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Jack Zaleski, Published March 08 2014

Zaleski: That twisted knee will be a talker

Last week, I slipped on the ice on a downtown Fargo sidewalk, and nearly went down. Instead of landing as ungracefully as possible, which would have been the smart thing to do, I fought gravity, avoided a pratfall and twisted one of my aging knees. The stab of pain brought tears to my eyes and wooziness to my head. I mean, it really hurt.

Able to walk on, I strode through the pain, which intensified with each step, each turn of foot on the treacherous ice, each slight misalignment of leg. By the time I got back to my office, I was hobbling like a drunk at Mardi Gras.

My concern, of course, was that the damage was not minor and that pain would morph into a chronic knee problem, which might require surgical repairs. At my age, and given what I know about my friends’ brittle bones and failed joints, it was possible I was in big trouble. My first instinct was to will it away. How’s that for modern medicine?

In the spirit of self-treatment, I muted the pain with aspirin. I swabbed the knee with a Ben Gay-like ointment. I favored the other leg and tried to put as little weight and stress as possible on the painful knee. It worked. By week’s end, the pain had faded but not completely. Normal movement did not exacerbate the hurt. The cold-sweat twinge that had come all week when climbing stairs was gone. My conclusion was, it was a sprain, painful but not a permanent wreck.

But what was deeply damaging, to my ego mostly, was that the knee thing had happened at all. It was a first, and I did not want to admit what was obvious: Those legs and knees and joints are older than they have ever been. The youthful flexibility and strength that carried me without failure to advanced baby boomer age no longer are reliable. This is disheartening, although I know it’s the nature of things.

Meanwhile, my wife and I go out to dinner about once a week with long-time friends. Among the topics of conversation that have, to date, driven me to eye-rolling distraction are detailed recitations of their various maladies, their fickle pharmaceutical requirements and their critical reviews of medical personal and health care facilities. I often felt like the odd man out because – and I don’t say this with hubris – I haven’t been seriously sick, ever. An injury or two, sure, but that’s it. Lucky, I guess.

The knee thing was a game-changer. It was scary. Now I can talk about the intense pain of a potentially life-altering injury, my success with self-medication, my creeping concern about developing chronic knee failure, and the certainty of the functional collapse of other parts of my aging body. It will be good to be fully immersed in the conversation … I guess.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.