I spent two nights at the hospital before going home. The physiotherapist had taught me how to use the crutches, which I will need to aid me walk hopefully only until the next month at the most if all goes well. The first couple of weeks after the surgery were of the most gruesome weeks of my life. The pain was constant and I counted the hours between the doses of painkillers prescribed to me. I could barely move the first week. I needed help when I had to go to the bathroom. I felt weak and completely dependent on others. I hated that. However, there was a silver lining to that dark cloud; you cannot help feeling loved when so many people come to your house carrying gifts and wishes of well being to you. Two old friends of mine whom I had lost contact with through the years found out by chance and came to visit me. My best friends took turns spending time with me. There was always someone with me in my room to keep me company and I appreciated that more than anyone could imagine.
Layla was my anchor throughout these tough first weeks. The night I went home, even though I was in excruciating pain, I was happy that Layla was going to spend the night at our house. She never did before. Of course, her mother had a condition, Layla has to sleep with my sister in her room but she and we knew that was not what was going to happen but she said it anyway. Layla slept on the sofa in my room because she could not sleep next to me out of fear she might accidentally hit my leg in her sleep or something. I could not sleep from the pain but looking at her angelic face was my morphine. It made the pain fade away a little every once in a while.
A week after the surgery, my rehabilitation and physiotherapy program started. I went to the hospital four times a week for horrendous two hours every time. I was trying my best to improve as fast as possible. I also had a concurrent schedule of home exercises to support my physiotherapy sessions. I felt progression every time but apparently, it was slower than expected. My first moment of fear was three weeks after the program had started when the physiotherapist, Robert, frowned during an exercise in which I am supposed to bend my knee all I could and he would measure the maximum angle of flexion. He said, “Is that all you could bend? Try harder.” I told him that I could not bend it anymore because the pain was killing me. I felt my entire body in stress trying to increase the angle but I could not. He told me that I should be able to bend my knee more than that by now but that it is still not a reason to worry then we switched to another exercise. The next day, I met with the surgeon who had performed the operation and he examined me. My knee was still swollen and he instructed me to keep taking my medications and continue with physiotherapy.
Two months later, the pain was still present, and I could not stop using the crutch. I only needed one then instead of two. I could not bend my knee to full flexion without feeling the pain rising from within. I could not walk for more than fifteen minutes without feeling the pain rising, too. I became careful with my movement. I could no longer run or carry heavy things. I could no longer drive, stand or walk for long periods of time. Anything that put the slightest pressure on my knee was forbidden to me. I saw a different doctor who requested new X-Rays and an MRI but he could not tell what the exact cause of my pain was, neither could he treat it. The pain was not as bad as it used to be but it was always there, constantly present and exacerbating intermittingly. I would be fine for a few days then without a warning, without any reason whatsoever, I would feel a strike of electrical current in my knee and the mind numbing pain would begin. It usually lasted for half an hour before it went away after taking my pain pills and applying ice packs to my knee.
“Just give it time. Be patient. Inshallah it will get better,” Layla said. “It’s been three months already. I’m tired of waiting and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get better any time soon. I’ve been to two other doctors now and none could figure out what’s wrong. I’ve done everything they asked me to do. I never missed a single dose of medication. I followed the physiotherapy program fully. I was the most compliant patient a doctor could ask for but my knee still hurts. School starts next week. What am I supposed to do?” I almost yelled at her.
My 6th year, the most important one of my entire study, was going to start and I was walking around with a crutch. I knew well enough that no matter how hard I would try, there will be some limitations to what I can do and learn and I feared it would affect my education not to mention my grades. Everyone kept telling me to give it more time and I hated that. I was running out of time. I was getting tired and impatient. Everyone had some sort of brilliant advice to help me through and I was not ready to listen to anyone anymore. “Pray and ask God to heal it,” my mom said when she heard my voice rising in the living room once. Layla concurred, “Yeah you should. You even stopped praying some time ago and that’s not good.” My knee had started throbbing with pain and therefore I snapped at both of them saying, “I can’t even bend my knee to pray. I don’t want to use a stupid chair when I pray anymore. This wasn’t my choice. I did not ask for it. I did not wish this to myself. You go pray if you want. I’m not going to.” I went into my room and shut the door leaving them with stunned faces.
Showing up with a crutch when school started made me a hot topic. Everyone who did not know about the accident kept asking me what happened and those who had heard about it kept asking me how my knee was. It was obviously a good conversation starter in everyone’s mind and I was getting sick of it. I did not want to retell the story every time over and over again so eventually I ignored any question regarding my knee or the accident and many thought I was being cold or arrogant but I could not care less. I also snapped whenever someone said that he or she understood how hard it must be for me. I would tell them that they do not understand shit about what I am going through. People started calling me Dr. House, who is the main character in a TV show, around the hospital because I became famous with my crutch and bad temper. The smallest of things easily triggered me and therefore I tried to keep my distance from others by constantly burying my nose in whatever medical book I had with me. It actually helped me get ahead in our competitive field and the doctors easily recognized me and admired my knowledge. I never let the pain or the crutch stop me. I pushed myself harder than I should have probably and ignored the pain whenever it came. I simply gritted my teeth and took more painkillers. I pretended to be fine in front of the doctors and did not complain so they do not consider it a sign of weakness. My friends kept telling me to take it easy and that it was not wise what I was doing to myself but I did not listen. All of my attention was focused on medicine. I felt as if it was the only thing that I had left and so I had to excel in it. The pain was getting worse every day.
Layla had the worst deal of everyone else. My family and friends suffered from my bizarre change of character but she suffered the most. I snapped at her whenever she said something I did not like no matter how insignificant it might be. I yelled at her for things that were not her fault. I ignored her for days and would not return her calls. I sent her on guilt trips telling her that she was the cause of the accident. I resented her at times when she was too good of a person to sink to my level and counter my attacks. I made her cry and hurt her more than the coldest heart in this universe would hurt an enemy. I hated myself every time I said a word that hurt her feelings or raised my voice at her. I loathed myself. I tried to understand why on earth I was doing that but I could not figure it out. Why, of all people, would I hurt Layla? I kept asking myself. Not everyone is blessed to have such an angel in their lives but here I was breaking this angel’s wings and pushing her away. I kept promising myself every moment of day and night that the next time is going to be different but whenever pain traveled through my nerves, I felt myself turning into the devil again and I would do exactly what I had sworn I would not do just a few minutes ago. I guess we hurt the ones who love us the most because they let us. That love will make up excuses on our behalf and those who love us will believe these excuses regardless of our actions. This vicious cycle that was sabotaging our relationship was a reason for me to try to stay away from Layla. I started telling her every time she called that I was busy, that I had studying to catch up on and other plainly false excuses.
Before the accident, I used to go for a late night jog in the path behind the Hilton Hotel whenever I got frustrated, angry or distressed. It was my safety valve for negative emotions but I no longer had that and therefore things just accumulated inside of me and started blowing up any minute and those who were closest to me the most, got hurt the most. That is not to say that Layla and I did not have some good times because we did. When my brother, Badr, graduated from high school, he applied for medical college. We celebrated when we learned that he was accepted. Layla’s brother, Yasser, surprisingly, proposed to a girl named Shaima’a who went to the University of Birmingham with him and we were happy for him. The difference was that this year, you could actually count the good times rather than the bad ones. Most of that year is tainted by something that I have done. Guilt was probably one of the most prominent feelings during that period of my life. It ate me up inside every day and I could only feed it more by the actions that caused it in the first place. I longed to break free for some time, be alone and fix myself just enough for me to function as a normal human being rather than the angry bitter jerk I had become.
I hated feeling sorry for myself and repeatedly told myself that there are many in this world who are less fortunate than I am and I should be thankful instead of sorrowful but I could not help it. I remember once in Prince Sultan Street, I saw an old man who had no legs and a missing arm, too. He smiled at me and said Alhamdellah after he thanked me when I reached to give him 20 Riyals. I despised myself. This man is smiling and I cannot find it in me to be happy. He is saying Alhamdellah and I am not. I promised myself that this was the last day I feel sorry for myself. That promise did not last for long because a week later, Layla, I and my family went to Java Lounge which we had not been to ever since the accident. Layla was quick to say let’s sit downstairs. I refused and insisted that we go sit upstairs at our usual table. The stairs took me a long time to climb up with my crutch and I felt as if everyone was staring but I was determined. I was in a lot of pain when we finally reached the table and sat down. I cursed silently.
Layla was getting fed up and who could blame her? She started to yell back at me sometimes. She started creating some distance between us from her side. She was getting tired. She had every right to. She was an angel while I was the devil incarnated. She did everything I could ever ask for to help me without me even asking. She was patient and understanding. She was loving and caring. She was more than I deserve. The better she was to me, the more I resented her and resented myself.
A few days following a big fight we had, I was at Layla’s house in a poor attempt to fix things between us. We agreed to go out and so I called the driver and told him to start the car. It still was not easy for me to ride with a driver every time I wanted to go somewhere but I was beginning to get used to it. On our way out, my mobile phone fell on the floor and I reached to get it. I could not. I leaned on my good knee and extended my arm to get it when, I do not know how, I lost balance suddenly and my right knee hit the floor and I felt the pain exploding in my brain. I cursed and stood up grasping my knee in my hands and noticed that I still did not pick the phone. I reached for it again when Layla said, “Wait! Let me get it for you.” I do not know what possessed me to yell at her, “Don’t treat me as if I’m fucking crippled. I’m not. I’m completely capable of getting the stupid phone off the floor myself.” She looked at me with the burning hurt look in her eyes that I am too familiar with and I could not take it anymore. I felt it piercing my skin and making holes in my soul. “Don’t look at me that way. I can’t stand it. I’m sorry if I got into a stupid accident and screwed my knee for good. It’s my fault I can’t even pick a fucking phone off the floor. What do you want me to do? Out of all people, you shouldn’t treat me with pity. It’s annoying as hell,” I yelled again. A small tear was forming in the corner of her eye that made me despise myself. Heavy silence ruled then. The silence that has an actual physical weight you feel pressing on your chest. We just stood there staring at the walls avoiding each other’s eyes. “I think we need a break from each other, at least for some time,” I finally said. She did not say anything and that itself expressed her agreement. I walked past her and slammed the door behind me.
That night, I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months. I ran until I fell on the ground scraping my palms in the process. I started crying then and there from the overwhelming pain. I could not tell which pain was more sever though, my knee’s or my heart’s.