lenten journal: work in progress


About three years ago, I had a cortisone shot in my knee. It helped up until last December when they gave me another one and sent me to physical therapy. Neither was effective; in fact, the therapy made things worse, so I stopped going. Last month I went back to my doctor and he scheduled an MRI so he could see more of what was going on with my knee. He talked about doing gel injections and the possibility of an eventual knee replacement—at least that is the way I heard it. I went the following day and then the day after that I went to Texas on a trip for work. I saw him again today to get my results.

He led me to a computer monitor to see the images that looked as though they were moving sideways through my kneed in thin slices. The outside looked pretty good. Things fell apart when we got to the middle: no meniscus, bone on bone, even some deterioration. The gel shots would do no good—Jell-o shots might be an option—and we moved to schedule an appointment with the surgeon next Thursday.

I hesitated to write about it tonight because I am still not able to name my feelings, other than to say I am disquieted, or maybe numb. I have been in consistent pain for months and the thought of relief is wonderful. I read some about the success of the surgery and even got encouragement from my brother who had it done many years ago. And I have never had this kind of major surgery. They are going to take out my knee and put metal and plastic in there. Though it has been done for fifty years, I am still working to comprehend it in my body.

I am not one who has minded aging. There are many ways in which I like being sixty-two more than I liked being thirty-two. I don’t feel the need to try and look or act any other way than as myself in these days. That said, the consistent physical pain has made me mindful of my limitations in ways that has been sobering, to say the least, and discouraging. It’s not that I was ever anything other than an amazingly mediocre athlete, though I am an award-winning dancer, thanks to the Raise the Roof Gala a couple of years ago. But I have not been able to do some of the things I love and that feel like me. It has been, shall we say, a profound adjustment.

I know how it happened. In my years in restaurant kitchens, i didn’t pick up my right foot when I pivoted from the prep table to the stove, especially when we were in the weeds. I could feel it in my knee at the end of the night. It was also those years standing under the booming exhaust fan that cost me some of my hearing. One of my favorite places in the world is what left me impaired. I loved those days. There’s a parable in there somewhere. I’ll have to find it later.

Tonight, I am struck by my privilege—that I have health insurance, that I have access to great healthcare, that I have a job that will still pay me for sick days. I am aware of what we learn from pain—how it teaches us to listen to our bodies, how it makes us mindful of our limitations, how it bonds us to one another, how it drives us to relief. And I am grateful for connections—for Ginger who is always with me, for the family and friends I wrote when I left the doctor’s office, for the chance to share with you here.

As I learn more, I will share it. Tonight, it matters to just tell the story as far as it goes.



  1. We are going to move through this aging thing, Milton, and in the words of Faulkner, not merely survive, but prevail. And when the time comes to give it up, so we shall, but we ain’t there yet. brother. Not by a long shot. Survive, and advance.

  2. I’ve had both knees replaced and can totally relate to the pain you’ve been experiencing. I too was “bone on bone.” Every bump, pothole, or stopping too fast, I could feel. I remember leaving the hospital after my first knee replacement and my wife had to apply the brakes quickly when I car stopped suddenly in front of us. She looked over at me and said she was SO sorry because she knew to be careful when braking. I was laughing my head off since my knee didn’t shift and I felt no pain. Getting my knees done was the BEST decision of my life!

  3. Fun and games time. Laugh! I’ve got 13 years on you and should have had the knee surgeries as many as 10 years ago. First injured right knee in my early 20s in a volleyball game at Blue Mountain, says she who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, especially when wearing high heels. Then I just kept banging it up. A rough sidewalk in J.T. Luther’s part of Ridglea finished it off in the summer of 2017 when I missed a step in an otherwise even sidewalk. Replaced January, 2018. Left knee first major case was at while working at Wesleyan in the the late ’90s as I fell UP a set of concrete stairs with the metal edged tread. Celebrated Jan’s birthday in January of this year getting it replaced. My right knee was still in the 90 something %tile of being healed. I go back to physical therapy tomorrow after having taken two weeks off to be still while the eye, now minus cataract, got a good start on healing. As “Donna Jo” told me on Facebook last year when she had one done, do the exercises and PT. I am lousy at PT, and it shows right now. You will be more centered, I think.

  4. Milton, I have had one knee replacement and hope to have the other one replaced after they evaluate the data from the vein and vascular doctors. I am hopeful that you will have good results. Stay strong! Love and hugs from your octogenarian friend. ❤

  5. Where’s that story about the actress who told the photographer not to touch up her photo to hide scars – “I worked too hard to get them”…?

    I’ve played soccer for years now. Still play keeper a good bit in pickup games. Got hit in the face while saving a shot a few months ago. Things went briefly black, but I’ve had worse concussions. But today I can still see a little floater at times, like that gnat or fruit fly in the kitchen… Doing things we love exacts a toll on us, but it’s one we pay willingly, for the most part.

    Mom had knee replacement 5 years ago, doing fine now, but it took awhile to adjust.

  6. Knee replacement was the best thing I every did. Run…Run.. walk to your nearest orthopedist and get it scheduled. A whole new life will open up for you!!

    • I can vouch for Wendy. Seeing all the pictures you take while hiking – you are definitely getting YOUR money’s worth out of that bionic knee!

  7. Milton, this is about you. Tonight and tomorrow and the next day, this is about your journey and your pain and your recovery. We will be here for all of that. With love.

  8. Standing with Kay….and together with you. My better half had his knee replaced on February 12. We will talk as you go through this.

  9. I love your deeply human introspection here, and truly understand the struggle of grappling with a new reality that doesn’t seem to fit inside yourself. I know you have a support network, but Wellesley isn’t that far away, and I would be thrilled to help you in any way that I can. Good speed, my friend <3

  10. All four knees and hips done plus two revisions! Once you get started with this you will feel like a new person! Trust me. There is a prayer for this, taught to me by a priest at Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati pg 461 BCP, 27 yeas ago for the first “New Knee”. “In the morning” Carry on. Ann in Raleigh.

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