The other night I was talking to my friend, Kristian–one of my oldest and dearest friends from high school. We filled each other in on the recent notables in our lives, as friends do, and reminisced about old times, as friends do. About mid-way through our mini-marathon phone session, I mentioned something about the knee surgery I had about four years ago. Kristian and I talked about this for a while, and then moved on to plan his upcoming visit to Seattle. After we said goodbye and hung up, I took a long bath and held up my leg to see my scar. I traced it with my finger, still marveling at the absence of feeling that spreads across my calf and the bend of my knee.
That night, I had a dream about my surgery. As dreams are wont to do, my conversations and experiences from the previous day wove themselves into the textile of my subconscious, infusing my dream with all kinds of crazy things. I dreamed that instead of the bone tumor that was removed from my knee, the surgeon removed a furry little kitten, which shook itself off and trotted off like any kitten would do when released from a confining environment. In the dream, Kristian was my nurse and later my physical therapist. He helped me heal and learn how to walk, and in the dream he even helped me find the kitten that had been born from my leg. In the dream, Kristian and I rescued the kitten from a garbage disposal (no idea where that bit came from since I prefer to compost), cleaned it up, and watched a movie with the kitten snuggled between us. Whoa.
Now, I know that most of you are thinking that I should write a poem about this crazy dream. And I probably will someday; crazy dreams make for excellent poetry. But the surreal qualities of the dream weren’t so much what haunted me the next day; instead, I kept thinking about the man who was my physical therapist in real life—a man about whom I hadn’t thought in a long time.
I was 23 years-old when my sports medicine doctor found the tiny, pointy, teardrop–shaped tumor on the top of my right tibia. The pain had become problematic enough for me to need a cane to get around, and I searched for almost nine months to find a surgeon who was willing to perform the surgery. Because the tumor was only a millimeter away from a major artery and an important nerve, the surgery was a risky one. My surgeon, Dr. Hackbarth, did an excellent job removing the tumor and leaving everything else intact. Because he had to slice everything in half, all the way down to the bone, in order to resect the tumor, my recovery was long and painful. Of course I had lots of help and support from my amazing mother, family, and friends, but there was one man who was crucial to my recovery: my physical therapist.
I knew straightaway that Dave and I would be friends. Our very first session had us both laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. Dave knew something about grief and loss, having lost his wife to suicide a few years earlier, and we understood each other because of this. We didn’t talk too much about my father or his wife, because we didn’t need to. We just…understood.
While he guided me through endless hours of painful physical therapy, we laughed our heads off and drew many judgmental stares from other people in the room. He shared my dirty, inappropriate sense of humor, and I actually looked forward to our sessions. Dave was, for me, one of those people you meet and instantly become close to. He and I needed no small talk, no gradual introductions. We were just the fastest of friends. Because of him, I bounced back from what was supposed to have been a four-month recovery period in less than eight weeks. In fact, on the date that I was originally set to just begin walking without crutches, I was actually skiing with friends back home in Washington.
My knee is fine now—as good as it ever was. I ski, I bike, and I do all the activities I love to do because of the fine work of my surgeon and my physical therapist. And though my giant, Frankenstein-esque scar serves as a pretty hefty reminder of what I went through, I prefer to remember it by my time with Dave. I’ll probably never see him again and I don’t even remember his last name, but he was one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I miss him. Wherever you are, Dave—thanks.