Typically, where I live, there is a flurry of activity. There is a steady stream of people and traffic. Everything is in motion. In February, I was a part of that flurry of activity. I went to work, I went to the gym, I had plans with friends… Then, one Saturday, I work up and had severe pain in my knee. My right knee buckled. I struggled to stand and walk. The pain was severe enough that I knew I needed to see a doctor.
I scheduled a ride with Uber and went to the local Urgent Care that had an orthopedic clinic. As I waited for my name to be called, I mentally prepared myself for the conversations that would take place with the medical staff. I had never seen medical professionals in this practice. I had copies of the medical notes from recent visits to my primary care doctor with me to verify the past orthopedic issues from Spastic Cerebral Palsy.
My name was called and I limped down a long corridor. The trekking poles that typically make my walking faster and easier, were hindering me now. It hurt to walk. When I entered the exam room, the nurse asked me to get up on the exam table. I explained that I could not get onto the table because the table was too high and that I could not bend my knees or lift my legs high enough to get up on the table. I knew if I made the attempt, it would jar my injured knee too much. I explained that I was in a lot of pain. The nurse then asked on a scale of 1 to 10, what may pain level was. I answered a 7.5.
She took my vitals and reviewed the medical records I provided. There were discrepancies between the electronic record on her computer and the paper files that I supplied. The nurse worked with me to correct the inaccurate information. Errors included a list of incorrect medications. For some reason medicine I no longer take remained in the electronic record. The lesson:
– Always ask for a summary of every medical visit and share relevant information with new doctors and their medical staff.
– Ask for a copy of x-rays, and related test results, and
– Always share a list of current medications.
A Physician’s Assistant (PA) came to see me next. The PA verified my medical history and said that I needed an x-ray of my knee. I had to walk down another long hallway to get the x-rays taken. The PA returned and showed me the test results. The only thing the x-rays showed were signs of arthritis. Due to my pain level, the PA thought I had a meniscus tear. Meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that cushions and stabilizes the knee joint. Signs of a tear include pain and swelling. The PA was concerned that due to surgery I had on my hamstrings, the scar tissue could be hiding a potential blood clot.
The PA wanted to send me to another orthopedic clinic that was over 30 minutes away to have another set of tests done to see if I had a blood clot. I explained that I did not drive. I asked if there was a closer office or facility to get the testing done.
The PA asked me to call a family member or a friend who could give me a ride. I explained that I was not able to reach anyone; it was a Saturday after all. I explained that my closest family members were over two hours away. The PA scowled and said the only other option was the Emergency Room (E.R.). I said I would take an Uber to the Emergency Room. The PA did not appear to understand the challenges of not driving or the logistics transportation alternatives require.
I have not been to the local E.R. in a long time. The triage nurse saw me limp in through the automatic doors. The nurse got a wheelchair and had me sit down. After completing the required medical forms, I waited to be assessed by the next set of medical professionals.
Time seemed to slow down. I caught myself looking at the time approximately every ten minutes. I tried to call a couple of local friends while I waited. I could not reach them. I did not know if I could walk out of the E.R. alone after the tests. My knee really hurt.
A doctor approached me and said anti-inflammatory medication had been ordered to help alleviate the pain in my knee. Another nurse came with a gurney. I maneuvered myself from the wheelchair to the gurney. The nurse wheeled the stretcher down several long hallways. I ended up in a room with an ultrasound machine. The ultrasound would be used to see if I had a blood clot in my knee and leg veins.
A technician performed the tests and I had to wait for the results. While I waited, I tried calling family and friends again. I could not reach anyone. My anxiety increased. More time passed and all of my calls to people rolled to voicemail. I finally reached my brother who lives over two hours away. When he answered the phone, I felt a surge of relief. He would drive up if I needed help.
The technician returned. The test results showed that I did not have a blood clot. I was fitted with a brace called an immobilizer. The brace wraps around the leg from the mid-thigh to the ankle. It has metal rods that go down both sides of the brace to immobilize the knee and limit movement. I needed to find out if I could stand and walk with the new brace. I asked the nurse to hand me my trekking poles. My hands were sweaty from nerves. I took the poles from the nurse. I thought:
“I need to be able to walk out of the Emergency Room. I need to be able to walk to get to the Uber car. I need to be able to walk to get into my house.”
I tentatively stepped. I felt almost giddy when I realized I could move and walk around despite the extra weight of the new brace on my leg. The nurse had me walk down another stretch of hallway to ensure that I could safely maneuver and walk. After several minutes and several steps, we both seemed satisfied that I could walk with the injury and manage. I received my discharge papers and strict instructions that I should stay off the knee as much as possible.
I was to follow up with an orthopedic specialist in three weeks. I questioned the time-frame. Three weeks? The nurse confirmed the three-week time-frame was correct. I asked whether there were any earlier appointments. The nurse indicated that I had received the earliest appointment available. I walked toward the exit of the Emergency Room feeling somewhat deflated. Three weeks is a long time to wait, especially with an injury.
I made my way to the parking area for Uber cars and waited my ride. I began to mentally plan for what I would need to change over the next three weeks.
“I can do this.” I thought. “I can do this.”
I did not realize at the time that my journey with this injury was far from over.