickening crack in my knee and I fell on the ground.
I had no health insurance, so I stupidly tried to deal with it on my own. Another circus artist - a Russian clown - insisted that what my stressed and sprained knee needed was HEAT - he advocated a hot pad. Since then, of course, I've learned that while heat helps a chronic injury, a fresh injury needs ICE, not heat.
Because young people are resilient, I healed. I was strong, doing the kind of work I do, and my muscles helped shore up my knee joint. I worked for the next twenty years as a stagehand - climbing ladders, loading trucks, humping cable - and while I often had twinges and pains, ibuprofen, ice and elastic knee braces seemed to keep it stable enough for me to work.
Compensating for the weak knee sometimes seemed to throw the other knee into trouble, and by the time I was fifty, I had arthritis pain in both knees. A misstep on a mountain trail would cause a painful sprain, or a long day's walk on city streets would bring stiffness and aches. I'd have to ice down and pop more pills for relief.
But by then, I was working a desk job, and it didn't seem like such a big deal. I couldn't wear high heels anymore, but it wouldn't slow me down.
Today, [The Man I Love] stopped by my office and took me to lunch. We walked a block and a half to a restaurant. On the way back, while on the smooth, straight city sidewalk, without an obstacle in my path, something seemed to go "pop" and there was a sharp pain, so sharp I couldn't walk normally.
I will not bore you with the details. But just like in 1977, the first instinct was denial - "Oh, it's nothing, just a twinge!" - followed by a determination to carry on. I urged [The Man I Love] to keep the after-lunch appointment he had. I finished my work day, limping from my office to pick up pages from the printer. I drove home, put an ice pack on my knee and popped a couple Advils. I poured a glass of pinot noir.
I've convinced myself it doesn't feel so bad right now. But I know that my infrastructure is breaking down, and needs some serious shoring up.
Tomorrow is my day off. I'm calling the doctor first thing in the morning.