I lay in the back of the car, body stretched across the middle row, near tears.
Three days before, I was sitting in a waiting room surrounded by toddlers and elementary-aged kids, clearly out of place as an 18 year old.
“Caroline?” My head perked up, and my parents stood with me as we followed the nurse back to pre-op.
It was June 9, 2014, and I was about to undergo knee surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
For the past year and a half, I had experienced knee pain in both knees – ranging from minor to inhibiting. My high pain tolerance meant I pushed it off for a year before finally going to a doctor. Doctor after doctor, diagnosis after diagnosis, PT visit after PT visit, until it came time to try surgery.
It’s a minor surgery, they told me.
Yeah, I’ll be fine, I thought. Recovery time was 4 weeks until I was back to normal, or at least they made it sound that way. No biggie. I told people I was having surgery a few days before it, they’d gasp, and I’d brush it off.
I’ll be fine. It had been my classic saying all my life, and it was my saying now.
Four hours later, I woke up with a drain in my knee and three new scars.
“We did a lateral retinacular release and cleaned out plica,” my surgeon told me, still groggy, and my parents.
In between the painful removal of the drain and placing my contacts back in, the realization that I was not okay crept in.
My knee throbbed and I couldn’t move my leg.
The rest of day was a blur of movies and soup.
I was still playing the “I’m fine” card the next few days. In the 48 hours after surgery, I went to two church events, crutches and all.
Day 3 of post-op was day 1 of therapy.
They undid the bandages and butterfly stickers to reveal my balloon sized knee and already shrinking leg from muscle loss.
We left, with an apple juice stain on my shirt from when I felt lightheaded and my PT rushed to grab me some sugar. She poked the straw and accidentally squirted me. (ok, this is a tangent, but it's my distinct memory.)
Day 3, I sat stretched in the car, taking up my row, feeling broken.
Where I was then, I couldn’t see where I am right now. 12 months was too far off.
I was told 4 weeks, back to normal. I thought, “Great, I can handle that.”
4 weeks turned into 6, then 8. Finally my PT explained that it really takes your knee a year to fully wake up from surgery and rebuild all the lost muscle.
It’s all a memory now. It seems like it flew by so fast – but at the time, it was so slow.
Sitting in the back of that car, I wrote these words:
Right now, I’m so broken – physically and emotionally. I’ve got a knee that’s been cut, poked, and prodded. By medical definitions, I’m healing, but I feel so broken. Incapable of flexing, standing, bending.
This leg – it feels dead. And I’m fighting to bring it to life again. What people don’t tell you after surgery is that it’s hard to feel hope. It’s hard to look at a stiff, puffy, braced knee and envision the success to come in a week. And it’s so easy to feel helpless and hopeless.
To feel as though bending a knee or moving a knee cap* is similar to scaling Mount Everest.
To sit and cry in bed, hot tears rolling off your cheeks.
To forget the bigger picture – God’s bigger picture and the healing.
*A physical therapy exercise
This is a very long prelude, but 12 months later, I’m reflecting on what knee surgery taught me.
1. God uses physical dispositions to point out spiritual dispositions.
At the time of my knee surgery, I was going through the book of Mark with my future roommate. In Mark, Jesus heals many people of their physical ailments, but always pairs it with the message of the Gospel.
Jesus used the people’s physical ailments to point out their spiritual ones. Without their physical disposition, they would have never learned about their spiritual disposition. Jesus uses our physical ailments or life’s trouble to teach us about what our hearts/souls need.
In the healing process of my knee, I saw Jesus use it to teach me about him and about myself.
2. It’s a season.
I wrote this two weeks after surgery:
This knee is a season. A season of stillness. Of trooper-ing on. Of saying ‘thank you’ more often. Of enduring pain. Of smiling. Of talking to more strangers explaining my knee. Of loving people. Of listening to God. Of trusting.
Healing or no healing, a bum knee(s) can bring glory to God. I can choose to live this season for and in his name – same with every season. Surgery is painful and recovery is rough – it takes looking at the bigger picture, a whole lot of patience, and holding onto the truth.
3. It's a choice.
A month after surgery, I was at summer camp. In the middle of worship, I just started journaling.
I know who goes before me – not Satan and all his demise. Not fear. Not pain, not the unknown. Not surgery.
...What if the surgery was botched? What if it doesn’t work? What if I can never do the things I want to do?
What will I choose?
Will I choose to believe that God goes before and behind me?
Will I choose joy?
Something I’m learning is that joy is a choice.
It’s very easy to pass through this season and not learn anything.
But I don’t want that. Sometimes I get in a funk and want to sulk or kick against God and his desire for me.
It’s a choice – I never want to forget to choose the bigger picture.
I want his strength to come in my weakness.
This camp experience is different – and I’m realizing that’s because God doesn’t want me to simply experience the same thing. He wants me to slow down and listen.
4. Healing doesn't always come the way or when we want it to.
Ideally, I'd be telling you that I don't experience knee pain anymore, that I'm training for a half-marathon and doing cycling or weightlifting again.
In PT, they'd always ask me, "Are you feeling better than you did before?"
My response: "Uh, do you mean pre-surgery or post-surgery?"
I healed from my knee surgery, but I still experience knee pain. I'm pretty sure it's just chronic tendonitis.
And now I experience hip pain. I'm falling apart.
I get frustrated with my body, that it doesn't work the way I want it to. That it aches often like a eighty year old woman's body.
I get frustrated that doctors can't diagnose and fix my pain. Instead, they order more PT.
I don't know what causes my pain - but I do know that in that summer of knee surgery, I grew in knowledge of God and intimacy with God.
Ultimately, His desire is that I pursue and become more like Him. I don't have to have two perfectly working knees and a hip to do that.
Knee Surgery taught me time is precious: for pausing, reflecting, and growing. Take note of progress and remember His current and past faithfulness.
Every few days I would take a picture of how far I could bend my knee - each snapshot is a glimpse of healing and faithfulness. Although hard to see when comparing just two, as a whole, I can see it all.