In the Western World

We will call him Dr. Superman.

He is the orthopedic surgeon I have been waiting to see for two months and today I finally got to meet him. And while the waiting room was utterly claustrophobic, the patient rooms decorated for different university sport’s teams made up the difference. Mine was orange. Bright orange. So orange I had to shield my eyes at first glance. This could only be Clemson University. The flaming gay doctor’s assistant with the kickass name, Nike Shox shoes, styled hair, and a pierced ear also helped.

But more than anything, Dr. Superman’s medical knowledge and the fact that he sat down and took the time to talk to me—about the seasons, about writing, about a 7th grade teacher who changed his life—impressed me the most.

His arguments for steroid injections and human growth hormone (a study he’s involved in through Wake Forest University) were compelling. “We don’t play God, but we take what God gave us and use it to heal ourselves faster,” he said. I’m beyond telling people in the South that I don’t believe in God—it just doesn’t get me anywhere—but his analogy served its purpose. He takes what our bodies already make naturally and puts it right where it needs to go, in highly concentrated amounts.

The good news is that the X-Rays and MRI results showed no acute injury, the only suspicious area being the left lateral meniscus (duh), which “demonstrates degenerative changes.” The bad news is that the cartilage under both of my kneecaps is nearly wiped out. “You’re not bone on bone yet,” Dr. Superman advised, “but you’re taking away more than your body can keep up with. You make the things that come together to form cartilage—your body does this for you everyday at noon and midnight,” he goes on.

What I can’t believe is that he was talking in a way that I could actually hear, without dumbing too much down. I can’t believe I now owe over $1,000 to the hospital for my MRI (and yes, that’s WITH insurance). I can’t believe I’ve been told to do PT 3x/wk at $70 per pop (which I will not do—I asked for a home plan). I can’t believe I took two knee braces, supplements, and the injections not knowing whether insurance will cover them. I can’t believe just to get there, get in the door, and get home costs me $90. In short, I can’t quite believe I’m walking this Western medical path.

And when it came down to it, I nodded my head yes. Yes, inject me with that stuff. Put it right into my knees with that giant needle even though it goes against everything I feel good about and have practiced for the last six years of my life. Just do it. Now. Please. Because I can’t take anymore of anything else.

It’s not supposed to hurt, they say—and lord knows I’ve had these injections before, back in my rugby days, before I had to have foot surgeries. But it’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, that I didn’t have to grab the sides of the patient table and tear at the tissue paper a little. Or that, when he asked me what was wrong with a particular scene I read in this novel that I didn’t like, I had to hold my breath and answer him in fits and starts as the fluid pressed its way into my body.

“Scene development,” I told him.

He looked at me. I looked at the ceiling, jerked at the hips.

He pressed down more on the needle. “And?” he said.

“And dialogue. You can’t prop up a scene on dialogue alone.”

“I agree,” he said. “But what about the narrator?” He’s finished with the right one and is letting me catch my breath.

I wait. I don’t know for how long. “She narrated in limited 3rd but she did a lousy job.”

“What do you mean?” says Dr. Superman, preparing the next needle.

“I mean she kept cheating but using interior monologue—“ stab, swell, shoot, jerk—“as a way to get back to a 1st person voice. And—“twist, turn, tear, grind—“and there’s a better way to do that.”

“How?” says Dr. Superman. “Because that’s really the hardest part, isn’t it? Writing in 3rd person but portraying what a character is thinking and feeling at the time?”

He’s almost done. He’s got to be. I swear. “You’re right. It is hard.” Almost as hard as this, I want to say. “But you can show a character reacting to something in real time and that’s even more powerful than saying what’s he’s thinking, for instance.”

He pulls the needle out and sits back in his chair. I’m still curled up, gripping the edges of the table. Me. The former rugger. The karateka. The mountain mama. Withered, on a fake leather cushion.

I exhale.

Reality is hard to dismiss. I’ve been in pain for 8 months. My acupuncture treatments every two weeks keep me moving and, at times, bring me to a pain-free state with 100% functioning and mobility. Other times, I’m limping. The tinctures, poultices, lotions, and liniments from Joe are immensely helpful, but they’re not enough at my current rate of activity.

Which brings me to the next “I can’t believe…”

On my way out, I was told to talk to the head PT at the center to get a recommendation for treatment and a PT near me in case I decide to go. I told her I live in Tinyville.

“Where?” she said, her Back East accent none but charming.

“Um, it’s at the base of Roan Mountain?” I said.

“Mount what?”

“Ok, it’s about 17 miles from SmallTown. Do you know where that is?”

“Huh?” She shook her head.

“Ok, do you know where LittleTown is, about 38 miles from BigCity, NC?”

“Yeah, oh yeah. I know that place. There’s one office there, I believe. Right there off the highway.”

“Yeah, that’s 26 miles from my house, but I know which one you’re talking about.”

She laughs, then asks me about my home plan. I tell her the exercises I’d been doing and she approves, although she cautions me that it can’t be a “professional” opinion since I’m technically not scheduled for an appointment with her. But she’s from Back East and she can’t help herself, so the advice just keeps flowing from her mouth.

“Most of all,” she says, leaning across the counter and looking me square in the eyes, “you’ve got to rest.”

“Oh, I have been,” I say.

She raises her eyebrows. She’s got this look of disbelief going like my Cousin Angela from Boston gets.

“Ok, I mean. Half. I’ve cut my activities in half.”


“And really, that’s it. That’s the truth.”

She pinches her lips tight, then speaks. “You aren’t going to want to hear this but you have to stop. Don’t kick. Don’t jump. Don’t stay in difficult stances. Two weeks, no karate.”


“No, I mean it. Rest. Just rest. R-E-S-T. Just two weeks. You have to do this. Work out your abs. Your arms. Do stretches, whatever. But stop all the other stuff.”

And there’s something in her tone, the way she’s leaning in as if to impart a gift, but she’s got me all ears and finally I say, “Ok. Ok. Rest. I can do that. I think. I mean—yes. I will.”

“Good,” she says, and sits back into her chair. “That’s better. We’ll see you in five weeks.”

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