“Don’t you dare tell me to take up swimming,” I warn the surgeon. He’s is visibly struggling not to roll his eyes. Along with knitting, chopping wood and eating, my other hobby is being the worst nightmare of medical experts. I particularly love prediagnosing myself and strutting in with a list of things I will and won’t do, then demanding they prescribe a therapy that involves lots of running and cookie consumption, and is guaranteed to reduce my pain. Preferably immediately.
After the kind (and impressively patient) doctor explained the technology of an MRI while his scribe tried to figure out how to accurately chart my swear words, the abbreviated diagnosis was revealed: I’ve torn about 70 percent of my hamstring away from the bone.
I respond as I usually do. “Does this mean I should run less? Why don’t you have cookies in the waiting room? Do you even have a medical degree?”
I had actually been trying running therapy for the past five months or so. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t improving. I was waking up at night in pain and I couldn’t figure out what kind of injury would be worse from sleeping. Bodies are sort of baffling things. Unless you’re a hip version of a surgeon in loafers, apparently.
I choke back tears on an exam table, cuddling my dog while receiving an injection that requires direct access to all the glory of my backside. Medical procedures that reveal my fear of induced pain while having my skivvies around my knees tend to be my least favorite kind, somewhere right up there with dental work or having a member of the Mafia remove my toenails (I imagine).
Even as I hobble out of the office, I am concocting a plan to use and abuse my body heavily until physical therapy starts the next week. If no one with a medical degree has specifically told me not to do the things, then I’m going to do the things hard while I still can.
“Next week,” I promise myself, “I’ll slow down.” Because it is autumn and the trees are glorious in their flaming colors, leaves raining down in orange and red on the paths. I want to kick leaves and smell the chilling earth and see the contrasting blue skies. Besides, if I finish tearing this hammy off the bone, they’ll fix me right up. Either way, it looks like I’ll finally finish a knitting project or two this winter.
My plan is to go to Whitefish and mountain bike with friends. The tamarack forests are florescent, bright with iridescent colors that light up the sky. When the sun goes down, everything still glows yellow-green. The needles will fall soon and leave bright orange piles on the soil, or if the snow falls, decorate the white carpet with a kind of golden jewelry.
The trails, the laughter of friends, the beating of my heart all erase the memory of the week. I’m gentle on my body and I thank it for gifting me with these experiences. I pledge some self-care and rest, make some amends and apologies, and promise things will be different in the future. I sound like the abusive spouse of my limbs and joints.
The cosmos, it would appear, does not believe me either. I crash my bike. From a stationary position. One might ask, “How does this happen?” Some accidents take particular talent to achieve. And in this slow-motion debacle of a woman, clipped into her pedals, arm flailing behind her, unable to stop the fated impact, gravity and other laws of physics win the battle. I come crashing down and body parts move into places they should not.
Curled up on my knees I am heaving, trying not to vomit or cry at the same time because this situation could only be more tragic and comical if I choke on my regurgitated energy bar. It takes me a few moments to recover. When I stand up, my riding buddy is giving me a nod.
“You, uh, want me to reduce that shoulder for you?” he asks. My arm is dangling awkwardly. My fingers are already numb. This is when you’re grateful that your friends are chiropractors. He tromps a few dried-up ferns, kicks a rock out of the way, and gestures to his impromptu office. Then he does a text book reduction of a dislocated shoulder. I like it slightly more than the rear end injection, probably because I get to keep my pants on.
We get back on our bikes and ride home in the waning evening light. The tamaracks illuminate our way. With a bum right leg and a wonky left shoulder, at least I won’t be swimming in circles.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com. She’ll have lots of time to write emails in the future.
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