My “Walking in the World” feature is meant to be metaphorical, in terms of a “flora and fauna” report, as author Julia Cameron terms it, and not literally as a report about walking.
Not today, Dear Reader. Not today.
In the late 80’s, I injured my knee catastrophically while downhill skiing. I was a racer, but on that sunny Saturday, I sat down to wait for a friend to join me on the main face of the mountain. When she skied up, I stood up. My knee dislocated for the twelfth and, though I didn’t know it then, final time.
My parents, unhappy with the idea of a jock daughter, failed to have it properly looked at. I was given an immobility brace for three weeks and no x-rays, and that was it. By the time I saw a surgeon fifteen years later, the damage was done. He seemed stunned when he walked in the room with my radiographs. I had a small bone broken off and floating under the patella, a meniscal tear, and my patella itself was off by 16 degrees. I had no cartilage left on either sides of the knee: advanced osteoarthritis.
I was thirty-three.
The surgery was a success, by all accounts, and they were able to go in arthroscopically and not have to cut the knee open. (Uh, good…?) I had six months of physical therapy and thought that was it. I was done. The PT place didn’t give me any exercises to continue and I was released back to my normal workout routine.
About three years later, my husband and I decided to go on an Outward Bound Dogsledding trip for nine days in the Boundary Waters, that zone between the U.S. and Canada at the top of Minnesota and the middle of nowhere.
My doctor stared at the sheet of paper that I needed her to sign: “Medical Release Form.” All students of Outward Bound over the age of twenty-five are required to get one signed by a doctor.
“So, tell me about this knee of yours.”
In the end, she did sign the form, but under protest. She insisted the only way she would do it is if I went to Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago to see an orthopedic specialist there. If you’re not familiar with pro sports, this is one of the places in the country they send, for example, injured NFL players in an effort to prevent them being taken completely out of the sport, or car accident victims who might never walk again.
And, apparently, me.
Six months it took me. My physical therapist was a specialist too, with a PhD. She and my doctor consulted, and they consulted with my primary physician. I didn’t need further surgery, they said. I asked if I could jog, ever again.
“Maybe,” the orthopod hedged.
“Maybe depending on what, maybe?”
“If you do everything I tell you to do.” He shrugged and pulled up his pant leg, revealing a surgery scar by his knee that was bigger than my three small dots. Small, but not invisible. “I jog.” He let his pants down. “But it took me a lot of work.”
That weekend, I went to the zoo with my family. We walked all over. I wore some cute new shoes I’d gotten at a discount chain store in my neighborhood, the kind that regularly holds “BOGO” specials (“Buy One, Get One).
The poor quality of the shoe didn’t even occur to me, until the next day when my knee swelled up to the size of a Chicago softball.
When I went to RIC that week for my appointment, my physical therapist was horrified. “What did you do?”
“I went to the zoo,” I said, and burst into tears.
When I got home, I threw out every single pair of shoes that I owned, except for the pair of athletic New Balance that the specialized shoe store gave me on doctor’s orders, (the doc even gave me a special piece of paper to take with me so they’d know what kind of shoes to give me), the one pair of office-quality shoes, and a pair of loafer-like black flats – also from the same store.
Okay, I kept the two pairs of four-inch heels, one a gorgeous, unusual emerald green leather, and the other ruby like the Ruby Slippers.
I couldn’t bear to throw them out for another ten months, even though I didn’t wear them ever again.
Okay, that’s not true. I tried wearing them at work one day. One day. And I had to take them off by 11:30.
Today, I can walk. A lot. I can do three miles in an hour, and if I’m gentle, I can do all day at the zoo. I can actually jog to catch a bus, as long as it’s not more than a half-block or so. I can do squats, and just yesterday with my new physical trainer, I sat down with my weight on only one leg, while holding the other leg in the air. I didn’t think I could do it, and I had to “spot” my injured leg, but it worked, God damn it. Three sets of five.
Walking in this world isn’t just metaphor. We’re physical beings. It’s easy to forget that, when we’re on the computer and sucked into the echo chamber. But if you’re not going to the gym on a regular basis, give it a shot. Even if all you do is walk, it’s enough.