The fall of my junior year of high school started on a good note. The reflex sympathetic dystrophy in my right leg still seemed to be in remission. I was ready to start a new chapter in life. That fall was rainy and wet and our school roof was in bad need of repair. We had to watch where we walked down one hall and where we sat in the classes down that hall because of water dripping from the ceiling when it rained. Although I was being careful, one puddle slipped up on me and I fell and injured my knee again. This time the sports medicine doctor said I had just sprained a ligament. He said a knee brace, a couple of weeks on crutches, and physical therapy should fix the problem. Although the pain never went completely away, it did improve enough that I could walk again. Life went on and I didn’t give it much thought.
During the spring semester of my junior year of high school, I went on a trip with a school club to Washington, D.C. Still recovering from my knee injury, the trip was difficult. I had trouble keeping up with the rest of the group, so one of the chaperones, our high school principal (who also had knee trouble), stayed back with me when we were walking long distances. While in the area, we also visited George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. I’ll never forget as we were walking up the hill. The field was being mowed with big John Deere tractors. Our principal commented, “I bet George Washington didn’t have any of those.”
The following July, the leg pain came back really bad. I was spending my summer at my state’s Governor’s scholar program, so I wasn’t able to see my doctor until I got home a month later. An MRI showed I had excess tissue that needed to be cleaned out of my knee, but until the reflex sympathetic dystrophy was back under control, the doctor didn’t want to do surgery. So, he sent me back to the pain clinic. I was again admitted to the hospital for a week with an epidural catheter to get the pain back under control. That week I ended up getting three epidurals. The first one quit working for unknown reasons and the second one was accidentally pulled out during physical therapy, so they put a third one in. They did manage to get the pain under control enough to do surgery.
Now that the pain was under control something needed to be done about the knee. The sports medicine doctor tried to use medicine and some type of machine to shrink the tissue in hopes of avoiding surgery. He knew there was always the possibility that surgery would make the reflex sympathetic dystrophy worse. However, the tissue wouldn’t shrink and surgery had to be done. I had my second knee surgery in April of my senior year of high school, the same week that the rest of my classmates went on their senior trip. I have no doubt that my senior trip was much more memorable than the one the rest of my classmates went on. To do my surgery, they put in an epidural and made me numb from the waist down. I was awake during surgery and was able to watch it on the screen projecting the arthroscopic images for the doctor. Maybe I’m strange, but I found it interesting. After surgery, the pain again decreased.
Having a rare chronic pain disorder doesn’t always make you the most popular person in high school. I had to deal with classmates mocking my limp, making fun of me because I required special seating, and acting like they were going to hit my leg just to make me jump. There was hardly a day went by that some jerk didn’t feel the need to terrorize me.
While I wasn’t very popular with the student body, I did get to know the staff. My teachers, principal, and the nurses station staff were more like friends than the students my age were. My “fair weather friends” who were there for me before the pain no longer had time for me because I slowed them down when walking the halls before school and during breaks. So I spent my time visiting with school staff and tutoring students who needed a little extra help. I’ll never forget the day that I had taken all I could take of being made fun of. I left lunch in tears and went to the nurses station because I just couldn’t take any more. The nurse didn’t know what to do so she brought the principal in to talk to me. He told me those people making fun of me were “immature” and “idiots.” He told me he would take care of it. I guess that was the day I connected with him. Even after graduation, if I stopped by the school for any reason, I would stop in and speak to him. When he died in a car accident a year after my graduation, I felt like I had lost a good friend.
I managed to finish my senior year of high school and walk across stage without crutches. After being diagnosed with an incurable chronic pain disease as a sophomore, this was a big deal for me. Not only did I make it to graduation, despite the obstacles I had to overcome I managed to graduate on time and with honors.
As for high school being the best four years of my life…I’ll let you be the judge. I wouldn’t consider them the best four years, but I don’t know that they were the worst either. Looking back, I can see that there was a lot of good came out of those four years. I learned not to take for granted that I’ll be able to do everything tomorrow that I can do today. Life has a way of interrupting our lives, but we need to learn and grow from those experiences. I also learned the true meaning of friendship. True friends don’t walk out on you just because things get tough. I have no doubt that those four years have influenced the way I look at life and the way I treat other people.
Graphic from: http://www.mycutegraphics.com/