Friday, March 26, 2010

The Wheelchair Storm Tableau

One day when I was perhaps four, I woke up and my hip hurt. I don't mean the outside bony part of the hip, I mean the inner high muscular groin part of the hip. The pain was inside. It seemed red.

I got out of bed and crawled downstairs. In my memory, walking was still new enough that I took this new development in stride, perhaps this was just what happened. One day you could walk and the next you couldn't. All part of the learning process.

I crawled into the kitchen and my mother looked down at me. She seemed surprised. She asked me why I was crawling and I told her my hip hurt.

The next interval is lost. I'm sure I must have gone to my pediatrician. I don't know if he made the diagnosis or if I was passed on to the hospital. I had synovitis, which is an inflammation of the hip joint that only occurs in young boys. In young boys who have had bronchial infections, occasionally the infection travels to areas of the body that are growing quickly. Synovial fluid serves as a lubricant for the interior of the joint. The fluid itself becomes infected in synovitis.

This is what I had.

Next thing I know I am in the hospital. In some cases all you have to do is take antibiotics and the infection will cease. For me it wasn't that easy. If antibiotics fail to reduce the inflammation other steps must be taken.

In my case they dislocated my hip. For a few days. I remember a dim shame from having to use bedpans. I couldn't get up and walk because my leg was suspended above the bed. I grew very attached to a young nurse who looked over me. Months later I saw her in church with my mom and the blush that crept over my whole body was incomprehensible to me at the time but I see it now for what it was. I was in love.

Once I returned home I had to be in a wheelchair. Again, memory is hazy. I feel as if I was in the wheelchair for a single night, a night during which a huge thunderstorm rocked Rhode Island and knocked out our power. Since I couldn't get up and down stairs I was sleeping on the couch. At a particularly loud thunderclap my sisters woke up and rushed into my parents room upstairs. They all came downstairs to be with me.

We sat in our little living room. It had an Oriental rug and a dark red couch. The bay window that looked out on our front yard seemed gigantic to me. I was in my wheelchair and the lightning flashes bounced off the metal of the wheels.

I know that I must have been in the wheelchair for longer than one night. I know that my homecoming probably didn't coincide with the storm. So in many ways my memory is faulty.

But the feeling I got surrounded by my family? The intense closeness, the wonder at the lightning, the thrill of the power of a storm countered by our snugness...these are not even details to be remembered. They are in my DNA.

My hip has bothered me from time to time throughout my life, most markedly during high school when my growth spurt caused the old synovial wound to ache and catch. I missed a few soccer games because I jumped from three rows up in the bleachers and it seized up.

And even though it hurt, somehow there was always a kernel of warmth in it, a sweet memory of the love that enveloped me as a child.

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