By Kim Walker
This is my Knee Penguin. I love her almost as much as my real pet dog Eva. Almost.
I am not an athlete by nature, like our other dear guest blogger Shannon. While all the other kids were joining intra-mural sports I was reading really bad sci-fi novels about dragons. I didn’t lay a groundwork of health like all the other elastic, spry pre-teens around me. “Tendonitis? What’s that? Did you hear Josh asked me to Spring Fling? Whee! Giggle giggle run run. Fitness!” Post-college was the first time I ever ran a mile. A real shitty mile. But slowly, with epic whining and kicking and screaming, my dear husband pulled me into a life of pseudo athleticism. I was always creaky and bad at it, but I started to see it’s merits. Then I broke my left foot and visited a physical therapist for the first time. My calf practically disintegrated and 5 years later has left a serious imbalance in what little strength my legs do have. A few years later I barely ran a half marathon, damaging myself severely along the way, and wound up in physical therapy again. Both times they loaded me up with a series of exercises that made me look like a jackass and I decided it was easier to just not run or be active anymore than to work to solve the imbalance.
Then I fell for a ‘sport’ and actually had a reason to want to succeed. I’m addicted to circus. I do flying and static trapeze and lyra. For the first time I cared about my body’s performance. And, surprise, it didn’t cooperate. I was injured all. the. time. It was so frustrating and I couldn’t just stop, because I loved it.
My third round of physical therapy came from a mysterious bout of very acute knee pain. I generally feel a pretty consistent level of knee pain, so I tried to ignore it, but this was bad. It was either a torn meniscus, strained bicep femoris, or a tight IT band. Regardless of the diagnosis, the treatment was the same. More goofy exercises. And, mysterious black tape.
Three physical therapists crowded around my knee, poking at it. I am apparently hyper-mobile in all my ligaments. Near as I can translate, this means I’m a walking jello blob. Tasty, but not very structurally sound. They discussed various ways to tape my ‘hyper mobile patella’ then decided on the method pictured above. It looked exactly like a penguin, causing me to envision a class in which advanced medical professional practice taping zoo animals to various body parts. “Oh, my, looks like this rotator cuff could use a good Hippopotamus taping.” “No, I disagree, this situation clearly merits a Giraffe.”
Then the magic happened. I walked out of the office and my penguin knee didn’t hurt. At all. Instead, my right knee (my ‘good’ knee) hurt really damn bad. Moreover - I realized it wasn’t a new kind of bad. It was pain I was living with every single day, not even when I was doing something athletic. It wasn’t until my penguin knee felt good, that I could truly comprehend how bad my ‘normal’ knee was. I had just ‘learned to live’ with a situation that was completely unacceptable. Because changing it would have been hard or scary or time consuming, I dug in and dealt with it. I only paid attention to the loudest, most obnoxious pain in my ‘bad’ knee.
And cue the hol-EE-shit moment: if I removed “knee” and “penguin” from the paragraph above, what was I left with? An insidious undercurrent running through most of my life. So many little bad habits and small negative choices settle in around us all day every day, and we let it happen. Because there are louder, more pressing concerns and pains distracting us. And because even the thought of making the small changes is sometimes more exhausting than overhauling the big ones. But they all matter. They’re all connected and worth our attention. No pain, no matter how small, is ever worth ignoring. Sometimes the right course may be to listen to it and live in it. Or we can listen to it and choose to not focus on it, but that choice should be conscious. Acknowledging the legitimacy of our pains, big or small, mental or physical, must be holistic, or we’ll wind up horribly imbalanced. And in desperate need of taped zoo animals.