20 December 2011

Walking through

Bear with me. This is one of those wild hares my hound-dog brain sometimes insists on chasing, and there's nothing to do but follow.

I ride because I can't walk. Yes, I can stand on my own two feet (literally, even), and I can ambulate up the hall to the bathroom, the kitchen - on good days, even up and down the stairs. But after 50-some years of repeatedly tripping over my own two feet, I'm long past having any cartilage in my left knee (why do we always land the same way?), and the next step is to replace it. Given that my current medical coverage sucks pond water, I'm resisting that option.

Walking more than half a block triggers pain. Not stiffness or discomfort - that's for sitting more than 20 minutes, or standing more than five. Put me on a bicycle, and I can go for miles. When I worked downtown, I commuted by bike, 14 miles each way, two or three days a week. Spring and summer weekends, I have 20 mile loops I love. No impact, no pain. But walk half a block and I start limping. More than that, and it gets worse. More than two blocks, and I'm hobbling. It's like I'm 95 percent middle-aged, and five percent 80 years old.

In September, I spent a day in San Antonio with my boys. Had a great time - it had been 30 years since I'd been there, and the place was better than when I left - but I left my cane in a restaurant Saturday morning. The rest of the day was great fun, except from the left knee down, which was pure hell.

The boys were patient - solicitous, even. I think if I'd cried, they'd have made a chair with their arms and carried me around town. Instead, I asked them to slow down, and we strolled where we could and rested a lot. Took the boat ride around the River Walk - it was lovely. Did early Christmas shopping and had lunch at El Mercado. Sat and rested some more. That night, I spent about an hour in the hotel pool, turning myself into a prune and gently working the psycho death pains out of my joints.

The next day was even worse. Note to travelers: If you have trouble walking, and you have to go through San Antonio, make sure you have a cane, or crutches, or something to make it obvious you need help. By the time I got through Security, I could barely stand, but apparently one has to be knocking on Heaven's door to get an assist to one's gate at SAT. (At Midway, on the other hand, the nice young people trip over themselves trying to get to you with their wheelchairs, electric carts, and good cheer. I love Midway.)

But then something odd happened. River Walk Day was Saturday; Airport Day was Sunday. Monday evening, I realized I was walking normally up my stairs at home. I mean, like a grown-up. Left foot on one stair, then right foot on the next - not left-right one, left-right two... And not, "I think my knee feels a little stronger - let's try this." Nope. More like, "Holy crap, I'm walking up the stairs! Wait - did I already do this once this evening? Holy crap!"

I decided against replacing the cane. If it's still there when I go back next month, well, happylooyah. If not, I'll keep chugging. But instead of taking it easy, I started making note of how things went. And I'm detecting a pattern or two.

First the obvious: pushing it is hell at first, but later, it seems to trigger a slight improvement. The "going-upstairs effect," so to speak. If I can keep pushing until I'm damn near dead from pain, the pain will give up and I win, at least for a day or two.

Then there's the lesson of moderation. My daughter and my sister are going to laugh at this - being good Episcopalians (to one degree or another), we share the Episcopalian credo: Moderation in all things, including moderation. You have to find the right balance between "no pain" and "no gain."

If I walk slowly - not easy, given my damn-the-torpedoes take on life - and stop frequently, I can walk a couple of blocks without agony. Pain, yes, but no agony is a start in the right direction. So I'm thinking, maybe if I take 30 minutes once or twice a week to walk a block to the cafeteria and a block back, I'll hate myself for the afternoon, but eventually, I'll be able to make it a little farther. Maybe to the cafeteria and back, and still be able to stop at the grocery store and not cry when I get home. (Concrete/tile floors are the worst.)

Maybe in a few months, I'll be able to walk three or four blocks before I have to give up.

Maybe by spring, I'll be able to walk the dog.

Of course, maybe I'll be halfway to Heine Brothers' next Sunday after church, and I'll have to call someone to come take me to the ER. Maybe they'll replace the damned knee sooner than later. Maybe it will just crumble in its socket, and it will be goodbye kneecap, hello titanium.

Either way, maybe by next Christmas, I'll be back in my Barbie shoes and dancing again. I think this is one of those "hell or high water" moments.

Either way, if it's too cold to pedal on, I think I'm going to try to walk through. Just to see how far I can get.

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