The Death of a Bone: Lessons that My Dead Knee Taught Me

What I learned from being in a wheelchair for 3 months and how I apply it to my every day life.

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When I was in high school, my knee died. Yep, you read that right. There’s even a technical name for it… Osteochondritis dissecans. Technically, a section at the bottom part of my femur where it goes into my knee joint died. After over a year of trying to figure out why I had knee pain, being promised that there was nothing structurally wrong with my knee, going through weeks of physical therapy, and missing basketball, my parents finally convinced the doctors to schedule an MRI for my knee.

The morning my MRI results came back, we got a call from the doctor around 7:45 AM that said I needed to be on crutches as soon as possible because there was bone fragments floating around my knee joint.

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The dead part of my femur is shown circled in red.

I ended up having surgery to remove the dead part of my bone and replace it with a bone graft from a cadaver. They placed a screw to hold the bone graft in place. The screw was in my knee for 3 months until I had another surgery to have it removed.

The worst part of the whole thing was that I could not place any pressure on my right leg because of where that screw was in my bone. I didn’t walk a single step on my right leg for 3 months. I spent part of the time on crutches and part of it in a wheelchair. School was too much for me to do on my crutches so I took the wheelchair. I used it sometimes when we went out in public like to Walmart, etc.

Those 3 months were freakin’ terrible. Looking back now, it doesn’t seem so bad. But at the time, I was seriously depressed.

Let me just complain for a second about all the things that come with being in a wheelchair: someone had to drive me to school and unload it from the back, help me into it, and then wheel me inside. At school, I had a helper to wheel me from class to class because I wasn’t so great at opening doors or getting my books into my backpack by myself. There was one class that I had to go outside and re-enter the school from another door to get into. In the middle of winter. With snow on the ground. Snow would get into my wheelchair seat and then my butt would be cold and wet. Some kids at school thought the wheelchair was awesome. They always wanted to steal it to pop wheelies and mess around. I did not think it was so awesome. And the crutches… if you have ever been on crutches, you know the struggle. My armpits hurt. I couldn’t carry anything and walk (hobble) at the same time. To get to my bedroom, which I was too stubborn to temporarily move downstairs, I had to sit up on my butt and scoot up the stairs backwards. With my crutches in my hand. There were so many things I couldn’t do by myself and had to ask for help for. Especially in the first couple of days after surgery. I hated being so helpless and so dependent. I know that people who live with disabilities long-term learn to adapt and thrive, and if any of them are reading this right now they are probably rolling their eyes at me, but just know I was going through a serious self-pity phase.

These three months were some of my least favorite memories. But, they gave me a perspective that I am grateful for. See, ever since I tried to take a step on my bad leg and felt immense pain and fell to the floor, I have been so much more acutely aware of how blessed I am to (now) have two working legs. Since my second surgery when I was finally able to walk on both legs again, I have been massively grateful for that ability. My legs have carried me on countless runs, including two 15K’s and two half-marathons. My legs can squat over 200 lbs. They hold me up to work on my feet every single day. They make my life a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable. And I don’t ever take them for granted.

Whenever I am having a drama-queen moment where I am whining about some little thing going wrong in my life, I try to fall back on this perspective and ground myself. For a while now, I have been focusing on gratitude and writing down the things in my life that I am grateful for daily. Some days it is seriously as simple as two working legs. Or the ability to see. The ability to read. The ability to write and to hear and to drive and to read and to work and to support myself. The roof over my head and the comfortable bed I sleep in and the heat in my apartment. The warm coat I can afford and food and clean water. These are just the basics. My blessings are innumerable.

Sometimes I get caught up in wanting more. A nicer apartment. A house. An expensive piece of clothing. A MacBook. A higher-paying job. A car with remote start and heated seats. Etc. And I forget that I already have every thing I need. And I am better off than many people in the world. I am extremely blessed in my life.

This doesn’t mean I won’t work hard to get to an even better place than I am right now. But it does mean that I will be grateful for where I am at right now, and grateful for the opportunity to work hard to get where I am going. If you’re unhappy, or feeling lost, or like you don’t have the things you wish you had, try focusing on the basics. Realize that just having a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over your head makes you more blessed than a lot of people. If you’re having a long day at work, or someone at your job upsets you, or something goes wrong, just try focusing on how lucky you are to have a job that pays the bills. Some people aren’t lucky enough to have a job or even the ability to work.

This isn’t to say that you aren’t ever allowed to be unhappy just because someone else has it worse. I don’t like that mindset. Of course you’re gonna have bad days. Of course sucky things are going to happen. And of course you’re gonna feel sorry for yourself, or angry, or unhappy. I’m not saying those feelings aren’t valid and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have them. You can go there, just don’t live there. Don’t allow yourself to stay in this mindset all day every day. I’m not perfect, and I still have my moments almost every single day where I forget to be grateful and let myself indulge in a little self-pity. But I don’t do it for very long. And at the end of the day, I know that I am blessed.

I always find that I am happier and more positive when I focus on all of the wonderful things I have, instead of thinking about all of the things that I don’t have. And I would highly recommend a daily gratitude practice. Either in a journal, in the Notes app on your phone, or somewhere else, write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for every single day. I do it when I wake up and before I go to bed. Sometimes its something simple like my bed, sometimes its something I did that day like getting to have dinner with my sisters, and sometimes (maybe too often?) its wine. But each day I focus on the things and people and experiences in my life that I am blessed to have. Give it a shot, and see if it changes your perspective at all.

In the same thread of gaining perspective and practicing gratefulness, I’m participating in an event to raise awareness and support for the homeless population in my community. I am hoping to impact the lives of others through a humbling, eye-opening experience. If you would like to learn more or to donate to help me reach my fundraising goal: please click here.

Now enjoy a few post surgery pictures that rarely ever see the light of day.

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The was right after surgery in the recovery room. 99% sure I was crying in this picture.
Somehow we fit a pair of sweatpants over the massive wrap on my leg on the above picture. I definitely wasn’t on any pain meds when this one was taken……
This was my poor leg after not walking on it for 3 months. Hellllo muscle atrophy.
I posted this transformation on Facebook earlier this year. Safe to say my quad muscles came back.

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