September 5, 2010

Fast & Bulbous


It began, like most things in this world, stupidly. I bent down to turn off the television before going to bed Sunday night, and when I stood again something in my right knee went sproing and crunch. There was a brief shear of pain, but that was it. I thought little more of it and went to bed.

            Well, at some point the following morning I put my hands on my knees and discovered there was a grapefruit-sized (well, half a grapefruit anyway) sack of fluid perched atop my kneecap.

            “That can’t be good,” I thought, but again that’s about all I thought about it. There was no pain. I could walk and stand, do whatever the hell I wanted without noticing it—so long as I didn’t reach down to poke at it.

            I didn’t mention my new kneecap buddy to anyone for a few days, assuming all that fluid would simply be re-absorbed and that would be that.

            When it still hadn’t gone away after three days, I finally said to Morgan, “poke me in the right knee, see if that feels weird to you.” She did, and it did, and before long she had me convinced that I should probably see a professional about it. (I guess she knew my usual course of action in cases like this involved a bathtub, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and a shoe knife.)

No longer having a G.P. to call my own, and knowing a G.P. would just send me to an orthopedist anyway, I decided to cut out the middle man. I got on the computer to try and find a nearby orthopedist who would accept my government-supplied insurance. Finding a list of doctors within walking distance was no problem—I live just a couple of blocks away from a hospital and a medical office building. In fact, with a few simple clicks I had before me a list of over 150 orthopedists, along with their addresses and phone numbers. I began at the top.

            The first number wasn’t for a doctor at all, but just some guy. So many people had dialed his number by mistake, however, he knew the number I was looking for. Twenty minutes later, after working my way through the hospital’s labyrinth of automated menus, I learned that the doctor I was trying to reach was a pediatrician who wouldn’t see anyone over twelve.

            The woman who answered the phone at the next number on the list put me on hold for fifteen minutes. When she finally came back she was out of breath.

            “I’m sorry, but she’s not answering her page.”

            “No, I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t need to talk to the doctor. I’m just trying to set up an appointment.”

            “I know, but she’s not answering her page. You better try back tomorrow morning.”

            When I tried back the next morning, not only did I learn that I was in fact calling a psychiatric hospital—they’d also never heard of this doctor I was looking for.

            The next doctor on the list had moved to Florida years ago. Nobody had ever heard of the fourth doctor. The number for the fifth was actually the number for a funeral home in Queens. The sixth number had been disconnected.

            By the time I had called the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth number on the official government list (supposedly updated last month), I concluded that absolutely everything on that list was wrong. Names, numbers, institutions, specialties, everything. I tried a few more just to make certain, and sure enough. Everything.

            Rather than continuing to bang my head (no matter how amusing I was starting to find it all), I figured I’d try sneaking in the back way instead. This pus-filled balloon on my knee wasn’t going anywhere, after all, and I’d promised Morgan I wouldn’t go the shoe knife route.

 I found a listing for an orthopedic clinic just a few blocks away, so I picked up the phone and dialed the number. I took it as a good sign when someone actually answered. Things became even more promising when she announced that it really was an orthopedic clinic. I asked if there was anyone there who accepted my insurance plan, and the receptionist said yes. Then she asked if I could come in that afternoon.

            Instead of being relieved by this, I suddenly grew suspicious. What the hell was going on? There’s got to be something a little off about any doctor who doesn’t make you wait at least three weeks. What kind of quack operation was this?

            Two hours later when the short young doctor walked into the examination room, I was still convinced I was dealing with Dr. Nick Riviera. I relaxed a bit when he seemed to be using some complex medical terms correctly, and didn’t giggle. The suspicion level spiked again, though, when he poked and prodded at my bulge, and told me it was in all likelihood a case of bursitis.

            What the hell year is it, 1935? I thought. Next he’s gonna tell me I got a touch of the rheumatizz.

            “ . . . Unless it’s an infection,” he went on. “Now, we can approach this two ways. You can either go home and keep it elevated, keep ice on it, and see if it goes away—or I can stick a needle in there and draw all that fluid out.”

            I didn’t really need to think about it. “Well, I didn’t come all this way to do nothing. I say let’s go with the needle.” It’s essentially what I would’ve done had I gone home anyway.

I lay back on the examination table while Dr. Nick put on some gloves, and swabbed down my knee with assorted disinfectants and anticonvulsives. He then unwrapped a cartoonishly large needle. I mean it—this was like the syringe in The Amazing Colossal Man—you could’ve impaled a dog with this thing.

            “You know, this is an incredibly rare condition.”

            “Really.” I never admit it, but I always feel a small flash of pride when a doctor informs me that my body is screwed up in some unique way. In this instance, though, I think he was just using it as a distraction.

            “This is the first case like this I’ve seen all year. Now this is going to sting a little.”

            He was right. But as he sucked the fluid out he seemed happy.

            “Just what I had expected,” he said. “It’s clear, with some blood mixed in. That tells me this was the result of a trauma and not any other underlying condition. If it had been yellow and viscous, you would’ve needed to come back for surgery.”

            “Well that’s super, then.”

            As it was, about twenty-four hours after making Morgan feel my bulbous knee, a funny little doctor was sucking out the fluid with a gigantic fucking needle. It wasn’t that bad a deal.

            “Now,” he said when he was finished, “keep ice on it and keep it elevated. The rest of the swelling should go away in thirty-six to forty-eight hours. If it refills or gets infected, come right back. Otherwise, that’s all we need to do.”

            Morgan walked me home, we had a few beers, and by the end of the evening my knee had filled up again. This time, though, I think I’ll take Dr. Nick’s first bit of advice and just wait for it to go away on its own.


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