TKR Tales – 1

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of my new knee.  (TKR stands for Total Knee Replacement.¹)  I had a lot of apprehension about having surgery.  I knew all the reasons I didn’t need to be worried, all the reasons I both needed and wanted to have the surgery, but surgery is nervous-making.  Always. No matter how routine a procedure it might be for the folks performing it.

Post-surgery, I checked in about 10 days out and about 3 months out, and the difference between those two intervals was major.  The early part of recovery was HARD.  No question, no sugar coating.  There was a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt as to whether I’d ever feel good again.  And then my sister had to go back home.  Our mom was having some surgery of her own, and Fox and I both knew it made sense for me to give up the comfort and ease of having her with me so that she could go take care of our mom.  That was hard.  It was hard because Fox had been a wonderful caretaker, but also hard because it had just been so nice to have her here, to have my sister just in the next room or hanging out in my room.  The moment I closed the door behind her, I missed her horribly.  And I was nervous about being ready to start taking care of myself.  I was almost a month out from surgery, and definitely mobile, but I was still very shaky and unsure …  But by July I was feeling good.  There was still pain, still uncertainty when I walked.  I was happy and frustrated at the same time: I knew I was healing, but July felt so far from April that I wanted to be more healed, more quickly.  Of course, I had many months of healing to do, but I was impatient.

Over time, there was still pain and difficulty, but it was so very much less, and I could see that I was getting better.  I used my cane longer than I needed to, and carried it for longer still, even when I wasn’t using it.  On my birthday (September) I decided to start leaving the cane at home.   And then …

Okay, not really.² But kind of really, too. At the end of October, I took the train down to DC for a conference. As we pulled out of the station in Wilmington, Delaware, I had a flash of distress so strong, it made me sit up like a shot.  I realized I’d left home without my cane.  I haven’t taken a trip without a cane in 20 years.  Even if I haven’t been using the cane, there’s always the chance that I’ll fall or that my knee will just decide to go out, and I wouldn’t want to be far from home without the cane.


Not now.  Not now!  I settled back down because I realized that, of course I didn’t have my cane with me.  Because I didn’t need my cane with me.  For the first time in all these years, I didn’t need my cane with me.  And I had another realization: “Oh,” I thought. ” This is what it feels like to not be disabled.”  That was heavy.  Crazy heavy.

And that was when I really turned a corner, when I realized that my recovery from surgery was going to have to do with more than healing from incisions and swelling and tingly nerves.  My recovery is also about the changes in the way I see myself, in what I see as my possibilities and capabilities.

I’ve just had my first winter in 20 years during which I didn’t carry my cane as a just-in-case precaution (and we’ve been having a real winter this year, with plenty of snow and ice).  I leave for a conference tomorrow, have another in early April, am hoping to head out to face the hills of Berkeley and San Francisco this summer. Yes, I still need to have my right knee swapped out, but I’m already feeling new, feeling able in ways I had forgotten how to feel. And we’re just getting started.


Over at Two Writing Teachers, you’ll find the rest of today’s slices.

SOL image 2014

¹   It’s called “Total,” because there’s also a Partial Knee Replacement surgery, but every time I say TKR , I think what a good thing it’s “Total,” and not “Half-Assed,” which would be undesirable and would surely make walking fairly difficult.
²  Can I just say how interesting it is that searching for images of “freedom” pulls up lots of pics of people leaping and dancing on the beach.  I’m not saying the image doesn’t work for me.  I’m a Yemaya girl, so I’m there.  I totally go for it.  But I’d still like a little more choice.  I’ve got fey young women leaping through the air, I’ve got the beach, I’ve got birds — flying birds are as popular as the leaping women.  Surely there are other ways to show freedom?

Welcome Me (30 Stories – 4)

Um, yeah.  A story a day?  Right.  Maybe I’ll catch up tomorrow …  No matter.  As I said to a friend the other day: if I write 20 stories this month or 5, it’s still more than I’d have written if I hadn’t challenged myself. I was kind of wonderfully productive last week: in addition to what I posted here, I submitted two writing residency applications! It feels good to have done that for myself.  I always want to apply for things and then don’t follow through.  Not this time.  I have three more deadlines coming up over the next five weeks.  And wouldn’t it be beyond fabulous if I got one of these?

For tonight, let’s just keep our feet on the ground, shall me?  At the end of the month, I’ll be reading at Big Words, Etc. again.  The theme for this month is “bon voyage.”  Seriously, how could I resist, me with my trove of travel stories and such like? Of course, the moment I started thinking about writing, I had nothing to say.  Of course.

Happily, today started my month of writing prompts from the lovely and talented Lisa. That gives me a gentle push to get something going.  And so … tonight.


I wake up in a new body and, as usual, with a blinding headache.  Never mind the stress of figuring out where and who I am.  Never mind not knowing what language will come out of my mouth when I speak.  Never mind the discomfort of already feeling that this time I am a man.  The real concern: what if I’m white?  It’s always the biggest struggle.  I’ve woken up in so many bodies, but none are as difficult as the bodies of white people.  In all these years, you’d think I’d have figured it out, but no.  It’s a skill I don’t seem able to build.

I lie several moments longer, staring up at the ceiling, certain now that I am male, feeling the awkward weight in my groin, the emptiness in my chest.  But I am reluctant to raise my hands, see my skin.

I focus instead on the throbbing behind my eyes. My changes are always met with pain that borders on migraine-strength. I close my eyes and press hard into the points above my lids, right against the bone. Some woman I was in Turkey learned that. I force myself to breathe slowly, deeply. I picture the pain — a white-hot fireball of glass and razors — shrinking and fading, from biting white to pale blue to quiet indigo, smaller and smoother, smaller still, gone.

At least I am alone.  Many times I come awake to find someone breathing gently beside me in the bed, or sitting watching me sleep.  It’s crazy, coming to consciousness and having to know how to be with another person when I don’t know what person I am. 

I fell asleep in a small town in western Connecticut, next to a man I hadn’t come to love, but who was okay.  I’d been with him for two months — she’d been with him since high school — and in that time I could see that he was kind if not exciting or intelligent.  He’d been genuinely concerned for her when I first showed up, even when I’d frightened him by acting in all kinds of non-standard ways.  Genuinely concerned — not thinking about how a problem of hers would impact him and how he could minimize his own discomfort.  That’s pretty rare.  Most wives and husbands just get angry when they get me.

I can’t put it off any longer.  I need information.  Obviously, I’m used to this.  I know I always manage.  Even as a man.  Even as a white man.  Still.  Knowing I’ll manage never makes this moment easier.  I lift my right hand. The relief at seeing my dark skin warms through my body. The sun on the back of my hand glints off of a wedding ring. So that’s a little more information. And the skin is old, a sketching of fine lines traces down my muscular forearm.  Just as I start to wonder where is the partner who attaches to my ring, I register that it’s on my right hand.  Am I a widower? A priest?

An alarm sounds beside me, and I fumble to shut it off. I knock several small things to the floor, one that keeps skittering away for a long minute.

The clock says 7:30 — it’s a beautiful, old-style clock, not some flashy digital thing. The time means there is something I’m expected to be doing. Why else set an alarm, why else get up early? If I’m a priest, maybe someone is waiting for me to hear their confession.  

I like the strength in this body, its deep blackness.  I refocus on the man I’ve become.  I can feel the lingering idea of him rippling under my skin — because it is mine now, and neither of us can do anything about that.  It’s time, now, for me to find my way out into this old man’s world, decide if I will acquiesce to or avoid whatever havoc I’ll be expected to create.   

Leaving Montpelier (30 Stories – 2)

“I’m on the wrong train”

Caitlin looked at the woman beside her. She’d spoken so quietly and calmly, Caitlin almost missed the comment. Now the woman smiled.

“I was supposed to get the train to DC.”

Caitlin turned to face the woman, alarmed. “We’ve just gone through Montpelier, ” she said. “We’re on our way to Montreal.”

“Oh, I know,” the woman said. She looked past Caitlin at the Vermont countryside flashing by. “Sure is green here. “

Caitlin didn’t know how concerned she should be. The conductor had taken the woman’s ticket and said nothing. “So you’re okay with going to Montreal?”

“Oh, of course. I’ve always loved Canada. “

Caitlin nodded slowly. “But you said you were on the wrong train?”

The woman looked down at her hands, as if to keep her small, satisfied smile to herself. “There are quite a few people waiting for me in Washington right now.” She chuckled, shaking her head.

Caitlin stayed quiet. What was there to say, anyway? There were always strange people on the train, and they pretty much always sought her out. What was there to do but listen?

“I only wish I could have been there to see their faces when I didn’t show up.”

At that moment, the woman’s phone rang. She picked it up, glanced at the screen and smiled.

“You’re not going to answer?” Caitlin hated to keep it going, but couldn’t hold back the question.

The woman laughed. “If I could open that window, I’d throw this out,” she said.  “For now, I’ll just turn it off.”

She reached over and touched Caitlin’s arm.  “My name is Joan,” she said. “I’m probably going to change it once I get there. Could you just call me Joan a few times between now and then?  It’ll be nice to hear it a little before I let it go.”


And in just one day I completely forget the challenge I’ve set for myself.  Working on residency applications while I try to stick with this daily goal is clearly a bit foolish.  Let’s see if I can catch up today …