Without the knees, you can’t bring home the cheese

Date Published: 
Oct. 20, 2017

The Eastern Shore was fairly remote up to the 1950s, and the only major connections, before they built the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, were a ferry crossing or a couple two-lane roads from Wilmington.

Because of our geographic isolation, many a broken limb went unattended, whether from pulling a log out of the swamp to build a ship mast, or a shoulder broken falling off the roof of a riverside cabin or repairing an old weather-beaten dock.

The thinking was not to call the doctor unless it was a real injury. Basically, “If it hurts, sweat it out, and it will go away.”

This mindset extended to athletics, and I believe this influenced how I thought about medical care, and explains why I have been so reluctant to take advantage of the abundant healthcare available to my generation.

I trust my readers are smarter and take advantage of our world-class medical talent. I eventually got to the point that I could not drive at night, lost the pickleball in flight, could not sleep because the shoulder pain was a fright, and my legs were so bowed it shortened my height.

The pies: Knowing that every 2.5 pounds of body fat is the equivalent of 10 pounds of pounding on the knees, I became much more aware of what kind of food I put into this old frame. I also started to pay attention to the food value like a fit dame, because my metabolism is no longer the same.

The eyes: I visited my eye doctor about cataracts, and he put me in the exam room and I could not even read the largest letter on the eye chart. In what sounded like a frightening procedure, I soon was wheeled into the operating room on a table, watched the entire process, listened to the doctors with fascination, and was being driven away in 30 minutes.

Now, both eyes are 20/20 and I can drive at night. But, warning: when you wake up that first morning and see the wrinkled skin on your arm, it could be a life-threatening shock to any old sun-drenched jock.

The skin: It’s now loaded with spots and dots, and is very thin. I want to thank my dermatologist, who has maintained my body by chipping away like an overworked stonemason, all because of the years I spent in the sun without sunscreen. I wrote this week’s piece in her reception room, waiting for yet another spin, so I suspect when she reads this, she will greet it with her winning grin.

The shoulder: After the docs fixed my eyes, I thought fixing my right shoulder would be wise. Initially, I bought some relief by changing from a graphite paddle to a fiberglass-face paddle with a polymer core, but with excessive play, my shoulder brought forth more cries.

Bob Cairo at Tidewater Physical Therapy managed to help me reduce the pain by manipulation and exercise routines that I followed religiously, probably saving me from a torn rotator cuff.

The knees: The knees probably affect more of us in the pickleball community than any other medical concern.

During the second Ocean View Crew pickleball team match at Ocean Pines, my old knee finally wore out. Knee and I were quite close, because we went all around the world together, played a lot of tennis in exotic places, ran thousands of miles on beaches on multiple oceans, across deserts and up mountains including the Rockies and Alps, in Red Square and swankier places, like Hyde Park in London.

The docs had been telling me for a decade they didn’t trust old knee joint, but we were so attached, if you get my point.

So how do you pick a knee surgeon?

I first met a fellow, Dr. Nirschl, in the 1970s. We were both the weekend guests departing on the private airliner of a famous fellow quoted in Sports Illustrated (“I’ve killed 600 elephants and 73 men in my life, and I’m sorry about the elephants.”). But that’s a story for another day.

We both, fortunately, survived that weekend, and Nirschl went on to a great medical career, focusing his practice on athletic injuries. One of his earliest patients invented pickleball!

Why did I select Nirschl’s group over in Arlington, Va.? He has surrounded himself with the best and brightest in every aspect of his practice. Surgeon Clay Wellborn, and his nurses and coordination team, are at the top of their game.

My next stop is to have both knees replaced, and for this I am braced. Why? Without the knees, you can’t bring home the cheese, and the surgery, they tell me, is now a breeze. But more on that before the first freeze.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.