Let’s back up the story a bit. Last winter, I took a serious fall at work. My right leg, knee and ankle, were injured. So much so I walked with a cane for a long time. I kept trying to not use it because I didn’t want a “crutch” but realistically, by the end of every night I had a big, aching, throbbing leg hanging on the right side of my body. Even with twice weekly physical therapy, the swelling never went down. In September it was as bad as it had been in February. To tell the truth it was getting worse by the day. The thing is no matter how much I try to reduce stress in my life, pain causes stress and then the fun starts. Stress can trigger an esophageal spasm, which presents with the same symptoms as a heart attack, which can lead to emergency room adventures. Since August, just thinking about an ER sends me into a panic attack, so I have been ignoring the severe chest pain, hoping it is just my esophagus and eating nitro like it is going out of style.
After hearing all this, my family doctor ordered an MRI. It went through the insurance dance and I had the MRI done about a month and a half ago. The call from my doctor came the same day as the MRI. My leg was a mess and they were going to send me to a surgeon. I let out the breath I had been holding. Like that night in August, I had proof. The never-ending pain in my leg was not all in my head. There was something wrong. I’ve lost count of the number of times between the MRI and my appointment with the surgeon (which of course took a month and a half to get) that I’ve said I just want the pain to stop. Even if they have to cut off the whole leg, I don’t care. I just want the pain to stop.
Simple right? Leg isn’t working, see the mechanic, get the oil changed and new spark plugs and we’re off and running again. Right? That’s how it works, because doctors are about helping people, right? Stopping the pain, right? Helping you live a better life, right? Right? It’s how it works… Right? RIGHT?!?
And if that sounds a little desperate, it is. As the appointment finally grew near my ability to walk was seriously compromised. I went to the ocean with a friend and couldn’t make it to the beach at one of my favorite places on earth, though I laughed it off and blamed a little phobia. The reality was I knew there was no way I could walk that quarter of a mile and back. No way. I knew if my friend knew that she would one: freak out and try and drag me to a doctor right then and two: not go out and see the beach herself. So I laughed it off, said big waves were scary sometimes and took pictures of the trees, a squirrel and when she got back, we wandered to the car.
So I was counting the days, anxiously waiting for the appointment with the surgeon. I waited—and like a little child planning on Christmas bringing miracles—I held December 5th in my heart as The Day a Solution Would Come, the Day the Pain Would End, the Day of Freedom. And like a child who waits all night for Santa to come out of the fireplace, I was mistaken, betrayed and devastated.
I arrived at the surgeon’s office fifteen minutes early. I was nervous—I have a lot of anxiety tied up in the medical profession these days—but hopeful. This would be The Day that the answer came. I went through the weighing process, the blood pressure, the explanation of half of my prescriptions and why I have them, endured the whole checking-in thing. It was okay, though, because it was The Day.
After all of that, in comes Dr. Surgeon. He shook my hand, introduced himself, but didn’t wait for me to tell him my name. He seemed a little curt and not friendly, but it didn’t matter because this was The Day. He sat down and without talking to me or anything he pulled up first a set of x-rays, then the MRI. He pointed to the knee and flipped the screen through several pictures, telling me what each meant. I’ll make a long story short. My knee is toast. (Which wasn’t really a surprise, I have felt it gritting and grinding for several months. The longer it has gone on the more grumpy those gritting noises have become.)
“So,” I asked. “What can be done?” I was excited, smiling, there WAS something wrong and this was The Day!!
“All we can do for a knee that bad is a total replacement,” said Dr. Surgeon.
I was a little taken aback, I had considered that might be the answer when it came, but I was still surprised. I figured a little here and there and it would be fixed. Completely replacing it was big, huge, it meant all kinds of things—a hospital, recovery, pain. But I was more than willing, because no matter how bad the post-surgical pain was, it would be better than what I have every day. It would be pain, but pain with hope. It would be pain that heals, pain that leads to a life of quality and not quantity. (And with everything going on in my life, quality versus quantity is a big question these days.)
“A whole new knee?” I was scared but excited. It was The Day!!!
“Yes, that’s the solution.” There was a pause, then a smile that I am sure would terrify a cobra. “It’s the only thing that will help.” Again the smile and I started getting uncomfortable.
Smile. “I won’t do them on someone your age. You have to be older.”
“What?” It wasn’t even a question. It was just a squeak of shock and horror.
“You are too young.”
“But, you said…”
“Sorry.” He got up and held out his hand like I was supposed to shake it.
“What do I do?” The words managed to get out past the horrific pain that was shutting off breathing and making my heart hammer in my ears.
“I suggest getting a cane, a disabled parking permit and, oh, you could lose weight.”
Reeling, I answered the last jab—that is what it felt like—he had driving a knife straight into my life. “I have gastroparesis. I barely eat, so the weight thing is problematic.”
“I doubt that,” he said and left.
I was trying very hard not to cry. I walked out of the office and I am pretty sure the staff said have a nice day. I don’t honestly remember. I was in shock. It was supposed to be The Day. The answer to an increasingly unbearable agony, and this… this… surgeon was supposed to help. He was supposed to care. He wasn’t supposed to say “yes there is a fix, but sorry your model doesn’t get the fancy stuff.” He was supposed to have compassion and not condemn me to a daily life that is rapidly becoming unlivable.
December 5, it turns out, was The Day.
The Day I was told to live with pain.
The Day I was told I was going to be punished for my age.
The Day I picked up my cane and let the tears run down my face as I made the way to my car.
The Day I may finally have lost hope.