While working at the paper last Saturday I found myself suddenly laying on the floor of my office face down with my dog Scarlet licking my face.
I ended up there not because of a trip or some calamity, but because I had twisted my left knee in such a direction while sitting at my computer that things had moved around in that vulnerable joint to the point where it wouldn't support me when I got up. Consequently, in an effort to get to the printer to pull off a document I was working on I found myself looking at the ugly carpet installed so many years ago on the floor of my workspace. I've never liked the color or the design of that floor covering and now I like it less.
There was no one else in the office at that early hour on Saturday (except my dog which I sometimes bring with me when there is no one else for her to bother) and for a moment I wondered if I could get up. It all happened so fast.
But this didn't come out of the blue. For years my orthopedic physician has been telling me one day I would need to get that knee replaced. In fact the x-rays they have taken of both my knees shows my right knee is the worst one. But my left one is the one that seems to give me the most trouble and on Saturday it sure showed me it was king.
This malady is the result of a lot of things, but I really can't blame genetics or anything or anybody else for the problem I have except myself. That's because many years ago I was warned repeatedly by a very good boss I had, that even good knees don't last if you abuse them.
I was 21 and I had just taken a job with Granite School District (at Kearns High) as a night custodian so I could go to school at the University of Utah during the day. It was a great job for that; everything I had had up to that time paid so much less, and I had no benefits at all. I had just got married and needed a full time job so it was ideal.
I had this great boss named Max. Max had worked for the district for over 20 years when I started working there and had been the maintenance manager when the school had opened in 1968. Max knew his business, but being in his late 50s at the time he always had joint problems. His back also bothered him a lot.
One afternoon when I came to work, I was in his office and he needed me and a couple of other guys to come out and unload desks from a truck. Behind the office was a four foot high loading dock, and I jumped off of it onto my feet as I guided the truck up to that slab of concrete. After we were done unloading the desks everyone else had cleared out of the area except Max and I. He looked at me and I could tell something was bothering him.
"Right now you are young, healthy and strong," he said to me out of the blue. "But if you keep doing things like jumping off that dock all the time, when you get to be my age, you could well regret it."
He left it at that and I thought about what he had said for about five seconds and then went on to work in the building for the night. A few days later I was working on a five foot high scaffold and jumped off it just as Max walked in the room. He looked at me.
"Do you remember what I told you the other afternoon?" he asked. I told him I did. He smiled.
"Keep it up and you will pay the price one day, I promise you."
Over the years after that I jumped off things, ran and jogged on hard surfaces for hundreds maybe thousands of miles, fell off dirt bikes, played basketball almost daily until I was in my early 30s without any apparent injury. Then one night that all changed.
I was playing a pickup game of basketball with a bunch of friends who had invited other friends. One of the guys on the other team was 6'10" and I went in for a layup, trying to twist around him to get it in. I came down on my left knee and I fell to the ground. It suddenly didn't work anymore.
Worst of all, and meaningful to me at the time, I didn't even put the ball through the hoop.
That night my soon-to-be second wife hauled me off to the emergency room. The doctors did what they could for me, even went as far as scoping my knee, which was quite an advanced thing in 1980. It slowly got better, but it was never the same. And it has slowly gotten worse and worse over the years. About 15 years ago I played a pick up basketball game with a bunch of the kids in the neighborhood when I lived in Kenilworth. The next day my leg swelled up so big that I couldn't walk. I had an important engagement in Denver where I had to speak and my wife hauled me there laying down in the back of a pickup truck because I couldn't get in the cab. I got on my feet for the engagement and then she drove me back home the same way.
In the last five years the knee has really deteriorated. I cannot run at all anymore, and I have to be very careful when I hike of backpack. What happened Saturday was not the first time that has happened, but every other time, someone else (besides the dog) was there. I actually wondered for awhile if I ever could get off that floor by myself.
They say that wisdom comes with age. Well I don't know about most other things, but when it comes to joints and pain, I am a lot wiser now, for all the good it does me. Injuries and incidents that I brushed off 30 years ago, now take a lot longer to recover from. And obviously the internal bank account in my body that is filling up with damage continues to grow.
I know a lot of guys in their 20s and 30s now and whenever they talk about things they are doing that could be damaging or I see them do something that could disrupt their joints that I know they will pay for some day, I tell them my experience. When I do it I hope that it helps them to think about what could be.
But you know what? I think when they look at me, after I have said something, all they see is Max, just like I did so many years ago.