My knees are the subject of unprecedented scrutiny, on both sides of the Atlantic. I have had to raise my hemline for two orthopaedic specialists in the last couple of weeks, for,if I am to be a volunteer in Armenia from next March, I must convince the Medical Office at the US Peace Corps that I can walk their walk.
The trouble started when I called my regular knee man in Washington DC via Skype from the UK. I asked for a letter about my arthritis, and explained that I have been accepted to work as an NGO adviser in Armenia, pending medical clearance. Having aced the 9-page mental health questionnaire (I know!) I now needed to provide an orthopaedic assessment. Perhaps the line wasn’t clear; perhaps the message got garbled between the doctor’s front desk and his dictation; perhaps the “surefooted as a mountain goat” letters got mixed up with the “needs a blue badge so she can park anywhere” letters–whatever happened, I was told Armenia was a no-go, on the grounds of my gimping gait. My appeal is underway and my knees have never seen so much action.
In the winter months, the weather in Armenia is like that of Chicago. The roads and transport systems even in the capital, Yerevan, are not as good as those on the Miracle Mile or the Loop. Outside the city, sidewalks and pavements can be uneven and treacherous, even when there isn’t snow and ice. I can appreciate the Peace Corps concerns. Although I now have a couple of letters using the words “moderate” “mild”, “full range of motion” and “good mobility” it does have to be admitted that I am something of a stranger to Yaktrax and sturdy snow boots; and that my balance can be bad, and forward motion a bit of a challenge, even on the smoothest terrain on the sunniest of days. Still, there must be thousands of people with knees like mine going about their everyday business in Armenia, mustn’t there? If they can do it, so can I…
I know, of course, that part of the reason my knees are crumbly is that I burden them with the thundering weight of the rest of me. Of all the joints, in all the towns, in all the world, my poor knees must wonder how they stumbled into me. Losing weight would help my knees, and thus my chances of making it to Armenia. I reflected on this an hour ago while eating buttered toast, last night over drinks, and this morning during a lie-in. If I am told I can’t go do good in the world, because of the harm I do myself, the irony will sting. I need to make changes, and yet I (still) don’t want to. Why?