Many of you are aware that I love to ride bikes. I’ve never been very good at it, in fact my favorite saying goes: “I’m old, fat, bald and slow, but I have nice bikes”. That said I do love it, and I also love watching bike races and going to bike races. Most of my best friends have come through the sport of cycling, typically dragging my slow, oversized body over hill and dale.
Unfortunately, I’ve been essentially unable to ride for the past 3+ years. After my company (Tealeaf) was acquired by IBM, I spent a couple more years serving out my contract there and helping lead the acquisition of another company (Silverpop), before deciding to take some time off for myself. I left IBM on a Friday in August 2014 with the intention of riding my bike every day, until I got the bug to go back to work.
I was going to finally slow down my work life and accelerate my health – and ride myself into the shape I’d always dreamed of. I rode both days the following weekend, and the Monday after. Tuesday, I went for a mountain bike ride of a couple hours on a small trail near our home. That afternoon, friends called and asked me to go for a road ride with them that evening. Despite my thinking that discretion should be the better part of valor, I accepted.
I had likely ridden more in those 4 ½ days than I had in the previous three months combined. Maybe all year. On the road ride, I cramped. Calves & Quads on my left leg. Badly. My good friends Reggie, Greg and Richard nursed my sorry, cramped-up self 12 miles, in the dark, back to my car. A true ride of shame. Not my first.
The next morning, the cramps had subsided more than the embarrassment, but when I got up I had bad pain and heavy swelling in the left knee. I’d had a few injuries to that knee in my younger “competitive sports” years. In fact, one of the reasons I started riding was because it was low impact – I could never run well after hurting the knee. So, I brushed this off as the result of over use and cramps and figured it would go away. It didn’t. Just the other day the Timehop app on my phone told me that 3 years ago I tried to ride again for the first time after that – 4 months later.
In the interim, I also unexpectedly had a job offer in California and we decided to move there from Georgia – and away from all my cycling buddies. The first ride back, mentioned above, was in California. So much for taking some time off, and for riding every day. What’s that saying about the best laid plans?
Now, I sit here 3 plus years, 2 jobs (that one in California was a house of cards), and two cross-country moves later (including buying two houses and selling two houses in one calendar year; or as I prefer to think of it: my personal bonus program, both for the Realtors of America, and my off-the-charts stress level). The knee never improved. The few times I’d try to ride, either outside or on my trainer, I could go for an hour, and the pain would return and the swelling would follow for a few days.
At the same time my knee’s day-to-day functionality began to degrade, but I was either too stubborn or too focused on work to go see a doctor. I guess I figured it would just go away, or I could fight through the pain.
This past summer, I struggled through a business trip to Israel where we did some physical team-building exercises in the desert, and then we went on a cruise in the Mediterranean. We visited Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Malta. It was great, but walking on cobbled streets or up hills, even going up and down the stairs on the ship became more and more of a challenge. My bad knee combined with falling wildly out-of-shape and gaining weight finally convinced me it was time to seek medical advice.
I went to a highly respected local Orthopedist, and he agreed with my personal diagnosis – I thought I had somehow torn my Meniscus cartilage. He ordered an MRI just to be sure. The MRI showed my Meniscus perfectly intact, and that it had repaired itself after a tear many years ago. That was the good news. The bad news was that there is literally no cartilage left under my kneecap, I am bone-on-bone in the joint itself. Osteoarthritis.
There isn’t much you can do to cure that, other than a knee replacement. The challenge is that at my age, and wanting to resume a somewhat athletic lifestyle, the artificial knees don’t have a long life expectancy –only about 10 years, so I’d likely be faced with replacing the replacement down the road. We tried a therapy last August using a synthetic lubricating fluid (Read about it, 3 very painful injections, over a period of 3 weeks), but it didn’t help. I called that attempt Plan B (Plan A was to do nothing).
Today I went back in for Plan C, a procedure called Platelet Rich Plasma therapy. You may have heard about it – Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods both had it performed on their knees in Germany, as it wasn’t yet approved in the U.S. Read about PRP Therapy. They took a bunch of my blood out, spun it in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the Plasma and a thin layer of stem cells, then pulled the Plasma and cells into a syringe and injected it directly into the knee. I can’t even begin to describe the pain. It’s not that much fluid, but it feels as if someone pumped a gallon of liquid into my leg. And to top it off, I can’t use any anti-inflammatories or ice it for 3 months.
Since I’ve lived for over 3 years on a diet of too much food, lots of alcohol, no exercise and generously heaping servings of Aleve, this was the worst news of the day. Thankfully, they gave me a scrip for painkillers (which are in full effect as I finish writing this).
Hopefully, I’ll get some relief, but won’t know for a while (as long as 6 months). If so, I’ll have to do this again every few months.
If not, Plan D – Microfracture knee surgery, another somewhat experimental procedure that a few big time athletes have had (Amare Stoudamire and Greg Oden are two) with mixed results.
Until then, I am still broken. And I never mentioned Trump or Facebook.