Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What a drag it is

I had to leave home at halftime of the Browns game on Sunday to get an MRI on my left knee. I had not missed a minute of this wretched season to that point, making my departure, medically necessary for both preventive and diagnostic reasons. The Browns' perpetual ineptness has become sickening.

The medical clinic, a large modern building off I-271, typically bustles with the sick and infirm during the week. On Sunday, it was desolate. There is something odd about visiting a doctor or undergoing tests on a Sunday. What is it about a particular day of the week that colors the commerce of life? Are there cultures that don't bother to distinguish between days of the week? Or is everyone a slave to the Julian calendar?

The magnetic resonance machine might be an expensive piece of high-tech equipment, but it clanks and clatters like a $4.95 Rube Goldberg machine. The damn thing is loud. I had the technician show me the images afterward, particularly the median meniscus, the crescent-shaped layer of cartilage that acts like a shock absorber for the inner part of the knee. She pointed out a white line she said indicated damage. I considered that good news. Meniscus tears can be repaired fairly easily.

Today, the rheumatologist finally reached me with the MRI results. The meniscus, he said, is actually intact. But there's virtually no cartilage left at the end of the femur and tibia and that they are now bone on bone, which explains the constant pain.

I was surprised my reaction to the news. I sat in privacy of the darkened "fish bowl" -- the room where daily news meetings are held -- and wept quietly. It's not as if I were told I have six weeks to live, but "severe degenerative arthritis" disturbed me. Instead of relatively benign arthroscopic surgery, I now face the prospect of a knee replacement and lengthy rehab. A bad beat.

A baseball coach I met this fall told me that he regrets not having one of his knees replaced sooner, that it improved his life immensely. That's heartening. Perhaps I should be result oriented in this case. My knee needs fixed. The meds they've prescribed barely reach the pain but are too powerful to take while I'm at work.

Like the Julian calendar, I've treated age largely as a conceit to be dusted off only when useful. I've clung to the pablum of "young at heart" despite my rapid descent toward age 50. I play poker with folks who are much younger that me, work alongside reporters nearly half my age and coach a bunch of smart-ass teen-agers. Only occasionally do I look in the mirror and see someone ... middle-aged. I realize that others see an old(er) guy, and that's fine. But I wonder what that image will be, both inside and out, once I go into public with a newly acquired accessory that no big-pimpin' balla should be without -- a cane.

Fuck me and the fact that I need a cane. The sooner I can get rid of the thing the better.


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