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Be running up that road, be running up that hill with no problems: 11.18.09

Yesterday, I saw a man I hadn't seen in a little over seven years. He is a man that I have the deepest respect for. I admire him. I am indebted to him and very thankful. In fact, I may love him a little bit. I've been known to whisper silent little messages to him at moments I know I wouldn't be having if it weren't for him--hiking to the summit at Maroon Bells in Aspen or riding my bike in one uninterrupted incline up to Brewer's Hill at sunset and then coasting all the way back to the harbor. But never once in the past seven years did I miss him. In fact, I would have been happy to never see him again.

Dr. F. has aged pretty well. He at least looks more wizened and doctorly than he did on a summer afternoon seven years ago when I blinked up at him and wondered why teaching hospitals even exist. To me, there's no less teachable moment than lying in agonizing pain and fearful anxiety and wondering if the kid hovering over me in the E.R. is old enough to rent a car. But, Dr. F. was deceptively youthful. When we met seven years ago and quickly got intimately acquainted through an eight hour stint in the operating room, he was already one of the top sports medicine specialists in his field. Which happens to be orthopedics. And specifically, knees. One of which, in my case, had just been broken for the second time in ten years. Bad luck doesn't even begin to cover it.

Dr. F. was probably happier to see me yesterday than vice versa. He even gave a little chortle as he perused the patchwork skin quilt covering my left leg from patella to mid-shin. "Oh yes," he said, pointing to a long scar down the side of my leg, "That's my handiwork there." But that was nothing compared to his reaction to the x-ray. We talked through why I was there to visit him after so many years of being blissfully out of touch. I told him about running up my stairs last week. The strange sensation as I bounded up the last step and then the searing hot flare of pain that shot straight up through my kneecap.

Into the dark chill of the x-ray room I went. I hate those places. The chatty banter with the radiologist, the cool metal of the plates against my skin. It was hard to hold it together even though I was silently chanting my new mantra that my mommie had unwittingly supplied me with a few days before: This is a different situation. This is a different situation. Meaning this wasn't anything like the deep, deep, seemingly bottomless well of pain and panic I fell into twice before. Twice! Sometimes, it's difficult to remember how I managed to get out each time and surface again. But I did. And now...it's now. And this is a different situation.

True enough, this time wasn't mapping financial insolvency out for the next seven to nine years. I wouldn't need almost a year on crutches and relentless physical therapy. Equally true, this time wasn't making me burst into an inextinguishable fireball of self-doubt that splintered into a bazillion sharp fragments that left craters all over my life for years. And I do not exaggerate. Oh, and this time didn't come with the free gift bottles and bottles of painkillers.

But as I lay on the examining table staring up at an anatomical center-fold layout of the knee--from the left, from the top, from behind--that ironically was splattered all over a poster sponsored by Percoset, I was worried. The x-rays were done and F. had sailed out of the room to paw over them with his colleagues, but I had seen them. The familiar configuration of hardware looking like some kind of lizard skeleton superimposed over the hazy backdrop of my own bones, a line of screws resembling a miniature vertebrae curling around my kneecap. There was clearly something wrong. I couldn't walk up stairs. I couldn't bend my knee to get in and out of my car. Sitting down had become a gradual and carefully orchestrated procedure. Was it a tendon? Not a ligament. I already knew about those. Could it be the kneecap itself? Would it heal? Am I going to get back to the mobility that was suddenly making me feel like some rude ingrate?

Long and short of it is, even Dr. F. has to throw up his hands sometimes. He gave me a few ideas about what it might be. There are a few possible solutions if it doesn't improve through healing and exercise. After not seeing him for seven years, I now get to see him yet again in three short weeks. I hope it's the last time. Ever. Even though I still love the guy a little.

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