Morning lies give way to pain symphony

Morning lies. There’re a few minutes after I wake up when my knee and its torn meniscus feels fine. It’s as if my body has forgotten the injury.

Sometimes I can make it across the bedroom to the bathroom with only the common stiffness attributable to middle age.

But the lie evaporates all too quickly.

Here comes the pain again.

The pain begins with a dull ache, almost like an orchestra warming up with chopsticks.

Then the first notes of symphony begin with a kind of throb, like kettle drums pounding in a Hans Zimmer score.

My physical movement acts as mad conductor Leopold Stokowski bringing the orchestra to crescendo using all the instruments to maximum effect.

At times, it feels as if a razor blade is sawing across raw nerves below my kneecap, back and forth like a witch’s hands on a cursed harp.

Still other moments, the tendons tighten and scream like the strings of a violinist attempting to bring about the Apocalypse with each stroke of the bow.

I don’t like the drugs but the drugs like me.

I swallow over-the-counter pain relievers the way a man far gone on the neighbor’s noisy stereo jams cotton balls into his ears.

I rub in lidocaine on the joint, but even the gentlest touch inspires a shrill mezzo-soprano vocalist to pierce the brain with violent notes of pain sustained for impossibly long breaths.

Finally, I wrap the flexible bandage around the joint in effort to muffle the damned symphony. I lie in my bed and try to contort the joint to some position that minimizes discomfort.

Slowly but eventually, the pain mutes. It is never gone, but it can be quieted.

An overture may erupt at any twist, turn, or bend.

The little movement I do during the day in my 650-square-foot apartment is all measured, slow, and tentative.

I feel like a Jenga tower teetering on a single block, ready to collapse at any moment. I lean heavily on countertops, walls, door frames.

Terror of alone.

The joys of living alone become terrors when your body fails you. I clutch my smartphone wherever I go, even if it’s just from the bedroom to the living room.

I fear the fall that leaves me a crumpled mess of fat and limbs on the floor, alone with no one to offer me a hand up.

To surrender to self-loathing would be — and is — easy. Intellectually, I know obesity is a result of childhood trauma. I eat to feel better and, of late, I’ve had damn little to feel good about.

But the idiot society, the one that shares cruel memes of people using scooters and laughs at others’ foibles, creeps into my brain. It stirs the already tainted brain chemistry sick with depression and anxiety.

Soon, I blame myself. I question my worthiness for the gift of life.

Behavioral therapy has taught me the methods to quiet those illogical outbursts by thinking of them as just poor results from a computer with some buggy source code.

But they are there.

Reforming the sinner.

Find me a stack of religious texts and I will swear upon them to never take mobility for granted again. I can barely walk 200 feet without excessive pain.

This means I have two, maybe three roundtrips down the hallway of my apartment or one trip to the car for an outing such as meeting a friend for lunch or a trip to the comic store.

I met a friend for lunch Monday. He’s a good, longtime friend. I love him like a brother. But for our first 10 minutes together, I heard nary a word he spoke, instead only the symphony of agony from my knee.

My pain generates in me a newfound sympathy for athletes who suffer injuries. I covered scores of such injuries when I was an aspiring sportswriter.

But I wrote about them like it was a plot point in the great unscripted drama of sports rather than a moment of human suffering.

Now I know.

Resilient. Again. Damnit.

Despite this column’s grim tone, hope lies ahead. My doctors are trying to get an MRI test approved by my insurance company. When that happens, we move toward an arthroscopic surgery that will cut away the piece of torn meniscus causing the trouble.

It’s not a permanent fix, but it will get me mobile again.

Resiliency wins again.


This is a good thing, I know.

But this in the future at the end of a long, hard path.

But sometimes I find myself thankful for those morning lies, when the brain has forgotten how much pain the body is in.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

Knee update: Options, questions, and costs

Here’s where the knee stands: I tore my meniscus. That’s a ligament somewhere in the vast and complex machinery of the knee. The specialist I met Thursday showed me where it was on a model. I’ve looked at pictures of it online.

All I see is money burning up like embers in a campfire and drifting off into the night sky.

This is going to be expensive

My knee blew up June 29. The first night was so painful, I couldn’t move. I took an ambulance ride ($$$$) to the emergency room ($$$$$) to get checked out.

They referred me to a specialist ($$$$). The specialist gave me a lot of options for the present and the long term.

Present options include a brace ($$$) — which needs to be custom-fitted because I’m morbidly obese ($$$$$). I’m also starting physical therapy ($$$$$), first visit $400.

Also, at age 46, I’m getting a walker ($$). The walker also needs to be custom fitted because I’m morbidly obese ($$$$).

Future options include an MRI ($$), a potential scope of the knee to trim off the torn portion of the meniscus ($$$$) or a complete knee replacement ($$$$$$$$$).

(So, if you’ve ever thought, I enjoy and ought to make a donation, now’s would be a good time — with a heartfelt thanks to all previous patrons, of course.)

The plan for now

The plan I made was to use assistive devices — brace, cane, and walker — to get me through until I can get a school district contract with health insurance that covers more than the lighter fluid for the crematorium.

I am walking better. I look like one of those people pretending to be tin robots in old Republic serials.

A brief digression

What? You people never watched “Matinee at the Bijou” on PBS when you were kids? You have not lived until you’ve seen Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy” himself, fight a robot.

Ah, hell.

I’m showing my age.

“Matinee at the Bijou” was a PBS show from 1980 to 1985. I watched on Saturday afternoons and picked up a weird nostalgia for a time and place I never lived and an America that never existed.

Anyway, back to the metaphor that turned into a digression, I walk wobbly.

Hacks for standing up

Standing is a two-part event. I think about it for a good minute. Then I do it, but it takes a bit to stretch out tight tendons and put the weight in the places that hurts the least.

The first step is really a sidestep. I bring my least damaged knee a little closer to the center of my body.

Then I lurch forward. Eventually, I develop a step and drag system that converts to something somewhat like walking.

Physical grace has never been my top characteristic, but it’s worse than that now.

Slogging through life

The upside is there’s a plan in place, with plenty of question marks, of course.

I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to be getting to classes this fall. I’ll consult with Drake’s people next week.

It doesn’t matter. I’m going to figure this out.

I survive.

That’s what I do.

One of these days I’ll learn how to thrive.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 

Knee pain, both mental and physical, dampen July 4, vacation

This is a healthy knee. Mine doesn’t look like this.

The time is 1:28 a.m., Wednesday, July 7. “Disraeli Gears” by Cream plays on my speakers. I am sprawled atop my battered old queen-size bed trying to decide if the rumbling in my gut is just gas or if I really need to go to the bathroom.

This thought normally would not burn much brainpower, but I have a seriously jacked up left knee.

Something happened last Tuesday. I moved to let my friend Sarah into the apartment. It exploded in pain. I ended up with my first ambulance ride to the emergency room.

I see a specialist Thursday. He’s a surgeon. I don’t like the sound of that. Surgeon. It relates too closely to “surgery,” which I would like to avoid at almost any cost.

Limited movement

But movement is a mess. I stand, which succeeds only slightly more often than New York Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman.

Then I use my right leg, which has its own arthritic issues to take a step, drag the left leg even, and repeat the process until I get to where I’m going.

I’ve failed at self-care since the emergency room visit. The doctor prescribed pain pills to be taken every six hours and rest.

My best friend, Memphis Paul, was making a visit for the first time in two years. I wanted to be a good host.

And, frankly, I wanted to have some fun.

It’s been a crap couple of years: Lost Aunt Janell in 2018, my job in 2020, Grandma Lois in October, and every little thing feels like a fistfight uphill naked in a snowstorm.

Didn’t follow instructions

So, I didn’t take the medicine. I drank margaritas mixed by my friend Sarah. I sipped gin and tonics with my friend Paul. We went to the pool. The comic store, and a couple restaurants.

I tried to be mindful of how I used the leg, but in the end, I ignored the doctor’s instructions because I wanted to ram and tear rather than rest.

We made it to Parents 2.0’s annual July 4 picnic, but by then my knee hurt so bad I couldn’t even enjoy the delicious ribs smoked by my Uncle Jim, the grilled turkey, baked beans, or my very favorite, Mom 2.0’s outstanding potato salad.

I left the party early and retired to a chair in the house to convalesce until it was time to take Paul to the airport. Mom 2.0 brought me a dish of homemade pineapple sherbet.

The homemade ice cream is the dinning equivalent of a fireworks display, the last great and spectacular moment of a joyous day.

Back to reality

I dropped Paul off at the airport at about 4 p.m. I went home and took my pain medicine, showered, and collapsed in bed.

The pain was so constant and so great that even when I was safely ensconced in my cool apartment, I sweat as if I were under the sun at its zenith.

About then, the “what ifs” started to creep in.

What if I need surgery?

What if I can’t walk to my classes this fall?

What if I can’t teach because of these goddamn knees?

Anxiety and depression redux

And that chorus was joined by the usual portents of rage, anguish and self-loathing.

This is all my fault. I’m too fat to live. This is how it ends, slow breakdown until I’m riding a scooter and being mocked by people in internet memes.

I actually said to Mom 2.0 on the phone late Sunday night: “How can you stand to look at me? I’m a whale. I’m hideous.”

I felt bad for saying that. It hurt her more than it does me. She just wants her son to be safe and happy. I’m wounded and beating myself up. That’s a tough load for a mom to carry.

These aren’t really my thoughts. They’re the canned reactions dialed up by chemical imbalances in my brain called depression and anxiety.

Adverse childhood experiences created a series of survival behaviors that while effective at the time have long since become cumbersome to living life as I would choose.

These are things I learned in behavioral therapy. The chemistry was jumbled in that moment and every thought turns into a parade of horribles.

So, I did what I always did.


Breakdown the problem.

What can I fix now and what must wait for more information?

The best I could do is take my medicine. Try to relax. Drink some water and rest.

I’d figure out the rest later.

Like Bob Dylan sang, “The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on.”

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Venmo: @newsmanone.