August 31, 2015

This Dancer's Knee Surgery Story, P1: Going In

Knowing Our Knees in WCS
As my doctor was examining both of my knees, I thought back to when I first entered the world of WCS. I'll never forget the ladies at the US Open and at a few Tom Mattox events in Southern California who showed me their knees proudly: "See? I only have these three little round scars. That's it!" 

They were, of course, showing off the new kind of knee surgery available: Orthoscopic surgery. Instead of massive scars down the middle of the leg, which ruined the reason we wore skirts back then, knees were being taken care of with just three little knicks that could easily be covered up with a bit of concealer. Oh, how excited and proud they all were!

Of course, back then I was just a teenager. I knew nothing about knee surgeries. I didn't know about the huge scar down the middle of one's leg. I didn't know what a torn meniscus was, or the importance of healthy cartilage in my knees or how to protect them. I just saw three little holes, heard about a microscopic tube and thought - That's cool! 

Three little holes didn't scare me. It didn't make me understand what I was really seeing:
A serious surgery. It had become miraculously simple with orthoscopics - I kept hearing how the recovery time was nil - but then again, that just made the entire procedure and surgery all the less scary, serious or important to me.

Now, about to start my own walk into the orthoscopic world, with the doctor testing and twisting my knees every which way, it struck me just how many people had shown off their healed surgical scars to me those first few years. There was a list. A list.

How did I miss it? Looking back, I can see that there was obviously a massive red banner over the WCS floors of the time that read: "This dance causes your knees to go under the knife. Be prepared."

Why, oh why, didn't I get the hint? See the banner? Of course I was going to be on the surgical table one day. Why didn't I ever realize that? It was such a long time ago... "Oh no," I thought suddenly, in a panic, "Did I wait too long???"

And just as that thought hit my brain, I heard my doctor say, "Well, that's not good." I looked down. She had just knocked each knee with that little hammer doctors use to check your knee jerk reaction... and neither leg jerked. Uh oh. When did that happen??? Oh noooooo…

I definitely, definitely, definitely waited too long.


Immediately, both of my knees went under the X-ray machine and an MRI was immediately scheduled for the worst of the two knee: my right one. Of course, these are all just routine procedures that lead up to the big bang. They already know they'll need to get in there. And soon.

As my doctor described the three things that could be happening in my knees that the MRI could reveal and that surgery would address, I was able to clearly acknowledge experiencing at least two of them. Not one. But two. Two out of three of the big, bad and awful things were definitely happening in my right knee. I choose not to think about my left one.

You know what else? She said this:

"Women's knees wear much more quickly than men's do.
Female's are the most susceptible for injuries that need surgery."

Of course, this doesn't just have implications for those of us on the WCS dance floor. This goes for all female athletes, not just Swing and Shag dancers.

This really threw me. I had walked in thinking of Robert Cordoba and Jordan Frisbee, my most recent friends to have their knees done. But when she said "women" go first - I thought about all the women I knew - my contemporaries - and it hit me: they had had theirs done a long, long, long time ago. I realized I wasn't thinking of any of them today simply because they had all had their knees (and in some cases, their hips too) done in their early 20's. Oh no. Oh double no!

What the heck had I been doing for all these years? Playing around, that's what. Not taking any of our knees seriously. 15 years ago, when I should have been visiting a doctor about my knees, we were playing games with them instead.

We girls would hang around Phil Adams studio in Bellflower or Starlight in San Diego and we would compare and contrast the noises our knees made: "Can yours do this? Ha ha!" Crack-crack. "Hey! I've never heard that kind of crack before! Mine's usually a series of pops! Listen!" Pop-pop-pa-pa-pop!

"Look! Both of hers sound like salt shakers!" Shake, shake shake. Yup. Salt and pepper shakers when we walked up stairs. Oh, it was all so hilarious! The sign of a true dancer! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

Very funny.

Now we're paying the price. I hope the other girls were smarter than me and went in to see their doctors after those "bad-knee-showdowns" back in the day. I didn't. I just took some vitamins. Sigh.

So now I'm heading in. Why? What made me get off my butt and go in? Because I can't freakin' walk, that's why. I'm switching from a cane to a walker. I am so very very obtuse. What's even worse, is that my more recent spinal injuries from non-dance injuries will make my recovery from surgery even harder. I should not have waited.

This is where you come in.

I hope I'm striking some kind of cord here. Am I dropping enough hints? Please, please, don't be like me! Go! Go to your doctor with any type of pain, noise or sound in your knees... NOW!

Yup. I'm learning lessons. And I'm looking forward to sharing them with you. As a writer, I'm compelled to write about this journey - and hopefully it will help some of you around the world on your own knee journeys. I certainly wished I'd heard more about it.

I'll be posting updates and thoughts about the my progress here as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Until then, keep your knees safe - go see your doctor earlier than later and... get orthotics (from your podiatrist) to wear in all of your shoes.

See you next time,