Despite being a fine arts major, I wasn’t all that bad at math, particularly geometry because it involved pictures. And one thing I know for certain is there’s a fair bit of difference between a 90-degree angle and one that’s 120 degrees.
That’s the difference my knee has six weeks to bridge.
Never mind the fact that I can now tolerate walking for 30 minutes, double what I could 10 days ago. That I’m doing a much better job of sleeping through the night. Or the fact that I can clean out the dishwasher, put the dog in the yard, do laundry, feed the fur babies, make a meal, put on my own boots and (sort of) carry stuff upstairs, all by myself—things I couldn’t do just a short time ago.
Nope, according to my doctor, I have to get my knee to bend 120-degrees. It’s imperative. It’s possible. Apparently he did it while I was on the operating table.
The fact that I was so severely drugged up that I have no memory of this and temporarily paralyzed from the waist down at the time didn’t figure into that conversation.
It wouldn’t have mattered. I was too lightheaded from the Cirque du Soleil audition they had me doing in X-ray to make a witty retort. And slight nauseated from the sharp pain him of shoving my knee further back than I’d ever taken it.
The answer? Every 10 minutes, I am to bend my knee back, pulling my lower leg under me as far as it will go. Farther each day. Every 10 minutes. Doc wasn’t making a generalization. He meant every 10 minutes. As in six times an hour.
“Do you want more meds?” he asked before I left. “Yes, please,” I thought. “And while you’re at it, throw in a pound of medical marijuana, a bottle of Absolut citrus for Cosmos and a couple of quarts of Ben & Jerry’s. If you expect me to get through this bending thing.”
“Next time you see me, we should talk about getting you on the list for the right knee.”
I smiled and nodded. I’m sure he didn’t hear me say “oh goodie” as I entered the hall.
It took the rest of the night and the better part of the next morning for the disappointment and self-loathing of my tight inflexible body to dissipate. Then anger filled in the blanks. I would do it damn it. I would show him and the world that I could bend my fake knee just as well as anyone else. False bravado makes me feel better, more in control.
And not being able to walk properly after going through all this is, frankly, more than I can bear.
So I am bending. While waiting for my love at Lowes. Reading in bed. While drinking coffee in the morning. While typing this piece. Every time I think about it, which is really often. It’s the monkey on my back. The song that won’t get out of my head.
No, it’s probably not every 10 minutes, but it’s an awful lot of bending and trying to best myself each time.
I’m working on making it become an unconscious habit.
I’m hoping it stops hurting so damn much.
My dad was in a wheelchair—due in part to the disease I’ve inherited—for the last ten years of his life, so I thought I knew a lot about public reaction to a disability.
I’ve had my share of yelling matches with perfectly able-bodied jerks who park in the handicap zones, stared down serving staff whose sensibilities were ruffled by the presence of a wheelchair in their section and apologized for accidentally steering him into store end caps. What I learned from him is screw them all, do what you want and be where you want to be.
My love, whose own father was challenged with Parkinson’s disease, was good at grabbing my dad by the back of his belt and hoisting him out of our then very low to the ground Mustang. I’m sure there were times he was nearly spitting cotton, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying an outing. He was having fun.
But it turns out there is so much more to learn. Nothing about my recent education would be news to anyone who has had to deal with any sort of physical, mental or psychological challenge, but it’s all new to me and therefore a little fascinating. Here are just a few of the things I have picked up.
This may be racial profiling, but young women of Asian and Middle Eastern descent are my best friends on public transportation. I have had young female Chinese students race to give up their seat and once a teen girl in a hijab nearly cleared the entire front of a bus for me. She yelled, people scattered. I think it might have something to do with their upbringing and cultures that actually value aging relatives who might need a little extra consideration now and then. Makes me wonder—when we talk about diversity and tolerance—many we should be taking about how much these new Canadians have to tolerate from us.
Like anyone else, I appreciate you holding the door for me. It’s definitely preferable to getting hit in the face with it. However, understand that you are making a commitment and you should do so graciously. I’d rather open my own door when I get there on my own time than feel the need to step up the pace to get that disappointed look off your face.
Understand that no matter how close you walk or stand behind me, it’s not going to make me more flexible or quick. Doesn’t work like that. If it did, I would hire someone to walk very close behind me just to keep me in motion.
Don’t give me that look when I eschew the stairs for the elevator. Yes, I look healthy, relatively young for my age, I’m usually fairly neat and well dressed and I don’t use a cane or any other sort of aid. I’m not lazy, seeking sympathy or feeling sorry for myself. Trust me, attempting those stairs is going to ruin my night.
Yes, I do know you’re in a hurry and you want to get around me, but try not to dart left and right; just pick a path and go. Whether I see you coming at me, or feel you behind me, I can’t react to your sudden motion and it makes me freeze in place. Which does neither of us any good.
And to the several people out there who seem disappointed that I’m still working—get over it. Currently, the toughest thing about my workday is getting my tights or stockings on—and that’s only because the bend-ability of both knees is less than ten percent of what it should be. Summer, with cute dresses that can be flung over one’s head and wriggled into, along with bare legs and slip-on flats sans socks will make the mornings much easier. Besides, it’s my brain that makes the money—and as long as I can limp, wheel, crawl or roll up to a laptop, I’m working.
Take note—there will be times when I am simply not myself. Dealing with even low grade chronic pain can cause brain fog, mood swings and feelings of frustration and exhaustion. The pain pills can sometimes cause headaches or stomach woes. All temporary. It all could be so much worse. It’s not cancer. It’s not dementia. It’s not any one of many other horrible things one can get. It’s just hurts to walk. Sometimes. But only until the doctors and I figure out how to fix it.
And that point is never lost on me.