Monday, June 6, 2011


for the first time since my accident, i feel like i will be okay. only now with this new feeling do i realize that i had come to believe that i wouldn't be okay and that everything i felt or thought was affected by this underlying fear.

i had the manipulation procedure on friday - the doctor bent my knee while i was under anesthesia to break through the scar tissue that was stopping my knee from bending more than 60 degrees. it worked! i can now bend my knee a little past 100 degrees (90 being a sitting position). i've been showing it off to anyone who asks about my knee. i was so excited to go to physical therapy today and so looking forward to demonstrating the change to my physical therapist that i couldn't sleep last night.

even until the night before the procedure, i wondered if i could break through the scar tissue if i pushed myself further. i sat on a chair in the living room pressing down on my knee down with my hand until the pain made me cry and i tasted metal. a few hours earlier the woman who i sat next to on the bus pointed her finger at me and repeated twice, "what did YOU do?"after i told about the upcoming manipulation. she said that the reason i couldn't bend my knee further and needed this procedure was b/c i had failed. she went on to tell me that after her knee was replaced, she bent her knee immediately. her doctor even brought his residents to see her to demonstrate a patient who had recovered "101%." i don't think it mattered to her that we had had different injuries and surgeries and that i wasn't allowed to bend my leg for 8 weeks. for a moment, my spirit sank b/c she was confirming the very thought that haunts me: that this accident and now my knee not bending is my fault. i recovered from what she said, but the idea of fault sat with me a little bit throughout the night. a few people, when they find out that i fractured my kneecap while mountain biking, have said, "oh! that's great. you were having fun. you controlled the situation," which is the exact opposite of how i think about it. if something had happened to me, i think i would blame myself less. i try to remind myself of what my PT said about my knee not bending: "it's not your fault. it's not my fault. it's just mother nature." while i now believe that about my knee not bending it's harder to accept that about the accident - i went on a ride and then i fell and that feels like fault. 

so i had the procedure and the doctor said the scar tissue band was at 60 degrees, the very point beyond which i couldn't bend. i felt redeemed - there really was a physical obstacle that prevented me from bending. to move forward in my recovery, i had to give up. i had to trust the advice of my PT and my doctor. there were a couple times when i wanted to go into PT for additional sessions, hoping for a breakthrough and needing to prove to myself over and over again that i was trying my hardest, needing this as evidence (in my own personal courtroom of my mind) if i ever wondered, in the future, if i could or should have done more. and my PT told me not to come in, to save my sessions for after the procedure once i could bend. finally i had to accept that i could only heal by giving up and handing my body over. my doctor told me that even under anesthesia i cringed during the procedure, more proof that the scar tissue build-up was significant. he also told me that based on the scar tissue and the size of my still thick external scar, he thinks my body has a tendency to form a lot of scar tissue. thank you body, so grateful for the intention to heal, even if it's overdone. 

while my first post-manipulation PT hurt, it was a completely different type of pain. before, i would often look down at my knee, convinced that there was a brick in front of my knee that prevented the bending - today the invisible brick was gone. i'm sore and stiff and achy but i feel like i can bear the pain and move through it. i'm still scared - paranoid when i wake up in the morning that the scar tissue army might have gathered during the night and that i won't be able to bend. and i don't want to celebrate the bending too much b/c there is still a long way to go. but for today, i'm happy to see my knee bending so, as my friend said when i told her, "hallelujah!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


a family friend says, "oh, you must just dread going to physical therapy!" after i tell her a little about the sessions. actually, i really look forward to going. i feel part of a community in the big room where the therapy takes place. in some cases, especially in the case of patients who i meet regularly, i know their names and a little bit about them. i might know things that their friends don't know. i know that B gets through her sessions by biting down on and screaming into a towel and that another woman puts her palms out in front of her and exclaims, "oh LAAAWWWDDD!!" when she has to sit with her knee bent. they have probably come to know things about me that the people i'm closest to don't know. they know, or at least see, who i am when i'm at what feels like the height of my fear and pain, when my spirit is a little crumbled, when i doubt. and they are unlucky enough to witness possibly the ugliest facial expressions i've ever made when the pain comes. some of us laugh together and exchange knowing glances. i derive strength from them. despite all the suffering in the room, it's my healing space. even though i know that i will hurt - my PT recently asked me, "how's your pain tolerance?" and i responded that until i met him, i thought it was high, but now i'm not so sure about that b/c i've never experienced such pain before - it's a hurt that feels safe. my PT asks me to describe the pain and once i do so, once it's shared, i can sit with it with a little more ease. i know i have to move through this pain to heal.

in yoga classes, my teachers would often say, "sit with the pain, be in it, observe how you react to it." it was easy for me to do that then when the pain wasn't bad. now, when the pain is at its worst, i find myself holding my breath, squeezing the table, making the ugly faces - all desperate gestures, attempts to escape. i make the faces even before it hurts or i start "jumping all over the place" as my PT puts it, when he approaches me, anticipating the pain. i put out my hand to stop him from bending my knee further, but instead of stopping, he meets my palm with a high-five. but then i have a moment of calm seemingly spontaneously or b/c my PT reminds me to breathe or b/c i chant a few oms, and i give myself up to the pain, i let go a little bit, and i'm okay. the room itself, with its neon lights and the radio relentlessly streaming ads with often jarring jingles, doesn't generate or inspire a sense of calm or warmth. but in our pain - and for some, i assume the pain has been in their lives for a long time, that the stories of their pain have many layers, that some injuries or disabilities will not totally heal - we create community. in this community and with my PT beside me, i feel supported, guided, protected, and understood. i exhale and i surrender a little more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

don't think too much

my first time on the stairs at PT. i'm supposed to go up and down a set of five steps. as i hesitate and get stuck mid-step, my PT says, "don't think about it. don't be in your head. just go." i like it when PT lessons mirror yoga lessons and life lessons. i get stuck mid-step and even mid-stride, especially when i'm not using my crutch b/c i don't "know" how my knee is supposed to bend. since it hurts to bend and it doesn't feel natural, i have to think about it - or that's what i think i have to do - and then i get stuck. i laugh b/c i look so awkward with my hip out to the side, my arms out to catch myself, and my leg mid-lift. if i'm not supposed to think too much, where will my walk come from? how will i move? maybe it will just come. not maybe, it will. that's difficult to believe. that going with the flow is enough.

towards the end of the session, after an exercise that involves sitting with my knee hanging off the table, waiting for gravity to kick in so that my knee will bend more, my PT asks about my pain level: "what are we at? 7 out of 10?" i answer: "9.10." i don't know where "9.10" comes from. maybe i'm saving "10" for totally unbearable pain. my PT says, "now you're delirious" and brings me a cold towel to put on my forehead so that i don't pass out. responding without thought, maybe b/c the pain has actually taken me to a place beyond thought, beyond numbers - though a small thing in this case - is a glimpse into the freedom of living in a way that involves less thinking, less restraint, less self-censorship, less fear.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

coincidences and fear

if you know me, you probably know that i'm a little bit obsessed with coincidences, as is my dad. my mom dismisses them, but then actually tells me and and my dad when she experiences or witnesses a big one, knowing that we will be excited.

i went to see an acupuncturist today. i go to one regularly when i'm in tokyo, but have never been to one in ny and a friend recommended someone. the man who sits next to me on the M5 bus asks me about my injury, and it turns out that his wife, who is sitting two seats in front of us, also fractured her kneecap and hurt her face. we have the same injuries. since he had been with his wife throughout her accident and recovery, he knows the details of the surgery, the physical therapy, etc. and shares all of this with me. i tell him that my accident happened in nepal, so we talk about my life there, about his travels. then it's time to say good-bye.

my acupuncturist says, "fear really is a matter of mind over body." this comes up after she asks me if i feel sturdy when i walk and i tell her that i'm afraid that my knee will buckle under which i have experienced a couple times. and b/c my whole leg, especially the quads, have gotten so weak, i'm afraid that my leg can't support me when i'm walking. or that my kneecap will break again. i'm also afraid of other things - of falling down, of someone attacking me - how would i fight back since i can't run away and one arm is busy holding a crutch. and bigger fears: what if my knee really doesn't bend again? when i think through this rationally - which i tend not to do - i think that this is probably not possible. that is, my knee will bend again. but i'm still afraid. and then even if i can bend it, what if i can't do yoga. yoga has been my guide over the last ten-plus years. and the downward spiral of fears begins. for all the yoga that i've done, i haven't been drawing on it enough during this experience - when i hold my breath during PT b/c of the pain, and my PT has to remind me to breathe, i chastise myself for not drawing on pranayama practices. and when i am restless and looking for distractions, the very time to sit and meditate, i turn to the tv. practicing yoga in a different form, or practicing the non-physical parts of yoga. now is the time for that. and to learn anew. both my PT and acupuncturist say that i am basically having to learn to walk again - it feels awkward and scary and there's a long way to fall if i do. this is where i am.

on the way home from acupuncture, i take the M7 bus instead of the M5. about 3 stops in, the same couple from earlier gets on. "oh! you're even in the same seat!" the husband exclaims. this time, the wife sits next to me and i say, "oh! this time i get to chat with you." the husband sits in front of us but is half-turned to be part of the conversation. she tells me that many of her friends are terrified of falling, which is how she was injured. he says that b/c of the fear, people even start to walk abnormally. instead of swinging their arms back and forth, they hold their arms tightly at their sides. fear again. they reassure me that i will recover. when i say "maybe i'll see you again," she says, "yes, i'm sure we will see you. you will be our new best friend. " 

Monday, May 9, 2011


physical therapy session #5. my physical therapist is concerned that i can only bend my knee 40 degrees or so, even though it's been 10 weeks since the accident and 6 weeks since surgery. this is probably because of scar tissue that has adhered to something - i'm not sure what. i might have to have another surgery ("manipulation" where the doctor would bend my knee while i'm under anesthesia or arthroscopic surgery where he would go in with a camera and remove the scar tissue). this scares me b/c surgery feels big. but if this will allow me to bend more without the immense pain that i feel now, that would be a relief. it would also reduce the feeling that my non-bending is my fault b/c i am determined to find a way to blame this - the accident, the healing, anything - on myself.

i'm lying on my stomach bending my knee backwards which always makes me sad b/c it's the position that reminds me of dhanurasana and whenever i'm in that position i wonder if i'll ever do dhanurasana again when i hear: "somebody run over me with their car or shoot me right now" from the woman lying next to me, who is taking a break from doing her exercises. i say, "oh, please don't say that." i know from my last session when she and i spoke that there is unevenness in her spine and when it rains the pain is horrible - "rain is pain." today she tells me that she is also recovering from breast cancer surgery and her insurance just cut her off. she could not afford the $25 that she was supposed to pay upfront at one of her doctor's visits. it is only with her church's assistance that she can stay in her apartment - otherwise, she would be homeless. a burst of perspective.

as she continues with her exercises, she says, "something else is lifting my leg right now b/c i'm not." what is it that kicks in and helps us do what we don't think we can do? "you have incredible strength" i tell her, just as earlier, another patient who i knew from the last session called me a "trooper." i surely don't feel like a trooper just as the woman next to me had said earlier that she isn't strong.

in the midst of her own pain, she gives me tips on how to ease my pain. and everything feels circular. all of us encouraging each other, exchanging looks - winces and painful expressions and supportive smiles. the therapist makes us laugh: "as long as you're laughing, you're ok." all of us broken, if we put all of our bodies together, we would probably be able to function. like me and the woman at the grocery store, holding our single crutch with opposite hands, opposite legs injured. she said, "between the two of us, we are ok." or the elderly man in the wheelchair who looked at me - and the big brace around my leg - with a big smile and said "sorry."

i am able to lift my leg for the first time and i tell my PT "i didn't think i would ever be able to do that." he says, "that, i knew you would get to. bending, i'm not so sure." oh god, please don't say that. as long as he believes, i believe. if he doubts, i doubt.

post-therapy the tears make an appearance from the pain and effort and disappointment. and then a childhood friend treats me to a decadent lunch from the waffle truck that we eat in riverside park and everything is ok for awhile.