if it ain’t broke…(or how I learned to say no to the medical establishment)

I had a recent experience with the medical community, and not a very good one I might add.  While not necessarily blaming my grandson for my injury, let me just say that I was holding him when the freakish incident involving my knee occurred.   Now, I’ve never known anyone who’s injured their knee while in the act of simply straightening it, but I’m here to tell you that that’s exactly what happened to me.   “Crunch, pop, crunch” were the sounds emanating from said knee while I was having an otherwise pleasant conversation with my new neighbor and showing off my grandson – AKA the most beautiful child ever born.  “Oh God” I said, feeling immediate pain and almost falling down.  “Are you OK?” new neighbor asked.  “Great!” I said, barely able to maintain a serene façade.  God, I hate showing weakness and wasn’t about to start, even though the pain was excruciatingly intense. 

 My daughter-in-law, who witnessed the whole thing, knows me well and realized immediately that something had just gone terribly wrong.  “Here let me take the baby – he needs to be fed” she said, deftly stepping in and relieving me of the little guy.  New neighbor and I exchanged goodbyes and I turned to high-tail it back into the house.  “Shit. Can’t walk” I squeaked, as my son and daughter-in-law helped me hop into the house.  In the meantime, my accounting brain was quickly tallying up the expense of an ER visit and comparing the sum against my bank account. 

It didn’t look great but then again, I couldn’t walk.

While lying on the couch, I debated the pros and cons of being seen.  It was the weekend and I really didn’t think the local CVS clinic would be able to accommodate this kind of injury.  The ER would probably prescribe some kind of narcotic relief, which in my opinion goes to the top of the ‘pro’ column.   Still, there was the expense.  On the other hand, I really couldn’t walk. 

 I opted for the ER. 

 Now it just so happened that my 75 year old mother had just arrived at the house.  We’d planned on catching “The Help” at the local movie theater, which I’d been trying to see for a couple of weeks.  A friend and I had planned on going the prior Sunday, but when we met at the theater, she sheepishly told me she’d just seen it the day before with her sisters and would I mind seeing something else?  So we saw One Day, which I frankly thought was crappy romance schlock.  Not my cup of tea.  Not that I was real keen on seeing The Help, either, but I’d read the book and thought it was pretty good and all the reviews of the movie version were good too.  Plus I like that feisty little Sissy Spacek.   I’ll bet she’s a real fun grandma like me, assuming that she IS a grandma, but we’re about the same age so she probably is.  So mom and I made a date to see The Help for that fateful following Sunday.  On Saturday the sheepishly informed me that she’d ALSO seen the movie with a friend the previous day but really wanted to see it again and now that both people had gone behind my proverbial back and saw it with other people,  it was my personal mission to SEE THAT MOVIE.

 Of course it was not to be.  Instead, we spent a fun-filled 3 hours at the local ER.   In triage, the nurse asked the pertinent questions:  Current medications, other medical conditions, previous surgeries, recreational drug use, the usual …    I almost laughed when the recreational drug use question was asked, but thought better of it.  Instead, I shot back my wittiest answer with lightning speed: “Uh, not since the late 70’s”.   The nurse laughed andI figured she really didn’t hear that kind of answer except from her Most Fun Patients (like me).

 Mom and I were finally ushered into “the inner sanctum” where the fortunate ER visitors are finally allowed to rest their weary heads, and into our own little cubicle where we settled down for the duration.  The fact that the nurse promptly brought me a couple of Vicodin was much appreciated, not only for the obvious pain relief effect, but for its magical power to make time stand still.     Fast forward 2 hours and several X-Rays later when Dr. Whatshisname (who I mentally renamed Baby Doc) arrived to say I really needed to see an Orthopedist because the X-Rays told them nothing and I probably would have to have an MRI and possibly surgery.  Again my lightning quick brain tallied up dollars and cents and came up with a flashing neon sign that read “WAY TOO MUCH MONEY”.   “And what happens if I don’t do any of that?” I asked.  Baby Doc shook his head sadly at my obvious ignorance of his superior genius brain power and assured me that I would most certainly re-injure my knee and would have to do it anyway.  I left the hospital decked out in a knee immobilizer, a pair of crutches (which, as of this writing have never been used) a script for Vicodin and no intention of calling an orthopedist for follow-up.   I figured out how to walk on my own (right leg stiff, no bending) and spent the rest of the day blissfully zoned out.

 Best of intentions and all, my knee did not heal in the rapid-fire way I thought it would.  At least not at first.  By Day 4 and after a promise to my best friend to make the appointment, my knee was still really, really painful and I was still walking stiff-legged, so I made the call.  The friendly lady on the phone scheduled me to be seen 4 days later by Dr. George – a nice, unassuming name.  One that sounded friendly and old-timey-doctorish to me.     Little did I know that Dr. George would turn out to be just a cog in the ever-grinding machine that turns bad knees and torn rotator cuffs into huge sums of revenue.  Revenue made on the backs of the unassuming ER patients who’ve had slight orthopedic mishaps just like myself.  Dr. George Friendly indeed…

 Of course, just like when you take your car to the mechanic and it flat REFUSES to misbehave, the day dawned practically pain-free.  “Great” I muttered to myself while twisting my knee around to increase the source of the pain, thus legitimizing my appointment.  Dammit, now when I wanted and NEEDED the knee to hurt, it actually felt better than ever.    I twisted my knee a few more times, trying to turn on the pain and made a mental note to park in the back row of the clinic’s parking lot, hoping the walk would screw my knee up at least a little bit. 

 Of course it didn’t, but as I entered the Dr’s office,  I had enough of a residual hobble to make things look good.  Before I even saw the doctor though, they needed X-Rays.  Look, this clinic is right NEXT to the hospital and they even said they had access to my previous ER films, but I guess somebody needed a new motor for their boat or something because there I was, posing for more lovely pictures of my 54-year old knees for their viewing pleasure.  Really, I’d assumed they’d skip that and go for the more costly MRI, but it turns out that there’s a step-by-step procedure for stripping cash from a patient and the first step is more X-rays. 

(Enter Dr. George)

 Not the doctor I anticipated.  In fact, Dr. George was the opposite of my mental picture of a grandfatherly man who would listen to me thoughtfully and sympathetically and inquire about my pain level and generally fawn over me and make me feel special.  Not Dr. George.  Dr. George first told me that I had pretty good knees for a 54-year old women (“hardly any arthritis – not what we usually see), but that would be the last compliment he would pay me.  He then wanted to look at my knee, and tried to pull up my capri pants, which he couldn’t do because they wouldn’t go over my knee.  Sighing, he went to a cabinet and pulled out a pair of paper shorts – “here, put these on so I can look at your knee” he said, handing me a piece of clothing that I immediately knew I could not put on.  Before leaving the room so I could change, he added, “you can even take them home with you!” like he was bestowing a gift on me that I would treasure for the rest of my life.   I tried, folks, really I did.  But here’s the deal:  I have a (relatively) small waist and large hips and this makes articles of clothing like pants and shorts troublesome at best for me.  I can literally spend hours trying on dozens of pants and shorts before settling on one or two that actually fit me.  So you can imagine how trying to pull on a pair of paper shorts that look like they’ve been designed for a teenage boy, went for me.  I gave it my best effort but things started looking grim just past my knees .  “Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself.  “Keep your fucking shorts for some pre-pubescent with no hips” I muttered, throwing the shorts back in the cabinet and pulling out a perfectly-suited hospital gown.    

 I think Dr. George was a little disappointed that I’d eschewed his “gift” and it was my suspicion that he was going to hold that against me.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m right about that, since he spent some time palpating my knee on the wrong side and asking “Does that hurt?” No,” I said, “my knee hurts over on the other side and the pain is really deep and I can’t even palpate it myself.”

  “Oh” he said.  “You need an MRI.” 

And with that, he walked out the door and on to what I can only imagine was a much more interesting patient.  Probably someone who would really appreciate a pair of paper shorts as their parting gift.

 So I paid my bill, and walked out the door to await a call from the office regarding where and when the blessed MRI event would take place.

 And here I sit, two doctors, several sets of X-rays and hundreds of dollars later, with no treatment, no diagnosis, and wondering if I’ll even bother with the rest of this medical establishment freakshow.  I suspect there’s nothing terribly wrong with my knee that time won’t heal anyway and that the dire warning from the ER doctor that not following through will mean certain re-injury probably won’t happen in the near future.  Besides, I could die before it happens again anyway.    At least there’s that.      I’m definitely cancelling that MRI appointment.  I’m pretty sure of that.

 So Dr. George, I hope you won’t notice that I never came back to visit you.  I hope you gave your boy shorts to some acne-faced teenage boy or a supermodel with no hips – someone who can actually wear them proudly.  I hope you got a new motor for that boat of yours with my financial contribution to your fine establishment.  Most of all, I hope you develop a personality – preferably something closer to what I imagined yours would be.  That would be nice.

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