Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Left Knee

The second time I went to South Bend, it ended much better than it began, but not before it got worse.  You should know, here at the beginning, that the entirety of this story is not mine to tell, but what you're getting is true.  I promise.

Let's do a thought experiment. Each of us has a clock; I'm going to stand right here, and you're going to accelerate until you're moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light. Now, let's look at each other's clocks...what's this, less time has passed on yours? And, both clocks are right? Welcome to special relativity.

Let's do another one. We still have the clocks, but this time, I'm in a place where local gravity is greater than where you are. This time, my clock is slower than yours, but yours has accurately measured the passage of time. Welcome to general relativity.

Both of these are examples of time dilation.

I have a theory that there is an emotional gravity to events, far more malleable than physical gravity and infinitely responsive to the intensity of events. This is why time seems to slow down when something raw happens, only to whip back to its normal passage afterward, leaving you dazed, disoriented, and discomfited.

It was this past February 4th, a Monday morning. I was in Indiana because my son had an emergency and needed me. It was my fourth day there, and with other family coming in from Mississippi later in the day, I needed cash. I looked up the location of the nearest Wells Fargo branch and got in my car.

Keep February and Indiana in mind for the next few minutes.

I'd never in my life experienced quite as much snow as in the previous three days, but on that Monday, it was no hindrance to driving. I got to the Wells Fargo branch around 10:00 am, and within five minutes, I had the cash I wanted and left the building. I was on the sidewalk in between the bank and the street, ready to cross the parking lot to my car.

I fell as confidently as I had been walking. I can only figure that there must have been ice under the snow I stepped on. My left food slid forward, and I couldn't stop it. I expected only to be a bit embarrassed, but just before I hit the ground, I felt a *pop* in my left knee...

Déjà vu is a French phrase which translates literally as "already seen". It's a complex psychological phenomenon where one is extremely familiar with a situation never encountered before. It has been associated with temporal-lobe epilepsy, but there is hardly a 100% correlation.

George Carlin described the obverse, which he called vu jàdé, as "the feeling that you've never, ever been there before".

Your mileage may vary.

It was August, 2003. I don't recall the exact date. Lisa and I had been dating for 18 months, and we were taking our first vacation together, in Wilmington. We stayed at a KOA, in a cabin instead of a campsite, planning to do a bunch of touristy things over a couple of days. Then, I was going to take her to meet my parents for the first time.

On the day we traveled from Greensboro, we took in the battleship USS North Carolina museum and ate dinner at Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn. On our second day of the trip, we wanted to take in the sea turtle sanctuary at Topsail Island, after going for a swim in the pool.

We never made it to Topsail Island.

Sometimes, things seem familiar because they are.

We finished our swim, and as we climbed out of the pool, I stepped on a small puddle on the decking. My weight was going to the right, I was twisting my left leg to the left, and I slipped. I recall neither falling nor landing; I was overwhelmed by the pain. I do vividly recall two details from the next few minutes: my screaming, and the sight of my knee pointing 90 degrees sideways. Just...my...knee.

The knee popped back into place on its own. My pain lingered.

Is it unusual to feel estranged from a part of your own body?

...a *pop* in my left knee. I knew this pain, intimately. I was again away from home, but not on vacation. No, I had responsibilities, people counting on me. By God, I was going to ignore the pain, just will it away.

There was no willing away the fact that my knee had dislocated about 45 degrees and stayed. A couple of guys who saw me fall helped me up and held me up as I hopped across the parking lot to my car. That's when I found out I could not put any weight on my leg and I could not bend it. Not the best signs, given all on my plate that day.

One of the guys who helped me went inside the bank and brought the manager, who offered to call an ambulance for me. At first, I said no, because I wanted my will to overcome my injury. Once I really understood the damage, I capitulated.

The EMTs seemed to think I was handling things pretty well. So did the folks in the ER, although I ended up pretty out of sorts when the doctor popped my knee back into place. I was more outraged when, even though I was fitted with a "knee" brace that went from just above my ankle to halfway up my thigh, the doctor refused me a pair of crutches. I was given a prescription for pain medication, taken to the ER entrance in a wheelchair, comped the cost of a taxi ride back to my car, managed to lurch from the wheelchair -- remember the "knee" brace -- to the taxi when it arrived, and finally got to my car, a bit more than a couple of hours after arriving at the bank.

I called Lisa and several other family members to let them know why I'd been out of touch most of the morning. Then, I drove back to my son's apartment complex. I was terrified of finding more ice under the snow, but I successfully lurched across the sidewalk and up the stairs to the apartment. Once the Mississippi family arrived, we went to CVS to get my pain meds. We also bought me a cane. Stupid ER doctor.

Once my son's emergency was under control, I drove the nearly 800 miles from South Bend back to High Point in one day. From a pain management perspective, I would have been better off taking two days to make the drive, but after an unexpected and unplanned eight days away, I wanted to be home. I was hurt, and I knew Lisa would take care of me.

Almost seven months have passed. I have been through physical therapy and have started going to the employee gym, but I don't have quite the full range of motion back. I sometimes have to take the stairs one step at a time, and when I mow the steep slope in my front yard, I always fully plant my left foot before shifting my weight.

In spite of the care I take and the effort I put into strengthening the muscles around my knee, I still feel a small pop or two in it every week. It is often swollen and sore. I know that the best thing I can do, not only for my knee but for my general health, is to continue losing weight. I am down 13 pounds from my first check up with my doctor in Greensboro after the injury.

I know beyond any doubt I can handle this.

It was October 13, 2003, a Monday evening. Lisa and I had just been seated in a private alcove at our favorite restaurant, the much-missed Bianca's. It was Lisa's birthday.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the diamond ring; we had discussed getting engaged, but I had set expectations so that Lisa had no idea this was the day. I stood up and knelt to pop the question.

On my left knee.

Originally Published September 2, 2013

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