Friday, April 25, 2008

Bum Leg Blues

Three years ago, about two days after I arrived in Taiwan, I fell down and slammed my right knee into the sidewalk, hard. It's never been quite right since then, but never really, really bad, just always felt like it was bigger than it should be and uncomfortable sometimes. Didn't stop me from being able to walk long distances or anything.

Over the Chinese New Year holiday I sat on my butt almost every day, with my legs extended either propped up on pillows on the coffee table or on the sofa itself, because it was freezing cold outside and rainy, no incentive to get out and move. Toward the end of my two-week vacation, I noticed my right hip joint had a burning pain, hurt to press on it. When I started back to school and began walking every day, I gradually got a pain that was going down the side of my leg and to the knee, and that seemed to worsen every day.

When I reached the point where I couldn't walk without a lot of pain, I finally went to a clinic that Guoxi had taken me to before for some acupuncture on the knee. The first treatment was a chiropractic type, lots of bending and twisting. This was right before the Hong Kong trip. The doctor told me to go back the next day, but I couldn't because I had too much to do. I ended up hobbling around Hong Kong in pain, but after I got back here, I seemed much better, so I thought the walking had actually helped. Spent lots of time walking around with Carol, and still seemed OK.

But then the pain started again, so I went back to the clinic, where they performed an absolutely awful treatment called fire cupping that hurt like hell, left my leg looking as if it had been attacked by a giant octopus, and did no good. The next week I hurt so much I could hardly walk, so I decided to go to the chiropractor Nat had taken me to in March 2005 when my bursitis was so bad. He'd gotten me well in only two visits, so I was hoping he'd be able to fix the leg.

The first day I went he told me a nerve down the side of my leg was pinched and that I'd waited too long before going to see him, almost to the point where I needed an operation. He may have been talking about the knee, too, I didn't understand everything he said because he spoke so quickly (in Chinese, of course). He twisted me and cracked me and make me yelp and cry, but I felt a lot better after that. He told me to stop walking so much and let the leg heal, and I made an appointment to go back a couple days later. That visit was last week on Friday, and it hurt so much! On Saturday my leg really hurt, but I could tell it was more the pain of muscles that had been pushed and stretched into unfamiliar positions, not the same pain as before. By Sunday I was feeling great, walking normally (I'd been doing a very stiff-legged limping along for quite a while), and happy. I noticed a clicking sound coming from my leg when I walked, but since I'm old and already have a bit of arthritis in the left knee, which makes it creak and crack at times, I figured that's what it was.

On Monday I left for school, happy that I was walking without pain. I wisely avoided the stairs, going through the underground parking area and up the elevator to the lobby of the main building instead. I walked out the front door of my building down the small wheelchair ramp, and something snapped behind my right knee, leaving me in severe pain, completely unable to walk because I could put no pressure on the leg at all. There I was, standing outside on one leg, while other people walked by to catch the bus. One woman stopped to offer her arm, but she was a lot smaller than me, and I didn't think she'd be able to support my weight. I got the security guard to bring out a small plastic stool, which I hunched over and scooted across the ground, hobbling back into the lobby, where I sat on the sofa waiting for Nat (I'd called her with a "Help! I can't walk! Help!"). She took me to the hospital, and I spent the whole day there, because we had to wait there for almost three hours to see the doctor in the physical therapy department (the first doctor who looked at me was a surgeon, and he said it wasn't his speciality). Nat had to go back to work, but she'd called Kennie and asked her to stay with me and help with any interpretation necessary.

The X ray doesn't show any bone problem (the doc wanted to be sure there weren't any bone fragments from that old injury that were poking something), but there's some degeneration of the meniscus in the knee. The doctor said it's possible there's a torn ligament, but without an MRI he can't say for sure. I know that it felt like my hamstrings snapped in two, but since I can use the leg, it's not that, just felt like it. He gave two types of painkillers, told me to rest at home for the next two days, and to immediately go back to the hospital if it hadn't gotten any better by then to see a doctor in Orthopedics (doctors are at the hospitals here, they don't have offices like they do in the US).

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home. Monday evening was bad, because I couldn't put the tiniest bit of pressure on the leg, and any small bit of twisting to the side also brought tears to my eyes. I managed to use crutches to get around, but it wasn't easy. I slept badly because I was afraid I'd twist my leg in my sleep. Tuesday I used the heating packets a lot, and there was less pain if I moved the knee. On Wednesday I was actually able to put pressure on the leg and could stand as long as I still propped myself up with the crutches and kept most of my weight on the left leg. I could walk slowly, step by step, using the crutches, instead of hopping on one leg and dangling the other.

I went to school yesterday, but I had to take a taxi from home to the MRT station in Danshui and then take another one from the station by the school. After class I had to go to my bank, which is only about two blocks away, to pick up my proof of sufficient funds letter for my university app and to pay my rent (which was already overdue). It took me forever to walk there, and my armpits and palms were so sore from the crutches. Took a taxi to the station, MRT back to Danshui, then taxi home, where I collapsed, exhausted. My knee is huge, looks like it's totally whacked out of place, quite ugly. That might be because I can't quite straighten the leg completely, I don't know, I just know it looks awful.

I wanted to go to school today, but I just can't do it. I'm afraid if I do I'll end up hurting the other leg, and then where will I be? As it is, and I have no idea if I'll be able to make the trip back to the US on May 10 like I'm supposed to, or if I'm going to need surgery, or what. My landlord is so nice, he's taking me to a different hospital this afternoon (they are famous for their orthopedic department), and I hope they have good news for me. I may end up having to delay the trip, but one way or another, I have to go get my documents stamped and approved for my university application.

On the bright side, I have wonderful friends here to come running to help when I need them. Nat and Kennie really went all out on Monday, Carrie came by on Wednesday evening, did a little shopping for me, and kept me company, and then Nat, Charlene, and Betty came over last night with some dinner and companionship. I know I can call on the landlord's mom if I need something, and he and his wife are taking me to the hospital today. Also, on Monday the hospital visit, the X ray, and the medicine only cost US$37 (I don't have insurance, either)! Isn't that amazing? Sure can't go to the hospital in America for that, not even *with* insurance. Funny, though, the crutches and the 2 heating/cooling packs were about US$20.

Wish me luck, everyone. I hope I'll be seeing some of you in May, but if not, then likely June or July. I already have my plane ticket, so I'll be back, just a question of when.

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