The first place I lived was Waukegan, Illinois, home of comic genius Jack Benny, and I've always felt some sort of connection to him; while I'm clearly not in Benny's league, I've been told that I have comic timing that's sort of Bennyesque, and some of the things he said over the years seem like things I could have said.

And I dearly love this one. Despite his carefully-cultivated persona as a cheapskate, Benny was a remarkably generous man, and upon receiving an award for his charitable work, he said: "I don't deserve this. On the other hand, I have arthritis, and I don't deserve that either."

This is particularly resonant because some time in August, I'll be seeing an orthopedic surgeon, and I suspect that he'll recommend an operation or two for my dubious right knee, which has been giving me intermittent pain and sorrow for the past three or four years.

The original diagnosis was simple osteoarthritis, which was reasonable enough: I'm over 40 and overweight, both of which are putative risk factors, and occasionally it was possible to hear actual noises in the joint, not unlike the scary sounds in a worn constant-velocity joint in an automotive axle. CV joints, however, are easily rebuilt and relatively cheap; knees are difficult and cost somewhere in five figures.

And what's more, at least one study has suggested that surgery to repair damage caused by osteoarthritis isn't worth the time, the effort or the expense. I suppose I should be grateful, therefore, that when they shoved me into that horrid metal tube, they discovered damage more extensive than mere arthritis could explain.

So I have a rip in the meniscus and another in the anterior cruciate ligament. (And a hairy bill for the MRI, but that's another issue.) I suspect that these conditions came first and then facilitated the development of osteoarthritis, but I'm not the guy doing the diagnosis here. Besides, some of the symptoms seem consistent with arthritis; the stiffness and pain seem to flare up in wet weather, of which we have had an abundance this month, and getting some sun on the joint, as I've tried to do as often as possible, seems to make it feel better.

Rehabilitation of this knee, whether it requires surgery or not, is going to be tricky; I have yard work to do and a job that requires me to stand for periods of varying length. And I am not the sort of person who looks forward to medical procedures of any kind. But something's going to have to be done about it, or I'm going to wind up quite a bit more sedentary than I could possibly want, and I'd like to think I don't deserve that.

The Vent

1 July 2004

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