i’m sitting on the lip of the bathtub, a folded towel between me and the cool ceramic. it has taken me twenty minutes to get here from my bed, and i’m already shaken and tired.
it is the first time i’m allowed to shower since my surgery. and while i should be thrilled, i’m actually terrified. i don’t much care that since i can’t actually get into the shower i’m instead perching myself on the edge of the tub, catching as much of the shower spray as i can. i don’t even really care that i’m going to PT tomorrow with legs i haven’t shaved since thursday morning.
no, instead i’m scared to death because i’m taking my brace off for the first time, and removing the O.R. dressing around my knee. by the time i finally lower myself to the lip of the tub – another five minutes – my good leg is shaking from having held my entire body weight of for so long, and my bad leg is trembling half out of empathy. i start to unclick the clasps on the brace – there are four, with the last one being way down by my ankle. i wonder absently how the hell i would manage this if i wasn’t so flexible.
the brace falls off and my leg breathes a sigh of relief.
i take of the cryo-cuff and then begin to unwind the ace bandage. as i do, i feel the pressure around my knee slowly start to release. once the bandage is off (did we really need six yards of ace bandage, guys?) i stare down at gauze pads and tape, already starting to topple off. i pull them away, one at a time. the steri-strips are still hanging on and i leave them be. but i get to the last gauze pad – a little 4×4 one that’s nearly transparent – and it won’t budge. stuck to my knee, right over the incision, with dried blood.
in under two minutes i’m having a full-blown panic attack. i don’t know why, exactly. but i’m frantically trying to wrap my knee – again, was all of this bandage really necessary?! – feeling chirps of pain whenever i wrap behind the hamstring they pulled into my new ACL. in the back of my mind i know i should remove the gauze, let the shower water run over the surgery site. but i don’t care any more. i suppose that would be for people who can actually manage a normal shower, anyway. it doesn’t matter; i need to get out of here.
i stab at the cryo-cuff with my good leg, grab it with my toes. i don’t know exactly where it goes so i just velcro it into place and decide to figure it out later. the brace is right under my leg, covered by a towel so it wouldn’t get wet. i take a second to use the towel to dry my hair, rubbing it quickly over my head and flicking droplets of water everywhere. i start with the buckle at the top of the brace, high up on my thigh. it clicks into place, doesn’t feel half bad.
i have to adjust the cryo-cuff to make room for the next brace buckle, and the panic gets worse. velcro tangles, peels and unpeels, the ripping noise that never bothers me singes my senses.
i get down to the last clasp, finally, and stretch as far as i can to reach it. in one try i click it into place.
the pain is instant and white hot. as soon as i had taken the brace off, my knee had relaxed into a slightly bent position. forcing it straight again sent angry flames of pain licking up my leg. panic becomes rage and i howl and double over. sobbing and shaking, i grab my dress, pull it over my head. i take my crutches in my left hand, brace my right on the toilet, heave myself up.
the next wave of pain makes me sure i’ll throw up. i yell again, a frustrated scream tinged with the high-pitched squeal of panic. still shaking and sobbing, i move back toward my bed. once i’m seated – there is a specific art to sitting down without causing extra pain – i stay, panting, the last few sobs spasming through my torso. i close my eyes, wait for the storm to pass.
my phone, tucked in the bodice of my sundress, goes off. it’s time for my next dose of percocet. and dear lord, i’ve only been awake for an hour.