Pamela Harris

The Kindness of Strangers December 20, 2019

I’m a sucker for a good fart joke. Poop, pratfalls, a pratfall where someone poops - poop fart poop fart fart. I never realized just how many poop and fart jokes "30 Rock" has. So many I’ve spit water all over my keyboard laughing out loud.

I’ve been living on "30 Rock." In October I broke my knee. I was walking down the sidewalk in the rain. Nothing unusual about it. At most intersections in NYC where the sidewalk meets the street there are ADA tactile pads, a composite pad that looks like rubber covered in raised dots. They let the blind know they’re at an intersection and provide a slight slope for those in wheelchairs. I was five blocks from my house and when my sneaker hit the wet pad I went down so fast I didn’t know I was falling. My knee hit one of the raised dots perfectly and broke in two.

The amazing thing about NYC is people came running. A truck stopped and wouldn’t move until I said I was okay. An owner of the Greenwich Sports Tavern came out with an umbrella, cardboard and tape, to keep me dry and make a splint. Two chemical engineering students having lunch helped him and stayed with me. You could see through my pants that my knee was in two pieces, and the pieces had migrated over a finger’s width apart. I kept staring at it, stunned.

In the ER they said I had a displaced transverse fracture. I came home, then six days later I had surgery and my knee was wired together. For a month I couldn’t stand or sit on my own because of a rigid hip to ankle brace. I slept in it, too, or really, laid there and stared at the ceiling.

During the day I’d hobble on crutches to the couch and Ginger would sit near me, staring, confused why I wasn’t walking her but knowing something was wrong. Friends came by, I ate a lot of scones, I researched broken patella obsessively.

Only 1% of bone breaks are broken knee caps. It’s a rare thing. Every surgeon seems to have their own protocol and three weeks in I started PT. My range of movement (ROM) was barely 5 degrees, or straight and stiff, and from here I started the very slow, tediously slow, paint dries faster slow process of pushing my knee to bend to its limit to gain degrees.

I’m a motherf!cker when it comes to focusing my mind and getting done what needs to get done. I have fantastic perseverance. Never in my life, though, have I had to physically take myself to the edge, to spontaneously burst into tears while my PT tries to bend me another degree, to scream out loud as she tries to break up scar tissue by bending to what feels like a bone breaking point. Some sessions I’d get crazy body tremors and turn whiter than white. Or we’d watch my knee grow and swell, or see a bruise bloom across the top of it. Through it all we’d bend. It's a very slow process.

As is seeing how this is bending me. I’ve never had physical pain before, not like this. At first some of my tears were fear my knee would break from the pressure. Then it was other fear, not knowing what my body was capable of. But I’ve come to see it’s more like I’m emptying out or letting go of something I didn’t know I was holding on to. Last week during PT a ripple of terror shot through me, a terror from long ago. I grew up with a sister who constantly threatened to beat the crap out of me and though my head had moved on, there was that fear fresh as day, still lodged in my bones. My whole life I’ve been slightly coiled, tense, something I attributed simply to how I’m built. It’s a shock to discover I’m not.

My PT, Helen, is an assassin I’ve nicknamed Hellbend (I suggested she write a book titled ‘I’ve Been Called Worse”). In between PT sessions she's given me a lot of exercises to build back quad strength and to bend, bend, bend. I’ll do heel slides down the wall or dangle my leg over the side of the bed and push it down with my good leg for twenty minutes, the length of a "30 Rock" episode. I do this three to five times a day. Some days I get dizzy and woozy, but then on 30 Rock Jack Donaghy or Liz Lemon will say something funny and I’ll forget it hurts. I’ll marvel at how Tina Fey writes, produces and stars in a show that never loses momentum.

Which brings me to thinking about writing and painting and the reality that I spend a lot of time in my head. My work demands it, it’s good. But despite how active I am outside of work, it hit me how I’ve never fully inhabited my body. This is shock number two. I don’t mean I’m cut off from the neck down. It’s, being in my body has pushed me into the present more than I’ve ever been. It’s a whole new layer to being alive.

Surgery and post recovery have tinges of the barbaric. At times I feel like an experimental meat stick. When my surgeon was unhappy with my ROM and wanted to do a procedure (some consider controversial) called an MUA, I had to really dig deep into why I didn't want it. My surgeon knows about busted knees and I needed to trust him. Plus, not wanting the procedure wasn’t a good enough reason not to do it. But when I did heavy research into it, my gut said don't do it. Despite my surgeon pushing me to do otherwise, I called off the procedure. I had to trust myself. I’ve been doing PT for six weeks now and am at 50 degrees ROM. Was my decision the right one? Who knows, but it was the right one for me.

The theme here is fear. Going into the next year I can feel I’m going in with less of it. Yowza it feels good.

This was a good writing year. I was a screener for a major film festival, read for a great writing lab, finished writing the feature I took to The Writers Lab and also created a new pilot. With both projects I was selected to apply to fellowships and labs, and found that in the essay portion - I had to write a lot of essays for each application - I rewrote so much that writing became tedious. While bending it hit me what I was really doing was smoothing me out on the page, sometimes writing me off the page. It’s time to slim down the hypercritical voice in my head. My last essay, I banged it out and didn't look back, and writing it was much more fun.

My next writing project is a book. It'll be my first. I’m excited.

Up until two weeks ago Joe had to do everything, including cook, clean, walk the dog, get me on and off the couch, help me stand, sit. The first two weeks I started bending he had to help raise and lower my knee three times a day. He’s still cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, and a host of other things. These last few months have made me so grateful for him, for Ginger, for our small pack.

We love our house, though with PT in the city we won’t make it up there as much over the winter. Here in the city the construction around us has finished, so being here full time is easy. Though there seems to be something going on with our building, either a sale or impending change. It’s in the air, the way the owners are acting.

A lot of this year was about acceptance amid uncertainty. Maybe that’s what it means to be human. To love.

I got a few emails this year asking if I’d be writing an end of year post. Your emails mean so much to me, so please know that. The happiest new year to you. May next year knock you sideways, in the best way possible.


I wish you and Joe a Happy, Happy New Year, Pam!!

Paul | December 31, 2019 at 09:08 pm

Yep, all of the above. We got hit just as we were rising from an LZ, and I got thrown out the side of the chopper when it smacked back down. Lucky lucky lucky boy. As a Disabled Vet, the V A has been very good to me. Thank God for them. But all of this is in the past, so the best thing to do, is put a big smile on my face, and live the happiest life possible in honor of all those boys who didn't make it
BE HAPPY,,,,, NO MATTER WHAT !! And that goes for you too!!

Paul | December 30, 2019 at 05:24 pm

Paul, thanks so much. And wow, I had no idea. That's a lot of broken bones. A 'helicopter crash' is mysterious, potent and potentially war-related. You might have a book in you, too.

Pamela | December 30, 2019 at 03:25 pm

Amazing post. Busy, busy year, and very successful. Congrats!!!
Regarding the PT for your knees, if anyone can commiserate with you, it's me. From the helicopter crash in 1970, I had 6 ruptured discs,
2 fractured spinal processes, 2 fractured knee caps, and one broken ankle, and although I've been dealing with these problems for 50 years, I don't think anything is worse than what you had, a completely broken, separated patella. Very difficult to mend, and even more difficult to get your range of motion back, and..... very painful. My heart goes out to you. Regarding the refusal of the second operation, I happen to agree with you. I finally had surgery on the 3 worst ruptured discs in 2015, BUT..... I developed peripheral neuropathy in both lower legs since the operation, as well as Left Drop Foot, meaning I can't bend my ankle properly. Soooo, when the surgeon wanted to do additional procedures on the other discs, I said, like you, Thanks, but No Thanks. Looking forward to your Book, no doubt it will be Mind Bending. I wish you the Happiest of New Years!!!

Paul Murphy | December 30, 2019 at 01:41 pm

Thank you Cynthia xo

Pamela | December 22, 2019 at 07:09 am

You're amazing xoxoxo

Cynthia | December 21, 2019 at 09:22 pm

Beth, sending a big heart to you. xo

Pamela | December 20, 2019 at 03:56 pm

Dearest Pam, You are my soul sister. So much of what you describe is what I remember going through when I had breast cancer and was faced with surgery and reconstruction choices. I love you my sweet sister, I will always be beside you. Keep up the good PT work and happiest of new year's to you! xoxo Beth

Beth | December 20, 2019 at 01:12 pm

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