Friday, June 19, 2009

My Frickin' Knee

My doctor told me that all the running I do would come to an end. He said my knees would give out from all the pounding and I should start doing more low-impact activities like walking, swimming, yoga, nose picking.

He might as well have told me to roll over and die. I like running. It's free. I don't have to go to a gym, and it feels like real exercise with real sweat and real pain.

That advice was given to me a couple of years ago and I laughed to myself at the time because I felt great. My only issue was finding the time to work out.

Now, I'm not laughing. I've developed painful tendonitis in my knee and can't shake it. Thanks, doc!

My wife thinks I'm a hypochondriac because I'm obsessing about this and like to go to doctors. Hell, I pay for insurance, why not use it?

So I went to my primary doctor who sent me for x-rays. Those came back negative. No signs of arthritis. He gave me some anti-inflammatory medicine - Celebrex. That did nothing. He sent me for a MRI. That came back with nothing. He sent me to an orthopedist who told me I have tendonitis (no kidding) and gave me more anti-inflammatory medicine, basically super strength Aleve. Most of us can buy this over the counter at 200 mg. I was up to 1500 mg a day plus a rub on cream for the knee. Nothing.

In the meantime, I did a month of physical therapy. Still nothing.

I went back to the orthopedist who suggested a plasma injection. "All the top athletes are trying it," he said.

Why not, what harm could it cause?

The process involves drawing blood out of your arm - into a giant syringe. A machine spins the blood so the plasma separates and then the small amount of plasma is injected back into the sore area.

Sounds easy, except my ortho couldn't draw blood on the first go. The pretty big needle was going in and out of my arm without hitting oil. I felt like Mr. Burns on The Simpson's when he got poked for blood and the needle went straight through his arm. There's nothing like a thin piece of metal going in and out of your skin.

He tried the other arm and bingo, a gusher. So much so that when he pulled the giant syringe out, the blood kept coming, actually spurting. It hit my feet that were dangling over the edge of the table. But no worries, the doctor's gloved thumb saved the day. Now, I felt like the knight in the Monty Python movie that had his limbs chopped off, with blood shooting out and he only considered it a flesh wound. I just sat there on the table watching the water fountain of blood erupt as he ran around getting band aids.

The worst part, though, was when he injected the plasma back in. A big needle into a tendon is not pleasant. And it's even less pleasant about an hour later when your knee swells up and you can't bend it.

But a day and a half later, the pressure subsided and the knee was operable. But still, nothing. Although to be fair I think have to give it a few weeks to take effect.

At the same time, I looked into a therapy called ART (Active Release Therapy). It's done by chiropractors and the object is to massage and stretch muscle areas that are in pain. Several people had tauted the positive effects, so I signed up.

There is a well-known doctor in my area who also treats the local sports teams, including a major professional football team. Of course, when I called he was completely booked for a couple of months, but his new associate could see me immediately. The receptionist recommended her highly. I was desperate so I came in.

Well, the new associate, a 28-year old very fit and curvy woman brought me into her dimly lit office and asked me a few questions. She seemed to lack any professionalism and I could barely understand the questions she asked me. But I didn't mind. I just did as I was told. There weren't any "pleases" or "could yous". It was just lie down, move this, turn here. I didn't know what she was doing but I was going with it. It's hard to argue when someone is hanging over you bending you like a pretzel and smiling seductively as she does it. It was the best $30 co-pay I ever spent.

Then she mentioned she had to do a Graston on me. Graston? That was a new one. I figured it could only get better as I smiled back and said, "Okay."

Graston is one of the most inhumane, medieval techniques around. It puts waterboarding to shame. It involves the use of metal instruments like a dull butter knife or a crowbar. These instruments are rubbed vigorously and deeply along the sore areas. Imagine someone scraping a metal bar against your skin which in turn scrapes against your bone and if you're lucky some muscle as well. The idea is to cause inflammation to the area to promote blood flow and enhance healing.

The only blood was flowing to my face as I winced in pain and broke out in beads of sweat. If it wasn't for her upper body shaking so much as she did this, I would've bailed as soon as I saw the tools.

"Does this hurt?" she asked.

"Not too bad," I squeaked back.

She went faster.

"That spot hurts," I panted.

She stopped and told me I would be a little bruised for a couple of days.

A little? I was black and blue for a week. I was afraid to go back but I did. This time she stayed away from the previous areas and caused pain in new ones. She was also opening up a little more to me. She told me about her bachelorette weekend and how all these girls went to a cowboy bar in the City to ride a mechanical bull.

"Did you ride?" I asked.

"No, way. My skirt was way too short for that."

The rubbing continued.

"So, have you had Graston done to you?" I asked.

"Yeah, as part of our training we had to do each other."

Not only was she killing me with a metal rod, she was torturing me with her words.

"I've probably had every part of my body touched by the Graston method," she continued. Sometimes, if I have some pain, I'll just Graston myself."

All this may have helped other parts of my body, but my knee was still the same. I'll probably go a few more times but I'll have to insist she does something more gentle. I'm too old for these young ones.

Today, though, I went back to my regular doctor to relay all the things that I had tried since we last spoke. He offered one more option - acupuncture.

I've always wanted to try this but didn't think it was too credible. My doctor said some people had good luck with it, especially those with back and knee issues as it can help with nerve alignment which in turn may affect mobility. Plus, he said he knew about a young acupuncturist that worked nearby me and he had heard good things about her.

Her? Okay, I'm there.

I phoned the office today for an appointment. "Zou's Acupuncture and Massage" was how the receptionist answered the phone.

Massage? Maybe there will be a happy ending after all.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

26 Across

You know what that picture is? It's a little slice of hell. Something I'm still working on.

It's what my father used do every Sunday while laying on the couch when I was growing up. It's what old people do to pass the time, to pretend they're keeping their brains sharp. Obscure puzzlers that keep you away from your family for hours, causing little kids to sulk off and curse The New York Times for ever publishing such a family wrecker.

What 10-year old kid can bond with his father over a crossword puzzle? They've got clues in French, for god's sake! Like "69 Down: Je ne ___ quoi." Yeah, after three years of French class in high school I could answer that. But it was too late, I was already 18. Who cared about the old man by then?

I swore I would never be like my dad. But over the years things changed. For example, to pass the time commuting back and forth on the train I found myself pulling out the Monday crossword puzzle and trying to do it.

For the most part, after picking up on the Times' clue patterns, I could complete it. And it felt good. I would try and have it finished before my train got to my station. It was a curious challenge that made the ride go faster.

That's how it started, how I got sucked in. You begin with the easy ones and soon your craving the hard stuff.

Over the years I would move on to the other days of the week. Soon enough, Monday through Wednesday became a breeze. Thursday through Saturday were still challenging not only because of the advanced clues but because there were more pages in the newspaper to get through before I could get to the puzzle. I looked at the crossword as a treat after reading the international and national news pages. A little reward for broadening my horizons. I made a pretty good show on those grids when I got to them. But to be honest, I pretty much skip Fridays and Saturdays nowadays.

But Sunday, oh man, that one is the holy grail. It took a number of years for me to even consider pulling out the Sunday magazine section and trying the mother of all puzzles. After all, that bastard had scarred me all those years before.

But I began to lose my fear of the old grey lady's Sunday hold over me. I started slow with her trying to understand her secret codes, her special language.

If I could get answers to at least one quarter of the puzzle, I felt an accomplishment. But I pushed harder over the weeks and months and soon I was completing half the puzzle, then three quarters of it. And finally one day, I did the whole damn thing.

Penning in (yes, I do her in ink) that last letter was like crossing the line at a marathon (which I've never done or attempted to try). I wanted to jump for joy (except I was in bed and it was 2am). I wanted to share what I accomplished with someone. But really, who do bring that kind of stuff up to? Who cares?

It's a lonely course one follows when one decides to devote themselves to the crossword. It's monk-like.

As I lay on my couch this weekend starting another Sunday edition, my daughter snuck up in front of me and tore the magazine out of my hand.

"It's a beautiful day. You should be outside," she said.

Perhaps it was the steely glare I gave her, or the threat I threw out: "Give it back or die!" She ended up just dropping it on the ground and walking away.

"Whatever, loser."

I quickly scarfed up that beautifully weighted magazine section that curls so nicely in my grip and thought about a 26 letter word for where I was at that point in my life.

Swine and Whine

It's always interesting to see how public emotions can so easily be whipped into a frenzy. Swine flu has been making the rounds in the press for the last couple of months or so. Schools are ready to close at a moments notice, people are immediately suspicious of someone who sneezes and you think twice about putting yourself in public situations.

Of course, if you follow the stats, about three people have unfortunately died so far from the strain. However, this past winter season many thousands died from the regular flu and there was not even mention about that. Perhaps, it's the name - Swine. Sounds nasty and makes for a good headline.

The hysteria still carries on and today our mailroom guy made the rounds to everyone's desks with a box filled with Sani-Gel and a little flyer on how hygiene can help save my life.

I love the smell of these antibacterials. The real good ones smell like a gin and tonic. Those, I don't mind using, even though overuse of this stuff can make the bacteria more resistant and stronger.

I thought it was quite funny that the company was spending money on this and handing them out to everyone. Do they really care about my well being? Or, do they just want to make sure I don't miss work? I think the latter. I mean, they only clean the bathrooms once a week and that place is regular germ factory. They don't bother filling the soap dispensers when they run out or keeping enough of those paper toilet covers in stock, but they're content to hand each of us bottle of clear gel as if this will protect us.

I guess I should be grateful for what I was given. This poor bank had already weathered so much during these unprecedented economic times. While they had already lost shareholder value and needed to be propped up by continued government funding, the last thing they would want to lose is me.

As I held the Sani-Gel in my hand, I tried to think which would be a better - rubbing it on my hands or just popping open the top and drinking it.

The way things have been going a nice stiff Sani-Gel and Tonic could hit the spot.