3hree Things: On Physical Maladies and Failing Body Parts–'Yeah…They Get Like That…They're Just Not Good Anymore'

Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California as an OC native.

If you replace “ankle” with “knee” in the Louis CK clip I posted after the jump, you have almost the exact conversation I had with my orthopedist last Friday.

1) History – “You're not an athlete.”

In the summer of 1992, I completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL), and partially tore my posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in my right knee. That's three of the four CLs that are responsible for keeping your leg from being a piece of linguini. 

Much to my dismay, the injury didn't occur while saving orphans from a burning building or scoring a game-winning touchdown in the state finals, but rather during summer passing league (which is, for all intents and purposes, just semi-organized flag football played to get high school players ready for the upcoming season, and a totally anti-climactic story to tell a grandchild as I bounce him or her on my shitty knee.) 

I jumped to catch a horribly overthrown and totally inconsequential pass by a third-string quarterback, landed straight-legged and was hit at the knee (in what was supposed to be a non-contact game) by a defensive back that outweighed me by no less than fifty pounds. (The 1992 version of me weighed about 140 pounds soaking wet, with pockets full of change, and lead boots on.) 

The human knee is not designed to bend forward. Spitting in the face of physiology, mine did.
One major reconstructive surgery, ten months of aggressive physical therapy, and 18 wonky-legged years later, I have a fully-functional, albeit “shitty” knee.

When I'm not on tour, I have a semi-normal routine of playing baseball on Sundays, softball on Thursdays, and going to an athlete development center (a place where college football players train for the NFL Draft Combine, where pushy parents take their marginally athletic kids and force them to get better at sports that they'll ultimately end up hating, and where old washed up jocks, like myself, go to try to stay in shape) for circuit training a few mornings a week. 

I love it. When the routine is in full swing, I feel as good, physically and mentally, as I ever have. My shitty knee allows me to partake in such activities, but not without making a fuss and swelling afterwards. Over the past month, it's been particularly swollen and painful, and the usual/recommended treatment of rest and ice hasn't really done much to help, which is why I figured that it was probably time to seek the opinion of a professional.

2) Diagnosis – “It's just shitty now.”

After filling out what seemed like a novel's worth of paperwork, rotting for an hour-and-a-half in three different waiting rooms, being rendered impotent by an x-ray machine, and having my eardrums raped by a screaming child and Nickelback's latest audio diarrhea, I finally saw my doctor. 

He reviewed my x-rays, tested the strength and flexibility of my shitty knee, and assured me that the pain and swelling wasn't due to any major structural damage. (Huge sigh of relief.) Then, he looked at my knee, chuckled, and shook his head.

“Whelp. That's the way we used to do 'em.”


In the 18 years since he performed my surgery, major advancements have been made in ACL reconstruction. Instead of making two, three-inch incisions and leaving patients looking like they survived a shark attack or tried to fend off a knife-wielding attacker with their knee, the surgery is done through a single hole punch, arthroscopically, leaving a barely visible scar. 

That must be nice. I suppose I should be grateful that amputation wasn't the preferred procedure in '92.

I couldn't help but wonder if, for my doctor, looking at his early work was as regretful, embarrassing, and cringeworthy as listening to the first Thrice EP is for me. God, I hope not. I have to live with this knee for the rest of my life.

3) Treatment – “That's just a new thing you do until you and your shitty knee die.”

Per doctor's orders, I have to “take it easy” for a month. (Grumble.) Drumming is fine. Baseball is fine. Softball is fine. Unfortunately, my thrice-weekly, 6 AM tradition of struggling, huffing, and puffing through squats, lunges, agility drills, box jumps, and sled pulls at the uber-athlete training center, is not. 

This is very sad news for my physical and mental well-being, and even sadder news for my thriving beer belly. Noting my displeasure with his recommended “take it easy” protocol, Doc suggested I do some cycling to supplant the cardio that I would usually get from circuit training. 

Cycling, icing four times a day, and liquifying my digestive tract with handfuls of ibuprofen. Whee! So, for the next month I suppose I'm resigned to grinding my crotch into a weathered leather bike seat while I ride my rusty jalopy of a trail bike around the mean streets of Orange. 

If anyone knows of some decent bike trails in the area that won't kill a novice cyclist, please share them in the comments. I'm not training for the Tour De France here. I'm just a kinda fat guy with a shitty knee who wants to stay in shape without getting hit by a car and rendering the rest of himself shitty.

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