On Friday afternoon, I had in mind a relaxing night of pizza and wine. It had been a busy week, with a full week at school and visiting family from out of town. I felt it quite reasonable to have some quality time with Erin and Rowan, relaxing in a now empty house and void of any school responsibilities until then following Monday.
My left knee had other ideas, apparently. Just entering into the house, and setting some grocery bags down, and slipping off my sneakers, I immediately collapsed in gut-wrenching agony as my left knee popped out of its socket and went off exploring the left side of my leg, ripping and straining ligament, tendon, and cartilage along the way. A sense of shock ripped through me as well, a foreboding realization a split second before the pain hit “Oh, no, not again.” I was no stranger to the pain which followed, having twenty years ago experienced the same agony in my right knee. But again, that was twenty years ago as a precocious sophomore in high school. Only two years away from 40, I once again felt pain which can only be described as excruciating. To give you some scope of magnitude, an orthopedic once asked his patient, a middle aged woman, what hurt more, a dislocated knee or having a baby? The woman actually had to pause a bit and think before she replied, “The knee. Definitely the knee.”
My wife called 911. My 17 month old son was thankfully out of eyesight, but I could hear his cries of wanting to know what was happening to “Dah-deee.” EMTs loaded me up onto a stretcher, injected me with morphine, which at least took a slight edge off the pain, and took me to the nearest hospital.
My adrenaline was pumping, but my hand was getting tired. See, I was using my left hand as a brace against my knee cap so it wouldn’t slide any further. With each bump in the road, my knee will jolt just a little and a wave of tension would run through my whole body. My one thought was “Get this thing back in!”
Which thankfully happened, about a half hour later. An ER doctor came into my sectioned-off area and ironically asked “And how are you today?” I looked down at my knee and nearly glared at him, but my gratefulness at his impending ability to relieve my agony had me merely shudder out a grim “Could be better.” I asked for more pain medication, and he looked bemused and commented that “The 10 cc’s we have already given you would have rendered me unconscious!” But he conceded and gave me a slight bit more before he took my left kneecap in one hand, and just like twisting off a cap of bottled root beer, he popped my kneecap back in place.
That was four days ago. I’ve been relegated to couch potato status, propped up and splinted in a knee brace, and whacked out with some heavy pain medication that makes me sleep like a log. One of those nice mossy dead logs in the middle of the forest with lichens covering it and a family of mice in the middle. I have trouble getting around on crutches. My wife has been the saint of the household, undertaking everything that needs to be done, from taking out the trash to changing little Rowan’s diapers. My gratefulness often turns into a guilt complex as I look into her exhausted eyes.
I’ve actually been dreading this time, as the pain somewhat subsides and the reality of my situation dawns upon me. It is time to process, to face this new hurtle and the new challenges that lie ahead. And this is falling upon a person who in a split second would rather turn on the TV and veg out to utter banality, or scour the internet for virtually any distraction, or, in the best scenario, pick out a good book and get lost in someone else’s narrative except my own. But this is also falling upon a person who cried out to God in the midst of utter agony and said “Lord, please turn this into something good.”
I already knew a major change was in store when I collapsed, and not just a physical one. I had been the hamster on the wheel again, running a hundred miles an hour, but getting nowhere fast. Like the name o this blog suggests, I was the Wandering Tree, constantly looking for a way to move sideways when I should have been reaching up. The cycle was tiring, I was feeling fatigued in mind, body, and spirit. I resisted times of quiet, filling it instead with more noise, more activity, more stuff than I could handle. The good gifts of God started being taken for granted: my health, my family, my house, my friends, my job. I chocked it up to my personality, and while it is true that the good Lord takes pity on the nervous, jittery types like me, sometimes the one thing we need is to stop being nervous and jittery, put the brakes on, and let God show us what we need to see. And the mirror which God holds up is often one I least want to look into.
Dislocation. Not just my knee, but often my life.
The name of my injury doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s not like its cousin, subluxation, which is a partial dislocating of a joint- where the joint goes back in on its own after figuring out it is not where it should be. Subluxation sounds like it could be anything, perhaps even relating to some sort of accounting. Dislocating is straightforward and to the point: “not in right location.” There’s no skirting around the reality. Something is out of whack, literally out of joint.
And it hits all my vulnerable points: it was sudden and unexpected, it left me helpless and in need of others’ assistance. I was stripped of my ability to ignore weakness, to soldier on in my relentless pursuit of whatever. And it hurt, real bad. Real bad. And the fear of that pain coming back sometimes freezes me where I stand (or lay, anyway).
So whither to now? What about school, upcoming projects, trips out of state, family, the holidays? Well, perhaps it is good that these things are up in the air. Maybe I need to dislocate from my expectations, and allow blessings as well as tragedy to come by surprise. Maybe I need to keep my eye on the moment, and not worry. After all, people have been coming out of the woodwork- people I haven’t spoken to in ages- wishing me well, and offering prayers toward my recovery. My classes are running well without me for the moment. That’s a sign in and of itself.
No real epiphanies have been forthcoming yet, just inklings. I pray that I take the time to linger on these inklings, to allow whatever wisdom to dawn upon me slowly, like the first rays of sun through a foggy misty forest.
Now it’s about time for that slice of pizza…