Knee-Jerk Response

In hindsight, my traveling companion tells me, I was not all there during our recent trip. For a month I apparently straggled along in the rear of our group, tiring too easily and having an awful time with stairs.

Indeed, stairs were no fun. One of my knees refused to bend, requiring a specialized method of climbing, and an opposite method of descending. I noted that Down Under offers its visitors an astonishing number of stairways, each stair grinning wickedly, challenging me to best it and its siblings, all the way to the top. Not a one of those stairways led to heaven, either—you’re in luck if there’s a bench to rest on at climb’s end.

Probably my gimpy left knee was acting up from a long-ago accident which had broken the left leg at the ankle, torn up my back, crushed a shoulder and knocked me out. Who would notice a bunged-up knee in such a mess? Now the turkeys were belatedly coming home to roost. As soon as I reached home, I promised myself, I’d trot the traitorous thing into the doctor’s office, unless it smartened up in the meantime.

It didn’t. I had to crotchet up and down staircases with both feet hitting each step, like a toddler, minus toddlerish cuteness, the whole darn trip. My own stairs at home proved no easier. Now, as I prepared my home for a friend’s visit, it gave me grief. Grrr.

Best see about the knee, after all, I thought. Pesky thing. Perhaps our medical system would prove good at mechanical fixes. Besides, I hadn’t seen the doc in…how long?

Nine or ten months, my smiling young doctor said. Prodding the knee’s painful inside and pointing out the bobble of liquid popping out on the outside as soon as she touched it, she agreed the knee problem was mechanical. She referred me to the itinerant sports-medicine specialist who visits our town once a month. Oh, and how about some annual blood tests? she suggested, seeing I hardly ever visit the doctor’s office.

I trotted off happily. My knee was going to get fixed and the blood tests got me off the annual-check-up hook.

Two days later, I spent six hours on a gurney in Emergency, barely able to move, with considerable pain in the shoulders, arms, thighs and pelvis. The left knee sang a little song of pain in accompaniment, although not nearly so loudly as the other knee and the shoulder joints. What was going on in this bag of flesh I call home?

It was a Saturday. March 7. At the end of the long day in the hospital, armed with a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica, my visiting friend and I drove to the local health store for recommendations. We came away with a group of supplements for the iron anemia I seemed to be suffering, and with MSM.

I’d heard of MSM but had never tried it. Some people I knew swore by this stuff, which is 37% sulfur by weight and is almost never called by its full name, methylsulfonylmethane (you can see why). The methane part left me a little worried about what kind of gaseous trail I might leave behind but the stuff is supposed to bring oxygen out to one’s skin, an attractive attribute to anyone with circulation or skin problems. It was also reputed to do great things for skin and hair.

I began taking six grams of the stuff daily. Two or three evenings later, I sat down in bed gratefully at the end of a long and painful day, folding my leg thoughtlessly under me. Uh…my left leg. The gimpy knee had bent so expertly that the heel was tucked all the way up against the body, without causing a twinge or a whimper. I hadn’t been able to do that in years. Not only that, the pain in the knee was utterly gone. I tried climbing stairs: no complaints from Ms. Knee there, either. Wow!

About a week later, I noticed that the fungus that had assiduously been climbing up from my left heel for the past year had died a quiet death. The nail fungus on the left foot was also finally losing its campaign to colonize the entire toe jurisdiction. I was stunned. Nothing among the many, many treatments I had tried for these two annoying itch-mongerers had worked permanently. Now, it appeared, they were routed. Wow again.

My hair was deciding on a new personality, too: darker, curlier, shinier. Triple wow.

I wondered whether the x-ray of the knee my doctor had ordered had shown any abnormality. Several weeks later, the sports-medicine specialist arrived. I could hardly miss the appointment after he’d come all that way; so I clambered into the car, turning the wheel with difficulty because of the fatigue and arm-and-shoulder pain, before clambering out of the car again, the knee performing like a champ.

Doctor messed with Ms. Knee this way and that, glared at the x-ray and pronounced, “There’s nothing wrong with your knee.”

“I know,” I agreed, “but you wouldn’t have said that on March 6.”

I don’t think he believed a word of my MSM story.

At the next family-doctor appointment, I was given ten pages of information on polymyalgia rheumatica by one of my doctors. I devoured the information hungrily but with a liberal seasoning of skepticism. And what should I find tucked away in one corner of the erudite discussion about what might constitute PMR? Well, well, well: the doctors noted that not infrequently synovitis or bursitis, meaning inflamed joints, is a feature of the disorder, sometimes in both hips and shoulders.

For months, apparently, Ms. Knee had been trying to tell me that something was wrong throughout the body. I hadn’t been listening.

From now on, MSM will always have a place in my little cupboard of possible miracles.


Photo by Nevit Dilmen (Own work) under GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

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