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On the run from a sense of loss

The nurse at the MRI facility had a sense of humor.

 "You know, it's not middle aged women we see most in here."

 She was talking about the fact that it was mostly male weekend warriors who visited the MRI facility for scans of their body parts to see what was torn, broken or in need of a fix.

 Silently I differed with her assumption that it was middle age that had caused my injury, something painful and torn under the pelvic floor where the hip connects to the upper leg. It really hurt, but it was far from the first time I'd been injured playing sports. This injury came about as a result of a flying, twisting layup under the backboard at a local gym. Suddenly I was in pain and out of action, followed by the Walk of Shame out the gym door carrying my shoes and gym. I would not return to the game of basketball for months. But at least the layup went in. 

The orthopedic assessment following the MRI was not too helpful. It seemed the doctor did not care that much about my condition if he could not operate. And despite the fact the facility advertised itself as a sports medicine group, there was no recommendation made for physical therapy. Or anything. I was left on my own to figure out what to do about my very sore hip.

After a few months I talked to my family doctor. "I think I need physical therapy. I'm picking up lots of small injuries."

 "Most of that stuff is fluff," he said. 

But I sure wish he'd let me get PT.

 After a year I returned to playing sports. This time it was indoor soccer. Less jumping, I figured. It took a while to get decent at the game. There was a definite dimunition of hand-eye coordination, or foot-eye coordination as the case may be in soccer. But I played week after week and improved. After two years I'd actually gotten good at defense, and only average at offense.

 So it was probably pride in my defensive capabilities that made me think I could leap through the air, trap the ball with my right foot and turn on my left. That's when my knee disassembled. It sounded and felt terrible, like a jumble of bones crashing into each other. Which was exactly what happened when I tore my ACL. That mean another Walk of Shame out the door, gym bag in hand. I would not return for 18 months.

The torn ACL required reconstructive surgery and months of physical therapy. But miracles happen. The PT not only restored strength to my knee, it cured other long term problems as well. The chronic chondromalacia (wearing under the kneecap) that had plagued my running went away. After a year and a half I even returned to playing soccer. And basketball! For the moment, life was good.

 But then I got bitten by a tick during a bird census. The target rash gave me fear of Lyme disease, and the poison ivy rash that accompanied the tick bite kept me away from the gym. I could feel my knee was missing its regular rehab work. But the soccer captain called and begged me to play in a weekend game because we only had 9 guys. And in soccer you play outdoors with 11.

It was hot for May, over 80 degrees. We had also gotten our first rain in weeks. So the soccer field was greasy slick. Nearing halftime the score was 6-0 in favor of the opponents, who smelled blood and wanted to run up the score even further. I was angry and determined to score before half. Finally some space opened up in front of the goal and I broke free from coverage to receive the ball with right foot while planted with my left. That's when the defenseman plowed into the outside of my left knee. All I heard was a tiny click this time. But I knew right away the ACL had given way once again.

The sense of loss as I drove home was overwhelming. This time I knew there would be no operation and rehab. Who could possibly justify all that expense and time to repair an ACL just to participate in the childhood fantasy world of weekend sports? For months I grieved my busted ACL like a lost friend. Indeed, I had given the cadaver part that replaced my original ACL a nickname. I called him "Jake." But Jake died. Torn in two by my lack of strength work leading up to that fateful game. Torn ACLs are often a fatigue injury. I'd simply gotten too tired and the ground was too slick for my middle aged knee to handle. 

 I used the exercises learned in physical therapy to rebuild strength in my knee again. There is still no ACL in there. So I can't play ballistic sports like basketball, soccer or tennis. Anything that requires cutting or turning suddenly is out of the question. Even cross country skiing with skate skis proved too risky. The knee just did not feel right.

But I can still run in a straight line. Last year I tested my speed on a track and hit 6:03 for the mile at age 53. I also rode 4000 miles on my road bike, and even raced the thing a few times.

 So while I grieve walking soccer games on TV, I also exult watching cyclists climb the Tourmalet in France. All of life is loss, gradual or otherwise. It's how much experience you can pull from the void between losses that counts.