Content warning: this is an incredibly depressing post about the injuries I’ve suffered over the past 2 years. It’s also rather graphic. Do not read if you suffer from emetophobia (fear of vomiting), for one, or if you don’t want to read anything somewhat TMI. I also talk about depression, suicidal thoughts, and I do not end this post on a happy note. This is not an inspirational story of overcoming adversity. It is a matter of fact telling of things that happened to me and how much they fucking suck.
As most of you know, I have a spinal injury. It happened, I believe, in 2009, but somehow didn’t flare up till 2012. Bodies are weird. I’m quite sure it was 2009 because that’s the only time it could have happened — there was a drunken theatre party and a few of my compatriots decided to start wrestling and landed on my head. I felt my entire spine compress, a line of loud pops ringing out from my neck to my pelvis.
The pain was short-lived, so I didn’t think much of the incident. The fact that afterwards I started feeling a new pain in my lower back whenever I walked uphill or anywhere for a long period of time was easily ignored: I’ve had chronic back pain since I was 9 or 10. This was obviously just a new permutation of it. I ignored it.
It was in January, 2012, after I got home from my trip to Orlando, Florida, that the spinal injury finally made its presence fully known — 3 bulging discs in the lumbar region — and I became a self-proclaimed cripple. (Was it the rides I went on at Universal Studios that finally tripped the back into full blown agony? Or was it the 3 feet of snow I had to drag my heavy, Harry Potter-merchandise-laden suitcase through when I got home to cold Nanaimo? We may never know.)
I was bedridden for weeks and it was only with physiotherapy was I able to walk again, albeit with a cane. I completed my theatre show, knowing it would likely be my last. I adore acting and I always give 110% to any role I’m in. The reality of my life post-injury is that I must always be careful, and I cannot trust myself to be careful if I’m in a show. Whatever the director asks for, I will do. I cannot set boundaries; I sacrifice myself on Dionysos’ altar.
I stopped going to physiotherapy — not because I was done with it, or because I wanted to stop, but because it’s not covered by MSP and I have no extra insurance. Each visit is in the ballpark of 50 dollars, and I would have to go a few times a week for several months to get the sort of results — back to a degree of normal living — that I want.
Instead I’ve tried to remain as active as my back will allow me to be, and kept as positive a worldview as I can. I was suicidally depressed during my weeks of being bedridden, crying into my mother’s arms about how my life was ruined and I would never be the same. My youth was over — something I felt I never really had in the first place; a childhood cut short by the trauma of an abusive father and an 11-year long divorce. My 20s was when I started to reclaim some of what I’d lost, and now that, too, was cut short, by a body that was broken.
But I had come to a point where I was finally starting to feel better about my different life, and I had begun a job search for work outside the home — something I didn’t think I’d be able to do again. (I get zero assistance, even though I’m permanently disabled.) Maybe after I got a job I would even be able to afford physiotherapy, I dreamed. Maybe within 6 months I would be able to walk without the cane.
Then on Friday, July 4th — Independence Day! The irony burns — after coming home from driving Mr. Katje to pick up his truck from the mechanic’s, I slipped and fell in the kitchen. My leg twisted severely, and I was racked with pain so terrible I screamed uncontrollably for 5 minutes.
Mr. Katje, of course, was not home — I was about 10 minutes ahead of him on the road as he’d pulled over to check something out with the car. Our landlady, a nurse, heard my screams and came downstairs to help me to a sitting position. She went and grabbed a kitchen chair from upstairs — the only chairs we have are rolly ones, not suitable for this sort of thing — and by the time she came back downstairs Mr. Katje was home. I was sitting on the floor, shaking and crying (silently, thank gods), still in agony.
With their help I got onto the chair, and again with their help I got to a recliner in the living room. We put the leg up and iced the knee, which had then swollen exponentially. I was still in tremendous pain, even sitting still, so Mr. Katje brought me some of my Tramadol and some Ibuprofen. (The Tramadol I have for especially bad back pain days, though I try not to take it unless I’m basically unable to move without it.)
About an hour later the pain lessened to the point where I could distract myself with TV. Mr. Katje ran around getting me things, including two of my three canes. I used them as makeshift crutches to get around the house, as I could not put any weight whatsoever on my left leg. My right leg started to protest at being used so roughly and threatened to join a union.
I could barely make it from the recliner to the bathroom, and bending my leg too far or straightening it too much was agony. We decided I need to go to the hospital, but by the time the decision was made it was dark outside, and rainy. I would have to bum up the stairs that lead down to our front door, so we decided to wait until the next day. I would sleep in the recliner. We also wanted to see if the swelling and pain would go down.
It didn’t. We began to believe I had fractured a bone — a preferable outcome, truth be told. A fractured bone would mean 6-8 weeks in a cast and a relatively short recovery time afterwards. A torn ligament, meniscus, or tendon could possibly mean surgery and certainly months of physiotherapy — physiotherapy I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford without a job outside the house, which I definitely can’t get now that I can’t walk.
We slept most of the day, still on Mr. Katje’s night schedule, and started to leave the house for the hospital sometime around 6:30, 7pm. We didn’t arrive until 8pm. It is a 20 minute drive. That should give you an idea of how long it took to get me to the truck.
At 8:30 we were finally able to check in at ER. Eventually we got to see a triage nurse who took my blood pressure and asked various questions, then we were directed to another person who confirmed or changed my contact info. We were then told to wait in the waiting area for a doctor to see us.
At 11:30 pm we were finally called in. By that point, my leg had started to hurt a lot again — I couldn’t put it up anywhere, and it was bent too severely in the wheelchair I sat in. Something in the knee was moving around. It felt like my kneecap was dislocated but I don’t know if that was the case. All I know was that I was crying from the pain and terrified to relax my muscles, lest the leg move too much and something slid around again.
The place were called into was another waiting room. Sometime before 1am we were brought into a treatment room and I was lifted onto a stretcher. As my legs were brought up and the leg straightened out, that horrible grinding and moving sensation happened again and I started sobbing and crying loudly, shouting Ow ow ow ow oh gods make it stop please oh gods no ow ow ow. Finally the movement ceased, and I was left to lie on the stretcher, staring up at a fluorescent light and trying to disassociate while I wondered if amputation was an option.
Someone came in to give me painkillers. I told them very emphatically, several times, not to give me morphine because I react badly to it and hate it, so they gave me hydromorphone instead — morphine’s cousin and 8 times stronger. They also gave me a shot of gravol to help with the nausea. I assume it did, because I only vomited 3 times instead of 8 or 10 (as many times as I did the last time I got morphine).
Luckily the vomiting didn’t occur until after I was done with xrays, and the painkillers did help me get through that experience, where I had to move my leg about in various positions so they could get good pictures. Mr. Katje stayed with me through most of it, though he wasn’t allowed in the x-ray room, and as they wheeled me back to the treatment area I looked up at him and told him he was pretty. I was pretty godsdamn high from the painkillers.
We were wheeled into a treatment room. After I dozed and had semi-hallucinations for a bit, I asked Mr. Katje to get a nurse to bring up the stretcher so I could sit up, as lying down was bad for my back, and to also bring some sick bowls because the nausea was getting pretty bad. He also did me the courtesy of closing the curtain to our treatment area so no other patients would see me vomit, though they most assuredly heard it.
(Morphine-induced sickness is the worst, for me. It’s the kind that takes complete control of your body and leaves you feeling like someone with brass knuckles just punched you repeatedly in the diaphragm. It usually leaves me crying and begging for it to stop. Hydromorphone-induced sickness was no different.)
During this time I also discovered that hydromorphone makes my nose incredibly itchy. I could not stop rubbing my nose, trying to dispel the itch. It was like someone was using an electric toothbrush on me as torture.
Mr. Katje, sitting beside me, researched the drug on his phone and told me the stats. He then said, “So apparently you just can’t have opioids. No heroin for you!”
I wasn’t planning on it.
The doctor then came in and told me a semi-diagnosis — that is, the x-rays revealed no broken bones, so he thinks it’s a torn Medial Collateral Ligament, or the ligament on the inside of the knee. The fact that I can’t walk at all means it’s probably pretty severe. I have to go in in a week to see a different doctor, to whom I am getting a referral, and then I’ll get a better idea of the diagnosis and prognosis.
In the meantime, we got an immobilizer for my leg, which is basically a soft cast, and some crutches. They make it so I can hobble around a lot easier, and I was even able to get down the stairs at home on my feet, more or less.
We left the hospital at 2am. Mr. Katje had to wheel me out to the car, however, as I was still so incredibly high from the painkillers I couldn’t make it very far on the crutches without stumbling or vomiting. We got fast food for dinner, because neither of us had eaten in about 24 hours and we didn’t want to go home and cook — well, Mr. Katje would be cooking while I sat in my recliner and tried not to throw up.
Luckily the food settled my stomach and I wasn’t sick for the rest of the night.
We got home at about 2:45, 3, and by 3:30 I was sitting in my recliner again. I was still pretty drugged until I woke up today at 7pm, and I’m guessing the drugs are what made me sleep so much.
The immobilizer, while a miracle that helps me function somewhat, at least enough so I can survive while Mr. Katje is at work this week, is a thick, hot, monstrosity which I cannot take off nor get wet. It also keeps sliding down, so every so often we need to re-tighten the velcro straps — when it was put on me at the hospital it was no where near tight enough so when I was crutching myself to the front door, it was sliding down my leg and resting on my sandal. I told them to pull super tight — the fat squishes and at that point I wasn’t feeling anything — but they didn’t. Mr. Katje had to re-do it when we got inside.
The most we can do is loosen the straps a bit so my leg can breathe, and then tighten them up again. I have to be careful not to move when the straps are loosened. I’m not able to shower for a while, so a washcloth and the bathroom sink are keeping me from overpowering the house with the smell of B.O.
At this point, we don’t know what’s in store. I’ll likely have to be off my feet for a few weeks at least, and physiotherapy is probably a definite. Whether or not I need surgery remains to be seen.
The hard, sad truth that I must accept, however, is that this is forever. Once you injure your knee like this, it’s very likely to happen again. Mr. Katje’s brother-in-law has injured his ligaments 2 or 3 times. I’m looking at a life of being extremely careful lest I re-injure my knee or my back.
The irony is, when I started to fall in the kitchen I panicked and tried not to fall — because a fall could be catastrophic for my back. Yet if I had just gone rag-doll limp, I might not have injured my knee so severely.
My injuries have made me a creature of spun glass. I must always be careful now, lest I break.
I have always been an optimistic person, but at this moment in time all optimism has fled me. I cannot find a plus side to this. I do not want to be an inspiration in my positivity in the face of adversity. I do not want people to remind me “how lucky I am” because at least before the injury I had a few years of a semi-working body; I do not want my situation to be compared to others in worse positions, as if I’m not allowed to mourn the loss of my life. I do not want to “Think positive!” because there is nothing positive about this. My body is broken, and my spirit has gone with it.