Achilles Heal

Achilles Heal
Dustin Fisher

                I returned from work one May afternoon to find that reverse had vanished from my car. Poof. In astonished disbelief, I stepped on the gas again. Nothing. Just unnecessary revving. I stared at the “R” on the drive shaft wondering what I could possibly be doing wrong. I shifted out and back again. Same result. I turned the car off and on again. Nope. Now convinced this was not just user error, I was able to open the driver’s side door and get just enough traction on the road with my left foot to push the Olds Cutlass Supreme – a car that could fit two kegs in the trunk – backwards far enough to just barely miss the car in front of me when I cut the wheel to get out of there. Whew! I can probably park strategically for another couple days, but I need to bring this to the mechanics ASAP.
                I had adjusted to life without reverse in a way that would have made Darwin proud. I parked on hills or used pull-through spots. I scouted out parking lots before I would go on dates so as to hide the lack of reverse. And I had gotten quite good at opening the door and pushing backwards with my left foot on flat surfaces. I became proud that I made due without a luxury that would send most weaker humans crying to the mechanic with a blank check. Suckers.

                It was the last Wednesday of day camp and the last camper had just been picked up by the last forgetful parent. Basketball is not normally on my evening itinerary, but the thought of starting my evening at home alone with Sweetie the Cat and a box of chardonnay before 7:00 for the third night in a row was a little too depressing that night. Late in the game, I went up for a rebound. Jumped in the air. Something I’ve done 27 billion times before. I heard a popping sound, but had no idea what it was. I landed on the floor and reached for my ankle, which I then identified as the source of the popping sound. And the pain. This forced me into the fetal position, which was how I felt anyway. My foot seemed to just be dangling there inside my skin. I was carted off the court on a rolling chair. I could not feel any semblance of an Achilles tendon connecting my heel to my calf anymore. This was going to seriously complicate my parking problem.

                During the initial consultation with the recommended doctor, they told me to save my money on an MRI because “it’s gone.” Her endearing bedside manner aside, she told me this because she was made aware of my “doesn’t have health insurance” financial situation. There was no way around some expenses, but I appreciated any steps I’d be able to skip because of the severity of my injury, which I was secretly somewhat proud of. The anesthetic alone cost $740. They refused to let me have surgery without it, despite my plea. It was good stuff and I don’t remember anything that happened, but I don’t remember my last night in Reno either, and I’m pretty sure that was just rum and beer and vodka and some other pink stuff.

Meanwhile, I still had my reverse issue to worry about and now I could no longer push the car out with my left foot. In retrospect, that very act is likely what ultimately caused the Achilles rupture, but the complacency and laziness to not get the reverse fixed, combined with an unusable foot and a flat parking surface would turn out to be a lethal combination.
I had been parking down by the soccer field in a lot with enough of a slant to make it worth the extra mile and a half walk to work. I made this trip once on my crutches and by the time I got to work, my jacket had holes on both sides and my shirt was on fire. I needed another solution. Thankfully, I had one. I was now officially handicapped according to the state of Maryland and qualified for a handicapped parking pass. But I’d need to brave the MVA to earn my passage to easy living.
I got to the Glen Burnie branch at around 1:00 and there are no pull-through spots at that time of day. So I was in a relatively bad situation. There was a nice spot up front, and after driving around for about 10 or 15 minutes, I figured “fuck it. I’ll figure it out when I get back out.” After getting my handicapped tags, I eventually got back out and had to, as put earlier, figure it out. I always feel nervous enough going to the lion’s den as it is. No tags on the front of the car, no insurance, and I’m not sure if it’s law to have a car that goes backwards, but I’m sure they’d find something to write a ticket about.
When I got back out to my car, there was a cop 50 feet away, writing a ticket to some lady in the middle of the parking lot. I figured I’d wait for him to be done, then I’d go. This must have been the most complicated citation in the world. They kept walking around the car inspecting it and pushing down on the hood and the trunk and yelping like monkeys. I had to sit there for 50 minutes. People were driving by looking for a spot and asking me if I was leaving. “No, I’m just gonna hang out here and read my pamphlet. Sorry.” I tried several times as discreetly as possible to push the car out with my opposite leg. However, as I was facing the opposite way of the seat with my entire body outside of the vehicle at this point, rocking back and forth in a normally unnoticeable pot hole, “discreet” was not the word I’d use. It was pretty embarrassing, but after reading the “privileges of handicapped stickers and tags” pamphlet three times, I was willing to compromise pride for freedom.
You begin to appreciate the ease at which you used to be able to do certain things when you lose the ability to walk without using your arms. Certain tasks heretofore taken for granted became complex riddles with no guarantee for a solution. One day, I needed to get a basketball from my trunk into my second floor apartment. I stared at the problem for about five minutes before I realized there was no real solution given the variables. I had reached a new apex of self-pity. Or so I thought.
Left with no other obvious way to get my dinner into the living room, I found myself crawling on the floor with my milk in one hand, spilling it the whole way – while pushing my plate of microwave ravioli along the rug with the other, occasionally shoeing away my roommate’s opportunistic and unsympathetic cat. To make it fun, I pretended that I was training for the military, crawling under barbed wire. Then I pretended I was Catherine Zeta Jones from Entrapment and stuck my ass up in the air. That’s about when my roommate got home. And that was my new apex of self-pity.

The surgery went smoothly. Or so they told me. That’s the same thing they told me about my last night in Reno and I still don’t know why the girls volleyball team calls me Cysko. I stayed at the hospital as long as they would legally allow me, while still financially considering this an out-patient procedure. After the initial gimping around to doctor’s offices and such and my week-long post-surgery sabbatical, I had three weeks in a row off of work. Though it was nice to see everybody and get back into the swing of things, I kinda liked that week where I just lay on the couch and let people bring me food. That’s a difficult lifestyle to give up. Especially for one where you have to drive to a place miles away and do stuff other people tell you to do. I also still had my parking issue to deal with. I now had a handicap tag, but I couldn’t get out of any of the handicap spaces. So I still had to crutch a mile and a half to work, but at least I had a piece of cardboard that says I shouldn’t have to.
I tired very quickly of crutching an extra 20 minutes to work and back. After a while, I discovered that if I waited until everybody leaves, the front lot is on enough of a slant that if I put it in forward and ram my car into the wall as fast as I can from a dead stop one foot away, and quickly shift it into reverse (neutral), I can drift just far enough back to pull out across the other hopefully vacant spots. One time, I had to do it twice when there was another car to my right. And that was from like four feet away. Thank God I don’t have air bags.

The cast only stayed on for six days, but I had another few months to look forward to wearing a brace that I’d at least be able to take off at night. Back at the doctor’s office, less than a week after surgery, they took my foot from its resting foot angle (115 degrees) and thought that would be a good time to try to force it into a 90 degree brace. I asked if she was sure and made sure to mention that I wasn’t trying to get back in time to play in the Superbowl or anything and were there any intermediate steps I could maybe take to ease myself back. She laughed like I was telling a joke and left the room so her assistants could do the dirty work. And so, one poised himself at my knee to keep it steady while another man put his shoulder on the ball of my foot and shoved. With all their might, and despite the violent ear-piercing shrieks coming from my inner-9-year-old schoolgirl, three of them managed to cram my foot into this torture device. They gave me prescriptions for pain-killers, a list of exercises, told me I didn’t need antibiotics and sent me on my way.

I went to go get my pain killers at Giant. I knew we were out of milk and other things and I had to wait half an hour for my medication anyway. I would normally carry a hand basket around and pile everything in there. This is not so easy when you need your hands to walk. So I thought I could just stick my bad foot on the push cart and use it like a skateboard. But because I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot, I put all my weight on my arms, which were leaning on the handle of the cart when I pushed off with my good foot. This caused the cart to flip over backwards with me basically falling into it in not so subtle a way. In addition to embarrassing the hell out of me, this caused me a lot of pain. That’s when I saw the riding cart.
It took me about 20 minutes and I finally had to take the advice of some 12-yr-old kid. “I had to help my grandpa with this last time we were here.” Thanks. I could have done without that, Scooter. I didn’t expect them to be like little racing go-carts, but I could have crawled along the floor, pushing my 12 items or less to the cashier a little bit faster. Having suffered enough embarrassment, I opted not to crawl. It was, however, embarrassing enough driving around with my milk and Froot Loops in my cart, getting passed by arrogant bipeds. So I started “accidentally” running into the bastards. That should teach you to flaunt your little skill set in front of me.

A month after surgery, I went in for my first follow-up since the torture device was installed. The wound had apparently opened up unusually wide and there was talk of needing to staple it back up. She said she wanted me to stop doing my exercises, turned my boot back 20 degrees and put me on antibiotics. I demanded to see her medical degree and half expected it to be printed in Comic Sans.
After a week of doing what I thought I should have been doing a month ago, things looked better and I was told to “keep doing what I’ve been doing” since the last visit. Those words were spoken by my surgeon while I was in the doctor’s office at my appointment. I left feeling positive and happy that I didn’t have to go get restitched or restapled or refastened in any other way. I was leaving the office and passed my surgeon on her way back in, to which she inquired “Why are you still on crutches?”
Confused, I answered “Because you told me to be. Just five minutes ago.”
“Oh… well… see you next week.” And then she called me Norman.

By January, I was no longer on crutches or in a cast. I was walking again and it was a little bit upsetting. I kinda missed the crutches. People felt sorry for me. I got some respect. Actually, I guess it was really just pity, but it could be confused for respect at times. I was no longer a cute crutch boy the girl at the check-out line feels sorry for. Now I’m just a sorry gimp with a semi-permanent limp. It’s cool to walk again, don’t get me wrong, but I’m tired of people asking me if I sprained an ankle. “No, I ruptured my Achilles tendon.”
“Oh, really? I think I did that once.”
The hell you did, ass face.

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