White hot daggers stab into my left knee. I can feel the patella sliding laterally as if it was a child's ball rolling inexorably downhill. But the ball does not cause the pavement pain. I can feel my kneecap grating against bone as if my very limited cartilage was made of sandpaper and ground glass. Every molecule in my knee is aflame with pain.
Distantly, I'm aware of the rest of my body. My back is arching as if that will somehow relieve the agony. I can hear the echos of my screams turn to whimpers as it grows harder to breathe. I can feel the crescents of my fingernails tearing into my palms. I know from experience that I will probably bear the scratches for days, assuming I don't tear them open anew. There are muscles firing in random spasms all across my body. The distant part of my being that is capable of logical understanding knows that this is my brain fighting against the wash of pain signals. Disoriented and confused, it's throwing out random signals to nowhere. I realize too late what that means happens next.
Outside the haze of pain in my dislocated knee, my body is going numb. I can no longer feel my arms. I can no longer scream in pain; only whimper as my breath grows shorter. My chest is tight and I can feel my heart fluttering madly. That distant sanity knows that i'm going into shock. I have been put into so much pain that my body is shutting down.
"Breathe," I hear your voice prod me. I hear the terror in your voice and I wish I could tell you not to be afraid. Shock means I will pass out. If I pass out, I won't feel this anymore. Shock might mean an end to this intense torturous pain.
"Please, breathe," you beg, then demand, "Breathe!" You know I can't deny you much. I force my lungs to gulp in air. "Keep breathing," you command and I do it again. I force my chest to accept air into my frozen lungs because it will make you stop being so afraid. I grieve for the loss of the shock-induced unconsciousness that might have been, but I know better. Even without consciousness, my knee is in such pain that it assaults my body and mind.
I manage to keep gulping in breath around pain choked sobs for what feels like an eternity before my stomach revolts. I begin gagging until I can taste bile burning away in my throat. I swallow it down in order to gasp in another breath.
You have vanished, doing some arcane ritual. You are five feet away in reality but in my mind you have abandoned me and you're miles away. Just as my breathing falters, you yell, "Breathe!" I struggle to take another breath and stave off the shock that hovers around the edges.
I feel as if I might go insane with this pain. It's tearing, scraping and ripping away at my knee. I have tried so much, fought so hard, and I want to just give up but I can't. I won't give up because it means losing you. Bile chokes me again and I cough some of it up this time, making a noise between a choke and a sob. You appear with a damp cloth in your hand to wipe it away.
"This is going to be hot," you warn as you lay a cloth down on my wretched knee. If the heat is too much I cannot say, but even the slight weight of the cloth feels like a thousand tons pressing on my sliding patella. I hold myself strong for you and let the hot envelop me.
Your hand wedges one of my fists apart enough to slip your fingers inside. Gratefully, I squeeze as if I could crush your fingers to find the cure for this pain, yet you make no noise to suggest that you notice.
Hot envelops my wretched knee and yet it does little for the pain that comes from the bone scraping against bone. I have a fantasy for a moment that the bones' scraping is causing sparks of flame to burn me from the inside out. You squeeze my hand and I try to resurface to give you a reassuring smile. Despite my best efforts, all I get out is a wail.
You pry my fingers open and slip into them a little oblong shape. I realize that it's one of my pain pills, a paltry fight for this agony. Even if the opiates inside can numb me to the pain, they won't take it away for long and they will take at least half an hour to kick in. Thirty minutes is a lifetime when you are in so much agony.
I swallow it because you want me to. A part of me marvels that if I can survive this until I'm an old woman, I will have had a thousand lifetimes with you, which just might be worth it.
Another scraping stab of pain makes me recant that thought.
You put your hand on the cloth and pour over more hot water. I will have first degree burns for the next couple days thanks to the burning hot water, but I don't feel it. It forces the tightening muscles to relax, even a little.
It is not enough; the agony is too intense. I gasp and struggle to continue to breathe. Desperate, I take my consciousness away.
We're in a quiet place. I'm in a meadow with the sun bright in the sky. The grass smells sweet and the sunlight comes dappled through the leaves of a tree that scrapes the clouds. I'm laying on a bed, holding your hand, and staring up through those branches. Here, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
My knee flares up, the patella sliding once more. I hear my voice almost distantly as it new rush of salt into my mouth makes me realize that I've bit my lip open. I close my eyes as you add heat to the knee.
I dared you to race me to the hot springs. We run across the grass in bare feet. There are no mosquitoes or flies or bugs to pester us, nor snakes or rocks underfoot. We run across this paradise because I can run, fast and free until the wind streaks my hair out behind me. And everything is beautiful; nothing hurts.
You disappear for more hot water. My knee knifes into fresh pain and I gulp for air. "Breathe," you command me and I choke in another breath but can't fight for more. My body is so worn with pain that even the simple intake of breath is so much...
I jump into the hot springs, letting the warm envelop me. We play like otters or children, swimming through the warm. In this paradise I can swim without pain or struggle, no matter how deep the water. When we are done, we lay in the sweet grass and let the sun dry the water off our cooling bodies. Here, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
"Breathe, damn it," you swear as you shake me. With a gulp or two, I manage. It's so hard to fight so much. I want to just give up but I can't. The pain stabs at me so intensely that there's nothing I can do, not even quit. You goad me into taking another half dozen shallow breaths. A distant part of me worries that I will hyperventilate, but at least I'll be breathing when I do. The pain is so much that I can't hold my eyes open. Even behind my eyelids all I know is white hot pain. Desperate, I drag my mind into my fantasy.
When we are dry, we head down into where the creek weaves through an apple orchard. We sit, our feet dangling into the water as big shiny fish swim by, and munch on sweet, perfect apples. We throw the cores into the stream and lie back to look at clouds, comparing which look like sheep and which look like ducks. Everything is so beautiful and nothing hurts.
You put your fingers over my patella. "It's really dislocated." I wish I could make your voice sound less terrified for me, but it scares me too.
I reach my hand down by yours. Together, with little micro-pushes, my patella takes the hint and slides back. I'd rather push a Buick uphill; it would take less time and cause less agony.
We sit on a little stone bridge, our feet dangling into the water. There's a small fire dying behind us and we're looking up at the stars. I've got a s'more in my hands, the chocolate oozing to my fingers and the marshmallow perfectly toasted. You've got one too, and a big glass of milk. We count the shooting stars until we lose track. Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
I am not sure how we get my kneecap back in. I'm aware of the pain receding, ebbing and throwing up defiant spikes as if to remind me who controls my life. My mind regains the ability to think,albeit slowly. You never stop holding my hand. Even when you can tell that I'm mentally all there again, you still seem afraid.
Later, there will be time to talk about how bad this attack was and what we will say to my score of doctors. Later, I will tell you how terrified this made me too. But right now, I can only think of one thing to say to you.
"I love you."
Still pale, you smile wanly. "I love you too."
I don't say it, but I know it; without you, this pain would swallow me alive. Short lived though it might be, I want to claim the victory, if only to remind myself to fight through another day.
Because somewhere, some time, there we sit, eating s'mores and counting shooting stars. Somewhere, sometime, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.