Columnist Valerie Schultz

As I age, I am learning in a personal way about all the things that can go wrong with the human body as it progresses through its time on planet Earth. Take knees, for example. The marvelously complex knee is the largest joint in the human body, joining the thigh bone, or femur, to the calf bone, or tibia, as well as the tibia to the kneecap, or patella. The knee is an anatomical work of art, except when it is not, as in the case of my right knee, which sits encased in a massive ace bandage as I type. Months ago, the pain I’d thought was caused by hyperextending my knee turned out to be not so temporary. When ice and naproxen did not work their usual magic, I was sent to physical therapy. When that did not fix anything, I found myself using ear plugs to mute the clang and clamor of my first MRI, which confirmed my torn meniscus (a piece of cartilage in the knee that provides a cushion between the femur and the tibia). Which was then excised by the capable hands of my surgeon through the medical miracle of arthroscopic surgery. Which is why I am now looking at a bulbous, unattractively swollen leg as my husband brings me more pillows and fresh water and a lovely breakfast tray of oatmeal and blueberries and a small bottle of legal narcotics. He has so far missed two days of work this week for his sweet dedication to the “for worse” part of our vows. He has walked the dog and changed the sheets and helped me hobble to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He is a keeper.

I count my blessings even as the aging process sobers me. Things tear more easily. Things don’t heal as quickly. New allergies pop up. New indignities arrive with a little slap. I am grateful for whatever mobility and mental competence I possess, which my younger self took for granted, and I no longer do. I am mindful that every day is a gift from God, and every night is a hopeful moment for more.

Over our lifetimes, we ask a lot of our knees and hips, our shoulders and wrists, our muscles and tendons, our marvelous systems we learned about in school, the digestive, the nervous, the reproductive. We assume everything will function per design, and we feel a sense of betrayal when something breaks down. I do, at least. I sometimes think of the miraculous activities my body has done in my life — dancing and birthing and breastfeeding — and I feel a little melancholy. I loved those things. I miss them. But the original body that did all that is still here, still serving me to the best of its ability, still the only one I’ve got, and I revere its history and resilience. I imagine I will dance again, just a bit more slowly.

A side note: Since I’ve been lying around with a restless brain, I’ve had time to think about health care. I’ve been a Kaiser patient for 10 years now, and my thought is that if the timely concept of universal health care needs a model for success, Kaiser is it. Although I know people who accuse Kaiser of incompetence or negligence, my family’s medical needs have been well met. We get persistent reminders for preventive care, and prompt referrals to specialists when necessary. All of our medical records are in one file and accessible to any health care professional we see. Co-pays vary, of course, but I paid $15 for my knee surgery, plus $5 for each prescription. I paid $15 for an out-of-state, non-Kaiser urgent care visit when I sprained my ankle last winter. Our monthly cost through my husband’s employer is the lowest amount for any offered plan. I’m no expert, but this seems a proven template for universal health care that could cover all Americans.

As I recuperate and follow the advice and printed instructions with which I left the surgery center, I know I’ll be altering my exercise habits to include more gentle exertions: more swimming and biking and yoga, no more running or jumping jacks or aerobics. I’ll be moving more carefully, aware of the fragility of my joints and bones and organs. I’ll be grateful for every small step, every improvement. Mostly, I look forward to getting back to the “for better” parts of marriage.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com.

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