I have been living with this for almost 5 years now, this weight on my shoulders, this cloud over my head, this constant fear.
One day, 10 year old me was happily walking down the wooden staircases of my new home. As I did every time I came to the bottom, I skipped the last four steps and leaped onto the sturdy floor. However, things didn't go as they usually did, things never do.
Pain. Pain I had never felt before exploded throughout my body. The source? My right knee. I remember not knowing what the pain was or where it was coming from. I remember crawling along the hard wooden floor with my arms. I remember wondering ‘what the heck am I supposed to do’. I remember the sounds of my screams, of my plea for help. I remember not knowing why the pain was there or what it was. But I definitely know now.
In the next day or so I went to our local hospital. The doctor there told me I had patellar instability in my right knee, basically meaning my kneecap dislocates frequently. I walked away from that doctor visit with 5 things; a prescription for a knee brace, crutches, a ticket to come back for a check-up and a ticket to get started on a long 4 year trial of physical therapy that is still ever expanding. The fifth thing I walked away with was ignorance, ignorance of what was to come. From there I had physical therapy three times a week which eventually turned into two times a week and then once. After the incident my leg lost a lot of hard earned strength and muscle. Physical therapy helped me build it back up as much as possible. Physical therapy was like a false promise that I would get better, just as my knee brace promised I would not get hurt again. They both contributed to better stability but never made me fully stable, fully safe. Therefore it happened again.
I never thought that it would happen to me again, I never thought it could get worse and I definitely never thought it would affect the way I lived.
It is my past, it is my present, and it is my future.
During 5th grade recess, I was hanging out with some friends kicking around a harmless soccer ball. The ball was kicked far away from where we were playing as cool breeze fluttered through my long blond hair. Through a few eye glances, I was silently selected to go fetch it. I jogged along the grass that was surprisingly sandy and I spontaneously felt the pain. Instantly, I knew what it was. My right knee. My right knee cap went right back into to place after a few agonizingly long moments on the rough ground. I became shaky and spooked as what happened dawned on me. I tried to lift myself from the ground as a heard of people gathered to see the drama. My body fatigued and I fell. Embarrassment flooded through me. I thought to myself how weak and foolish I must look, all in front of my new friends, at a new school. However, life moves on and the cycle restarts, my knee cycle anyway.
The cycle starts with a knee injury then leads to a doctor's appointment ending with physical therapy or an hope for a new solution. At this point in time I still did not believe that it might happen again. I only thought I needed more time to heal, more physical therapy. I was convinced that physical therapy was the solution to all my problems. It along with little things like shoe inserts were thrown on me like they were going to fix me, like it would make it never happen again. As I look back now, I envision that was my denial phase. I did not have crutches this time around for it was not as bad as the first. Just as every second time is not as bad as the first, however, the third time, was when all hell broke loose.
I was at my best friend Bella's house when Brooke, another friend of ours, called and asked us to an event called indoor gym. Indoor gym is a gymnast center open to the public on Fridays. You see, they have a hole or pit like thing in the ground filled with these soft squishy blocks one would love to jump into. What gave the pit its edge was a thick rope that hung over the pit to leap onto and swing until one falls, the pit cushioning the drop. The three of us ended up going. We eventually made our way to the block pit. When it was my turn to jump onto the rope and into the pit a problem occurred. When I leaped for the rope, I jumped off a squishy mat, an uneven surface. Under my feet it felt rough and gripped to them. My feet squished into it like they do with soft sand. When I jumped I felt the familiar pain. As you may have guessed, my knee did it again. It dislocated but this time was different. This time wasn't close to being like the other times. This time It was worse.
A woman dialed 911 with her thick fingers. The ambulance sirens blared off in the distance before it came to its final destination. My piercings screams called for help. I called out for the fear I had. I could not cry for that level of pain, I could only scream. I wanted to be fearless, but I could even see fear in my mother's blue eyes, the one who's always fearless. Fear struck us hard for my kneecap did not go back in. It got stuck in the most painful position possible and was stuck there for about two hours. I was stuck in the block pit. My stomach still clenches when I think about my poor knee twisted at an odd angle. They tried to lift me out but with every centimeter, every movement and effort to dig me out of the horrendous pit, there was a string of agonizing pain. I have never felt pain like that before or even imagined it before. Those two hours were the most incredible, horror-filled, intense moment of my life so far, but it was only the beginning. I went to the ER that night, pumped with pain killers, and came back home almost painless. I now envy the ignorance I once had.
The cycle was supposed to restart but the cycle was different. Incident #3 was so bad I had to switch doctors to a orthopedic specialist for young knees at the Boston Children's Hospital. I met Dr. Heyworth there, whom is still my doctor to this day. It was cold in the little room the nurse with the matted hair placed us in. The hospital was meant for children, meant to be warming. But it was so cold, in every way. Dr. Hayworth told us things were only going to get worse, unless I had surgery. When he offered surgery I was confused. My jaw dropped a bit, but I quickly shut it. “Me?” I thought, “Surgery?” no way. When we got home, my mother fact checked everything he said, coming to the inevitable conclusion that my old cycle of physical therapy was not going to make my situation any better. In my situation there was no good options, only bad options, but there was a better option. Surgery was a better option.
February 28th was game day. Game day meaning surgery day. I believe I was in shock because I don't remember any of it. I don't remember being scared. I don't remember being nervous. I don't remember being happy or hopeful. I don't remember the fabric of the bed and the color of the carpet, --or was it tile? I just remember that it happened. My family tells me stories of what I was like, what it was like. What I do know is what I have been told. My recovery was painful and one of the hardest things I have ever done. Recovery started out with wheelchairs and an adventure to make it to the bathroom. My knee was in a bulky, black brace that restricted my knee into a straight figure. It led me to many restless nights. I could not bathe. I could not feed myself. I could not keep down the food I was given. I cannot remember it, and I am glad I cannot.
When I finally recovered, I thought it was over. I thought I was out of the woods. My knee still worried me when in thought, but I was no longer in constant fear to come. I thought the last four problems were enough for more than one person, but life could not resist to push me down again. I thought it was over. SPOILER ALERT!: It wasn’t
If this were a real novel, this would be part two:
My left knee.
Let me set the scene; 7th grade gym class. Group of girls in a corner of the gym. They were playing four square. I was one of them. I wasn’t playing four square. I was performing lazy chartwheels, a simple yet fun activity. It wasn’t simple or fun. It was painful. It was fearsome. It was saddening. It wasn’t the end. A glass shattering scream came from that corner, from a girl, from me. I collapsed on the ground.
This cannot be happening.
This cannot be happening.
This cannot be happening.
I felt the excessively glossed wood floor under me, biting into me when I fell. Complete horror washed over me as something deep inside me whispered. It echoed inside my head, it is not over. I was not ready to go through it again. I was not ready for another surgery. I was not ready to give up parts of my life again. I had been getting back into softball, a sport I loved, and that hope went away. When I pear down at my knees now, I see more than just flesh and bone. I see the many times I’m asked why I don’t do sports (I can’t). I see the distorted shape of my right knee and its ever fading scars that nobody but me notices. I see the pain that I go through, that my family had to endure and a burden. I would rather have broken bones, torn ligaments, because at least they heal. My injury doesn’t heal, It follows, creeping up on you, whispering sweet nothings in your ear. It antagonizes you even as you will it to stop. I wanted it to stop. It was not just the pain that stabbed me, it was what came afterword. I thought it was over, truly over but it is not. This is my life now, a constant cycle, waiting to repeat. I am waiting, waiting for it to happen again, waiting for it to come back and haunt me. Not the end, not the beginning.
I cried. I sobbed. I still do.