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SANDY BANKS / Life as We Live It

Weekend Warrior Dribbles Into Middle Age With a Busted Knee

March 30, 1998|SANDY BANKS

It could have been the high point of my basketball career--the basket I scored in the final minute last Sunday to put my team ahead; the way I scrambled back to try to steal the ball.

But suddenly--as I turned to block a younger, quicker player dribbling by--I heard a popping sound from my right knee. Then my shrieks rose above the din in the gym, as I collapsed on the court and the other team scored to win the game.

My teammates came and carried me back to our bench to the other team's applause. My children rushed over, and I could hear the fear in their voices: "Mommy . . . are you OK?"

I nodded my head, but I couldn't speak. . . . When I opened my mouth, only sobs came out.

Were the tears from the pain, or the fear? The hurt over losing, or disappointment at ending my season this way? Or the humiliation I felt because I cried like a baby, for everyone in the gym to see?

*

Twenty-four hours later, my knee resembled a cantaloupe. I couldn't bend it or put weight on my leg . . . and that popping sound kept reverberating in my head.

Still, I felt sheepish as I called the Southern California Orthopedic Institute. I could imagine the questions, the mocking tone: "You're 43, right? With three kids? And you got hurt playing basketball?"

But my story was old hat to medical secretary Pam Swan.

"Every Monday we get the weekend warriors," she said. So many that her boss, Dr. Donald A. Wiss, hosts a walk-in clinic for folks injured in weekend encounters with skis, skateboards, motor boats, basketballs.

So they X-rayed me and scheduled an MRI, handed me crutches and strapped on a huge, foam rubber brace. Stay off your feet, the doctor said. Lie down with your leg elevated, your knee on ice.

"Just settle in on the couch," Pam told me. "Prop your leg up on couple of pillows and stay put."

Right, I thought. And when will you be sending over the maid, the cook and the chauffeur?

*

My appearance the next day on crutches at work unleashed torrents of sympathy and co-workers' tales of knees gone bad.

It seemed as if everyone over 40 had torn up a knee. I began to feel lucky that my mishap involved an athletic pursuit. Unlike my colleague Jim, who injured his knee while "leaning over the barbecue grill to rearrange the meat." Try explaining your crutches that way. . . .

It was like a rite of passage, this busted knee, offering me kinship with an aging fraternity of weekend jocks who consider torn ligaments and arthroscopic surgery the price to be paid for fleeting moments of glory on the basketball court, the soccer field, the baseball diamond.

I know how those guys feel. The highlight of my week is that Sunday Moms' League game at our local park.

But I'm not sure about paying the price. If the choice turns out to be basketball or knees . . . well, it's not that hard.

And it's a choice more women are making these days, thanks in part to the ever-increasing number of women who play.

Female soccer players suffer serious knee injuries twice as often as their male counterparts, studies show. Among female basketball players, the rate is four times as high.

Some researchers say the female body is more vulnerable because of its design. Girls tend to have more ligament laxity than boys, which makes their joints more flexible, but more susceptible to injury as well. And the broader hips of female frames create a body alignment that can place added strain on knee compartments during some sports, researchers say.

Now, I'm not ready to blame my knee injury on wide hips, but I will concede the difference between me and a man.

I knew it as I sat on the examining table, watching as the handsome doctor slid my pantleg up to examine my knee. And I could think of only one thing: Darn, I wish I'd shaved my legs. . . .

* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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