“Hey, Auntie J, I can count to 40! Watch! One, two, three … ” Tiny said happily while we waited for our food to arrive. I had just finished a visit with my orthopedic surgeon, and received some bad news–again.
After two years of cortisone shots, synovial shots, working out to increase strength in my left quad (thigh muscle connected to the ligaments in the knee), the news was pretty clear: nothing was working. My only option, according to my surgeon, would be a knee scope to figure out why the pain wasn’t going away.
“Thirty-nine, forty!” Tiny finished. “See? I count all the way to forty!”
“Do you only count to forty because that’s how old your mommy is?” Auntie J quipped, laughing at her own “hilarious” joke about my age.
“I am not forty!” I said, mocking outrage.
“My Mommy isn’t forty. Are you forty, Mommy?” Tiny asked, looking at me with his eyebrows pinched together.
“Definitely not,” I responded adamantly. And then I decided to bust out the guilt card on my younger sister. “You know,” I told her, mischievousness lighting my eyes, “should I die in surgery next week, you’re going to feel horrible about teasing me today!”
We giggled, our food arrived, and we started eating, the moment forgotten.
At least, I thought the moment was forgotten, until a tiny human leaned close to me, pulled me down to his level, and whispered, “Mommy, if you die, I won’t see you anymore. Please don’t die.”
There it was. My seemingly innocent quip to my sister had made a profound impact on my baby boy. Man, I really suck at thinking before speaking thing. Especially around my tiny human, it seems.
“Mommy was joking, Son Son. I’m so sorry. It was a really bad joke, and she didn’t think. I’m not going to die; I’m not going anywhere.” I reassured him, hugging and kissing my tiny tot for good measure.
Except, part of me is thoroughly frightened about going into surgery. Not because of the death and dying part, but because the surgery might not “work.” It might not fix my leg; it might even make it worse.
I’ve blogged about it before. I have chondromalacia patella, which I’ve had for a very long time. However, two years ago I was a magnificently smart human being, and decided to rip out a brick walkway–which happened to be cemented to the ground. After kicking the shovel a few dozen times, I ended up with a full-thickness, inoperable, cartilage tear.
First I went to McSwarthy about the issue, and detailed my experience with the blog Strength Through Pain, Mom Style. Over December of last year, my knee had a particularly horrible reaction to a synovial injection, which was a direct result of McSwarthy’s placement of the injection, … so I found a new orthopedic surgeon. This man is very straight forward, and told me that if strengthening my quad–which had almost 100% atrophy by the time I saw him in March of 2014–didn’t work, my only other option was surgery.
So, from March of this year to today, late October, I have been hitting the gym, pushing my limits, and building that quad muscle–to no avail, apparently. When I limped back into my new surgeon’s office, I was irritated. I felt lied to. My quad muscle is bigger and better than ever–but I’m still a limping, cane-wielding wonder!
My new surgeon walked in, noted my cane, looked at me, and said, “So, what’d you do?”
Now, just like last time, stop imagining a sweet, elderly gentlemen. Instead of McSwarthy, though, imagine a sexier version of Schwarzenegger. Same body style, better face. I’ll call him McRipped.
McRipped asked what I had done to move from walking to limping, … again. I said, “Well, I did what you said. I built up my quad muscle, I’ve strengthened my legs. My old trainer at the gym did an ultrasound on my quads, and said my muscle tone was fully regained, if not better. When my niece asked me to go into a bouncy house, I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, when I went in the bouncy house, nothing note-worthy happened, but thirty minutes after I left it, I couldn’t walk anymore. And my leg isn’t ‘bouncing back’ this time. Why am I still in pain?”
I’m a firm believer that with enough perseverance, my leg will always “bounce back.” I sucked it up after the tear and started walking almost normal, even though I was losing muscle strength. I got through the reaction to Synvisc. I climbed over 2,000 steps in Florence on a cane. I worked through the pain of building my quad muscle back up, slowly, during a rigorous seven months in the gym.
… Only to be crippled by a silly bouncy house.
Okay, in all honesty, I went through three of the bounces houses, four times each. Again, though, nothing significant happened. I didn’t feel anything tear, tweak, rip, or twinge.
However, in all honesty, I’ve known for about three weeks that my cortisone shot has been wearing off. A few weeks ago I called my mom to tell her I had to leave the gym because I couldn’t take a step without feeling that familiar sharp, stabbing pain. I knew my knee was getting worse again, and went into those bouncy houses, anyway.
Because, apparently, I’m smart.
The night that my son asked me not to die in surgery, we crawled into bed to say prayers. Tiny Tot looked up at me with his brilliant, green eyes, and said, “You know what I’m going to dream about tonight, Mommy?”
I rubbed his head and asked, “What?”
He smiled, snuggled close, and whispered, “You and me.”
Having heard this before, I smiled, querying, “What will we do in your dream?”
Tiny Tot yawned, then answered, “Play at the park, and your knee will be all better so you can run and slide with me.”
I was crushed. His response took all the air out of me. When I could respond, I whispered, “I’m sorry your mommy has a bum knee.”
Without even thinking, my little trooper responded, “It’s okay.”
My knee takes a toll on me, yes, but what I never considered was that it affects Tiny, as well. I never even stopped to wonder how he felt every time I said, “Stay away from Mommy’s bad knee,” or “No, Mommy can’t chase you, remember? She can’t run,” or “We can’t go to the park today, Son Son, Mommy’s knee isn’t up to it.”
All the times my knee keeps me from exploring the world with my tiny human takes a toll on him. He’s been so strong, and so sweet during my rough days. But, I don’t want any more rough days.
I want days without pain, spent with my son. I want to explore with him, not limp behind him. I want to get on the ground to watch him excavate a stone, and hop up to run with him when a bird catches his eye. He should have a mommy who can keep up with ever inch of his awesome personality, because that’s what he deserves.
Right now, he doesn’t have that.
My biggest fear going into surgery (which is tomorrow, the day before Halloween), is that it won’t work. On some level, it won’t, and I already have accepted that fact. I still won’t be able to walk downstairs post-surgery. McRipped can’t fix the cartilage tear, but he will try to fix whatever is getting caught in the joint space that keeps bringing me pain. I will still have limitations, but hopefully not as bad as they have been to date.
I want the surgery to work. I want to run, skip, hop, jump, and slide with my tiny human while he’s still tiny.
And I know he wants that, too.
Today, before leaving for preschool, I told Tiny that I would call him before and after my surgery tomorrow. He nodded okay, and then said, “Mommy, if you get scared, remember that I’m always in your heart.”
I wish I could say I taught him that phrase, but I’m pretty sure he made it up on his own. So, I gave him back his own words, “I’ll remember, Tiny. And, if you get scared tomorrow, remember that I am right here.” I touched his heart, hugged him, and repeated, “I’m always in your heart.”
My words might have affected Tiny last week, but my limitations affect him more. So tomorrow, even though I’m terrified of having my knee messed with, even though I don’t know the outcome ahead of time, I’ll remember who I’m having surgery for: my beautiful Tiny Tot.