Not Without My Kneecap: A Lament

I was a runner. WAS a runner. I ran in high school, three seasons every year (cross country, winter track, spring track). In college, I didn’t run for my D-I school but I ran with a girl in my freshman dorm, and we’d talk about our high school boyfriends as we jogged the streets surrounding our campus, trying to avoid the bad neighborhoods. (Isn’t that the McDonald’s where someone was shot last week?) But alas, she transferred after freshman year to be with her boyfriend (they broke up) and I was left without a running buddy.

By my sophomore year, I wasn’t running or exercising at all. Which meant that in addition to the weight gain (that I ignored by convincing myself that the dryers in my dorm were shrinking my clothes), my leg muscles were getting weaker. This mini-perfect storm led to a traumatic event, in the middle of the second semester of my sophomore year.

It’s important to note that one of my five roommates that year was a dancer, and that the two of us acted like unsupervised children at all times. So when she started showing off her ballet dance moves, I joined right in. Even though I hadn’t danced ballet since I was seven years old. So I decided to perform a sort of changement jump (shown here starting at about 10 sec. in) in third position. Well, the second jump in, let’s just say my right kneecap stopped communicating with the rest of my body, and ended up on the outside edge of my right leg. Apparently it literally popped, although in a spasm of pain and shock I didn’t hear it.

Fun fact: when you dislocate a joint, you’re supposed to calmly proceed to a hospital or doctor so they can properly pop it back in place. I chose rather to go with the “Scream and pound on the errant kneecap with your fist” method and my doctor later told me that I’m lucky I didn’t chip any bone in doing so. It took weeks for my knee to stop hurting, and in the years since I’ve been doomed to a life of occasional patellar dislocations.

Several subsequent knee-splosions have been due to drunkenness, dancing, clumsiness, or a toxic combination of all those factors (including my bachelorette party, two weeks before my wedding!). As I learned from my doctor, once your kneecap pops out, it’s more prone to popping out again. Each subsequent dislocation is less painful, but does more damage to the knee. Neat, huh?

So now, when I go for a run, I have to do a sort of embarrassing run-walk method and keep the distance short. As if I were permanently stuck in Week 1 of the Couch-to-5K program. It’s so frustrating for someone who used to race her heart out. For some reason, I miss real running especially at this time of year. There’s something about putting on a not-quite-warm-enough outfit, and heading out on a pathetic almost-run, bringing the chilly air deep into my lungs, to really bring me back to the good old days.  

Surgery is somewhere in my future. You may be aware that knees don’t improve with age.  One time it will pop out again, only it will be The Big One. At that point, even my lame sorta running will probably be out of the question. So I’ll take these autumn jaunts while I can still get “˜em.


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