A short story about my experience with an injured knee.
“How am I supposed to get there, ma’am?” I asked.
“You got here, didn’t you?”
She said this as though it wasn’t remarkable.
“Yes ma’am, I did.”
I managed to say this without calling her every hateful name I had learned in my eighteen years on this planet.
“Then, you can find your way.”
She turned and walked away. She said this to me as I stood there with my knee locked at about forty-five degrees. My face barely masking my fear, but surely showing unrelenting pain. Any fool would have recognized a kid scared out of his wits and helpless. This was not caring and compassion. I was now expected to walk down the stairs, bend my locked and swollen knee, get in my car, and drive over to a building on the other side of the campus. Once there, I had to unfurl myself and do it all over again. Or I could try and walk the whole thing. I decided to take the car. I needed to do this in pieces.
I somehow blocked out some of my memories because I next remember being given a choice.
“But what if I don’t want to have surgery, sir?” I asked.
“Then you can get out on a medical discharge. The Navy doesn’t want you with a frozen knee. You can’t serve.”
That was an extremely attractive offer. I paused my breathing. He could see the smile coming on my face. I guess he felt a need to destroy it. Nobody smiles on this godforsaken base unless it’s like a vulture smiling on a carcass.
“When you get home, then you can have the knee surgery. Either way, you will have the surgery. There’s no way around it, son. So, on Uncle Sam or on your Dad?” He stood there with his pen in waiting, staring at me with googly eyes. Damn! I took the pen and signed for the surgery. My Dad not wanting to sign my financial aid forms was the reason I was in my current predicament.
He unlocked my knee somehow and scheduled me for surgery the next week. For the remainder of this week, I was confined to quarters. I was happy to know why my knee would give out and even happier to know how it would be fixed; a simple in and out arthroscopy to remove a bone chip gone rogue.
I arrived to the hospital the night before surgery to be prepped. Nothing happened, but I think they just wanted to make sure I came in. It was tempting to change my mind, but my Dad’s disappointed face as I showed up on his stoop with a future surgery bill was enough to propel me forward into any abyss, no matter the depth.
The next morning, they woke me up early. I was amazed I had gone to sleep. They wheeled my starving, thirsty, body down to surgery where they assaulted my hand with an intravenous line. That really hurt, but when they gave my pre-med through it, I knew my future path was paved in drug addiction. Those drugs were wonderful. I couldn’t figure out why I waited so long. What was I thinking? Drugs were the key to everything.
Even with drugs on board, when they told me to flip onto my side, I did it quickly enough, but had the beginnings of a question forming on my lips when I fell back asleep. I don’t think I woke up, but when they told me to curl into a ball, I did. A sharp prick came, some pressure, and then my legs went warm, then numb. I slept on.
I woke up in the middle of surgery, couldn’t move my legs, and though I could hear them, I couldn’t see anybody. Why were my arms tied down? I was twisting my head around and trying to get someone’s attention, but my mouth was full of cotton. There it is. There’s my voice. I’m yelling. I’m getting my arms loose and I’m trying to sit up. I see someone pointing a syringe at my iv and then, whoosh, I’m sailing again, waking up much later and much more at peace.
I look down at my leg and it’s wrapped all the way from my thigh to my toes. I can only see the tips and this cute nurse keeps coming by to squeeze them. I like her. I realize I like when someone looks out for me. It’s nice to feel safe.
The next day and I’m ready for discharge. They give me instructions on weight-bearing and thigh exercises and all kinds of warnings about what would happen to my leg if I didn’t. I already knew I was going to do whatever they told me. I was raised on a healthy dose of fear and respect for authority. I also knew I wasn’t taking pill one of those pain medications. My memory was too good and they felt too good. I never picked them up.