|On top of Herman Saddle, Mt. Baker behind|
What brought this to the fore was a fall I took on the ice last Thursday. We knew that the trail where we would be hiking was likely to be covered with snow and ice, since we've had incredibly cold weather (for us) these past few weeks, and trails in town that are well used have turned to sheets of ice, at least in spots. Those of us who had purchased ice cleats strapped them onto our boots, and they worked really well. Unfortunately, I took them off before we ventured onto some "black ice" on the trail that was invisible to my eyes, but not to my equilibrium. I fell backwards and twisted my left knee, so hard that I wasn't sure I would be able to continue. I lay on my back, gritting my teeth, and waited for the first wave of pain to settle down.
I had ACL replacement surgery on that knee in 1994, more than twenty years ago, and it's given me pain now and then ever since. I had lost full flexion, being unable to pull my heel to my rear, even with help, and that's the way it bent. All the way to my butt, as I lay wedged between a rock and a hard place.
But I was out in the wilderness, with no choice except to get back up and try to walk. Fortunately I never hike without Ace bandages and knee braces, and after a few minutes I realized that I was going to be able to continue without having to be hauled out by my friends. My first steps told me that walking was actually the best thing I could be doing, because the tendons around my knee kept wanting to seize up to protect the injury. Eventually they calmed down, and I was walking almost normally within a short time. Not without pain, though.
It could have been worse. One Trailblazer told us of a friend who took a spill like that while skiing, and she hit her head on a rock and lost consciousness. Yes, a blow to the head is never a good thing, but especially when we are older. The woman came to and had no memory of what had happened and suffered memory lapses afterwards. And the older we get, the more we are at risk for falls. Leonard Cohen died recently after a fall, at the age of 82. Jeremy Faust at Slate wrote an article about it, The Major Fall. It's an interesting read.
I had my first yoga class of the winter season on Friday, and I was not sure whether I would be able to do the class, so I told the instructor about the knee injury and that if it hurt too much, I would simply stop, or modify the pose. The interesting thing was finding out what did and didn't hurt as I made my way through the class. One of the things we do while lying flat is to take a strap and pull the leg up and straighten it as much as possible. Wow, did that hurt, mostly on the back of the knee. I kept trying, though, and I was able to get it almost straight.
I noticed that after I did that, the pain in my knee was much less. I was able to do the rest of the postures without too much difficulty, and modified what I needed to. By the time I left the class, my knee was much better. Now I am convinced that the yoga poses are what have made my knees stronger and more pain free. If I had babied the knee, would it have been healing as quickly? Then yesterday morning I went walking with the ladies, my normal Saturday activity, and the knee was so much better I was amazed and very pleased.
I am never really pain free. It's a part of aging, whether I remain active or not. I want to maintain my ability to hike and walk and play outdoors for as long as I can, because I know the direction that we humans take as we age. I read a great article recently, by Erica Manfred on Senior Planet, called "I'm Not Aging "Well," I'm Getting Old, Dammit." She and I are the same age, and I know exactly what she means when she says,
People used to think of growing old as part of the natural progression of life from birth to death. Not anymore. Now we go directly from middle age to you’re-just-as-old-as-you-feel. “Old age” has been dropped from our vocabulary. “You’re not old!” people say when I describe myself that way. I’m 74 with an assortment of age-related ailments and a generous complement of sags and wrinkles. If I’m not old, who is?Exactly. The fact that I can still accomplish all that I do is for at least two reasons: I keep at it and modify what I can do each and every day. I also pay attention to my body and don't dose myself with drugs to dull the pain. I find that if I take even ibuprofen when I'm hurting I tend to push harder than if I allow myself to feel the condition of my joints and muscles. My sister has arthritic ankles and had to give up running more than two decades ago, but she took up swimming instead and now swims a mile every day, then takes a three-mile walk for weight bearing exercise. She also golfs and at 71 is going strong, even if she's had to modify her activity.
This past year I also discovered another coping mechanism, just by chance. My friend John had both knees replaced and suffers from chronic pain. He started using marijuana tincture (legal in our state) to help with it, and I went down to the MJ store and talked with the budtender (isn't that a cool title?) about how to cope with insomnia and pain without getting high. He introduced me to a tincture that works very well, called "Crash" that is designed to help people sleep. I took a half dose to start, and when that didn't seem to affect me, I took a full 10-mg dose, and I slept like a baby. And I found another side effect: every single ache and pain in my body just went away! Some I didn't even realize I had, because I was so accustomed to them, like the pain in my hip where I broke it years ago. Gone. When I woke in the morning, they were all back again, but somehow they didn't bother me as much, since I knew I had a way to make them recede.
But, for the same reason that I don't take ibuprofen on a regular basis, I also don't take the tincture every night. Maybe once a week I'll treat myself to a pain-free sleep. And there doesn't seem to be the same effect when you ingest it as when you smoke it; at least I didn't notice any "high" feeling from the small amount I took. When marijuana became legal in Colorado, Maureen Dowd, a columnist with the New York Times, ate an entire candy bar (16 doses!) and freaked out and wrote about her experience here. She was warned that she should take a small amount and wait at least an hour before ingesting any more. She didn't listen, and it made me very convinced that as powerful a drug as this is, you must use it with caution.
Anyway, those are my coping mechanisms: exercise (plenty of it), fresh air and being in the outdoors, yoga, and small doses of drugs. I've modified my activities to fit my own situation. And I should probably add intellectual stimulation. I read a lot and I write blog posts, like this one. I have a full life and a community of friends to help as well. When I finish this post, I'll leap out of bed and start my day, with my usual latte with my friends at the coffee shop. I smile as I think of it.
And you, my dear readers. I'm aware of your presence as I sit here in my bed, keys clicking away as I write, with You Know Who sleeping next to me. I do hope that you will share your own coping mechanisms for difficulties you face with me in your comments. Please have a wonderful, pain-free and peaceful week before we meet again, right here, same time, same place next Sunday.