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Life Advice from the Orthopedist

feetLate last summer, I started noticing some weird sensations and noises (popping, grinding, crunching) coming from my knee.  Nothing hurt, but everything felt a little bit “off.”  These symptoms would make anyone uneasy, but since I’ve had my knee reconstructed twice, I bypassed uneasiness and went directly into panic mode.  For months I avoided going to the doctor, for fear I’d be told that it was time to pack up my running shoes and jump rope, and make friends with the swimming pool for life.

I finally summoned the courage to visit the orthopedist in the late fall, inspired by a friend who has had her knee reconstructed FIVE times and is still one of the most active and adventurous people I know.  “I like swimming, I really do,” I told myself as I sat in the waiting room.  But behind that façade, I couldn’t stop envisioning myself as an athlete turned couch potato.  As I waited for my name to be called, I realized that my fear wasn’t just about the limits that an injury could put on my activities; it was about losing part of my identity.

After a thankfully quick exam, Dr. King declared that my ligaments were firmly in tact, and the unsettling noises were almost certainly a result of loose cartilage (something he doesn’t deal with unless it’s causing notable pain or swelling).  Fearing the news was too good to be true, I then proceeded to barrage him with questions about why this was happening, whether I should change my workout regimen, and how many more years my knees likely have in them.

His advice was simple and honest and pragmatic; it went something like this: “First, enjoy everything you’re able to do today.  If you love running, don’t spend time worrying about whether it will come to an end…just soak up every minute of your runs (but please try not to run downhill at full speed…that IS a known risk).  Each run is a gift.  Second, find lots of things you like to do.  Unless you’re one of the lucky few, your knees/hips/ankles will start to give you problems, and you might not be able to run anymore at some point in your life.  That could be when you’re 50 or when you’re 100…every person is different and it’s difficult to predict.  So plan for it.  Find other ways to get a runner’s high.  Enter bike races.  Climb mountains.  Kayak down rivers.  Give yourself lots of options so if something is taken away from you, you have many more things that bring you joy.”

I love this advice both as it relates to my body and as it relates to my life.  It speaks to the delicate balance of living in the moment/going for it, while building a life that can withstand whatever the future may bring.  In other words, building breadth and depth – in activities, experiences, skills, and relationships.  So that if we ever lose an ability, we don’t lose our identity.

What do you think — is it possible and productive to “go for it” and “plan for it” at the same time?  And what works for you?  How are you building breadth and depth in the areas of your life that matter to you?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. ebriceno #

    Love it!

    January 24, 2013
  2. Sara #

    What a great doctor! after my knee surgery my doc told me to stop running, hiking and snowboarding. Obviously I did not listen to that advice. I tried to strengthen the area around my knee. Hiking downhill stills sucks pretty hard tho. But I relate to your fear knowing my cartilage is going the way of the Dodo. You ask a good question about maintaining identity since my activities have changed for now after having a baby – no more rock climbing or jumping crevasses… so I’ve had to enjoy “safer” activities like skiing inbounds and snowshoeing 🙂 The most important thing to me is still just getting outdoors -even tho it’s different- and enjoying it like your doc said – as a gift.

    January 25, 2013

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