When the rosy-cheeked doctor returned to the waiting room with a pale mixture of concern and regret plastered over her face, I knew something was wrong. The paper gown slowly attached itself to my body, as I was already nervous about the visit. It didn’t matter if it was the common cold or a stubbed toe; I disliked doctor appointments.
What seemed like an obvious diagnosis turned into one of those experiences that change your life. I had been sitting in an awkward position for a long period of time while fixing the bottom of my aquarium. Successfully completing the job, I hopped up and heard a disturbing “pop.” Instantly, I knew I had twisted, strained or pulled by kneecap in the wrong way, but I ignored the pain and continued to walk on it throughout the day. The next morning, it was the size of a small cantaloupe. I couldn’t bend it from side-to-side without excruciating pain. At first, the doctor told me it was a simple sprain and that the swelling would soon subside. She ordered an X-ray as a precaution.
The doctor took a deep breath before giving me the news. The X-ray revealed that a medium-sized tumor was eating away at the bone below my kneecap. The word alone was enough to send chills down my back. Whenever you hear “tumor,” you automatically think of cancer. Tears started to flow, as my mind filled with all of the immediate possibilities. I was 22 years old and all I kept thinking about was how come I couldn’t feel the tumor inside of me. This once normal doctor visit soon turned into a host of tests and blood draws. My heart wouldn’t stop beating. Then, to make matters worse, I had to wait five days before tests would tell me whether or not I had cancer. Just typing the word makes me sick to my stomach.
The days before the tests came back were agonizing. Family members and loved ones tried to comfort me, but I was inconsolable. Next, I saw a specialist, who would later perform surgery to literally scrape out the tumor and replace it with bone. He gave me three choices: 1) use bone taken from my own hip by way of a separate surgery; 2) use bone from a cadaver; 3) use an artificial bone material. I don’t have to mention how quickly I chose option #3, do I?
After tests settled my mind that the tumor was not cancerous, I underwent an unnerving full-body bone scan to see if I had any other tumors. Fortunately, this was the only one. The operation was set for the middle of my second semester of graduate school. Although I was missing a lot of classes, all I could think about was how lucky I was that I was still on my parent’s insurance. As the day finally arrived, I unsuccessfully begged the nurse not to shave my leg. I had never shaved before and was concerned about developing a hairy kneecap. Soon after, I was counting backwards, slowly drifting into the open arms of the anesthesia.
When I awoke, my body screamed for painkillers. My knee was throbbing. At home, the drugs were not working and the pain seemed to abnormally increase for the next couple of days. At first, I took this as part of the healing process, accepting alternative prescriptions when the pain did not subside. A few days of this and I awoke to an alarming discovery. My entire leg from the top of my thigh to my ankle was swollen and red like I had been burned. I was unable to get out of the bed to get to the hospital, so my parents carried me out of the house in a chair. I was in so much pain that I was given shots of morphine to keep me from screaming. With my parents surrounding me, the doctor went over a list of necessary questions. This was the first time I reluctantly revealed to my parents that I was taking birth control. Could this experience get any worse?
An ambulance took me to the hospital where I was pumped with drugs to ease the swelling and pain. I was told that I had developed a bad reaction to the artificial bone and as a result, an infection set in. I spent a week in the hospital, where I wasn’t allowed to go home until I could walk on crutches. By the end of that week, I had my leg drained with a needle, a Q-tip poked inside my incision, heavy doses of morphine, as well as an embarrassing episode regarding Oxycontin, which is a pretty strong pain medication.
What seemed like a simple trip to the doctor’s office, turned into a whirlwind of medical mayhem. The body is definitely a complicated object, which is why getting regular check-ups is important, in order to catch the things we do not immediately see or feel.