Friday night, and I was taking a break from house sitting in Sellwood to eat dinner with my parents. I bent down low and pawed through the dusty old game bin hidden away in the TV room, absolutely careless. Pictionary; Trivial Pursuit, a bunch of games that had never even been opened. “I don’t see the backgammon board,” I told my dad over my shoulder as he crossed behind me to his office.
“I think it’s behind the, uh – the wine cabinet. Downstairs.”
“I thought I looked there,” I grumbled, getting to my feet again, knees not in the least bit shaky. “But I guess I’ll look again.” I reached the stairs and my dad sat down. One foot on the second step, I turned my head to add one more comment to my father, but I do not know what. I did not know anything. Especially what happened in the next instant. My knee gave out underneath me, which isn’t so unusual. Sometimes knees just buckle. However, on this particular occasion, my body continued in the direction it had been going –
And my knee went the opposite way.
It was a little like a cracking, popping feeling, and it hurt. It hurt too much to actually remember how much it hurt. Without question, it was the most pain I had ever experienced, but now that it is three days in my memory, I can look on it as “not so bad.” Would that everything were that easy.
And I yelled like I never yelled before. “MY KNEE JUST DISLOCATED!” My father was only a room away, and my mother just down the stairs in the kitchen, but from the pain or the shock I felt the need to yell like I was all alone in the world. “HELP! HELP!”
The stairs to the TV room are narrow, and rather than tumbling down them, I had become wedged between the wall of the house and the separation of staircase to room – with my left leg at ninety degrees and my knee cap totally disregarding this dimension of space.
“What happened!?” My mother was calling! “Do I need to call 911!”
My father had dashed to the head of the stairs and was now crawling over me, trying to un-wedge me from the stairs so that I yelled all the harder. “It looks like knee is out of joint, Sandi!”
“Should I call 911?!”
“Papa, help me.” Logically, I knew there was not much my father was going to do, but with the amount of pain I was in, my feeble little mind had reverted to its one fail safe. “Please help me, Papa,” I cried, the tears streaming down my face. With a very tragic expression, my father maneuvered my hurt leg so that it rested on his right shoulder, my head facing down toward the bottom of the stairs. I had to grip the base of my ankle to make it move as little as possible. “Oh, it hurts, it hurts…”
“…yeah, call the paramedics…”
I cried harder. “Put it back into place, Papa, put it back into place.”
“I’m not going to do that, Em.”
“Why not!” I sobbed harder.
“Because…” He said very slowly and calmly. “I don’t want to make it worse, I could hurt you more.”
I blubbered helplessly, staring up at my dad in my awkward position, each shake rattling my knee and making me hurt even more. “No, no, no, no…”
“Emily, sh. You need to calm down. Just calm down.”
“Will they fix it?”
“They’re going to have to take you to the hospital.”
Mom yelled from the living room. “Do you need to hit 503?”
“9-1-1,” my father yelled back.
“Well, it wasn’t ringing!…”
“Why! Why do I have to go to the hospital!”
“Because a doctor needs to see your knee.”
“Why can’t they just push it back!” I cried harder. “It’s supposed to hurt, no, no….”
“They’re on their way,” my mother at last cried up, and my dad gave her instructions to turn on the porch lights and wait by the door. I briefly considered what the neighbors would be thinking – that Papa was having a heart attack, perhaps, but not that the reasonably healthy twenty two year old with no history of serious injury had just broken her knee.
“Shhhh….” With a grit of his teeth, he tried to adjust his position, and we waited. It was about now five thirty, and the time ticked on ever so slowly on the stairs.
“P-Papa?” I at last stammered.
“I hope the EMTs are at least cute.”
I got the desired reaction; my father laughed with his teeth, green eyes a little brighter. It jostled my knee and I cried out more. “Oh, Em…” I laughed, too (such a good defense mechanism), and it quickly became a sob. “What, what is it?”
“It hurts to laugh….” I wept. “And it hurts to cry!”
“Hush, hush, hush.”
“T-Tell me something nice,” I begged, lips pouting and too upset to function.
So he sang the little song he’d made up when I was a girl, careful not to bounce me, and then added, “They’re going to need to cut off your jeans to get to your leg.”
“But I like these jeans!”
“I’ll buy you new jeans.”
“I like these ones!” The paramedics were at last arriving. This could be derived from the barking of my dog, which did not stop even as she squeezed past me to bark at the top of the stairs. Her warnings did no good, for firemen were tramping through my kitchen. “Cleo, shut up!” I shouted, out of patience with pain.
A slightly balding head appeared at my left. “Hello,” it was a fireman. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Emily, hi.” He was not cute. I was getting jipped. Descriptions were being taken, and I sobbed out answers to questions as my dad explained how he had come to be in this position to a rather confused fire crew.
“…can you move?” the bald-ish one asked.
My dad’s leg was completely asleep from my laying on it. “If you help me get her down.”
And this blew. Despite everyone’s best efforts, I was howling with pain as they slowly lowered me down the rest of the stairs. I could not open my eyes as I screamed through my kitchen. I was laid on my living room floor, but surrounded by EMTs and firemen, it seemed as alien to me as anything. And one had broken one of my grandmother’s Christmas ornaments, so how could the day get any worse. For about the third time, they asked calmly my name and what had happened and all of this, and despite understanding why they needed to be calm, in my extreme pain I was angry no one was frantically fixing me. My knee cap was off, someone freak out and fix it.
It was probably about six o’clock at this time. Pain usually makes things go very slowly, and certainly I felt like I’d been in pain for far too long, but I was so occupied that I could not focus on the passage of time. EMTs were swarming in to join the firemen, and a woman with cropped hair and gold hoop earrings appeared floating above my head. My bald friend was now holding my knee for me as I begged him not to move it. “Hi,” she said, “what’s your name.”
“Emily…” I was still sobbing.
“Hi, Emily, I’m Laurie.”
There was some chatter about getting my knee back into place and suddenly I felt the balding firefighter begin to slide my knee cap back towards its original position. Would have been fine – but it hurt. With a piercing shriek, I grabbed for the carpet and started yelling. “Jesus Christ, stop, AHHHHHH!”
In the background, my mother fussed, “Oh, Emily, Emily…” and the one holding my knee grit his teeth. “Okay, yeah, let’s not do that.”
“No, let’s not do that!”
“Okay, Emily…” another fireman was saying. “We’re going to get an IV in you…”
Laurie was still bending over me. “Emily, have you ever had any narcotics?”
“No, I’m not a druggie.”
There was some laughter. “I didn’t mean to imply that.”
“I knew what you meant…is this going to hurt?”
“Naaaaah. You’ll just feel a little pinch.” After some amount of time, the IV did go in, and it was more than a pinch. It did hurt. But I was so overwhelmed with pain from my knee that it didn’t matter what they did to my hand, I just didn’t care.
“So what are we doing, then, morphine?”
“She’s awfully small and she’s never-”
That was when the spasms started, and with it, my shrieking recommenced. “My leg is shaking, make it stop!”
“Yeah, she’s spasmodic.”
“Now, Emily.” Laurie was very firm, very business-like with her grey hair and sharp expression. “You need to breathe slowly, alright?”
“It hurts so much I think I may throw up.”
“Well, that’s okay,” said IV guy, and my father appeared at my head, letting me bruise his hand with my grip.
“Em, if you need to throw up, go ahead!”
“I don’t want to, are you crazy!?” That was not going to make my situation any more pleasant.
“Give her the morphine.” This from my bald-headed friend. “Five millilitres, she needs it.”
“Emily.” This from Laurie as she ever. So. Slowly prepped the needle. “This isn’t going to take away the pain. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be here. But it’s going to not make you care as much.”
“Just give me the morphine.” After another eternity and plenty more spasms, there was a slight push into my right hand, flattened out on the carpet. A slow, cold sensation, I could feel it rushing up my arm. “Is it going to work fast?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” my dad was saying, giving me a kiss on the forehead. “Going through the blood stream is fast.”
Apparently so, for now I could feel the coolness pushing through my right leg, all the way down to my ankle. From there, it dissipated slightly and I very slowly relaxed. “So…” I panted, eyes dilating slightly. “Everybody have plans for New Years?”
They laughed. “We’re working.”
“So you’re just going to be dealing with a bunch of drunk, stupid people.”
Another laugh. “Yeah, you hit the nail on the head!” In this way I tried to continue to distract myself (“Which is worse, this or childbirth?” “Definitely childbirth.” “Ah, man…”) – until I was wracked with yet another spasm, crying out in pain. The Bald One said something, something about another painkiller with an “F.”
“That’s for people who are allergic to morphine,” Laurie objected as she strapped a breathing tube around my head and slid the ends into my nose.
“Hey, Mom, look. I’m like Grandma.”
“She needs it.”
“You. You are my new best friend.”
There was some scrambling, another prick at the IV, and I relaxed ever so slightly more – until the next blood curdling spasm and shriek. Another IV. I realize that whatever high I was experiencing was more of something to take the edge off the pain, but having officially become a narc, it was for the birds. Already chatty and flippant to distract myself, I just became a little more random in what I would talk about. They put a wool blanket around me? Oh, wool, I knit, I talked about that. My dad mentioned I was hoping for the cute firemen, we talked about that. “C-could someone straighten my leg? Can you hold my hand, please? It hurts to keep my leg up like this.”
“Well, I tried to straighten it before, remember? We’re going to need to keep it like this.”
“Sure, I’ll hold your hand.”
“They’re writing songs of love, but not for me…” I sang. Weakly. It was not from the morphine, either – an old trick of mine when getting a shot or getting swabbed for strep (not when the swab is physically in the throat, though); singing was distracting. And anyway, it was something to do as they began to debate how best to move me into the gurney. “A lucky star’s above, but not for me…” Boy wasn’t that the truth.
“I can’t strap her down if her leg is up like that, it isn’t safe, we have to put it down.”
Tears. “With love to lead the way, I’ve found more skies of grey, than any Russian play…”
“…we could sit her up. Do we have a splint?” Someone was saying there wasn’t a splint, I was getting pissed off. What kind of crappy EMTs had no splint? Whatever the issue was, it was worked out, because everyone was bending over me once more. “We’re going to pick you up on the count of three.”
“Okay….I was a fool to go and fall that way….literally….”
“…what’s the next line. Papa, what’s the next line!”
“I was a fool to go and fall that way….”
“Hup!” I was up. Like floating on the hands of chorus boys in some big dance number, like I could reach the ceiling. And at last, something didn’t hurt. In fact, being placed into a sitting position on the gurney was the most comfortable I’d been since my knee had popped. The morphine was beginning to make me swim, and I could even giggle slightly as I felt the motors pushing me farther up. A sensation of tallness, and we began to head towards the door at last.
“Can we ride in the ambulance?” one of my parents was asking. “Or should we follow behind?”
“We can take one of you.”
“I was a fool to go and fall that way….what is that line!”
“I’ll get my keys…” Mom was mumbling. “Don’t let them take your slippers, Em, let’s knock them off.”
“Ugh…la da da da…da da da…la da da….”
Some bumps – we were past the screen door. Another bump hitting a log of firewood, some rearranging as they tried to maneuver me down the porch steps. I kept singing, softly, through my tears of pain. “Although I can’t dismiss the mem’ry or his kiss, I guess he’s not for me….” The neighbors watched me go into the ambulance, and we were on our way.
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