A leg up

Zach Hively - 08/11/2016

“Take care of your knees,” older people are always saying to me when I jump off tailgates. “When you’re old, you’ll realize that you could have gone to the Olympics!”

I always blew off their dire warnings. But now, they have come true: I am not representing the United States of America at this year’s Olympics, in no small part because I crashed two months ago when I first tried riding a mountain bike.

My wipeout was a pretty big deal. It even made the newspaper. And sure, I could laugh about it at the time. You probably laughed too, if you read that exposé I wrote the night it happened. I can’t fault you. Falling is funny! But joint health is no laughing matter.

My knee hurt after the crash. Fair enough. And then it still hurt the next day. It hurt and it hurt and it kept right on hurting. For weeks, I thought, “I’m as young as ever! It will heal!” Then I crouched to pull a weed, and I basically died.

So I did a thing that no self-respecting American man of the male gender ever wants to do: I took an ibuprofen. And then I called a physical therapist.

I would like to tell you all about my physical therapist, but she must remain entirely unidentifiable, because she controls the current on the electrocution machine. It’s this device she uses at the end of every session; she pastes these electrodes around my knee, turns up the power til I giggle, and leaves me to nap for several minutes.

I do have to say, I rather enjoy the sensation of electricity coursing through my leg at sub-Frankensteinian levels. If you have never been strapped to one of these machines, it’s essentially like those ab-busting devices you’d strap to your belly to develop ripply muscles while falling asleep eating Cheetos. And despite electrocuting you, it doesn’t hurt, unlike the time I turned on that fritzy hotel lamp.

Speaking of the electrode unit, I recently progressed to what’s called the “Russian stimulation.” This term sounds to me like one of many potential acts and/or substances available to tourists in Amsterdam. But my physical therapist assures me that it is perfectly legal in this country, and that it is not what got all of Russia banned from Olympic competition.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I had never visited a physical therapist, mostly because I avoid terms like “rotator cuff” and “disjointed.” Plus, I had never really injured myself before. My health comes of being a reasonably fit fella. I mean, not only do I walk through airport terminals instead of using the moving walkways, I also carry all the groceries in one trip if someone else gets the door. That kind of fitness is an irreplaceable component of overall masculine health.

So I was relieved on Physical Therapy: Day One to learn that my knee did not appear to be structurally damaged. I had simply, to use the words I put in my therapist’s mouth, bruised the shit out of it. The bad news was that she could do little to mend the bruise.

She also discovered that one of my quad muscles in the injured leg was significantly underperforming, which I think means it’s flabby. This sounds like more bad news, but really, it is good news, because she said she could work with muscles more than bruises.

“Great!” I said. “Fix me!”

I showed up to Physical Therapy: Day Two anticipating a spa treatment of ice packs and electrode stimulation. What I got was Richard Simmons without the backup exercisers.

This is the primary problem with health care in America today: you visit a specialist who specializes in a specific way of healing people. Yet YOU have to do all the work. And work it is. It does not matter how many triathlons you try, or how much bench you press; you have not truly exerted yourself until you have taken 20 steps IN A ROW off a box.

And that’s not all I had to do. Oh, no! I then had to step – 20 whole more times – off the complete other side of the box.

I thought for certain I would be fully repaired by this point. But then the assistant scheduled me for two more appointments, during which I would have to step off more boxes. My inability to keep my knee straight while stepping off a box made me want to ignore the whole problem and spend the rest of adulthood avoiding knee-based activities.

But here’s what I’ve learned during the course of my therapy: just because my knee is in pain doesn’t mean I am less than a complete being. Taking care of ailing parts of my body is admirable, and it is important. That’s not why I keep going back to PT, though. I keep going back for my Russian fix. Four years of this treatment, and I’ll be unstoppable for Tokyo 2020! So long as “box-stepping” is an event by then.

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