Six years ago, I fell and broke my knee. That event changed my life in unexpected ways. For the first time in my life, I felt physically unsteady and vulnerable. My sense of invincibility disappeared. After a lifetime of bounding up and down stairs, I learned to hold onto a railing and watch my step.

In April 2014, I was running to the postoffice on a Saturday, hoping to get there before it closed, and I tripped down the stairs outside my house. My left knee landed on a flagstone, and I felt a horrible crushing sensation. I was alone at the time. My partner Mary was in Georgia, visiting with her college classmates. I just lay there on the ground for about five minutes, waiting to see how bad it was.

I was on Long Island, and none of my neighbors was home. I tried to stand but I couldn’t. I dragged myself on my back up the stairs (three of them) and into the house. I pulled down the phone and called a neighbor who lived a few doors away and she called an ambulance. I was transported to the closest hospital, in the small town of Greenport. They couldn’t help me. The next day my son took a bus out to pick me up and bring me to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. There, the doctor x-rayed my knee and told me I had well and truly broken it and needed a total knee replacement. Mary had already had double knee surgery, and I had some idea of what was in store for me.

I had to wait two weeks to get into surgery, and during that two weeks I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, using a walker, to receive the Grawemeyer Award for my 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. When I walked to the podium at the University of Louisville to accept my award, I did not use a crutch or a walker, and I thought maybe the diagnosis was wrong. But when I got home, I was dressing to go out, lost my balance, and almost crashed through a wall. Surgery it would be.

After the surgery, I went to rehab diligently, but my leg simply would not straighten out. It was bent. The physical therapist assured me I would wake up one morning and it would be straight, but day after day I felt my leg locked into a bent shape. I could not straighten it. I fell into the deepest depression of my life. I believed I would never walk again without a walker.

Then a dear friend from college days told me to go at once to a different physical therapist. I did, and the therapist told me that my knee was encased in scar tissue. I went back to the surgeon, and he performed a “manipulation.” That means that I was given morphine, knocked out, and while I was unconscious, he forced my leg straight. He took pictures to show me that my leg was straight. But when I woke up, my leg almost immediately sprung back into a bent position.

Back to the physical therapist, who said there were only two people who could help me: One was a sports medicine doctor in Vail, the other was a sports medicine doctor in Cincinnati. I chose the latter because the flight was nonstop and closer. I went to Dr. Frank Noyes at the Noyes Knee Institute at Mercy Hospital. As it happened, he literally wrote the book on scar tissue (arthrofibrosis). He told me I was too old for surgery but that he could fix my leg. We went into a small room, where I sat on the edge of a table and stretched my bent knee so that my heel was on another table. Then two very large men on either side of me pressed my leg down until it was straight. The pain was intense, and I was crying, but while they forced my leg straight, they quickly built a plaster cast around it, then cut the cast open, filled it with cotton and gauze, put it into a large box, and presented it to me. Dr. Noyes told me to wear it eight-ten hours a day for at least six weeks, wrapping it tightly with ace bandages.

After six weeks, the cast straightened my leg. I was able to walk again. I could no longer run or even walk fast, but I could walk without any help.

I asked my surgeon why no one in New York City was able to perform such a simple procedure. He explained that he was a surgeon not a rehabilitation specialist.

I mention this story not to share my personal pain, depression, and recovery but to share the understanding that there are sometimes ways to fix what seem to be impossible physical conditions. Not always. I thought I would never be able to walk again without a walker. My gait is somewhat stilted, but I walk without crutches or a walker.

If you need the same kind of help, you now know where you can get it. Dr. Noyes may have retired by now, but he trained others in his methods. Every time I see someone with a bent knee, on a walker, I long to tell then this story. That’s why I’m telling it now. It might help someone else.