Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Getting Old


In late February 2010 I was at the You Fit health club doing my usual every-other-day upper body and lower body work out. On the days when I was not at the club I was putting up to 21.2 miles on my bicycle as an efficient cardio exercise.

Then came that fateful day in late February when I was doing my leg extension exercise. I was going for more repetitions with less weight in a pyramid workout (30 reps at 120 lbs, 20 reps at 135 lbs, 10 reps at 150 lbs). Leg extensions were my last exercise of the 19 upper and lower body stations that I hit in this exercise. When I sat down for the leg extensions my legs were feeling just fine and especially my knees. On my first extension with 150 lbs, as my legs were pushing my torso back I heard and felt a loud "POP" from my right knee. Not exactly a good sign!

Wisely (a first for me) I stopped the exercise and hobbled away from the weight station. From that day onward I limped like old Walter Brennan in the old television show "The Real McCoys."

Foolishly I continued to bicycle after this injury and I did so under the guise of being male and thinking "ah, it will get better." Unfortunately over the last two months it didn't get better - it only got worse. My hunch was that I had probably blown out my lateral meniscus - the cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your femur and your tibia and fibia.

Yesterday I visited an orthopedic surgeon (who is personal friends with and plays golf with Johnny Bench!) who looked at the x-rays and confirmed that I had done just that.

He shot me up with a cortisone and two other anti-inflammatory drugs. The plan now is to see if the drugs will eliminate the inflammation that is causing all the pain in my knee. If so, then good news. If not, then it's arthroscopic surgery to scrape away the torn cartilage. Nurse friends Dave Bylsma and Larry Stoffregen tell me that the recovery time from that sort of operation is a week or less.

This knee injury is the latest in a string of issues that my body keeps using to remind me that I'm not 18 any more.

I turned 40 on Halloween 1991. I woke up that morning in a Sheraton on Union Boulevard in Lakewood Colorado. I had a raging ear ache that was the result of a middle ear infection (first ear infection of my life). The infection cost me a trip to Ecuador to give a paper at a meeting.

Two weeks later I went to the optometrist who finished his exam and said "Well, its time." I said "for what"? He said "bifocals." I said "old people get bifocals." He said "40 year olds get bifocals." I have worn bifocals ever since.

At 49 years old I stood up from a squat and tore the muscle that holds your trochanter into the ball and socket joint in your hip. Ouch! A few days after this incident I had my first bout of atrial fibrillation. My heart rate went to 208 beats per minute at the maximum and it took the doctors 18 hours to convert me to normal sinus rhythm. Seventeen months later it happened again - this time while sitting in my office. Heart rate was 180 this time but it took 22 hours to convert me. I'm now on a heart medication for the rest of my life. The good news is that my primary care physician told me that if you have to have something wrong with your heart the "best" thing to have wrong is atrial fibrillation. Of course Andy didn't have it.

For my 50th birthday I went to the Canary Islands for a week of birding. On my return there was a letter in my mailbox inviting me to join AARP "Now that you are old enough." I wrote them back and said I'll join when I retire. Don't remind me that I'm getting old."

I traveled to Thailand for my 55th birthday. On my return there was a letter in my mail box from a local northern Virginia funeral home. The letter said "You are getting to the age now where you should start making your final plans." I wrote across the letter "I am already dead, someone else cremated me" and mailed it back.

Not long after that incident I had an ache in my leg and complained about it to a friend in Texas who is older than me. He wrote back saying "It gets worse."

Last summer on a day with a 115 degree F heat index I convinced myself that I was still 18 and went out on my bicycle ride. I got 11 miles into the ride and despite drinking water like a horse had not spewed one drop of sweat. Suddenly it came like a gusher. I arrived at the British Pub where MJ saw me, grabbed my shoulder and took me to their walk in cooler where the temperature was a constant 35 degrees F and said "Stay here until I come back." While I stood there clouds of steam rose off my body. I self-diagnosed myself as having heat prostration - something that never happened when I was younger.

Now this knee issue. It is all part of the process of our bodies wearing out from over use.

I wonder what the next thing will be that will wear out. At least I can still laugh and point fingers at Viagra commercials on television - for now.

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