I've learned a lot of things since I injured my knee back in April: How to live life at a slower pace than I'm used to doing (even as it takes forever to go short distances); the sheer amount of everyday things we take for granted (driving, showering, getting into and out of chairs, putting on one's left sock) that at one time were difficult or even impossible for me during the weeks after surgery; and people's reactions upon seeing a handicapped person.
That last part is the most unusual of all this, because there seems to be no middle ground. I've noticed that, in some situations, people haven't been as friendly as they might normally be--sometimes even appearing to go out of their way to avoid me, as if what happened to me were contagious (as noted at the bottom of this post, we had a similar discussion in one of my fraternity seminars regarding the reluctance of some college students to interact with the residents when we were performing at nursing homes, as if "old" were a disease that could be caught), while at other times, the leg is an instant magnet for conversation with anyone who has had a similar procedure done or is related to someone who did.
Yesterday kept bringing on occurrences of the latter: On my way out of church, a guy stopped me in the hallway and asked me the usual question ("Was it your ACL?"), before talking about the time he separated his Achilles tendon and had to spend months in a cast. In response, I got to praise the miracles of modern medicine that kept me out of a cast and put me back in the driver's seat less than three weeks after surgery.
And then at brunch, an old guy walked over from where he was eating with his wife and sat right down in the empty seat at my table to inquire about my condition before launching into a tale of woe about his son (which was truly an unfortunate thing: a knee replacement that didn't take till the third time, and the son contracted an e. coli infection during the initial procedure; yikes!). I got to expound on the fortunate nature of my recovery thus far, and the man wished me the best.
I find this whole thing fascinating, to tell the truth. While I'm not one who needs a whole lot of personal space, if that does happen, it usually involves strangers as opposed to friends or even acquaintances (and most often occurs at walk-up ATMs). Still, thus far, I've had no problems with random people coming up to me and discussing my condition--even the table-sitting guy. (There was also a guy who--after asking permission, of course--prayed over my knee in the middle of Taco Cabana the other day, but I have no problem with adding extra prayers to the mix.) It's intriguing to me that something like a knee injury can bring people together into a fraternity of sorts, breaking down conversational barriers which would have otherwise existed.
And I'm happy about one thing: Everyone else's story seems to trump mine; the people with whom I've spoken have all had, to a person, a worse injury or longer recovery time than I have thus far. And you know what? That's OK with me; I have no problems coming in last in this contest.
Have you ever approached a stranger who appeared to have a similar injury that you have had, or has it happened to you? Chime in by posting a comment below.