I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The year I started to fall apart

Pink blooms in the driveway
Sitting here in my bedroom, laptop and tea, everything seems pretty normal, but it's not. I really did a number on my right knee this past Thursday. The previous week we had done quite a bit of up and down, and my knee began to hurt on the downhill sections. Although I was in pain, it was bearable, and the next day I was back to normal. At least I thought so, but this past Thursday we did another hike that had a good deal of up and down, and I noticed that my knee had begun to hurt just like it did the previous week. But there I was, out in the middle of the hike, and I had to descend some very steep rocks. Using my trekking poles, I thought I was almost down when suddenly the pain in my knee became unbearable.

I sat down and considered my situation. I couldn't continue, and my friends were very solicitous. Right away one of the guys took my pack, and we discussed options. If I could make my way down to the road (Mt. Erie has  road up to the top, but we go on the trails, for obvious reasons), then Steve was willing to jog back to the parking lot and get his car, and we would then drive to the top to join the others. Although it wasn't quite as easy as all that, we did it, and with the help of so many of my dear friends, I was able to return home in time to make an after-hours appointment to see a doctor.

He took x-rays (normal) and considered that with the pain I have it is probably a meniscus or ligament tear. After I got home and began my own research, I came to the conclusion that it is most probably a meniscus tear, although it wouldn't make much difference because treatment is the same. I'm able to walk as long as I don't bend my knee with weight on it, so I'm walking stiff-legged and slow, and I'm able to do that without any pain. If I bend it even the slightest bit when walking, I feel the pain. When I'm sitting I can bend the knee fully without pain.

So now you have the background of my latest dilemma. I cannot walk fast (so that means no walks with the ladies on Saturday mornings) and I cannot hike (no Thursday hikes with the Trailblazers) until sometime later. Maybe. I have done all that I know how to do, such as ice and compression, although it's almost impossible to stop using one's knee completely. In my research I discovered that by the time you get to be my age, the degenerative changes in the meniscus could easily lead to a tear with overuse.  I'll just have to wait and see if it gets better with time. If it doesn't, I will then be referred to another doctor, but the medical profession is unwilling to do that until it has a chance to heal on its own.

But this latest wrinkle is on top of the distress I've recently felt in my back, which got me started taking yoga classes a few months ago. My back feels better and I've changed some of the ways that I move, but the changes are going in one direction only: toward becoming less mobile and learning how to live in an older body. I'm afraid I keep forgetting that I'm old; as long as things don't slow me down I just keep going at my old pace. That must change.

When I was young, I would think about all that I wanted to do before I lay on my death bed so that I wouldn't wish that I had made different choices while I still could. It never occurred to me that there would be a transition period between being robust and active and that bed. Now I'm realizing that as time goes by, wisdom requires taking stock of the condition of one's body and making adjustments. Small or large adjustments, they are part of what I must accomplish in order to age gracefully.

Looking back, I can see how much I've changed since I celebrated my seventieth birthday. Three years is a long time in the eighth decade of life. I've got so many blogging friends who are my age or older, and they have become beacons to guide my way through the shoals of illness and infirmity. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once wrote, "A healthy human environment is one in which we try to make sense of our limits, of the accidents that can always befall us, and the passage of time which inexorably changes us." I will try to make sense of those limits as gracefully as I can, and try not to whine too much about them. At the end of the day, we're all in the same boat.

My latest endeavor, volunteering with the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA) as an end-of-life choices facilitator, has already opened my eyes to many different ways to approach one's inevitable demise. Filling out one's Advance Directive is something that should be done by everyone, whether young or old. Writing the last chapter of my life has become a conscious act, rather than one that once seemed far in the future, so distant I could not see it. I remember when I would say, as a young person, the phrase "for the rest of my life," and that seemed impossibly long. Now I can see it clearly. I am being helped by friends near and far, ones I see every day and those whom I only know through their blogs. I am still making new friends during these times, and I am hopeful that I will continue to be able to give and receive assistance as I move through the coming days, months, and years.

I am grateful that I have this particular venue to examine my life and to receive your thoughts about this big old boat called life that we share. I'm confident that I'm on the right track, even if I have to walk that track slowly and carefully, conscious of every step. Maybe that's not such a bad thing; it might make the days slow down a little and give me even more time for contemplation.

Today I will get up and perform the Five Tibetan exercises (21 times, as always), with care as I feel what parts of my body I need to be aware of protecting. Then I'll have breakfast and head out to the coffee shop to join my friends there and quaff that latte I'm anticipating with pleasure. My partner is still sleeping next to me, and he might even still be asleep when I head out. When I return we will spend some time together, talking and laughing and enjoying our Sunday rituals. One of them is discussing this post, which he will read while I'm getting caffeinated.

As always, I will look forward to the wisdom you leave for me in your comments. Until we meet again next week, I wish you as always every good thing life has to offer. And don't forget to be grateful for your friends; I'm one of them and I will feel your virtual gratitude through the ether. Be well.


Marie Smith said...

This part of life can be called the There's Always Something stage. But then again, that is appropriate for any stage. The crucial thing is finding the way through that Something, adapting for a time or making a permanent change. Life is a series of transitions and having a positive attitude, a laugh, being with people you love, and pampering yourself, all help with the adjustment.

You've got this, Jan!

Linda Reeder said...

I don't know that I have any words of wisdom.
Quite a long time ago now I tore something in my knee while jumping off a log. Ever since then I have had that spot on the inside of my right knee that objects then I torment it, especially by downhill stuff. Now that knee is full of arthritis and is chronically swollen. But if I have it looked at by the doctor, or have an ex ray, they say, "Yep. You have arthritis". Lately it has been twinging regularly, and I feel it even now as I sit here. Eventually it will need attention. I do exercises to keep it, and other body parts, stretched out and in as good a working condition as i can. It doesn't yet prevent me from fast walking and crawling around on the ground in my garden.
My motto for some time now has been "Keep moving". Use it or lose it. That applies to my brain as well as my body.
For now, you may need to concentrate on brain exercise more than body until your heal. I suspect that from now on that "downhill stuff" will always give you trouble.
(Check out John Denver's recording of "Downhill Stuff". Just don't dance when you listen to it.)

Far Side of Fifty said...

This is just a bump in the road, you will find new ways to exercise. You knee will get better but it may take some time. I wish you much patience to deal with this problem. You are the least falling apart person I know:)

Rhapsody Phoenix said...


Sorry to read about your knee injury. I know it means sidelining a few of your favorite things. On the bright side things are "normal" and you can still walk albeit a bit slower, so you can still do a simply walk to get your exercise in.

Take care.
love the pink blooms.

Have an enjoyable Sunday

Arkansas Patti said...

Ya know if we didn't have those 30 year old minds guiding our 70 year old bodies, aging wouldn't be such a chore. But what does help is that with all the years we have behind us, we have learned to adapt. I do hope you can be out hiking again but if you can't, there are other exercises that you can do (perhaps not with the great scenery you are use to) such as swimming which would be easy on the joints but exercises the whole body. If we had an indoor swimming facility here, I'd be right there taking classes. Hope you can get back to the "old" but if not, hope you find an interesting "new."

shortybear said...

praying for you dear

Anonymous said...

Well, you have done so much more with your life than many of your peers. Keep going, DJan. Don't give up so easily.

Tabor said...

Your blog is a big help to me as I age. I am not nearly as active as you, but I am aware of how I become more restricted. I am home alone for almost a month and when a light goes out, I think hard about whether I should get up on that ladder and change it. When there is a sound in the dark I am careful about lighting rather than just hurrying out of bed by moonlight. If we compromise, we will make it.

Marianne said...

There is always something is definitely the anthem of aging. I am watching my husband having similar issues with knees, joints and back. Adapting, revising and keeping going as best as we can is how we stay cheerful. I appreciate the way you share your journey.

Elephant's Child said...

Cyber hugs.
My body too has been treacherous of late. And in my case it WAS my fault. Excited to be back in the garden I did too much. It hurt a little when I stopped for the day - and I could barely walk (or stand, sit or lie comfortably) for the next ten days. I need to work smarter not harder, and I need to listen to those twinges.
I am so glad that you can continue to exercise and hope your healing is quick.

Red said...

Life is a series of peaks and valleys and a lot of in between. . We cannot sit down and quit but continue as strong as possible. You will overcome this. You've kept your body strong so things will recover. You sound a bit down. That too will pass as you're too active to let things get to you. 'Fell apart? " No way. Things gradually deteriorate from a much earlier age. I hope that you recover quickly. No false knees for you!!!

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Once again I see a comment up above that I have to second. This time it's Far Side of Fifty, "You are the least falling apart person I know:)" I will second that for sure! :-) I am a few years your junior and all that you do leaves me in awe. I am sure sorry to hear about this latest setback. Another commenter, Linda Reeder, said, "My motto for some time now has been 'Keep moving'. Use it or lose it." I can see the wisdom in that. Take it easy but keep moving. All of your followers are pulling for you and I hope you will receive that spark through the ether. God bless and take care!

Jackie said...

To have a friend like you is such a blessing. Thank you for your wisdom, your patience and your kindness.
No. We've never met, but those qualities transcend the face-to-face. Those are felt with the heart.
Regarding your latest knee developments, just give it time...and continue to ice it and treat it with that tender care that you are doing now. I will pray as I close my eyes tonight that your knee begins to heal quickly, and that you will have no residual problems with it.
Regarding your partner.... I send hugs and warmest smiles to him, knowing that he must be a fine man....as he has a wonderful wife.
I do hope that you continue to heal quickly, Jan.
I send warmest hugs to and great smiles to you from South Georgia.

The Furry Gnome said...

I've been amazed at the hikes you do up and down the mountains! If you have to go easy for awhile, or avoid the steeper hills, you'd still be one of the most active people I know. But being that active does come with the risk of injury. Or in my case, some serious illness, leading to ongoing health limitations. I did tear my knee too, about 25 years ago, while downhill skiing. I got electro therapy which helped, and had to walk with a cane for several months. Sorry it's come at the beginning of the good hiking season, but treat yourself to a lazy summer and enjoy it while you heal. I'd investigate every possibility for restoring your knee, but I'd also accept the limitations for now. This is a challenging event in aging, not the beginning of falling apart unless you let it be. I was out for walk on the trail today, and felt that I'm handling the hills a lot better, which is a big improvement for me!

Hilary said...

I am currently seeing the chiropractor three times a week, so I don't walk like the Leaning Tower ......I threw my back out because I have a labral tear of my hip........sustained because I refused to admit my age, and wove hours and hours a day for several weeks, because I wanted to.
I did slow down somewhat after hitting my head 5 years ago, and going through 3 surgeries, a brain decompression and a cervical fusion....but to be honest, the persistence of the mind to keep the body moving is strong. Do what you can, for as long as you can, and when you can't, adapt, and find something else. One day at a time.
Yes, this is an interesting time of life, when we are grateful, content, and at the same time, a little nostalgic for what we were. OK, a lot nostalgic. But we've changed. And time marches on, and we get along the best we can.

The Broad said...

Interesting column in the Sunday Times this week by British columnist India Knight -- about the wisdom of doing things slowly! I have always walked and done many physical things more slowly than anybody else -- I hate rushing around and I highly recommend it! I couldn't help but wonder, DJan -- you said you were meeting people for coffee -- which sounds wonderful -- but how did you get there? Appreciated your advice about making a plan for how you want to spend the next years of your life. Lately I have described my own experiences as feeling as if I am at war with myself! Guess it's all part of life's deal!

#1Nana said...

I am so sorry this happened to you. I know how much you love hiking. I appreciate that you share your journey...I like to see the lay of the land ahead of me! Take care. In October we will kayak and you don't need your knee for that!

Rita said...

Through the ether, my friend. Through the ether. :)

Barb said...

Doing more slowly has its benefits. Really, what we experience might be more profound if we slow ourselves down. I am trying to convince myself of this as I'm trying to convince you. I hope the Dr might give you a referral to a good PT.

Anonymous said...

Saw you on another blog, and thought looking at the name you might have some Dutch heritage (true or not?) Sorry - know what you're talking about - have been trying my hardest to stay out of bed for 3 weeks now! Sorry about your knee to - hope something can be done about it! Love the tulips I saw a few posts down!
Get and feel better soon!

Deb Shucka said...

I'm really sorry to hear about your physical challenges, but as always you're handling them with grace and a reflective wisdom. I am so grateful to have you as my mentor in the aging process. Sending you loving and healing energy.