The sweet taste of freedom is less than a month away; you cannot contain your joy. You long ago passed the “I don’t wanna get up in the morning” phase on the road to retirement. The work days fly by as you bust your hump to wind up your supervisory duties and finish all the jobs on your desk. You don’t want to stick your co-worker with things you know she won’t have the time or expertise to do easily or quickly. She has a full workload of her own. Your department has had the least turnaround of any on campus over the years. You, your junior designer, and your administrative clerk (the superglue holding everything together) have a combined 72 years of experience there. Your print shop operators have been with you for 15 years each. During this time, these wonderful people have become your extended family. You know their families; they know yours. Through all your adventures, they supported you from the very beginning, when your mom died after your second week on the job. You’ve supported them, too. You love them and will miss them.
In mid-April, with only a few weeks left to go, as vice president of the local the art guild, you organize and oversee the spring ArtScene exhibit at a hip, cool, new venue, an old brewery that will soon undergo major renovation. During setup, a stray 2 x 4 dislodges from a pile of construction materials and whacks your leg on the outside of your right knee. You rub your leg, then ignore it and continue your setup. The show is a great success, but your leg continues to hurt. During tear down, you sit on the steps and direct everyone else. After a few days’ rest, it will feel better.
Three days later, the knee is swollen and painful. You know it’s related to the big purple bruise that appeared shortly after your encounter with the 2 x 4, but when you see the much-too-young PA at your orthopedic clinic, she determines that pronating when you walk is causing the problem. You’ve pronated your entire life, never had a problem before, so why now? She examines you through your pants leg, never actually sees the swelling or the bruise. You roll your eyes, tell her she’s full of sh*t and leave. You have too much to do to worry about it.
When your last day at work finally arrives, you are so distracted and happy to be done that you pay no attention to your painful knee. You requested that your co-workers skip the party and instead, come out after work to celebrate with you. Of course, they ignore you and make one, anyway, complete with gifts, “punch” and cake. The assistant dean who swore at you 937 days ago comes down to say goodbye. Ever the anus, he asks you if you’ll be coming back to “help out in the kitchen, like everyone else does.” You stare at him until he turns away. Toward afternoon, the regional dean comes to wish you well. He has never been particularly friendly, although you have done a lot of work for him editing his book chapters for clinical medical texts. In a totally uncharacteristic display, he gives you a hug (he never hugs anyone!) and remarks that you are “the best editor” he’s ever worked with. He’s full of it.
A month after your retirement, you drive out to Colorado with your best friend and her husband on their way to their new home. Her husband drives one car with the noxious gas-bag dog; you and she drive the other with the sedated cat and bird. Leaving around 4:00 in the afternoon and driving straight through, the trip takes about 16 hours. Naproxen keeps the sore knee at bay while you spend a week unpacking, shopping for odds and ends and visiting. Two weeks after you return home, the regional art fair you manage every year keeps you busy enough that you don’t miss work. Right after the fair, you drive back out to Colorado all by yourself. Making the trip in one day, you leave at 6:00am, pack some iced tea and fruit, crank up the music, and don’t stop except for gas, coffee and candy bars until you reach your destination of Wray, Colorado, by 9:00pm. After an overnight stay with friends, you travel the three hours to your best friend’s new home. Five days later, you leave to visit for a few days with another old friend. From there, you make your annual pilgrimage to your eldest brother’s home for the July 4 holiday. Keeping off your feet to give your knee a rest and spending as much time in the pool as possible, you enjoy a blissful week in the sun with people you love. The eight plus-hour drive home is painful, but all in all, retirement is great.
Several days later, you fly off to Washington, DC, to work for two days. Your schedule allows you to stay over on Saturday to go sightseeing with your friend who lives two hours north. He drives down, picks you up at your hotel and heads downtown. You start the day nearly getting a ticket for going the wrong way on a one-way street. Next you stop for coffee and then a visit to the Renwick Gallery. You proceed to the Smithsonian, see the Hope Diamond (disappointing) and visit all the monuments. You take lots of pictures at the Einstein talking statue, your favorite. Your knee is killing you; limping badly and dragging your leg around for hours, you insist that you’re fine. Dinner at your favorite D.C. restaurant caps off a truly memorable day with your friend.
Early the next morning, you call the airlines to request a wheelchair at the airport. Your knee is so swollen you can hardly bend your leg. The airport shuttle is unbearably painful as it bumps and sways. As you limp into the terminal lugging your baggage behind, an agent comes out from behind the ticket counter, addresses you by name and asks you to take a seat while he calls for your wheelchair. You ask him how he knows who you are. Apparently, you are the only gimp needing a wheelchair this morning. While he’s waiting, you ask him if there’s anywhere in the airport to buy some Aleve or something to dull the pain. He doesn’t know, but he tells you he’ll be right back. Retreating behind the counter, he rummages around and comes back with an Rx bottle of naproxen. He’s had knee surgery recently, but he no longer needs the pain meds. “Take as many as you’ll need till you get home.” You help yourself to four, two for now and two for later in the day if you need them. You thank the soft-hearted agent.
Monday morning, you see your rheumatologist for your regularly scheduled appointment. It’s a hot, late July day and you are wearing shorts. He takes one look at your fat knee, made obvious by your skinny legs, and sends you for an MRI, which reveals a damaged medial collateral ligament, the result of tangling with the 2 x 4. The doctor drains 15ccs of fluid and injects the knee with cortisone. Through the wonders of modern medicine, your knee is fine by evening and doesn’t bother you again. You tell him about his PA’s diagnosis back in April. For more than three months, you walked around with an undiagnosed injury, ignoring it. He shakes his head; she is no longer with the clinic. He warns you not to wait so long the a next time. How does he know?
As summer passes into autumn, you busy yourself with creating art and jewelry, working with the art guild and doing just enough freelance work to satisfy your financial needs. Winter sets in and with it, cabin fever. This is a new experience for you, but then, you have never been retired in the winter before. A trip to visit your best friend is just the tonic you need; you fly out to Colorado for a week. On your second day there, you slip on a patch of black ice on the sidewalk on your way to the Chinese restaurant. Down goes your left knee and out behind you hyperextends your right leg. As it flattens, you hear a pop and then another odd noise. When you stand up, your right hip feels like a knife’s stuck in it. Of course, ever the stoic, you ignore it and continue on with the day’s activities. You’ll be damned if a little pain is going to stop you from having a good time. By the end of the week when you go home, it’s a bit less painful. If you just give it some time, it will heal.
They say time heals all wounds, but they probably don’t mean torn cartilage…
(to be continued)