January Back Page – Cutting corners
BY BRUCE STEINBERG
I thought I’d share a couple of photos. These two are of my left knee, inside shots, top and bottom. Better known respectively as before and after. The story goes as follows:
About four winters ago, I just had it in my head – I was going to do it. During a spell of extra cold, and iced, slippery trails, the time came. A half marathon run on an indoor track, run fast, at least for me. My biggest concern, or so I thought, would be the boredom. I would have to run 11½ laps on the track to equal 1 mile, for 13.1 miles – with the same windows, the same views, the same circle, for over 150 laps. Chocolate tastes great, but 150 bites of chocolate in a row can reduce the taste to broccoli.
To overcome boredom, I had my earbuds connected to programmed music. I told the staff at the rec center so I couldn’t quit without having to confess to failure. There would also be ever-changing people to lap, and not get lapped by. My wrist-counter for the laps would keep me occupied, and I could always count on mind games, such as whether I could run a mile before the end of “Sympathy for the Devil.”
What I didn’t count on was that 150 laps also equaled 602 rather sharp turns. With walkers taking the inside track and being there for a quarter of my turns, I couldn’t cut a whole bunch of those sharp turns. Which, as I said, I was determined to take fast.
I did the task and did it in a time that made me feel optimistic about the race season come spring. However, that was the first time I felt the knee pain, and it never went away for long. It got to the point where the only time it didn’t hurt was when I was running. About an hour after a run, the knee felt like it belonged in someone’s 150-year-old leg. Five months off running changed nothing. My solution was to stop running for good rather than have surgery. Skiing and other silent sports would be enough, or so I thought. Soon, watching others out there running, especially trail running, was too much. I turned to my doctor.
In January 2018, the MRI revealed the meniscus tear. Still, I put surgery off until last Halloween, where my costume would be that of a man with a pumpkin for a left knee. All I would have to do is paint the bulbous bandage orange. I had talked to several people who had undergone the same arthroscopic procedure, and all of them insisted it was no big deal. My last words before going under were, “Those surgical lights, I think I saw them on the Enterprise,” and then, an hour later, which felt like a minute, I was awake, bulbous-bandaged, holding my wife’s hand, and about 20 minutes away from throwing up in my wife’s car three times. I was thankful for the plastic shopping bag that happened to be in the back seat.
The afternoon after the surgery, I walked with my wife to a neighborhood lake. Two days later, I worked out, which included 10 minutes on a Nordic Track, the classic one from over two decades ago, with the wooden slats. By the weekend, I was up to 30 minutes. The next Saturday, a full workout on classic roller skis, and Sunday the same on skate roller skis. My physical therapist, who still had me doing toe-raises and 10 minutes on a stationary bike, was not too happy. However, the doctor and his staff had said there was nothing I could do to hurt the knee, and that running, although a bit less of it, with cross-training, was in my future. As I write this, it’s only been 13 days since the surgery, so trail running is still about two days away. We’ll see.
The doctor isn’t willing to say that my indoor track run caused this. However, my putting the surgery off did increase the time the torn meniscus irritated smooth bone cartilage, which is not a good thing when it comes to daring arthritis to arise.
If only there were an arthroscopic surgery to keep me from running 602 rather sharp turns in the first place. But then again, those photos are really cool and (almost) worth it.