My right knee has been acting up for a couple of weeks. Every time I bend or flex, it hurts – even waking me up at night. I was confused, because I hadn’t twisted it, I hadn’t been climbing any mountains in the past month, and it wasn’t popping or crunching. It was just the pain – from out of nowhere and for no reason. It pissed me off.
I did what I tell every patient not to do and WebMD’d the symptoms.
WebMD was convinced I had fibromyalgia, but also allowed for the possibility that I might have a torn meniscus, or pseudogout, or lyme disease, or septic arthritis, or regular old osteoarthritis, or…the list went on and on. My boss, who has had two knee replacements, told me my symptoms sounded exactly like her symptoms before the surgery – and that the cartilage in her knees had been a shredded mess – “hanging like an old ripped gauze curtain – fluttering in the breeze.”
I finally broke down and went to see my doctor a few days ago. She gave me a little knee massage with her fingertips and then grabbed my ankle and moved my leg this way and that – and then proclaimed that I had bursitis in my knee. Bursitis, in case you didn’t know, is an inflammation of small sacs that are filled with fluid to help reduce friction in the knee – or other joints. The treatment is pretty simple: ice, ibuprofen, and “if it hurts, don’t do it.”
Here’s the thing: I had heard of bursitis before – but apparently, I had it all wrong.
When I was about 12-years-old, my parents took my older sister and me on a week long white water river rafting trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon. If I remember correctly, we had at least two rubber boats, filled with probably 8-10 people in each. We would spend the days floating lazily down the calm parts of the river, interrupted from time to time with exhilarating periods of torpedoing madly through massive rapids. Every night, we would find a stretch of sandy shoreline, eat a hot meal, and sleep either under the stars or in tents.
My fellow river rats were an interesting bunch – they were all adults (my sister and I were the only juveniles on the trip) and they came from exotic places – like New York. Remember, I had been raised a lily-white Mormon in the wilds of northern Utah. I’d had no exposure to other races, or cultures, or religions (except for that one Sunday I went to a Lutheran church with a friend – it was strange and rather terrifying). I wasn’t sure what to think about any of my fellow travelers – they intrigued me, but alarmed me at the same time.
There was a boisterous group of African Americans who were always happy. One of the women delightfully shocked me when, around the fire one night, she started talking about the great swim suit she had purchased for the trip. She lifted her T-shirt above her head to show everyone, but she had forgotten she wasn’t wearing the swim suit at the time and flashed her bare, glorious, caramel colored breasts. With the T-shirt over her head, she couldn’t see all of our googley eyes as we took in the sight, but when she realized what had happened, she wasn’t upset in the least – she and her friends (and the rest of the group) laughed hysterically about it for the rest of the night.
There was also a Jewish father and his young adult son. The Jewish boy, Ronald, seemed intrigued by me and spent a lot of time talking to me and telling me about his life. I felt rather uncomfortable in his company, but as I had been raised to be polite and respect my elders, I said nothing. Ronald was never inappropriate with me – but now that I’m an adult, I wonder if he wanted to be and that is why I felt weird around him – why would a young adult want to hang around a prepubescent girl? Maybe it was innocent – maybe he just considering being a Mormon instead of a Jew, (since nothing says “good time” like Mormons) so he was hanging out with me to observe a Mormon in the flesh – kind of like a religiously conflicted anthropologist.
The one thing I remember most about Ronald is that he kept telling me about his issues with bursitis in his shoulder. The way he went on and on about it, I thought it was a horrible, chronic, possibly terminal disease. Ronald told me about the excruciating pain he was in and the failed treatments (mostly involving large needles). He suggested that the next step would be surgery which, he gloomily predicted, would probably fail. I wondered what would happen then? Amputation? Death? Even though he creeped me out, I felt bad for him, because I thought his father had brought him on the river rafting trip as a final adventure before Ronald shuffled off his mortal coil and made his way to the great beyond.
By the time the trip ended, I had a healthy fear of bursitis and was keeping my distance from Ronald in case it was contagious. All I knew is that I didn’t want to get it…ever.
So, you can understand why I was at first alarmed and then confused when I got my diagnosis and then my simple treatment plan: ice, ibuprofen, and if it hurts – don’t do it. What? No large needles? No surgery? No possible death? I was almost disappointed.
I’m currently popping ibuprofen like a drug fiend and I’ve developed a close, albeit chilly relationship with my ice pack. My knee is improving – I think. It’s perpetually numb from the ice, so it’s hard to tell.