Part I: Tales of a Surprising Knee Surgery (Back from Another Brink)

Never did I think this would come to pass, me being a hearty hiker and not so terribly old: now an owner of a fantastic titanium knee. What a marvel! It may nudge me to minor super woman status, even if only in my own mind.

On second thought, not yet. Not even close. I know of many who’ve had knee replacement surgery and after a couple of months are pleased with the result. They get out and about and insist pain is minimal and they look forward to doing more than ever before. I am in awe of such unbridled optimism and growing ese.

But my story is not that story. My story has been harrowing at worst, mildly encouraging at best. A doorway that has led me into territory disturbing and amazing and not fully comprehended. I still am not sure who I was the last couple of months; it was as if I took leave of myself entirely some days. And I am putting myslef back together, still uncertain who this woman is becoming now.

I couldn’t write of it before. There were no concise words, and no will to consider it closely and put it into a structured viewpoint that made sense. It is still a complicated experience that demands new skills and not always appreciated actions of me. Recently there has been a gradual easing of difficulties. It isn’t at all over, but I feel stronger, and am able to clear mind and spirit enough for a pale brightness seep through the veils of darkness, more often than not. And writing enables me to define the path traversed since late January. It assuages a little of the grief and pain as I move through an arduous recovery.

I’m sure there are those who have had worse outcomes of knee replacement surgey. But this has been enough. To even breathe more normally again–literally, symbolically–is a fine gift. And there have been others presented recently.

It has been almost two months since I was thrust from the ordinary world intp another iteration of my life. The commonplace dawn of one early morning when I entered an outpatient surgical center gave way to a miasma of deeply foreign felings and states, then sent me through maze-like passages I had feared but hoped to never know. I am still making my way.

All this for a total knee replacement for a worn out, cranky and unstable right knee. It’s more common that I knew, especially for older persons or driven athletes or those who’ve endured accidents. Many people have confidence in their surgeons, then heal well and move on. But I wasn’t sure til the last moment I even wanted to do this. I asked myself: Why am I doing this? I don’t even want to do it. My body felt so resistant as I took daily walks, as usual, though my right knee sparked with pain off and on. Then I talked myself into it. I determined I need to enjoy many more years of outdoor adventures. As in: until truly decrepit. There has been quite a need for a stronger, more functional knee joint– that, or risk more injury and weakening. I would get it finished, be on beautiful trails by spring.

It usually is worth it for recipients of this elective but major surgery. I tamped down the fear, uncertainty. Yet how would I fare with relentless pain I’d been warned about, and some new medicines? I am known by my doctors as one who has side effects few people get, some bad enough to make me seriously ill. And I don’t do well with opioids for pain control. Plus, I am in recovery, as well.

It was to be a partial knee replacement, that was the good news, so it would be easier to heal. Surprise number one: there was much more damage to cartilage and bone than first assessed, so it became a full one as the surgical team, including a robot, poked around. This was the first thing I heard when coming out of anesthesia. I thought I had misheard the nurse but my husband, Marc, stated it was a fact, both of us stunned.

Above and below my knee are the blurred star-shaped scars left by robotic-assist with surgery. They’re still burgundy red. They carry a smudge of memory as if holding onto the violent action I blissfully missed while afloat far below normal consciousness. The knee scar itself is remarkably better that when first viewed, when the skin was heavily bunched then stapled closed under a very long bandage. Just as if a Frankenstein experiment took place and this was the evidence to be reckoned with from now on. But skin tends to heal fairly quickly. The hard ridge running over my kneecap–is it mine, still, really?–has flattened and faded already. The scar will fade but remain. Vanity is irrelevant; it is what it is.

That early morning it was as if I was yanked from the known world and set spinning away to a place I could not longer navigate. When I surfaced, the air I breathed was shaped by a rough breathlessness, my being and flesh so raw it was shocking. I was imbued with a sensation of earth having tried to pry me from gravity, that I was just hanging on at a distant blue curvature. I was not of myself, nor in myself, not fully within or outside flesh and spirit. Yet I knew my life would never be the same. I felt it hover, sink, gasp, many voices meaningless, the light too harsh, my head spinning with vertigo that would settle in for days, even with medication.

In those first hours as medical staff monitored and aided me, then helped me move from one space to another as was necessary, I just fell into their arms and expertise. My heart went into A-fib, an arrythmia that can become deadly but this time it was not. The nausea and blurriness was central to all. I thought: it is worse than I feared. I vaguely wondered: perhaps death will come, perhaps I will be free of this, but the children will be hurt irrevocably, so must live. Searing pain demanded release as anesthesia wore off despite a spinal and a knee nerve block. But how to banish it? No, it was settling in right in tissue-deep, bone-deep, mind-deep.

I cannot take most pain medicines due to side effects (as I would discover again fully, soon). Not even ibuprophen which my cardiologist forbids. I was lifted up and moved by my armpits, tried to walk to use the bathhoom and demonstrate I was awake and able to take steps. It seemed mad that I’d nbe commanded to get up andstep onto those legs beneath me despite the havoc wrought on my right limb only a couple hours earlier. I did not do well. I was kept there as late as possible at the outpatient surgical center, folded into the car seat.

So as darkness descended, home I went. The post-surgery experience was in earnest, and would become protracted. Unexpected. Despite understanding it was major surgery, the result was nowhere near what had been explained to me.

Then, on the ride home, my husband Marc was so distressed and worried that I had to remind him how to get there, pointing, babbling directions. And I heard my son’s voice in my mind the last time I saw him: Is this the right option for you, Mama? I’d looked at him closely. He felt it, too, the intense reluctance, his own intuition flaring. I said, “I’ll get through it.” But we both somehow knew that something very hard was soon to come.

How could I know for sure that there would be relentless nausea for the first few days and then the gastrointestinal impact of round the clock use for several days of opioid medication (causes constipation). I’d insisted on taking a milder one, tramadol rather than than oxycodone than most patients use. It eased pain just a bit but ultimately left my in great misery until resolved–real life stuff here– with emergency intervention of marathon laxative ingestion. That period the first week, still unable to walk much, was its own sort of hell. I lost 6 pounds in 10 days as I could barely eat even soft foods. I weakened, and using a necessary walker was arduous. How could I know that many events a surgeon hopes will not happen to a patient were still ahead for me? GI troubles were in the end the least of it.

We each have a visceral knowing that brings a strong sense of things. I ignored mine, which tends to lead to unhappiness. I was swept along on a medically informed trajectory that told me: this will lead to a good difference. I needed to surrender and believe it was best so I did. Like a car that is broken down enters a repair shop so it can be made anew–I had to do it. Ten more years to climb the rainforest heights and descend its root-bound paths with security and vitality–this was all I longed to happen.

I had prayed for clarity. I prayed for success of the surgeon and his team and my knee’s willingness to be remade. Body of blood and light, hold me up and carry me on. Mind, heart and spirit, surrender to big change, to even pain, to a healing process that is largely unknown.

One major insight discovered was that post-operative suffering can reach limits not imagined or understood. It can rob your sense of self, alter your perspective of many aspects of life, demand mammoth effort at a big price. It can slash hope and drive a person to anguish that cannot even be voiced. It can wake you up in the night and force you to look at yourself and what you see may be disturbing, even foreign. For powerlessness is frightening. Unless one can give up a bare semblance of control to God and whoever else can help in the smallest ways. And I can tell you my husband was there as never before, attending to me without ceasing, missing work for three weeks, coming to my side when I felt I could not bear another moment. (This sort of dependence on him, which I’d rarely if ever had to experience, strips bare and alters a relationship. More on that later.) I wanted to be braver. But there are moments that bravery is a sham. You simply hang on.

It was just a routine, major surgery. A needed bridge to a reasonably strong and secure stride back into the world–and forests, beaches, wetlands and meadows and mountains. To greater joy in movement. Does this story have a good outcome? Each hurdle has presented itself and has had to be faced. I began to believe I could not only stay alive but find ways to retrieve my own self for the cave of despair and become more whole. It was a goal that wasn’t always clear. But as long as I get through each day, it has been possible to imagine.

Because I have not been truly alone with all this: family, friends and God’s constancy have carried me, do carry me still, as ever. It’s not the first time I have had to call on others for great aid. Trauma has been no stranger to me and it leaves its imprint even as healing occurs. But this is a quite different physical event than I’ve known before. Who seeks out a physically invasive procedure that can help, yes– yet has great risks? Sometimes there seems to be no other decent choice.

Have you, dear readers, ever had a knee replacement, or other joint surgery? Was it successful or are you still struggling? Then you know it is harder than you could anticipate. And if there are surprises that take you to your knees, it is something you cannot even respond to rationally at first. I think of you as I write this. My heart opens to your suffering, wants to make things better for you even if only by saying I care. And utilizing honest words to share my own perspective as I experience this long recovery. None of it is meant to discourage others form getting knee replacements. It is only my offering up of where I’ve been, what I’ve thought over these weeks.

Stay with me and I will share how it has come to be that I can finally begin to walk, if inelegantly, the knee usually resisting, though sometimes agreeing it is time to get much better. Still, accompanied by deep aches and shooting pains of ongoing nerve regeneration. I have a long way to go. But I am making peace with this experience and even expect better times at some point; a hike in seaside forests or the Columbia Gorge; a power walk along our many beautiful rivers; normal playtimes with my twin granddaughters; laughter and love shared with family and friends without wincing or excusing myself for a long rest or quick release of private tears.

I see the daffodils, cherry blossoms, forsythia and more opening to the warmth and grace of spring’s early sunshine. My swollen knee will get better than this. Will it not? I will turn my face upward, too, and hope that my best may come forth.

Friday’s Poem: They Hear a Live Symphony

This is one way you can wend your

way into a miracle of music as it circles people,

streams around balconies, reveals new vistas of spirit,

your heads bobbing, your beings light as balloons.

Your ears are sacred passageways

into a world that brings everything

to the fore as if it is new.

The upwelling of sounds, playful, resonant,

are both diviner and divined. The melodies breathe with you.

With unexpected force in reach of synapses,

notes flee instruments in search of you and you,

your deep eyes blazing, small hands answering beats.

You become bigger, bolder in this moment

as you bloom inside new love;

you dive into the currents, come up joyous.

You know how to do this, how to be happy.

I was a child like you, yes, and born to the music.

Fearless, I jumped right into the middle of it,

embraced good humor of tubas, glitterings of harp,

bared soul of viola and cello, a crescendo of timpanii,

lithe dance of flute and acrobatics of oboe,

the dignified ways of French horn

that made me long for more.

It was a momentous time as I came to know the world,

a treasure, a beacon. It carries me now, graces my life

as I follow the flight and fancy of each note and measure.

So today you are presented the same in this

chapel made for mysteries of sound:

we hear the firmament profess a desire

to lift, fill, free and gift us more,

and to gather you into rhythms and harmonies,

a kaliedoscope of delights.

You lean in, amazed. Right at home.

The fact is, your blood knows this way, it answers

becasue it has travelled from great grandparents,

grandparents, far ripplings of family.

From your mother, a baby who sang with doves.

You are one of us, music makers, soundscape dreamers,

your own voices now an echo, a key to new songs.

I see you claiming the birthright,

clapping, bouncing and grinning

and a wash of tears slips down my cheeks.

May the music love you as it has loved me.

Saturday’s Musings: One Year to the Next


The wind is showing off it’s strange power again, slinging ice and tiny snowflakes, singing the trees, shaking and pressing whatever it can. The windows creak, perhaps even bend. I am listening, thinking of different snowstorms in my life…the glittering white stoles hugging earth and houses, so bright upon my shoulders as my wood and metal sled carves grooves behind me. Explorer and dreamer…hearty and tender: children learn much by crossing paths with winds-but winter wind! That brittle cold smarting faces, eyes streaming from the sting of it, and happiness shimmying through the blood. I am a wintered child who fell in love with all the seasons. But even now as I listen to the tossing of maples and oaks and impossibly tall pines, and the night lengthens in a landscape glazed with treachery of ice—even tonight, winter’s spirit lingers within me like a dear old friend sipping cocoa and telling stories, her eyes glistening, her hair a crown of icicles.

I imagine if I saw my reflection in a still river, an iced river, there’d be snow flowers around my face, my eyes a wintered blue, my lips red as holly berries, my cheeks creased with age and happiness.


The sleet and snow slip away, leaving tuneful riverlets of water. And all the care, time, hopes and decor so merry soon merge, but then become an unexpected experience. One daughter cancels flights due to the spector of illness; my son fulfills lengthy last minute obligations. Another daughter is split between too-tender memories seeded in loss, a tradition shared with the lost one…and us parents who wait with a holding-close and many gifts. My sister arrives, then waits with her shaggy dog on her broad lap. She cannot easily– for long– suss out the meaning of Russian teacakes and fancy chocolates, of jubilant carols and a dressy tree winking in waning day’s gloom. Does she wait for the ghost of her partner or for one more explanation of why we are here? Both, both. I lean into her, tossle her white waves. We sing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Every word is remembered in her soft alto.

But there comes the youngest daughter hauling bags of goodies and family through the colder dusk. We plunge into laughter, eat too many Christmas tacos, and the little twins’ exclamations and giggles rustle the air like spangles of light tossed high. They are electric energy given flesh and soul. Love can be a net of sweet burning stars like this. Love, too, the rippling echoes between our words. And Love is Christ born with nothing but Light, helpless and bawling in a manger next to the cows and sheep, with hardship and power awaiting him. Such creatures and Divinity meeting up…I have not fogotten.

But my family looks small around the oak table this year. Longing stirs a depth with few limits… for a moment. How can I seek more when abundance is so great? I take hands closest to me and squeeze lightly. And return squeezes pulse through the circle. I am inexplicably gifted with this. Too many are not.

And then there are none inhabiting the day but the two of us, husband, such an old friend, and me.

The house draws into itself; a multitude of candles flicker yellow and bright, cast dancing halos onto the table, walls. They soften the over-full mind and rich air. A heater that masquerades as woodstove emits more warmth as I watch through windows. Gathering night is opaque until a distant glimmer spreads, coloring a distance beyond the mountains. The bird seed on our balcony overlooking more pines has been pecked and eaten.Where do the hummingbirds go as arctic wind sweeps the tree branches? They will return in the morning, hungry, knowing they’ll be fed.

Nothing nurtures more wholeness than simply living a life– in a constancy of faith, in expectancy of more affection given and received, in small amazements, a wonder that circulates in breath and blood. I am a being known and cared for; I was given a name that someone calls out even if I am not listening well. I have to do nothing important, only stay true to what resonates within me, practice kindess and courage. Keep on.


And so it is the eve of an impending new year. I imagine it’s causing a hullabaloo in far-flung locations even now. Here? A cooling mocha in hand, anticipation of leftover linguini piccata, the oddness and satisfaction of words welcomed and released, a design across blankness. A practice of intention made more meaningful.

Yes, of course, the calendar flips soon. Yet the art of leaving anything or anyone is not so hard, anymore. I remember years of intense farewells, savoring each goodbye to the previous year–relationships and projects, places and accomplishments, false starts, worn out or satiated desires, and wounds too stubborn–but it’s like gazing backward down a too-long hallway. There I went, offering roses and asking forgiveness as if it mattered so much. Was I so impressed with my life that I had to mourn and memorialize a year’s transition? As if it was a mighty ship disappearing while passing an incoming vessel that brought—well, what? One never knew. That was the tricky thing, no matter my resolve to do this or that. That part is not different than happened before: life, the great surprise as it reveals itself. Before then, we can only imagine.

I find it easier as I get older to let go of the year that is fleeing. All the sore spots and balms of pleasure; the people well or poorly loved; the dramas and inconsequential hours, and goals that ended in a heap. Why cover events again? It takes too much and means so little, in the end.

I’d rather consider traversing interior and exterior landscapes. Variations of light and shadow play tag in my mind. The moss and ferns and rocks and waters. And moving among birds: Coopers hawks sskin-tingling calls, waiting for the eagle pair to hunt. The hummers that have hovered long and steady right before my eyes, one of which greets me daily. The secret lives of so many bugs. The slinky worms and shy butterflies. You know–this prowess of nature right beyond the door.

Three new friends were discovered this year!– just as we each needed. As I had longed for during the loneliest bits. Now, coffee and croissants; river walks; book and music and a spattering of health talk. Sharing as if we knew each other longer, better. The plain wisdom of trust. We jump in because it feels worth it.

The, too, helping create countless pictures with glue, glitter and sparkly pipe cleaners and markers: the genius of two 3 and 1/2 year olds’ ingenuity, what a joy. The relief of their lack of self-judgment or of others. They are at one with their feelings, and I marvel at it. My legs have been tugged and ringed with hugs as I cannot now get down on my knees–until one is fixed.

There have been stunning heartbreaks that have changed my very thoughts and actions; I pray them back to God. The wild and curated beauty have pulled me into sudden revelations, warmed my soul until all was bright once more. Human healing never quite ends whether body or spirit. And how fortunate that is so–we are made to utilize restorative processes, some unconscious.

But wait, I am beginning to fall prey to taking stock when I would rather move on. So this is a simple goodbye to this year as it slips into another, per the calendar. And it’s anybody’s guess what it will bring.

This year’s map for me is a schemata in pencil: there are notable events in January, particularly, but I can erase and alter to an extent. Right now it points to The Knee Surgery to fix a three-times-torn meniscus plus surprising if moderate arthritic wear and tear. And the work toward recovery, then hearty pain-free walking and hiking, once again–at last. I keep telling myself that so much cannot hinge on a right knee repair, yet it does. I am a restless person. Moving at will is central to many delights and fulfillment. I have not given up the hope of more ice skating, even a lazy circle around a rink. Of climbing a gnarly path a good seven to ten miles, wherever I choose to go. An enthusiatic wiggle and pivot and shuffle with snappy fingers to rhythmic music. Surrendering to this circumstance has been a struggle over the last twelve months. It is surprising how one’s deeper personal power can be accessed with less ranting and thrashing about.

The wind spirit is almost quiet tonight, as if letting the rest of nature recover. The chilling winter rains have swollen our rivers so that a few slip over impotent banks. Sodden earth has unhinged many trees, branches strewn artlessly. I am so tied to rains here that, even when it falls, I listen to it on an “app”–which states that rainstorms recorded at Stonehenge. Well, whatever it is, such downpours soothe me as I sink and rise in dreams.

This is not the winter of my greater dreams, nor of my childhood. It is the winter of this moment. I do reside within it like a welcome visitor. I smooth a worn, woolen gold-woven throw over my lap and sip the sweet and slightly bitter mocha. Let the world celebrate tonight if it can. I no longer feel an urge to dance madly in the streets; that already happened a few times– it may happen again. But tonight I will be listening to Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5”. It is gorgeous, enigmatic, goes right to the heart. Then a few pages of a new murder mystery set in Tuscany. Another inconsequential episode of daily life, a good night–no matter which year it is. After all, much of what we see is what we are looking for, isn’t it? I am searching for more goodness and illumination.

I send to all my good wishes for a more peaceful New Year. May your worries be far less than your wonderment.


Tuesday’s Poem: Making a Visible Life (a tale for my mother)

Night lingers to greet day.

Swirls of an organza mist

wrap the vista as I stand invisible

at the prow of a tall ship with taut sails;

it carries curiosities, sustenance, shards of hope.

There is no shore; I am on a balcony outside

the warmth of my house, that place where

time is greeted and resisted, cupped in my hands

and released. Out here the view holds surprises,

tosses them like ribbons of silver and green

across my mind, enticements for a restless soul.

An icy spray settles on face and hands

but the grand matron of earth nourishes

its beloveds even (I pray for this daily) me.

Amber leaf, veiny stone, pine cone

and red holly, a blue-black feather-

these are raiment I’d wear if permitted,

a cloak of bits and pieces, a laugh in the midst of things.

If I was brave enough to be visible, with my essence showing–

a woman who gathered pulsing rays and glowed in the dark.

Simple as that. But this is human life

and thus not an angel’s scheme, is that how it is?

Let me seek and discover.

Fog secrets away the mountains so I retreat

indoors, labor awhile. I rest, absorb my books,

their exploratory maps.

They prop me up, lift me over the cliffs of misgiving

and toward gates of wonder.

Such peace!

The words emit scents of cedar and river,

of moss, apple, lavender. Plum, rose, fern, bird bones.

Later I climb the hills, new stories at my heels

like sprites and elves in the brume.

Squirrels fatten up but glance my way as if

sensing my hunger for chicken and dumplings,

my mother stirring the pot,

white waves damp at her forehead,

face pinked with heat and pleasure,

common wisdom added to the stew.

The abundance of it shapes me still.

My throat closes then opens to music

that visits me in solitude,

this one for my mother–

but it is only a desire or a memory,

lyrics and notes drifting like smoke lost to rain.

A finch offers a refrain in consolation;

and it tenders me as I tack and sail

into the heart of woodland, beyond sorrow,

past the shame of all that’s unconquered,

still left undone.

A wintered wind ignores such musings

but my mother’s spirit implores

like a medicine woman:

write write write sing out.

These days it seems a luxury but today

feeling and thought–sharp, sweet, savory–

fill me up as I trudge through murk.

Music, language, how they hoist and shoulder

the weight of my life, fix it, free it.

Sunlight steals through this landscape of haze,

or is it seascape and soon to be moonlight?

The glimmering limns the curve

where I am heading right into

the thicket, the glory of it,

as you, too, may have imagined.


Friday’s Poem: Making Things

Beads of glass, yellow, purple, gold, teal, red, silver:

enough or too much to gather into love?

I palm the metal geometrics, crystals,

varigated stones, ceramic spheres, hemp cord

and luminous silky floss.

Later at a fabric store two sharp-eyed saleswomen

prod me: what am I making, and I likely need this, that.

The experts press against the counter, piecing

their ideas deftly from my heap and jumble.

My lovely fat quarters of cloth; I pull them close.

I pick them up, considering the visions

I took from the warp and weft of happy dreams.

Nothing can mar the mental surface tension

beneath which deeper things stir like fishes;

ideas gather momentum, about to break through.

Patience is my way for this creating; I see, gather, wait.

I have no schematics for success.

My craftsy friend who brought me here

smiles indulgently. But I am not making

just any holiday project.

These mounds of colors-textures-shapes

are meant to reflect five hearts, ones that help power my own.

The tiny trinkets and beads rustling in the bag

will be stitched and knotted in praise

of the vivid lives of my children.

Just as when they first arrived as blood and bone–

each tenuous (as it was hard for me to make children)

but charged, triumphant, embraced–

I will consider these bits of beauty, discover more patterns.

I still am learning the ways of each soul. I am guessing as I go.

There will be forms and colors, whatever feels needed

and what might be desired.

My hands will work as the light scents

of cotton and stone, silk and copper calm me.

What my fingers can make–

these aging fingers full of lines, splits, callous–

will be true to what I know, and bright with hope.

If I do not fail to bring inspiration to fruition

there will be five wall hangings, at best unschooled,

even clumsy, madcap–yet strung together as

small collections of care and delight.

And perhaps they will bring them close

then hang them up,

gaze a moment and think,

there it is: love.