Knee Surgery (Part I)- How I got here

So, I figured that I’d tell this story in a few parts, as it’s pretty long.  The short version is that I had knee surgery in 2016, and I’m on the road to recovery.  But, where this all started is a bit of a puzzle.  I’ve been an endurance athlete since 1988….racing everything from open water swims to marathons to ironman triathlons.  So, when I was eventually diagnosed with deteriorated cartilage (actually…no cartilage!) in my left knee, it seemed logical.  But, I think there’s more to the story.

My last ironman was the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2013.  My daughter, Hannah, was 8 months old at the time. 


I was pretty burnt out after that race. I basically took 2014 “off”….only racing a few sprint triathlons for fun.  My son, Ben, was born shortly thereafter, in late August of that year.  As always, I got motivated as I was watching the NBC telecast of the Ironman World Championships in 2014 and decided to sign up for Ironman Louisville in October of 2015. I had some childhood friends racing and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that was a mistake and I just didn’t have the desire to train for another ironman.  So, I donated the entry fee to Ironman (i.e.  I didn’t do the race!).  April came, and with it the Boston Marathon.  Again, I got motivated and signed up for the Chicago Marathon.  I hadn’t  done a stand-alone marathon since 2002, when I raced the Las Vegas Marathon to a 17th place finish and a 2:37 PR.  I knew that I wasn’t going to come close to that, but I thought I could still run 2:45-55 with some training.  Of course, I had no idea of what was to come.

In early August of 2015, I visited my parents, who lived in Cape May Court House, New Jersey.  While there, I caught my first glimpse of a deer tick…literally about the size of a pin head.  I had heard about them, but had never actually seen one.  I didn’t think too much about it as it wasn’t attached, just crawling.  But, a few days later I noticed that I had a bite on my left upper thigh, which I thought was a typical bug bite or something.  The following weekend, I was racing a sprint triathlon in Lowell, Massachusetts.  After the race, my leg swelled up.  I started to get a little worried, so I called my doctor on Monday.  They couldn’t get me in, so I went to medical walk in.  As I was about to walk into the facility, my doctor’s office called me and told me that they could get me in the following day.  I made the appointment, but decided to go into the walk-in anyway.  The doctor at the medical walk-in didn’t know what was causing my leg swelling, but prescribed antibiotics for staph infection, and basically dismissed me.  I knew something was wrong…and didn’t even bother filling my prescription.  I was just going to wait to see my doctor the next day.  That night, and I remember this vividly, I was folding clothes in my bedroom.  I started to get some discomfort in my left ankle.  Within ten minutes, the discomfort turned to severe pain…and I wound up in the fetal position in my bed….my wife, Jenn, was more than concerned…as I have a high pain tolerance, so this was not like me.  The next day, the pain was gone….like completely gone.  I was able to see my doctor, and he immediately diagnosed it as Lyme Disease.  In fact, the tell-tale bullseye had started to form.  He put me on a 4 week prescription of Docycycline…a very strong antibiotic that makes you very sensitive to sunlight….and is pretty tough on the stomach.  In retrospect….thank God I had the wherewithal to see my doctor.  If I had gone with the medical walk-in doctor’s diagnosis, I wouldn’t have treated the Lyme and I could have been in a much, much different situation.

As I was still training for Chicago, I did my best to get my long runs in while on the Docycycline…early and in the shade.  But, it was very tough.  I had to cut many runs short…and felt awful on most regardless.  Still, I thought I had done enough to have a decent day.  Two weeks before Chicago, I entered a 5k in my home town of Arlington.  I like to do a shorter race or track workout before a marathon to get the legs turning over.  The race went pretty well…I was the overall winner, and had a pretty good time (17:20ish).  However, right after the race my left iliotibial band (IT band) started acting up (at least that’s what I thought).  I had trouble during my cool down run….and basically had to walk.  I’ve had IT band issues in the past, but nothing this bad.  I literally couldn’t run.  With the marathon less than two weeks away I was a bit desperate, so I saw a friend of mine, who is an orthopedic doctor.  He gave me a cortisone shot the week of the race so I could run.  However, even with the shot, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish. 

Chicago Marathon.jpg

When we got to Chicago, I taped up the knee with some kinesio tape and went for a short run the day before the race.  It seemed to hold up…so I was optimistic.   Of course, I didn’t help matters with the way I ran!  Gun goes off and there I go clipping off 6:15 miles…which I was not ready to do!  About 11 miles in and I knew I was in TROUBLE! 

I was in damage control for the rest of the race.  I finished in a very respectable 3:04, but it was an absolute disaster.  After the race, my leg completely swelled up…and a golf ball sized “Baker’s” cyst formed behind my knee.  A couple days after, the cyst burst and synovial (joint) fluid drained into my calf….which is very, very painful. 

Once I got back to Boston, I again saw my friend, who scheduled me for an MRI.  The MRI showed that I had no cartilage in my left knee.  I later learned that a large piece of cartilage had broken off and was likely floating around in my knee.  In retrospect, I’m now wondering if the Lyme Disease played a role in all of this.  I had zero issues prior to the Lyme.  I hadn’t really given any thought to this theory until recently, but it makes sense. 

PART II- We’ll discuss the events leading up to my eventual surgery.