I met the knee repairman Tuesday (“orthopedic surgeon” sounds so frightening). After looking at the MRI and taking a set of fresh x-rays, he tried to soften his explanation: “I wish I had better news for you.” The lateral meniscus in my right knee – the sort of wedge-shaped pancake of cartilage that cushions the outer half of the femur-tibia junction – is completely trashed. It’s pretty much what my cycling buddy Sage predicted in a moment of candor: “bone on bone.” I’ll need surgery to clean out the crap.
So why isn’t this more traumatic news? Well, first and foremost, it’s fixable. There’s going to be some unpleasantness over the next couple of months, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s not like I was just diagnosed with cancer.
But there’s a second explanation, I think, for the satisfaction I take from the news. What happened to my knee was inevitable, the doc explained. Nearly 20 years ago, I suffered a freak basketball accident that fractured the top of the tibia. The knee repairman I had that time did his best to reshape the tibial surface – where the top of the tibia and the lateral meniscus meet. But it wasn’t perfect, and over the years the surface of the tibial plateau has been slowly chewing away at the meniscus.
In other words, what I had been thinking of as a freak accident was in fact an event with a clear cause and a certain inevitability. Freak accidents are scary. Clear causes and inevitability are far more manageable. Risk perception is a funny thing.