A Leg to Stand On
Last Monday morning, I awoke to severe pain in my knees. They were swollen to balloon size, unable to bend, cramped in one position. I could not stand up, let alone stumble. Somehow, I managed to crawl to where my phone is and call an ambulance.
Although I have had arthritis since my early thirties, it has not gone this far before. I had a brief incident about a year and a half ago that was similar to what I am experiencing, although that first warning shot seemed to pass with steroid treatment and exercise therapy. I shrugged it off and went on with my life. I was told at the time that I had "mild arthritis" in the knees and losing weight, exercise, and a good diet would keep me on my feet.
Being not wholly inconsiderate to myself, I did make a few minor improvements in my diet, and I kept moving—even if one couldn’t call it exercise. I was still driving a taxi; still loading luggage with alacrity; still walking; still running errands and being dog’s body to the elderly client with whom I live and watch over. That crippling event seemed a fluke and I was sure it wouldn’t happen again.
It has happened again. This time, the steroids are having no effect. The pain is often excrutiating, particularly when I attempt to stand or walk a few trembling, tentative steps. My muscles, unable to work, are weakening. I’ve developed carpal in my right wrist, since I am right-handed and have overused that limb in supporting my weight or trying to hold myself up. Even typing these words is painful. For the first time in many years, I have acceded to the necessity of taking heavy-duty painkillers in order not to lose my mind. Sleep brings a modicum of relief, but waking is torture. I must lay in bed and slowly straighten out my cramped legs until I can position myself enough to maneuver into the wheelchair by the bed. Without the aid and balance of my right arm, I am forced to roll over on the bed with my rear in the air and slowly push up backwards until I am semi-upright, whereupon I quickly turn and plant my butt into the wheelchair—all the while swearing and fighting off the tears from the effort.
What I am going through is what many, many, many in this world cope with on a daily basis, but like anyone’s pain, it is uniquely my own. Faced with the possibility that this is my life from now on, I sit and fret and rage and feel helpless and hopeless. There have been so many shining examples of people who have become suddenly unable to use parts of their bodies and yet, they live as if their lives are still a miracle and they experience joy and progress and face their problems with an amazing fortitude.
I am not like them. I do not feel courage. I feel fear. I feel isolated. I feel enraged. I feel weary, and guilty, and torn, and lonely. I wonder how I will ever get the money to pay for anything again, since I can no longer work. I worry about how long it takes for disability payments to go through, and what the whole legal process is, and how I cannot afford the wheelchair I am sitting in—it is borrowed. I look at pictures of my new grandchild and cannot feel the joy I want to feel because I think: "I am no longer able to stand with him in my arms. I won’t be able to take him for walks. I’ll be the crippled gramma." I feel guilty for not taking better care of myself; guilty for not being more courageous and serene in the face of this; guilty because I can no longer take care of people but instead have to have people take care of me. Guilty for needing medical care I cannot afford.
I have no tolerance for anyone who trashes national health care. None. I have no tolerance for anything Republican, conservative, or anything even approximating those labels. I have little tolerance for anything at this point. My elderly client listens to right-wing radio and watches right-wing television and it is all I can do to not scream at her to turn off that poison and stop subjecting me to it.
Being unable to walk has brought out the worst in me, and I feel guilty for that. This could be an experience that transforms me and makes me a better, stronger, more tolerant person. Instead, I find myself becoming sad, bitter, angry, and resentful. I’m no Christopher Reeve. It could be that the doctors will eventually figure out what is wrong with my legs and I might be able to walk again, but I have gained great insight into my character and found it wanting. I am ashamed at my own failure and weakness—not the physical but the mental and emotional. I have met the enemy and it is me.
There are too many unknowns about my condition for me to speculate, and I have had my fill of people saying: "Maybe it’s this…maybe it’s that…" Everyone becomes a doctor in your life when something happens to you. If my own physician doesn’t know what’s crippling me, I’m fairly certain no one else has figured it out. The tests continue, and I continue to sit and worry and feel sorry for myself and blame myself for my condition, and wonder if I will ever gain any wisdom or strength from this. It would have been so easy to write a blog that is upbeat and positive, but I have been trained in telling the truth about myself. It’s the least I can do, even if the truth is ugly.