After sitting meditation Wednesday, I talk to Chuck, in Pueblo, on Zoom.
“I’m getting the staples removed(again)from my leg tomorrow.”
Last year they put in the plate and screws. Two weeks ago Dr. Chaus took out the plate and the screws. The staples will be out Thursday.
“What do you do to prepare?” Chuck says.
“Well, everyone goes through some kind of suffering.” I’m just going through something. That’s how I think of it.” (Secretly, I think what a good Zen person I am, in my extreme pain to think of all beings).
Chuck makes strong arms movement and talks about bracing himself for it. He talks about gripping onto something, the chair.
“I hope I can hold a hand,” I say.
I think, how lonely, if there’s no hand to hold.
“I don’t seem to grip. I don’t know what I do. I’ll tell you next week.”
I’ve been coming here for over a year. It’s always Thursday when I’m here because that’s when Dr. Chaus is here. I walk quickly up the wide spiral staircase to the second floor. In the waiting room all different ages and kinds of people carefully make it out of the elevator and enter on crutches, in wheelchairs, walkers with giant casts and braces on their arms, legs. They don’t touch their foot to the ground. They don’t bend and straighten their elbow, knee. There was a woman laid straight out on her back in a hospital bed. Some have caregivers. Some are in hospital gowns. A young man has children, a wife and he broke his foot. An old frail woman in a wheelchair wears a sling. She tells her husband the chair is uncomfortable but the blanket is warm enough, and repeats. The husband mumbles. I think I know how they feel. There’s a long distance from the elevator to the waiting room. If you’re new, on crutches, it takes incredible effort. When they finally sit, I want to run to them and help prop up their leg on a bolster. I want to tell them, It’ll get better. It seems like it will be downhill, but it’s a process. Keep wiggling your toes. Keep moving what you can move. You’ll be walking and you’ll be like, I love walking. And there will be pain, and you’ll be— not like before, but it won’t be like this.
In the small room Dr. Chaus, pulls up a chair and leans in to face me. I’ve grown to love seeing him. Everyone tells me he’s the best surgeon and how I was lucky he was in the ER that night I came in with a fractured tibial plateau. And it was amazing that he called me the night before surgery a week later to explain the three different fractures and how mine was in the middle and needed surgery. That was last year.
I’ve been examining my staples. “Thirty- five.” I tell him.
“I didn’t count. No contact sports, no mountain biking, no extreme athletics for four weeks,” he says to me, as if I’m the type to do contact sports and extreme athletics, and now, sadly, I must wait a little longer.
“You can run, bike, stretch, most everything.”
“Stay here and the PA will remove these staples.
I watch the screen savers on the computer with their alternating funny phrases and pictures of animals and pep talk phrases and little known facts about the doctors, usually having to do with animals or sports. And then, Kevin is there, and the special scissors. I rip the bandage off. I step my foot on a little stool.
“Remember from last time,” Kevin says.
“I don’t remember.”
“This part of your skin has never ever, in all of your life, seen the outside of the body, So it reacts. It doesn’t like it. It needs to get used to the outside.”
“For 63 years it’s been inside,” I say
“Ready?” Kevin says
“You’ve done this before, right?” I say.
It’s a joke, he’s done it for 23 years.
He pulls the first one out and says, “One.”
“One” is also kind of funny.
“So glad you have a sense of humor.” I say.
It is really painful. It feels like I am being bitten by a bee, no, a snake.
“We can stop anytime you want,” he says.
I find myself hardening, gripping the chair, blowing breath out my mouth loudly with each pull and I think, Chucks knows exactly.
“Sorry for being so dramatic.”
(I’m bracing myself.)
“OK. Stop.” I catch my breath.
(It’s like I’m climbing a mountain of glass shards.)
“OK. I’m ready. That one wasn’t so bad. The one before was really bad.”
I think we’re almost done.
“Halfway there,” Kevin says.
“Is it like this for everyone?”
Thirty-five strong exhales, and four pauses later he carefully presses steri-strips across the wound.
“Peel them off after five days unless they fall off first.”
I look at the pile of staples and briefly wonder if I should bring them home, like I did the plate and screws.
“When the staples are removed they bend in the middle so the parts that tuck underneath release to the sides.”
(I asked about it so I can tell Chuck).
I say “Thank you” too many times.
I consider the stairs but my leg is too raw, so I take the elevator down with the people in casts, braces, wheelchairs, walkers. I don’t feel the need to say much or tell them anything about how it’s going to be. We exchange glances.