At the end of last year, Irwin brought home a flyer for the gym advertising the triathlon team. For a decently sized chunk of change, you got 9 months of access to a coach and weekly group workouts, which worked out to be a damn good deal. Sure, this was after I’d stopped running to appease my knee, but I was doing physical therapy for it and convinced that it would be just a few more weeks until I’d be back out there. I was planning on racing triathlons anyway this year, and having weekly group workouts just sounded like more fun that always training on my own. So I signed up.
The first workout was a trail run on the Saturday after New Year’s. I was waffling on whether or not I should go, since I just had the gum graft done that Monday. However, after a week of sitting around the house resting, I had to do it. I wasn’t sure what the knee would think of it, but I told myself that I’d just run a few miles and if it hurt at any time I’d stop. The part I totally failed to consider was the fact that I was still mainlining ibuprofen to keep my mouth happy, so even if my knee hurt? I wasn’t going to feel it.
Which is exactly what happened. I just ran 3 miles (which, given I’d just taken 6 weeks off for an injury was probably a bit on the ambitious side) and felt great the entire time, except for the part where I was totally sucking wind by the end of it. But, you know, that’s what happens when you take 6 weeks off. I was OK with that and thrilled to pieces that I’d managed to get out and run without any pain. It was awesome. I was back and ready to rock, yo. Then, several hours later, the ibuprofen wore off. For the first time in days, I didn’t notice it in my mouth, but my knee sure did. It got sore and achy and swelled up like a balloon.
That wasn’t right. After rest and physical therapy, it shouldn’t be swelling up like that. Some soreness? Sure. Stiffness? Sure. A major inflammatory response? Umm…. no. Not unless there’s something seriously wrong within the knee that hasn’t improved with rest and PT. Which means it’s time to get the ortho guy involved. I spent Monday morning making phone calls to just about every orthopedic office in the area covered by my insurance. The first place said they’d have to call me back, since their scheduler wasn’t in yet, so I left a message. I gave them an hour before I started making other calls. The best I could do was an appointment on February 1, which didn’t exactly thrill me, but I took it anyway. And kept calling around trying to do better. Sadly, there was no better. February 1 it was.
Until lunchtime, when the first office called me back. They had an opening tomorrow – did I want it? YES. I went in for x-rays and a visit with the doctor on Tuesday, had an MRI done on Wednesday, and had the results of that MRI on Friday morning. My dream of getting the knee totally checked out that week (before I went back to school) was complete. It was, in hindsight, completely impressive.
The good news is that the MRI did uncover something – I have a chunk of cartilage missing off the back of my kneecap. The better news is that it’s totally fixable. The bad news is that fixing it requires surgery, which means I’ll need to wait until I have a few days without school to get it done. Which is in March, over my spring break. For the first time in almost a year, I actually missed my old job a little bit. Well, not my old job itself, but rather the freedom to take a few days off whenever I damn well pleased. That option is, sadly, not available to students. Sure, I could just miss a few days of school, but in this program? That really isn’t my best plan. Especially since the knee only hurts if I do something to piss it off, so it’s not exactly an emergency.
On the plus side, we were able to meet with the surgery scheduler that day and get everything set up, which means my knee is getting fixed on the Tuesday over spring break. In the best case scenario, I’ll be up, around and able to run by the end of that week. In the worst case scenario? I’ll end up on crutches for several weeks and/or needing more surgery. Unfortunately, that’s something I won’t know until after the surgery, since they won’t know until they get inside my knee exactly what they’re dealing with and how much work it’ll take to fix. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the best possible outcome and trying to be as nice to my knee as possible so I don’t make it any worse in the next 7 weeks.
At first I was totally pumped about the whole thing. Not about having surgery, per se, but about the fact that we knew what was wrong with my knee and were going to be able to fix it. Sure, I’d be off the running for another two months, but I could still bike and swim and do all sorts of other things. I’d get my bike and swim in fantastic shape while I was waiting and then could focus on getting my running back in gear once the knee was fixed. Then I discovered that biking is not, in fact, OK. It’s OK as long as I hang out on an indoor exercise bike and take it easy, but biking outside where there’s wind? No good. Spin classes, where I can sub in increase cadence for increased resistance? Also no good. Bummer.
On the plus side, non-impact activities are OK, so I’ve still got swimming, yoga/pilates and weight training available to me. I do plan on doing a lot of those between now and March, because the more core strength I can build up before the surgery the better off I’ll be as far as the recovery goes. And I do still have access to a trainer through the triathlon club (despite the fact that I’ll have to skip out on the vast majority of the group workouts for now) who is helping me find other forms of cardio that’ll work for me and be a bit more intense than swimming laps. (Which is good, because I really, really hate swimming on its own. In addition to running so I can do triathlons? Totally fine. By itself? Uggghhh.)
I did spend a big chunk of this week feeling down and discouraged over the whole thing, but there is a bright side. My knee will get fixed, and even in the worst case scenario I’ll be running by the end of the year. Sure, there’s a good chance that my racing plans for this summer are shot, but there’s always next year. The doctor didn’t tell me to stop running altogether and when I told him how much running I wanted to be able to do post-surgery? He didn’t try to talk me out of it. Besides, now that I’m back in school? The next 7 weeks are going to fly by before I even knew what hit me.
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