I’m not mad at you. I just wanted to get that out ahead of the anesthesia and the power tools. Really. I’m not mad at you. You’ve gotten me through 68 years, many of them with far more miles and elevation than I would have ever predicted. The Camino (3 times), The Dingle Way (2 times), five 14ers and countless trails in Colorado, the Adirondacks, The Berkshires, Lake Tahoe, Alaska, Oregon, California, Peru, Argentina, Bhutan, Nepal and a whole lot of other places. And that’s not counting the stuff that no one cares about like bedrooms on 2nd floors, elevators that didn’t work, apartments without elevators and simply making my way from one side of the room to the other, first by crawling on hands and knees, then on wobbly legs and finally walking without thinking about it, upright and with confidence, the audience and outstretched arms gone.
You hung in there, probably longer than I should have let you, but I thought I could fix you without going under a surgeon’s knife (or power tools). I educated myself. I read about procedures, equipment, oils and potions, crossing my fingers that I’d find the solution. I didn’t want to succumb and follow what over 2 million people a year do because I didn’t want to feel like I had failed and was taking the “easy way” out, even though I’ve been forewarned that there is no “easy” in this solution that many say is over used.
I wasn’t ready to take a part out of my body that I was born with and replace it with something that was made in a factory and sold to doctors by representatives who leave shiny brochures behind for their patients. After multiple appointments with a handful of orthopedic surgeons over the course of a decade or so, I realized it was finally time and the right exercise, machine, brace or magic potion oil was not going to be my answer. Maybe I bought myself some time with these carefully researched remedies.. You, my dear old lefty, have reached the end of this trail. For the first time in my life, I have started thinking about the loss of a body part and it makes me sad in an odd sort of way. Not to steal your thunder, but you will not be my first body part to be removed. You will, however, be the first one to be replaced. My list is growing starting with my tonsils at age four then my right kidney 17 years later along with a rib that was in the way and finally my uterus. I don’t remember the date on the uterus, but watched Princess Diana’s funeral from a hospital bed. Your presence in my body will be replaced and maybe that’s why I’m feeling more of an emotional connection to the loss. Granted, I was four when the tonsils came out and knew little more than the ice cream I was promised when I woke up and with the removal of my kidney, my only concern was how awful the scar would look when I wore a bikini. The uterus, although necessary, was more emotional and left me with dreams of being pregnant but because I didn’t have a uterus, I had to carry the fetus in a basket. It wasn’t convenient because I couldn’t ever set it down and explanations were difficult. The dreams continued off and on for years then stopped. Possibly coinciding with menopause. But you… you will be replaced, unlike the tonsils, the kidney or the uterus. I will have a new left knee.
My almost four-year-old granddaughter asked me if I got to keep the old one. I told her no. I’d get a new one and the old one would be left behind. She also asked me if I got to choose what color I wanted and suggested pink because that is her favorite color. I wonder what it would be like if when leaving the hospital you got to exit with what you came in with, removed body part and all. They technically belong to you, right? I think about the nurse handing over the discharge papers and instructions along with a small bag with the removed body part inside, probably marked with the bio hazard sign. There was one body part I inquired about keeping and it was the one I didn’t know would be coming out. My rib. The pesky rib that was in the way. I asked my doctor if it had been saved. I thought it could be polished up and made into something interesting like part of a hair clip or an artifact with my own history that would sit on a shelf waiting for questions. My doctor said no. Several years later, when I was living in Alaska, I found some caribou antlers that I sawed into pieces — the larger end making napkin rings and the smaller made graduated sizes of buttons. After a lot of sanding and polishing, they looked like marble. I’m guessing my rib could have looked similar. Again, I was 21.
No offense, but I don’t want to keep you, and it’s not an option anyway, much to my granddaughter’s dismay. There was a time though, that it must have been an easy option because at age four, which seemed to be the going age for tonsil removal, my friend kept her tonsils. They floated in a jar in some sort of liquid and sat on a shelf in her room. I felt cheated, even at the tender age of four, that mine hadn’t been saved and weren’t on display. They seemed too small for something that had been causing so much trouble in our four-year-old throats. But still, I remember that mason jar with the two white floating lumps as much as I remember my sore throat and the endless bowls of ice cream.
I feel like I should name you, but it seems like a thin gesture to name something a few days before you’re going to get rid of it. But, if I did have to give you a name, it would have to be a word that means resilient and strong, which of course are the adjectives that the rest of my physical self became in dealing with you, no offense intended. My sister, Susan, would say the knee issues started long before I’ve admitting now — as far back as 15 years ago when we were hiking a trail in Patagonia with four other women when our guide, James, asked me if I’d like to use a hiking pole?
“A hiking pole? Why?” I asked.
He told me it looked like I was protecting my left knee. I had no idea. And so I used the pole and realized that maybe he was right and taking the weight off that knee (40 pounds per pole he told me) did seem to help. On day one of a big week of hiking, I was reluctant to admit that it hurt. Maybe that was your first whisper to me that things were starting to go south.
You’ve given me a good run, both literally and figuratively and if the joint wasn’t covered up with skin, maybe I’d take my granddaughter, Muna’s suggestion and ask for pink. Pink is one of those colors that looks pretty but is secretly stronger than people realize.
You’re not coming home with me — in a bag or a box or floating in a jar of liquid. Instead, I’ll say my goodbyes and offer my thanks. You’ve served me well, Lefty.