I wish I could come up with a clever, interesting introduction to this blog post, but I can’t think of one. I’ll just get to the point: I had knee surgery on Friday, and now I have to wear a brace over my entire left leg for six weeks. I’ll be using crutches for the rest of the semester, most likely, and certainly won’t be driving for a while. It’s a frustrating situation, but I’m feeling strangely neutral about it, since my little pity-party thoughts are balanced out by the positive insight I’ve gained from this experience.
I feel fortunate that the surgery took place amidst GWST 345. Before this semester, I would have never felt comfortable discussing something like knee surgery in a public forum. After all, let’s be honest, it’s kind of a boring topic for anyone who isn’t experiencing it her or himself. Most of us are so used to hearing about people getting emergency C-sections, breaking bones, having migraines, etc. that we’re pretty desensitized to illness or injury-related talk, and I’ll admit that I always used to zone out while other people launched monologues about their physical ailments. But this class has taught me that people’s body experiences are significant and should be talked about and analyzed. I consider this situation to be like extreme “supplemental learning” that will permanently tattoo on my mind the class concept of body-and-mind unity.
I’ll try to summarize the experience as concisely as I can. At some point earlier this year, I don’t know when or how, I tore my “meniscus.” I put the word in quotes because I don’t really have a concrete understanding of what that actually is, all I know is that it’s somewhere in my left knee, which had been giving me serious pain all throughout the spring and summer that I had tried my best to ignore. One morning in mid-August, I witnessed my knee swell up with fluid to about twice its normal size. I was freaked out and realized I couldn’t neglect my knee issue any longer.
I saw a couple of doctors. Because I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment in which I could have hurt my knee, they believed that the swelling had to be symptomatic of a disease rather than an injury. Their suggested diagnoses included Lyme disease, arthritis, gonorrhea, and lupus. I just knew (or really, my body knew) that it wasn’t any of those things. Several weeks later, after tons of blood work that ruled out any possibility of disease, I had an MRI, and the results confirmed my suspicion that it was an injury caused by overexertion. Torn cartilage: torn “meniscus” apparently. I held off on scheduling the necessary surgery for several weeks; I just didn’t want to think about it, until the pain became so rough that I just did it.
All throughout this time, my knee would continue to swell up with fluid and then de-swell every week or so, influencing my appearance and gait. Every time it did this, I was filled with searing anger toward my knee, which I considered an embarrassment, an eyesore, and a distraction from my carefully cultivated style. I was angry that some stupid body part I’d never even heard of before was now controlling my life. I expressed my anger at my mythical “meniscus” by acting like nothing was wrong, continuing to run and wear high heels while reminding myself that I was in control. I didn’t notice or care that the swelling was, as my surgeon told me, my knee’s way of “crying for help” because I only cared about quieting my mind’s anxiety.
By 3:00 PM on October 18, I was ready for surgery, timidly lying in a hospital bed, wearing the dowdy hospital gown and socks with my hair in a hair net and an IV needle stuck in one hand, wrapped in clear tape, with an ID badge on the other wrist. No makeup, no nail polish, as it’s not allowed, and with the surgeon’s notes on my knee. It was just me, without any of my usual bodily ornaments or paint that serve as my armor. Strangely, in this vulnerable position, I felt at peace with my knee for the first time since the problems started. I had resisted being vulnerable, but now it felt like a relief to let my guard down and accept the vulnerability.
Anyway, it’s now been three days since the surgery and the nausea has finally dissipated, so I can start getting homework done. I can move around easily with my crutches and have found a way to move up and down the stairs. Thinking about my poor, sore, bandaged little knee, I see that it was both cruel and irrational to treat it like the enemy, the “other”. It was wrong of me to act like my body was getting in the way of who I was. My body and mind endured all the LabCorps needles, the uncomfortable MRI, the physical exams, and the anxiety as one. We felt vulnerable together on the day of the surgery, and we’re relaxing now.