Sunday, September 29, 2013
Steph’s Knee ( with apologies to Eric Rohmer)
My initial encounters with surgeons were complicated by two factors. I was born with cerebral palsy. My parents were Christian Scientists.
At first my parents did seek medical treatments for me. I had courses of physical therapy and I wore leg braces. The leg braces were designed to keep my legs straight and my feet flat on the floor. They accomplished neither objective and I was exhausted from the weight of the metal.
Enter my paternal grandmother who was a Christian Science practitioner with near toxic levels of self assurance. She pointed out to my parents that doctors had not been helpful and if I would only experience God’s perfect love, I could be healed.
So the braces came off. My walk looked awkward, but it felt fine to me. (For readers who want an interactive experience, try the following: Rise up on your toes, turn those toes inward and walk). I went along like this from approximately age 8 to age 20. I sporadically attended Sunday School at the Christian Science Church and sometimes read the largely baffling “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy.
I wasn’t healed and about 3 years into college I started getting stress fractures in my feet. I was out of school for 3 weeks the first time it happened. I begged my father to let me see a doctor. He left the house and I thought he was checking out what options the military provided for medical care. He returned home with a turntable and stereo speakers. I returned to school when it no longer hurt to walk.
Then I developed fractures again. My dad agreed to take me to the ER at Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade. The doctor doing triage was a cardiologist.
“I can’t help you,” he said. “But there’s an orthopedic surgeon who happens to be here tonight.”
I was then ushered into the presence of L. Fiske Warren, M.D., who appeared to be not in the least interested in my stress fractures.
“Could you walk for me, please?” he asked.
I walked back and forth several times and then sat down.
“You have some classic problems that surgery could take care of.”
I was stunned and my father was very nervous. He began to talk very quickly.
“Well, I’ve had to make a lot of decisions over the years about whether Stephanie should have surgery or continue her education.” Never did he mention Christian Science.
Dr. Warren ignored my father and directed all of his comments to me. He pointed out to me again that surgery could solve a lot of my problems. He also told me that if I continued to walk the way I was walking, I wouldn’t be walking at all by the time I was 40.
But I didn’t want surgery either. I was slated to go to graduate school the following year and had been nominated for several fellowships. I had to assure the granters of those fellowships that my disability would not get in the way of my accepting their much needed money.
When I left the ER, it was agreed that I would come to the hospital weekly to have my foot taped since casting it would only cause more fractures.
A podiatrist or one of his assistants would tape the foot, but Dr. Warren stopped by to talk to me every single week. (Full disclosure: Dr Warren was young and handsome) I continued to insist that I didn’t have time for surgery.
“Oh, I am on spring break for a couple of days next week,” I said, confident that there wouldn’t be enough time to schedule surgery.
“There’s a same day procedure I can do next week.”
The procedure was simple. I just didn’t have time for more surgery.
Then my father announced that he could provide no money for graduate school and by the way he was accepting a job in Seattle. I got honorable mention on several fellowships but no money. I just knew that if I went to Seattle, surgery would be forgotten.
So in my post op visit with Dr Warren I asked, “If I was available for surgery through next year (my military coverage ran out at age 22), what could you do?”
When I finally left for graduate school the following year my legs were straight and my feet were flat on the floor.
My father went to his job in Seattle and only called once to see how I was doing (during a party I was having so that all my friends would remark on what a concerned parent he was). My Christian Scientist grandmother rarely saw us and was told I was having a “little surgery.” My mother was very anxious about all of it:
“He’s awfully young, Stephanie. Do you think he’s done this before?”
“So what if he hasn’t; he has to start somewhere.”
I haven’t talked to Dr. Warren in many years. He took metal out of my hip at Roosevelt Hospital in the late 1970s and from what Google tells me, he’s now at Coney Island Hospital.
Because of him I’m still able to walk and I expect clear explanations of everything when I talk to medical professionals. I think those both count as gifts that keep giving.
© 2013 Stephanie Patterson