A freak work injury brings a new understanding of “normal” mobility and how to cope without it.
There are things we don’t like to talk about. We like even less to experience them. Something happened in July that became the defining detail of everything I did—or could do. It was not the least bit dramatic when it happened, and it looked like nothing at all. I overextended my knee climbing off one of the smallest trucks that I regularly climb up on at work. At 7 a.m. my world changed!
I was debating what to do with a heavy tool. Drop it and have it bounce, and maybe hit me or the truck? Slide it off the top of the box and scratch the paint? Just carry it down. But the weight of the temporary fence T-bar pounder pulled me down, and my boot stuck on the tire for a split second. That’s all it took to take me off the road for what turned into three prime weeks of summer—and could have been eternity.
I’m fine now. But I sure did a lot of thinking about what if… before I was seen at the hospital. My knee didn’t move excessively when manipulated. It was just a sprain. Phew. It would take a week, I was told. But I realized later, that was for someone who’s not particularly active, who works at a desk and watches TV all weekend. I couldn’t even ride my bike the day it happened. I couldn’t put all my weight on one leg while swinging my other leg over the bike. I couldn’t hold the weight of the bike up. And of course I have a tall, heavy bike. I never realized how much one relies on a knee to just get on a bike.
Then there are all the up and down motions that a knee goes through like braking and shifting gears, things that seemed to be entirely foot actions. Bicycling was out. So was walking. Limping was all I could do. But at least I could climb into an automatic truck and drive. I could also drive my shift box to the grocery store. And there I had to think about what I bought because I had to carry it. And I had to go to the small shops because at first I couldn’t walk to the back of the grocery store for milk then carry it. Life changer.
I limped for a week before even trying to walk normally. And after that, I wondered about the one-week diagnosis. It took one week just to be reasonably okay, with fear of straining it. There was no running, and no weight lifting. Made working hard. Other people had to cover for me. I couldn’t dig well but I tried, while trying not to strain my knee. The entire time I looked like I was faking it. There never was any blood. No visible scar. But it did hurt, even if mildly. It was not 10 on the pain scale, but it was real.
One week later I went to a cottage with friends. I did not ride there. And though I was careful, I strained it once, lifting a canoe over an awkward spot. But swimming was amazing. I discovered pool noodles. And I discovered ‘fishing’ with my scuba goggles. I saw an enormous smallmouth bass.
Three weeks later I got back on my bike. I was scared. But I’d waited until I could run. I rode to get groceries, rode to see a concert where street parking for bikes is (still) free and easy. And then I rode north, loaded with gear. I was afraid to ride alone into the woods, so I parked and hiked in.
Muskoka is an amazing place where the pink granite of the Canadian Shield can be seen along the water’s edge and periodically throughout the woods, because the layer of soil is rather thin on that bedrock. It’s also very uneven terrain, which I love about it. I pitched my tent, swam and hiked all over the rocks. It made me realize just how much we use our knees. I did a lot of climbing, some bordering on treacherous. I was a bit scared in places where the rock was wet, or when climbing big steps to get from one rock to another.
The next morning I knew I needed to slow down, but how to do that? There was no level ground, and my campsite was on top of a big rock. I had to climb down to the river for water, up and over to get off the rock island and then hike up onto big formations of rock to sit in the sun and enjoy the view. I’ve finally learned what the Buddhists mean by “sitting,” or so I believe. I can sit in the sun on a rock with a warm breeze that flows about the river like the river itself, keeping me cool in a record miserably hot summer, while listening to the wind tickle the leaves in the trees…
I had to make two trips to carry my gear out because by Sunday, my knee was truly tired, and almost strained.
This has made me feel grateful. Having a minor, temporary injury was a setback. I stopped calling my dirt bike buddy. I stopped riding my bike for three weeks -in summer. But in that time I paid more attention to elderly and disabled people who need more time to get where they’re going, even if it’s only for milk in the back of the store. And then I saw those three-wheel bikes: the tried and true Harley trikes, the Can Am Spyder, Polaris Slingshot, and Honda Neowing that I’ve not yet seen.
There are people who add a sidecar for winter riding. Some of us manage to ride when others would not. While not everyone riding three wheels has limited mobility, they work if you do. Scooters work too, when you can’t swing your leg over a bike, or when you can’t stabilize one enough to get on it. I remember being so impressed by the Suzuki 400cc Burgman, which made me think about my future.
I’m not there yet, but many are who have ridden for years, and then worn out. It makes me glad to know we have options, whether that future is because of age or injury.
I can run again. I can dirt ride. I was very careful to ease it back to normal, because my knees mean the world to me. They mean climbing stairs, rocks, ladders, and trucks. They mean riding. Next time I’ll drop the damn tool. But what if it bounced off the asphalt and hit me in the ankle! Ankles mean riding too! So do hands. So do….