I first heard the words on the telephone. The surgeon said, “It turns out we are looking at a different pathology than we at first expected.”

He explains that apparently I do not have a meniscus tear. As best as I can understand, I have an articular cartilage tear resulting in a 3-4 mm. fibrocartilage condral defect.

The initial treatment is similar to the treatment for a meniscus tear. The tear is surgically trimmed and any rubble inside my knee cleared away. This has been done. But, at this point the treatment modalities part company.

Using a procedure I can only vaguely imagine, the surgeon treating a fibrocartilage condral defect makes miniscule fractures in the underlying bone, apparently with the goal of introducing blood flow to restore the articular cartilage. That is the end of surgical intervention.

Now it is in the healing process that the way ahead is dramatically different from the journey following  meniscus surgery. It had been my understanding that, after meniscus repair, I would experience rapid relief, be able to start exercising quickly, walking freely in a few days, and fit enough to run the TC 10k in May.

The time frame for my recovery now, if you can trust the internet, is quite different. I will be on crutches for four weeks, unable to ride my bike for six months; no running for eight months.  Ultimately, the possibility of more surgery in the future looms on the horizon.

This is not the prognosis I was anticipating going happily into the surgery that was going to be a quick and easy fix for my problem.

I am acutely aware that life often and unexpectedly presents us with a different pathology.

We set off in one direction, anticipating a particular outcome, only to discover a quite different set of circumstances awaiting us down the road.

I am reminded of the Zen story that was made famous when it was told at the end of the film “Charlie Wilson’s War”. The story takes place in an ancient remote Chinese village.

A farmer lives alone with his only son on their poor farm. One day the farmer’s only horse escapes from the barn and flees into the countryside.

The villagers go to the village elder who is revered for his wisdom to share the sad news. “How terrible and unfair that this poor farmer should lose his only horse.”

The elder pauses and then replies, “We’ll see.”
A few days later the escaped horse returns followed by a wild stallion.
The poor farmer captures the wild horse and now not only has his runaway horse, he now has a valuable new horse.
The villagers go to the village elder to tell him the good news saying, “How fortunate. What a magnificent gift.”
The wise elder replies, “We’ll see.”
The farmer gives the new horse to his son who trains it and proudly rides the magnificent beast through the village.
One day the young man is thrown off his horse and his leg is broken.
The villagers tell the village elder, “How sad. This horse is a curse.”
The elder replies, “We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, the king’s soldiers come to the village to take all the young men to fight an invading nation. Because the farmer’s son has a wounded leg he is unsuitable for the army and is left behind with his father.
The villagers go to the village elder and say, “How blessed this poor farmer is to still have his son, when all our young men have been taken away to die in the war.”
The elder replies, “We’ll see.”
The story is a reminder of the incredibly limited perspective we have when we make judgments about the circumstances of our lives. We seldom have a clear enough knowledge of events to make an accurate assessment. The only power we have is the power of the attitude we bring to our situation.
I can complain bitterly at the ordeal of having to hobble around on crutches, or I can acknowledge the reality of my circumstance and accept the situation. I can welcome the challenge to practice living beyond likes and dislikes. The reality of a shattered knee is just what is happening now.

This does not mean doing nothing or simply resigning myself to my circumstances. The young man in the story did train and ride his new horse. Life carried on. But the wise elder bore witness to an attitude towards life that chooses as its starting point acceptance of what is.

There is nothing any of us can do about the fact that sometimes the pathology is different than we had expected. The road of life often takes unexpected twists and turns. When we accept the surprising curve in the road, we will find ourselves in a better position to navigate the next unanticipated circumstance when it emerges.