“you look like you’ve lost some weight.” it’s a simple statement, grounded in truth, from somebody who has been with me for the past two years and seen me struggle through a major move, my mother’s death, the fall of a titan relationship, and now muddle through a terrible surgery. and although i’ve told myself that i don’t want to focus on being maniacal about not gaining weight while i’m gimpy and laid up, the response is automatic. i struggle to stifle excitement that bubbles into my throat, even as its very existence irks me.
“what’s happened with your quad is that the nerve block in essence screwed it up. the muscle is there, it just isn’t responding to your mind’s commands to tense up. we could do electronic stimulus to it, but with your history of seizures, and the level at which i would have to crank the machine to make it effective, it’s simply not worth the risk.”
i absently wonder what looks different. my face? my torso? my legs? lord knows my arms have lost muscle. i’ve been so nauseous since surgery that it’s no wonder – even with my lack of movement, i’ve barely been able to ingest things beyond chocolate milk, ensure, and applesauce. what if i look better now? i can’t gain it back. that would be awful. i can’t.
we go about it the old-fashioned way, then. straight-leg raises, which are nearly impossible now because my IT band keeps snapping over my hip. we use biofeedback machines that beep when i’m squeezing my quad hard enough. calf raises to stretch my tightened hamstring. leg lifts with my good leg, standing on my busted one and tightening my quad, pulling my kneecap up, working, working, working…
we’re doing straight-leg lifts and the PT brings over a full-length mirror so i can see the lag time between my knee and the rest of my leg – which is pretty abysmal. two lifts in i’ve stopped looking at lag time and am simply scrutinizing my legs. do they really look thinner? better? maybe i like them better this way. i should, anyway. right?
a hand presses downward on my kneecap. ‘squeeze!’ i squeeze my quad and push the hand upward. we do this five or six more times. push, squeeze; push, squeeze. i pull my toes towards me as hard as i can, try and isolate my quad. the pain in my hip is because everything else is jumping in to try and help – my glutes, my hip flexor, my abductor. it’s better when i’m laying there helpless and my only option is to push against the hand pressing into my knee.
i get home from PT and a quick trip to the grocery store and i’m starting to shake, my blood sugar is crashing and crashing fast. i eat a chicken quesadilla somebody brought over for me and drink a can of La Croix berry. it tastes like a raspberry dipped in tin, but it doesn’t make me nauseous like that overly sweet sparkling water i had gotten last week. i don’t feel well, am shaky and slightly woozy. i run numbers in my head, not because i particularly care but because it’s natural. once the hamster wheel begins to turn, it takes virtually no extra stimulus to keep it going.
they tell me it could be a year before the nerve block completely flushes out and i get full use of my quad again. a year. i don’t know what to make of it so i just stare. at the middle-aged, overweight woman doing calf stretches on the wall. at the old man getting ultrasound on his achilles. at the teeny tiny young woman who just came swinging in on her crutches, a tattoo up the back of her good leg and her leg brace locked at twenty. a year.
i still feel shitty and all i can muster up the energy to do is lay in bed, breathing shallow breaths. the hamster wheel still spins.
i’m finally iced down and re-brace, get up to leave. tense quad, bear weight; tense quad, bear weight. even with the most specific of stimuli and the strongest of pre-op legs, i cannot get it to work my way.