20 July, 2007


It had to happen, it was just a matter of when. My family have bad knees. My mother has had two knee replacements and an aunt has a new hip. My grandmother, who had no operation, had to use a walker in her last years, though there's no doubt that her stubborn fortitude kept her out of it until she was about 90 or so. Looks like I'll never make that. I think I'm the youngest in my family to have bad knees, but then I might have been the most active. In my thirties I did kenpo karate, weight training, aerobic dance, walking and running, quite a lot of it. I blamed the kenpo for the first painful twinges; all that repetitive kicking at the air couldn't have been good, I thought, but now I realize it may have been as much about getting out of the magic twenties when everything just effortlessly works right, and you can do incredibly stupid things with seemingly no payback.

In my mid-thirties I traded in running for walking and stopped the Kenpo. Aerobic dancing was slowly eased out as I noticed that all the bouncing and quick footwork seemed to be leading to injuries and knee pain. It was nothing much at that point, just discomfort that I could control by not overdoing any one movement or making the session too long. And I did love dancing. Even when the aerobics went by the wayside I sometimes went out for nights of dancing at the clubs with a friend. I could dance for hours, even in moderate high heels, and that after a long day of working on my feet. In retrospect I think flat shoes may have been more sensible, but sense wasn't a strong suit of mine then.

In my forties, coming to Japan I discovered a more active lifestyle than I had in Canada. Here people sat on the floor, slept on the floor (on futons) and without a car or easy access to buses there was a lot more movement involved in daily life. I took up bicycle riding after about 30 years of not being near a bicycle. It had been my childhood joy, but left behind when I moved to the far very snowy North and ruled out in the city as being too scary and dangerous with all the cars around. Here in Japan it became a necessity for shopping, walking being too slow and the range of places you could go being too small. I got over the fear of traffic. I have been riding a Japanese-style 3-speed, sturdy "Mama-chari" for over 6 years. It's my principal mode of transportation, the only one I regularly use, except for the train which gets me to work and home twice a week.

Beauty-shot when she was new.

I have been enjoying riding my bike. It's fun to hop on and feel the air and sunshine as you get somewhere under your own power. I love the freedom of not worrying about parking spaces or traffic jams, ever. I love how my rear carrier basket seems to hold just the right amount of groceries and how larger things can be easily bungeed on. I love how I can refuse plastic bags and just drive the cart out to my basket and load it up, fix the bungee net over the top and immediately take off without worrying about jostling bags into the trunk of a car. Without the bags I've discovered you can fit a lot more into a smaller space.

So, except for the occasional drenching on the way to work on an impossibly rainy day and the fumes from too many cars, I love riding my bike. It's the feeling of being a kid again, with all the freedom in the world and everything exciting before you when you hop on a bike to go somewhere. There's little enough of that when you get older that's it's precious and wonderful.

But, it had to happen. I've been noticing that my knees have been protesting a bit in the last few months, mostly on the steep up and down stairs over the top of train tracks that are so common here in the stations. There are still a lot of stations out in the country with no escalators or elevators. Heaven knows what disabled people are supposed to do.

Well, I decided one fine day to take a nice ride into the countryside and foolishly set off on my Mama-chari. I do have a road bike, that mainly is gathering dust. It never seems to be as stable or comfortable or as road-ready as my dependable yellow Peugeot. But one thing it has is a lot of gears, and I made a big mistake to leave it home that day.

I mostly enjoyed my 2-hour drive. It was no problem for my fitness level. But it was all a gentle uphill for the first hour and in that hour, pushing a low gear I did something to my left knee. I was okay the next morning, so I went for a walk around the castle, twice. Soon after that my knee started to unlock and move sideways in a way that I know is not natural, accompanied by more than a twinge. I figure I tore the tendon. And there is more pain under the inside of the kneecap, which means I probably wore through the cartilage too. I tried ice, aspirin, and rested it for a few weeks. I picked up a Leki walking stick (which I use regularly now to take off the pressure) but it's 5 weeks later and it's only a bit better. I foresee Doctors in my future. The family heritage has caught up with me at last.

So I have had to make a decision. I want my knee to carry me for a few thousand more miles before I have to trade it in for a plastic one. I have started a serious diet; I want to lose enough to take the pressure off my knee and make walking comfortable again. It might take awhile. I am counting calories. I am now vegetarian and low-fat (gluten and dairy-free). I will have to re-adjust my diet and cooking to allow for that. So if I put up fewer recipes for awhile while I get my head around this, you'll know why. I'm sure there are others like me out there. If any of you have any delicious low-fat recipes please post them and let me know, or leave them here.

I could use the help!


Sea said...

I also started riding a bicycle again after about 6 months in Japan- I hadn't ridden one since I was in an accident at the age of 10, but one day I was walking by the bike shop near our apartment in Chiba City and something just clicked- and I found myself a bike! (Mine is also yellow- we brought it back to the States with us, but I will be replacing it soon as the rust monster has attacked.) I hope your knee feels better soon and heals quickly. Thinking positively for you,

vegetablej said...

Thank you, SS! I feel the good energy. :)

Sad to lose the old bike in a way -- so many memories. Mine is getting a bit worn and rusty around the edges but I can't part with her; she still gets me everywhere I want to go and I love her more than the shiny new young one with firm stem and wheels. (A bit of age-related anthropomorphizing, maybe?)