I don’t recommend kicking off a long weekend by breaking your knee. But that’s what I’ve done.
I was walking home from work and it had rained all day and when I walked into my apartment building there were no caution signs, so I stepped and slipped and boom. I immediately knew something was wrong. Something felt sharp under my leggings. Something was off.
Making matters even crazier was the fact that my boyfriend had broken his leg in practically the same place almost 5 months ago. As EMT’s strapped me into a stretcher and lifted me into an ambulance (all of which felt like a bizarre theme park ride), I called him and laughed deliriously that we were twins now. I looked down at my leg like it wasn’t part of me. The EMT said it was probably just dislocated. He told me about times people had dialed 9-1-1 over eating too many marijuana gummie bears. When we reached the hospital, that same EMT cut through my leggings, revealed the off-center Tootsie Roll now residing in my knee, and grimaced.
“That does not look right.”
I stayed composed and detached. I zoned out while waiting to be X-Rayed, while being pushed past swinging doors and rooms and people and twisted faces. Some people were angry drunks. Some were broken in several places. I was wheeled into a room marked Critical Care, and I kept that composure until my boyfriend got there.
I held it together fairly well, at first. I smiled at him. I thanked him, profusely, for coming. I pushed my hair behind my ear and tried to make flirty jokes, tried to at least look pretty, despite the obvious circumstances. Then doctors approached and assessed and talked in long drawn-out paragraphs marked by alarm-bell words: “fractured patella” and “broken into three pieces” and “surgery” and, lastly, “overnight hospital stay.” Despite the dramatic punch of those first three phrases, it was that last one that made me burst into tears.
“I can’t stay here.” I told A while tears and makeup stained my face, “All I want to do is go home.”
A took my hand and stayed close. “I know.”
What followed was several hours of waiting. For some kind of explanation about what was going to happen. Waiting to hear how bad it was. If I would be operated on that night. When someone brought the X-ray slides, my boyfriend, ever the scientist, sprung up to take a look at them.
He grimaced, eyes wide in horror and wonder. “Do you want to see?”
“No thanks. I’m fine not knowing what that situation looks like.”
Our relationship saw several firsts that night that I hadn’t expected to experience within our first year of dating, or really ever. For starters, it was the first time he’d ever left the room so I could use a bedpan. It was also the first time I’d ever used a bedpan in general. And the first time that a doctor threw open my curtain to tell me something, completely unaware of what I was in the middle of. Said doctor would apologize to me repeatedly for the rest of the night, despite my assertions that everything was fine and for the love of god please stop bringing it up.
About an hour later, another doctor approached with the news that I wouldn’t need surgery that night, that they would follow up in a few days to assess how things were, and that they would wrap my knee in a bandage with an immobilizer (essentially a cast), and send me off in crutches. I was so happy to be going home that I started crying again.
Several more hours of waiting followed that announcement. My boyfriend drew a frown face on my knee with a pen. He told me I needed to call my parents and, now that my shock and denial were beginning to wear off, I did so. He demanded I ask them to visit so they could take care of me. He helped me turn my dress into a romper with the help of an artfully tied, strategically placed knot. And he told me about his sisters, about his mother being a nurse. About being alone at first when he went through this. About being bedridden for months, and then hobbling determinedly on a pair of crutches.
“It’s an incredibly humbling experience when you can’t even get up and go to the bathroom by yourself,” he said. “You realize who your true friends are.”
He stared at my leg in awe. So now this was happening again. And now he could pay it all forward.
After what felt like another hour, he sprung up from my bedside to find someone. “This is ridiculous,” he said over and over, “Can someone just come here and get us some crutches?” Eventually an attendant led us through a trial-and-error process of sizing up huge crutches for my too-tall body, angling my legs off the bed and onto the floor, and explaining that, in fact, my leg was not about to crack in half despite what I was feeling. This repeated itself until I was standing and walking around on crutches, triumphant.
We were not out of the woods yet.
In keeping with this night of firsts, this was the first time my boyfriend had seen me walk down a hallway on crutches. It was also the first time he saw me faint while on those crutches. I had refused to drink any water after my illuminating bedpan experience, and now I was severely dehydrated. We were just a couple feet from the exit – inches from freedom – when spots took up my entire field of vision. I leaned against a wall and my head rolled back. I mumbled “oh god I’m going to pass out please help.” I heard him scream “CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP US.” I think I blacked out for a second, because the next thing I knew I was in a wheelchair and he was wrapped around my shoulders, squeezing me tightly.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered. “I want to leave so badly. I just need water.”
He rolled me back to our room, much to the confusion of the staff who had just been cheering me on while I’d slowly reached the door. I put my head in my hands and breathed deeply while he fetched water, cups and cups of beautiful water and some kind of sugary cranberry drink that he thought would be useful. It was.
After I downed the first cups of water and juice, I stared at him.
“Did you finish it?” he asked. “Is there anymore?”
“I love you.” I said.
He sat back and straightened as if I’d just shot him, and smiled in a way that made his entire face, his entire body, look like it was filling with light. That light shot out of his eyes and held me there. Those words were so obvious, but I had been so afraid of saying them, was actually still pretty scared of them. But after the insane series of nonsense we had just endured, I didn’t see a reason to hold them back any longer. Me, in my ridiculous, vulnerable, makeup-stained, wheelchair-bound state.
Everything went quiet, just for a second, and then everything slowed down. We just stared at each other and smiled, and everything was warm.
“No, I don’t have any more water.” I said softly.
“Wow.” he murmured.
He grabbed my hand and kissed it fiercely. Around ten minutes later, when I was adequately hydrated, he wheeled me back down the hallway and to the exit, where we ordered a Lyft. He squeezed me so tightly while we waited that I couldn’t breathe. It was freezing and raining, and when the car arrived we braced ourselves for the cold, wet misery of outside. He lifted my legs into the huge car while I pushed myself backward on my hands. He stared at me from the front seat, eyes warmer than I’d ever seen them. We got to my apartment and he helped me into bed, then went to CVS to pick up my prescription, snacks, water, and various other essentials. When he returned, he squeezed me even tighter while I hugged him and cried.
“I don’t know what I would have done tonight without you,” I said, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” he whispered. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you.”
It was 3 am when we went to bed. I barely slept. But I woke up in the morning with his arm around me. I stared at his sleeping face. He hadn’t said he loved me back, and despite every beautiful gesture he had shown me that night, my sleep-deprived brain had convinced itself that he didn’t love me. I blinked away tears. He woke up minutes later and sprung into life.
“Are you in pain? Are you okay? How is your leg? Drink this entire bottle of water right now.” And so on until he was absolutely sure that I was okay.
Then he kissed me, deeply, and the actions pushed away the need for words. He was here, and he wasn’t going anywhere. This was a thing that was happening now.