How a baby boomer worked off the fat

Retired standup comedian Forrest Brakeman has written before for BoomerCafé about trading in his old body for a new one. Well, that didn’t work, so now, from Los Angeles, he writes for us about making the old one work better.

It all started innocently enough with a sideways kick of my right leg.

I know that many of us boomers are dealing with chronic pain of some type in our everyday lives. It’s a badge of honor that we have somehow been awarded, like a Purple Heart for maturity. My case is probably no different, but it does have a happier ending.

Forrest on a track.

As part of my effort to do more volunteer work, I have coached girls’ softball for the last 15 years, and that has led me to my most rewarding stint so far as the Assistant JV Softball Coach at the local high school.

Two years ago, I was doing what a coach does– pitching batting practice– and my girls were in the outfield shagging flies and tossing the balls back to me so I can keep pitching like the machine that I am.

One of the balls was about to get past me, so I reached out to knock it down, soccer-style, with my leg, and felt an excruciating pain on the inside of the right knee. I figured it would go away eventually, and soldiered on.

But over a year went by, and the pain didn’t ease a bit. It kept me from working out. I was putting on weight.

So off to the doctor I went to try and get an MRI so they could fix my knee. But as everyone with health care knows, there is a process that must occur. First is X-rays, which showed nothing other than some arthritis. This was followed by the suggestion that I take the anti-inflammatory Naproxen, which I had to refuse due to my already agitated acid-reflexy stomach, then a few runs of physical therapy, which only made things worse.

Forrest … a shadow of his old self.

Finally we arrived at the long-awaited MRI. This would reveal the injury that to me was very obvious: some sort of tear of my MCL. Then finally there’d be a quick surgery and everything would get back to normal.

Nope. Orthopedic doctor sat me down and explained that while there was evidence of a previous injury a long time ago, there wasn’t anything in or around the knee that could be repaired by surgery. He said that I have degenerative arthritis of the knee, and there was nothing really to be done for it, other than ice and ibuprofen.

Then he proceeded to have a “quality of life” discussion with me.

Hold on, doc! I’m way too young for that talk. Quality of life discussions are for when you have a debilitating disease that is ravaging you, or you can’t swallow food, or you can’t go to the bathroom by yourself. This was just knee pain.

He explained about using cortisone shots, but those are temporary and you can only do a couple, and lubricating shots which sometimes work, but the insurance might or might not cover it, or even the platelet therapy that the pros use (which would definitely not be covered). None seemed viable for me.

So I set out to move on with life and just adapt to this new set of circumstances. The pain and the limp would just be the way things are. I kept trying to work out by walking, but the knee pain was significant, mostly upon completion. I tried using compression sleeves with side supports, but like the physical therapy, they only made it worse.

I was icing regularly and trying not to aggravate my stomach with too much ibuprofen, but wasn’t making any headway.

Then one day I stepped on the scale and hit my second highest weight ever: 207 pounds. Way too heavy for a 5-11 guy. That’s when the light bulb went off.

My weight was too much for the knee to handle, and no amount of trying to work out was going to help without getting rid of the backpack full of ballast that I was asking it to support on a daily basis.

So I went on Weight Watchers and in seven weeks, managed to drop 17 pounds. As the weight started to drip off, not only could I go on longer walks, five or more miles, but now I could add jogging back into the mix. The pain level in my knee went from an 8 or a 9, down to a 2 or a 3.

Now, I go out three to four times a week and usually walk for three or more miles, and jog for two or three more. I still ice when I get home, but the knee is performing well. It still gets cranky when I get up from sitting, and it is not fond of walking down steep hills, but it doesn’t mind walking and jogging in general, and my recovery time is very fast.

I went back to visit the doc for a follow-up, and he was very complimentary. He said that for arthritis, I am doing everything right: take the weight off, exercise a lot, and use the ice and ibuprofen as needed.

Now, rather than a Purple Heart, I feel like maybe I have earned a Distinguished Service Medal for successfully battling back against just one more little part of the aging process.

And I’m lookin’ pretty good! You know, for an old guy.

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