My son's friend had knee surgery last week. He is seventeen years old. He's very uncomfortable, and is having trouble sleeping. He is also part of a club which I joined nearly thirty years ago, when I was in my twenties. I understand his pain. I empathize with his despair. Over the next several weeks, he will have plenty of time to reflect on the importance of that great big leg knuckle: his knee.
That nice little bend you get halfway down your leg turns out to be a very useful thing. In its simplest form, it can be very helpful in getting on one's pants and socks. My own experience of having the my left side turned into a tin soldier for months while I waited for the miracles of modern medicine preformed by the surgeons to become apparent was torturous. This was due, in large part, to the fact that my injury came at a time in my life when I took mobility for granted. I was not yet grunting as I leaned down to pick things off the ground. I didn't have to consider my approach to inclined planes or stairs. In a moment, that changed. His came on the lacrosse field. Mine came on the playground. He was at practice. I jumped out of a swing. Neither one of these actions would seem like high-risk or irresponsible. Well, the lacrosse practice at least. When you're seventeen, or twenty-seven, you feel like you're indestructible. You're still operating with original equipment. It's still a while before you feel the need for thirty thousand mile checkups. Most of us haven't even read the owner's manual at this point.
That all changes when you crumple into a ball, while your friends gather around, puzzled as to why this previously active, vital part of their lives is suddenly much closer to the ground, alternating curses and moans. Suddenly every injury time out on ever NFL broadcast you've ever seen comes back to you in sharp relief, only here there is no cut away for a Bud Light commercial. It's just you and all that gravity that had previously seemed so easy to deal with. Bipedal motion is now on hold, and will be for some time to come. The delicate arrangement of muscles and ligaments just below the thigh are now negotiable.
And here is what I tried to tell my son's friend: They can fix it. It won't always hurt like it does now. The agonies of the physical pain and the emotional torment of wondering when things would be normal again fade. But now you're part of the club. The ones who see that halfback, skier, skater, pedestrian or passerby drop down and clutch at their knee, and they remember. Then they say a little prayer to the gods of medial collateral and meniscus and wait for a chance to share their stories with the newest member of the club.