Where have I been, you ask? OK, maybe you haven’t been asking…
It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words, so maybe this will explain it.
Ok, so maybe that doesn’t explain everything, so here’s the back-story.
The Wife and I have been avid – some might say rabid – white water rafting & kayaking aficionados for over thirty years now. In other words, we’re River Rats. As of this writing we have rafted or kayaked white water in 12 different countries on four different continents. Yeah, maybe rabid is the best descriptor after all.
When we first married, we didn’t have a pot to piss in. Wanting to make what meager honeymoon I could afford be a memorable one, I finally decided that white water rafting would fit the bill perfectly. It fed our love of the outdoors, was just a day’s drive away at the time, and was something we had never done before. New beginnings and all that crap, you know.
Best of all it was cheap. Dirt Cheap.
So we spent the first week of our married life in an angry, churning maelstrom by day, and our nights in the splendor of the West VirginiaMountains doing what newlyweds do. And actually, that’s a pretty accurate description of the last 30+ years of our lives, minus the mountains…
And since then we have returned each year (except during pregnancies and what not) to the Gauley River to take in the natural splendor, raft and kayak the best white water in the country, and do what newlyw… you get the idea…
This place speaks to my soul.
Scouting out the attack.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the Gauley River is a dam-controlled watershed in the mountains of West Virginia. Ten months out of the year the river offers the perfect conditions to learn how to raft and/or kayak what could only be generously considered white water. It’s meandering, calm, and relatively peaceful.
But for a six-week period each fall, the state opens up the dam every weekend to flush out sedimentation (and promote tourism) and the Gauley River is absolutely transformed. The 12-mile long Upper Section of the Gauley suddenly has 40 named rapids – and a named rapid is a notorious rapid – including six Class V rapids. For the uninitiated a Class V is sometimes called a Devil’s Maytag. Right at the mid-point of the Upper Gauley there’s a 14-ft waterfall. For those six weeks the river easily falls into Top 3 in The World for white water. And in the White Water community, a trip down the Gauley during the fall run is a badge of honor. The Wife and I have done it twenty-seven times.
The way I describe it to people is try to imagine a wet, wild, incredibly visceral roller coaster ride that lasts for half a day. It’s something that you will never forget. And if you ever decide to go, nobody does the all-inclusive trips better than A.C.E. Adventure.
Hey! Take my pic! I’m going for an ender!!!!
Hey! Look at me! Look at me!!!!
Hey! Look at meEARGHAABLARFLE!! *cough*
So, you’ve probably guessed what happened by now, right? You’re thinking I got ejected and caught a boulder or something with my leg, or maybe got it trapped under something? Injuries of any kind are very rare in rafting & kayaking, but you would be completely justified in making that assumption.
And you’d be completely wrong.
So, this ruggedly handsome river rat, always conscious of his surroundings, reflexes and balance honed and amplified by years of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu… tripped on a stupid branch after taking a family picture and ended up trying to drive his knee through a half exposed rock on the ground.
The pic in question. That’s the Future Son-In-Law and his Ridiculously Over-sized Head, The Wife, and Female Spawn #1.
After the 2-hour drive back down the mountain and to the nearest town that had, you know, an actual hospital with running water and electricity, the attending physician said it was a one-in-a-million fall. My knee hit that rock at precisely the correct angle, and with just enough force, to completely explode the joint. Seriously, my knee just came apart; bone, muscle, tendons, and ligaments all disassociated themselves from one another and went in different directions.
Amazingly enough… nothing seems to be actually torn other than at the connective tissue at the bone. Or more accurately, no tearing can presently be seen. Both the interior and anterior collateral ligaments separated from the bone on both ends and ended up somewhere in my calf by the time I got to the hospital. My ACL is beyond strained, completely detached from my femur but still attached to my tibia, but looks to be otherwise intact. It looks like a fruit roll-up that has sat in some soccer mom’s purse for the last three years, but seems to be in one tear free piece.
I used to have one of these…
However, I split my patella (kneecap) right down the middle and have several significant greenstick fractures at the top of the tibia and fibula and one “somewhat concerning” (the doc’s words, not mine) greenstick fracture running laterally along the bottom of my femur… and my tibial plateau is sliced to ribbons. Probably the thing that’s concerning the doc the most at this point is that my patellofemoral groove is no longer a groove. It’s no longer anything really, not that they can see, other than an angry, mangled mass of cartilage. Same goes for my lateral meniscus. If I could stand I would be grinding bone on bone. As of this writing the internal/external swelling is too severe to complete an adequate assessment of the damage. Like I said, my knee literally exploded.
So, I have this stupid fixator thing screwed into my bones just to keep everything from moving around until the internal swelling recedes enough to ascertain the true, overall damage. There is so much inflammation in my knee that even an MRI can’t clearly make out what’s going on in there. The docs say it will be a few days more until they can produce digital imaging that is “not masked by inflammation”.
And once that happens, I need to seriously start thinking about a total knee replacement. The docs are thinking I may be able to recover depending on the true damage without it, albeit much slower, but they and The Wife are pressuring hard for me just to have the surgery.
I’m not so sure, and nowhere near convinced.
Way back when on my thirtieth birthday, I had complete ACL/MCL reconstructions in both knees due in part to a very recklessly spent youth, and in part because the first job I had out of college had ‘destroy your knees almost beyond repair’ in its official description. The ligaments currently floating around in my knees are not my own. People used to joke that I probably received the inner workings of some executed serial killer’s knees and that they would eventually betray and kill me while I was doing burpees or something. They weren’t all that far off.
My hope with this prior reconstruction was that I’d return to pre-surgery levels of mobility and a return to those activities I used to love to do. And to a certain extent it worked. I had the freedom to do what I wanted. But in reality, it only allowed me the freedom to do what I wanted within the confines of my tolerance for pain.
If I wanted too, I could play a pick-up game of hoops, hike through the parks, run the dogs to death, pretty much whatever I wanted to do. One out of three times I didn’t, because I knew the day after would be hell no matter what precautions I took beforehand. Any activity that required repeatedly placing weight/pressure on the knee and bending it for an extended time on a “bad day” would require a post-activity cocktail of ice, elevation, ibuprofen, and bourbon.
And if I go through with the knee replacement the prospects get that much worse. I won’t ever play that pick-up game of hoops, or run the dogs into the dirt… ever again (so I’ve been told, anyway). Jiu Jitsu is still very much up in the air.
See, even though the purpose of the joint replacement is to negate the eventual osteoarthritic pain, the replacement is not considered a lifetime device, or even a “cure”. People that go through knee replacement surgery are strongly cautioned against any activity that could damage the device, or even cause the need for a surgical “adjustment”. Over the course of a person’s life you could be looking at just having to get the device adjusted two, maybe three times, just due to usage and the natural changes in your body.
Does this look even remotely natural to you? Me either…
I am intensely worried about the potential affect to my quality of life and the time required getting back to full function. No, scratch that. I’m intensely worried about the medical definition of full function with the knee replacement because as it stands now, it does not meet my definition at all. I worry less about pain management. I’ve dealt with that before.
And so now I lay here trapped in a hospital bed trying to rationalize getting the surgery or not getting the surgery. Right now this is a procedure that just seems wrong, unnatural, and all that.
I think what is giving me pause is this: The surgery is not a fix, it’s simply a change. And once it’s done, there’s no turning back.
And as stupid as it might sound, the thing that is absolutely killing me is that my time on the mats might be done. Jiu Jitsu has given me so much: belief in my failing joints, gave me physical fitness and health back, instilled confidence along with an overall sense of self. The art has given me more than I can put into words, actually.
But, at least for the foreseeable future, my time on the mats is done. I’m not sure that fact has sunken in yet. I’m sure, as the weeks slow down into days, the days into hours, and the hours into excruciating minutes of boredom, that fact will be laid bare. The Wife just says I’m being stupid, and that all I should be thinking about is recovering. But… she admitted the other night how she knows how important it is to me, the good it’s done not only for me, but for everything really.
I think the fact that I have no real control over anything right now is making the acceptance of “no rolling” that much easier to take. Right now, I have two options. Nix the replacement surgery other than having the knee reconstructed, wear a fixator for 2-3 months, and then endure a few months of intense physical rehab. Or, get the knee replacement and be, for all intents and purposes, completely off my feet for an unknown amount of time, follow that up with 2-3 months of post-op recovery, and then follow that up with another few months of physical rehab.
With the first, I’ll be back to being able to do what I want to do within reason, but again within the confines of my tolerance for pain. With the second, I’ll have no pain but will be very limited in what I can do.
I am dissatisfied with either option.
So, now you know where I’ve been, and probably have a good idea of where I’ll be for the foreseeable future. Blogging will probably be light as the pain meds are strong enough to put Keith Richards down and out, but I’ll check in from time to time and, of course, check in on those blogs I read every day.
Take care, I’m tapping out.