Riyas Komu, from exhibit “Safe to Fight” (Azad Art Gallery, Tehran, 2010)Fear of ACL injury has replaced fear of intimacy as my number one issue. Plenty of people come back from an ACL tear and still play in leagues and pick-up games. But plenty also leave the sport forever.
If I turn a cold eye on my fear, I see that I am less afraid of never playing soccer than I am of the rehabilitation that it would take to go from a torn ACL to playing again. It isn’t the tear that scares me, but being off my feet, not being able to run – sinking into depression and giving up. Not having the emotional strength and discipline to take on something like that.
I called my HMO the morning after my injury and pushed to see someone that day – I was clear: “I am afraid I tore my ACL.” I was determined confront my fear – or rather, I should say, my knee insisted.
I said the magic word to describe my pain (“acute”) and soon gained entry to orthopedics (I had asked for Sports Medicine, but was re-routed). I am not a difficult patient, but I have something to say about what’s going on with my body. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always make one’s journey as a patient smoother.
A detour through past medical trauma
In 1984, I was hospitalized for eight days. A couple days before I found myself in an ambulance, I had gone to the student health clinic at Rutgers College because I was afraid I had a kidney infection.
A good friend of mine became deathly ill from this when we were first-year students. I knew the symptoms, and mine were identical to hers.
An affable young male doctor saw me. He didn’t seem to take my concerns seriously. I had constant, deep pain in my lower back – off to one side exactly where the kidney is located. I had a low-grade fever, symptoms of a UTI, I was starting to feel like I had a flu or something. I could feel that this back pain wasn’t muscular – it was deep, and constant.
He asked if I lifted heavy things – maybe I sprained my back. I worked in a kitchen and lifted heavy things all the time – but didn’t recall hurting myself. “And how would that explain the fever, anyway?” I asked.
He told me to take extra-strength Tylenol. I said I wanted to be sure I didn’t have a kidney infection. Would he please run a test? Could I please pee in a cup so we could just be sure – I was really concerned because kidney infections are really serious, and if you get to the point were you need to be hospitalized, the recovery is slow. As a working student, I couldn’t afford to be out of commission for a month.I peed in a cup and went home. I took the Tylenol and felt better, but the symptoms kept returning as the pills wore off.
The next day I called the clinic to ask about the test results – they said: “The test came back negative.” I bought nice food for myself because I hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days.
I took more Tylenol – I ate cheese and crackers, some fruit, and went to bed.
That night I was violently ill. There was a reason I had no appetite: my body couldn’t handle food. I soaked the sheets with sweat. My fever kept climbing, dipping, and climbing again. By the morning I couldn’t keep down water. It was the last week of the semester, and I couldn’t imagine not going to my feminist political theory seminar. Being young and delirious, I went to class.
I sat on the floor in the hallway with the other students and waited for the professor. My classmates (an intense collection of college activists) insisted I go directly to the nearest university health clinic (attached to the women’s college, different from the one I used). I must have been a sight – gray and sweaty. Having trouble staying vertical, and having little will of my own by this point, I went. It was about three blocks away, and I remember walking there being really hard.
I more or less collapsed when I walked in the door. My fever was 104. I remember telling the staff taht I’d been to the other clinic about fearing I had a kidney infection, and that this clinic said I was fine. The doctor on duty at the women’s college clinic was soon yelling into the telephone, swearing. She shouted “You did what?!” and said “What fucking assholes,” or something like that when she hung up. She then ranted to her colleagues.
I later learned that the doctor I’d seen (a resident) had decided that I as trying to manipulate him into giving me a pregnancy test, on the assumption that I was too ashamed to ask for one. So, when I called about my test results, I had gotten the result of a pregnancy test I had not asked for.