Monday, April 27, 2009

Minimal Invasion

April 27, 2009

They call it minimally invasive surgery. I find the term kind of humorous and interesting all at the same time.

My Olympian is set for an arthroscopy to repair the meniscus in his right knee. The knee is the largest joint in the body – and one of the most frequently injured. This injury comes as no surprise to me. That knee probably has logged nearly 20,000 miles during the last three decades.

Stephanie is the RN prepping him for surgery. As she shaves his leg, I think about how uncomfortable he must be with allowing a strange woman to run a sharp blade up and down his skin. He lifts his leg and she takes the razor to the underside of his leg. It leaves him in a vulnerable position and she makes a joke that he looks like he doing his Jane Fonda workout. With the fluorescent lighting, my Olympians pale skin tone and cleanly shaved leg lifted in the air is quite the sight. It’s the same leg that pounds out a sub-three hour marathon, I remind myself. It will be strong again.

Stephanie looks very pregnant. Cute, pregnant. Not bloated and puffy. Not big all over. Just cute, basketball-in-the-front pregnant. If I had a promise of being pregnant like Stephanie I would have been much more tempted to have done it a third time. But that’s another story for another day.

Dr. Wilson Beckett has probably done as many of these knee repairs as miles my Olympian has run. He comes in with his scrub top neatly tucked into his bottoms, draw string pulled tight. It’s not his best look – somebody should probably tell him he looks a lot like Homer Simpson. But on the other hand, his jovial spirit is equally as entertaining and it endears me to him, despite his bulging mid-drift. He makes us no promises about my Olympians running future and for a moment I was overcome with sadness at the idea that someday we won’t be able to run. It was one of those moments that made me face the reality that one day our bodies will deny us the activities that today we (ok, I) take for granted.

As Stephanie scrubs the newly-shaved knee and leg, she respectfully calls Dr. Beckett old school. He was around in 1983 when my Olympian had his first knee surgery - when arthroscopy was considered cutting-edge health care. Today, technology has driven improvements in the scopes and the cameras and these “minimally” invasive procedures occur as if they are as natural as the gentle rain falling outside enabling spring’s berth.

My in-laws are on home duty, enduring the dreary Monday morning with my two angels who are already more than ready for summer break. I am thankful they’ve come up to help – and for a second I think of how today might be different if my mom were still alive. It probably wouldn’t be that different; she would have wanted my Olympian to have his parents here with us. But no doubt she would have been holding us close in prayer. Somehow, I feel like she’s holding us close today from her new vantage point and I am glad.

My mother-in-law sent us to bed last night with instructions for me to tell the doctor about this or that that happened 26 years ago when he had surgery. I feel bad thinking to myself that none of that matters now, technology has come so far – after all this is no longer a big deal, it is just a “minimally invasive” procedure. The reality is that it’s probably always a big deal when it is your kid, when you know that something that he loves to do, something that completes him, is on the line.

I am glad that she will be with him at home after the surgery. No one dotes over my Olympian like his mother – and with a son of my own, I can appreciate that. I’ll go to work; she’ll take care of her baby – all is right with the world. It’s not that I can’t take the day off to be with him; it’s just that his mom will do a much better job than I would dream of. My maternal, caring instincts are best served with my children.

Sitting in the waiting room, images of Bea Arthur flash on the TV screen. She died “peacefully at her home with her family” at the age of 86. It seems to me that 86 is a reasonable age for dying. For a moment I am confused with conflicting emotions. I remember how mom loved the Golden Girls and how much joy those women brought to her. Although she rarely watched any television program on a regular basis, Golden Girls seemed to be an exception to the rule. But the sweet memories surprisingly turned painful as I couldn’t help but think, “why did her family get 23 more years than I did? Why did she get to die peacefully at home instead of being blind-sighted by a death that we didn’t see coming?” I fight back the tears and remember all the blessings in her death. Looking at Bea’s picture, I am happy that I am not left with an image of my mom’s aged body and face at 83. My mom will forever be young and that makes me smile.

This waiting room is much like this surgery, much like all of life really. It’s all become minimally invasive. I focus on my computer. A man in front of me doesn’t take his eyes from the book he is reading. The woman beside me knits, her hair in her eyes, as she chomps her gum. “It’s almost a lost art,” says an elderly woman who passes by walking slowly with a cane. Her comment spurs a lively conversation that boosts my spirits. It reminds me that life’s all about being invasive, it’s about connections – God made us to desire them and these two don’t miss an opportunity for a genuine encounter. Eventually the knitter wipes her bangs from her eyes, lifts her head and tells a beautiful story of how her mother gave her $50 and told her to go buy something that would make her happy. The knitter took the money and purchased the items necessary for her to begin her craft. Funny how her mom blessed her in an unknowing way and now this knitter blesses others with one-of-a-kind, original sweaters.

At 8:25, Dr. Beckett appears and motions for me. He sits me down in a quaintly decorated, comfortable room, shuts the door and sits across from me. He explains that my Olympian’s knee “was terribly chewed up” – whatever that means. I guess the meniscus was quite a mess and he cleaned it up and said this surgery would definitely help him. “Help him?” I repeated. “I don’t mean to sound neurotic, but running really is like a very important part of his (our) life. I was hoping to hear you say you had fixed him and he’s good as new.”

By this time I’ve decided I love Dr. Beckett, as he calmly encourages me to adopt his philosophy of focusing on what we can do – not what we can’t. Our bodies, he reminds me, are meant to break down and then we die. “The lucky ones are those who die before their body defies them.” The lucky ones? I know he’s right but hearing the statement stabs me in the heart and my eyes fill thinking of my young, sweet mother who walked five miles on her elliptical the day before her stroke.

For now, my Olympian can and will be able to run again – starting in six weeks. But, as the doctor explained, it may also be time to take up some other fitness activities, because after all, 40 miles a week is 2,000 miles a year – and that will be a lot for this knee. Forty miles a week, a lot for this knee… My Olympian isn’t going to like the sound of that.



  1. Wow! All the pieces are finally in place...this is exactly what you should be doing! I'm proud of you for taking this step to be so transparent. You rock sister!