I’ve always been a fast walker. Stereotypical New Yorker, striding straight ahead, looking straight ahead, weaving and passing people. Slow down, my mom and my friend Betsy would both tell me.
Until my knee started to give out on me. Every couple of months, it would begin to hurt. Then it would lock and buckle. I’d jerk and feel like I was going to fall. Then I’d try to keep my knee stiff and keep walking, hoping it wouldn’t happen again.
I tried to ignore it. It was only once in a while, I reasoned. Then I slipped in the bathroom at work, twisted my leg and fell. After that, my knee problem turned into a constant problem. More days than not, my knee buckled or at least hurt.
Going anywhere became a problem. I’d have to look for a chair to sit and take a break when shopping. I started taking cabs. I stopped wanting to go anywhere.
I walked to and from the train station every day to get to work. I’d walk slowly and I could feel the other commuters walking on the sidewalk behind me, getting closer, and I’d try to quicken my pace. And then they’d pass me.
I dreaded stairs. I took a writing class in a classroom on the third floor of a building. No elevator. The first class, I walked up with a classmate, and was so out of breath I could barely speak to my instructor and classmates. I was mortified. After that, I was sure to get there early, to take things at my own pace. That way, no one would catch me stopping between flights, reaching for my inhaler.
One day I got fed up. Took the day off from work and went to a medical clinic. They did an x-ray but didn’t find anything. They referred me to their practice’s orthopedist.
The orthopedist took a look at my x-ray. He told me I had a loss of cartilage in my knee. Bone spurs. Osteoarthritis. He told me he would have thought the x-ray was that of a fifty-something year old woman, who would eventually need knee replacement surgery. I asked him what could be done about it. He told me nothing would fix it, but that losing weight would relieve the symptoms.
I went out to the parking lot, sat in my car and cried. I had waited too long to lose weight. I had ruined my knee and it couldn’t be fixed. My mother had more minor knee problems in her thirties but didn’t need knee surgery until she was over 60.
So I started to diet. And exercise. Gradually, weight started coming off. My knee started feeling better. Fast forward and eighty-something pounds later, it doesn’t buckle. It still aches sometimes, like when I sit in one position for too long. Or when it rains.
Now I can walk home from the train without pausing. People don’t pass me too often. Sometimes I pass them.
The pivotal point for me though was last week. I’d had a bad day at work, and had time to kill before a seminar I was taking that night. I didn’t feel like taking the subway or a cab. So I decided to walk, figuring I could always pick one of them up if my knee started to hurt.
I walked from 56th Street to 31st Street. 25 blocks. I couldn’t believe it. I used to have to stop halfway home from the train station. For me, it was the equivalent of running a marathon. I tried it again later in the week, walking from 39th Street to 12th Street. 27 blocks. I felt like I’d grown a new pair of legs.
I still sometimes feel like damaged goods. As I write this, my knee is aching a bit. But I’m making progress. I’m trying to see that ache as a reminder of how far I’ve come rather than where I’ve been.