Sprained my right knee rolling out of bed Saturday morning. Just rolling. Nothing fancy. This specific pain and I have been in relationship for 23 years. It started on a hike in the mountains somewhere along the Czech border with Poland. It was winter. I was wearing my signature steel-tipped cowboy boots. I was with a group of Russians who hired a friend to teach them English at a camp in the woods. My traveling companion and I decided to stop there on our way to Poland. It was the origin of many important turning points, an axis. More about that another time. That time it was my left knee, what I refer to as my Czech knee. That was the first time I was consciously aware of my body and I going in separate directions. It also gave me awareness of my mortality. A burly Russian man carried me down the mountain. I was taken to the nearest first aid station where I was invited onto the examining table by a man cutting bread and salami on said examining table. No one around me spoke English. He noticed my hesitation, and with a scowl lifted his meal, brushed away the crumbs and again invited me onto the table. My entire left leg was eventually placed in a plaster cast which was to stay on for several weeks. I was in shock. The medical note was typed in Czech on copy paper and a copy was handed to me. I still have it. I wrote many pages about pain after that event.
I was shuttled back to my little communist block apartment in a distant suburb of Prague. I took a leave from my teaching job, which felt like a huge relief. I didn’t like teaching. I was nervous every time had to get up in front of the class, which was several times a day. Now I could just hang out with my friends all day while my body was taking it’s time to heal (this section has been modified for all audiences - PG-13). I didn’t have a computer or a cel phone back then. If someone wanted to talk to me over the phone they had to call the school where I worked and I was summoned out of class by someone that appeared annoyed they had to retrieve her royal American highness (my interpretation). Or they could call the front desk of the gray cement skyscraper where I lived and have them send someone up to my room to bring me down for a call. This was frowned upon and I dreaded having to receive anything special from building management. I was an oddity in that building and I didn’t want to call any additional attention my way. Phone calls from the US were unusual around those parts and I didn’t like being focused on or the topic of gossip.
I can’t recall exactly how I got the call, but I was on the phone briefly with my brother a few weeks after the injury. I think the call interrupted a card game, but that level of detail is fuzzy. He started yelling at me demanding that I return to the US for american medical attention. He was trying to scare me, and it worked. I didn’t want to go back to the States. The only way he was able to convince me to return was by promising me that he would stay with me wherever I returned. I got a flight back with a plane change in Frankfurt. Again, not wanting to call attention to myself, I wore loose pants over my full ankle to hip plaster cast. I had requested a wheelchair, which they didn’t provide for me since I didn’t appear to be as in need as many others around me. I hopped from one gate to the other, in a lot of pain.
When I got back to the States my brother did not appear. He was too busy. I had the cast sawed off and examined by a sports medicine doctor in Pittsburgh who indicated that my knee was healing well and put me on a physical therapy plan. I went into a state of depression. I did not want to be back in Pittsburgh. I wanted to get out as quickly as possible.
After a few weeks of rehab I convinced a friend to come get me and take me to DC. I rented a car for him to pick me up and drive me. I knew I needed to get back to Prague, but it was the middle of the winter, I was injured, alone and didn’t have any money. I don’t recall where I stayed initially, probably floating on friends couches until I found a room. I picked up a few part-time jobs to earn money. I was constantly dreaming of ways to get back overseas. Within a year I was on a plane back to Europe as a Peace Corps education volunteer. I knew I was a terrible teacher, but it was a way out. I needed that way out.
One year into my Peace Corps stint in Hungary, I sprained my right knee, which would come to be known as my Hungarian knee. I had just formed a relationship with a local family that had horses and wide open space to run. The puszta had finally showed me it’s magic. Having access to those horses was like being handed a key to happiness and freedom. The moment I started to taste freedom again, the universe knocked me down. I sprained my knee attempting a side mount I’d done countless times. The pain was excruciating. I could not walk. Thinking about it now, lying here with an injury in the same knee, I feel my muscles tensing to protect. Back then I was depressed. A Peace Corps nurse came out weeks later to tell me that I had chondromalacia. I was ordered to rest, which was again a reprieve from teaching. The pain was awful, and when I say that pain was awful I mean the psychological/emotional as well as the physical pain. I started to hate my body. I was so angry at my body for turning on me. I experienced me and my body as two different entities and we were at war. My body was crushing me with physical pain and immobility that made me dependent, and limited my life experiences. I made myself a nuisance for the Peace Corps medical staff and they finally sent me back to the States where I had my first surgery.