I had my first knee surgery three years ago, after tearing my meniscus in a fall at an event I was working. It was several months between my injury and my surgery, and it was my third surgery in two years. I had gone from being relatively healthy, despite my size, to having some structural issues that needed care. I had my shoulder fixed (rotator cuff tear and bursitis the size of a half-walnut shell) the year before, which had followed about six months after I had an urgent hysterectomy. It is likely my should injury occurred when I was being shifted during or after that initial surgery. There are dangers to being a fat person that don't even involve things I do to myself, unfortunately.
Anyway, this whole knee thing was bad, and the surgery was good, but afterwards, I looked at my car and thought, "I'm never going to be able to get in and out of that thing again." To me, it looked like this:
After a while, the knee was strong enough to lift me better, but I was always pushing off of the seat or the back of the seat to get myself to standing. I do the same with chairs that are too low. I'm tall anyway, and any chair that has my knees bent higher than my hips is going to give me a problem. Wallowing off the couch is also dicey.
Then, horror of horrors, the other knee needed to be worked on. Presumably my "good" knee was now going to be in as bad a shape as my "bad" knee. Getting out of the car after that surgery (now two years ago) was even worse. I felt like I needed a good pulley system or something.
Of course, I went through all the physical therapy I was prescribed after all of my surgeries. To this day, I still do my daily exercises for the recovery of my knees. Since moving to Colorado, I've seen two new orthopedists to try to fix my knees and my foot. The most they can do is tell me to keep up with my exercises and to lose some weight. Oh, and here, have a cortisone shot while you're here. Same advice I've been getting for years now. Same advice that isn't really working.
That's why I started walking. Maybe lose some weight, maybe strengthen my leg muscles. Maybe give me some stamina. My real desire, secretly - shhhh, don't tell anyone - is to be able to hike and ski. I live in one of the most wonderful places in the world, where "outdoor" is a normal state of mind. There are places to hike and ski just a few miles away. Why live in such a place if you can't do those things? But all that walking didn't give me what I needed - strength in my awful knees. I lost weight, about 20 pounds. I had plenty of stamina and could now walk and stand for longer than I ever had before. I didn't get breathless as easily.
But what I couldn't do was climb the stairs without pain. And I couldn't get in and out of that damned car without finding something to push on to help me stand up.
This week, I realized I was getting out of my car without pushing off. I had my arms full of stuff, and I just stood up. Just like that. I was in the house before I realized it had happened. I looked back at the car to be sure it was mine. Then I put down my stuff and went down the stairs to the basement, where my office is. There was no pain in my right kneecap. I turned around and went back up. There was no pain in my right knee cap. No fear of it buckling or being unable to push. Nothing. It felt normal. It felt like it hasn't felt in years. Maybe in decades.
What my original orthopedist, and my first orthopedist here (the one who was so cortisone-shot-happy) didn't tell me is that biking is the exercise I should be doing. Walking is fine for building stamina, but it does nothing for the support muscles of the knees. All of my exercises, including wall slides and squats and stair hovering cannot and did not do for me what riding my bike did. That constant pedaling touches just the right muscle groups, provides the right type of resistance, and even though it is sometimes painful in my knees to ride, the end result is no pain in my knees when I'm climbing the stairs or getting out of my car. This is what my surgeries were supposed to do for me. This is what I've been waiting for. My second orthopedist had said I needed to find another form of exercise to avoid further injuring my foot and damaging my knees further. He had suggested biking. No one had ever suggested that to me before.
I know I'm not ready to climb the mountains, or ski down the other side of them, but I am closer than I was two months ago. I'm closer than I was a week ago. I'm closer than I was yesterday. I am dreaming of snow shoes and hiking boots with red laces, and of fresh powder on a bright, sunny day. For the first time in my life, I think I might actually be able to do these things. As the kids would say, "fur realz."
I wish I'd known about this whole bike thing long ago. I wish I'd been brave enough to try it. Thanks to my mom, and my current orthopedist, now I know. And I will be forever grateful.