I focus on the pleasant sensation of the ice-cold water caressing cautiously the lump of burning pain that is my right knee. A pool forms and grows on the sweat-stained greyish canvas of the boxing ring as my Muay Thai trainer, a young fighter of local renown, continues to fetch and pour more, and more, and more water on my injured leg. ‘I’m sorry, I’m very sorry,’ he repeats over and over, looking all the more bewildered when I smile at him and say: ‘it’s ok. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t hurt.’ What I am really saying is that no one would know about our little sparring accident, which occurred minutes earlier. I have no plans of bursting into baby tears and stomping my good foot – it’s for this blog that I reserve my drama-queen antiques. Ours was a private class at a time when most people at the gym go to rest in their rooms. It was just him and I in the ring, carried away by the excitement of a good training session. A minute or so into our last round there was that one unfortunate move – a reflex on his part, this of an active ring fighter, who goes for the kill and for the win. I had convinced us both that I was a worthy opponent, and he trusted me enough to fight me as such, ‘fight’, because we had not been play-sparring, and, well, I lost.
‘Enough, thank you,’ I say after another minute to stop my trainer turning the ring into a proper swimming-pool. I have to get myself to the hospital while I can still wobble, so I struggle back to my feet, wincing as my rag-doll’s right leg once again disconnects at the knee joint. I climb out of the ring, and turn to say good-bye to the man, still frozen in place with the aluminum cup in hand and that mortified expression on his face. He seems to feel worse than I, so I sink to the matted floor with as much grace as I can muster and begin to stretch as I usually would. ‘See, I’m fine,’ I smile at him, ‘mai bpen rai!’ He stares at my mouth, and doesn’t understand. We both heard the sound of something cracking and snapping when, catching my left leg under his arm while I was delivering a kick, he momentarily twisted it at the hip and push-kicked my supporting right knee. ‘The hell are you smiling at?’ he almost asks but doesn’t, darting upstairs instead only to return a few minutes later with a well-worn knee brace. His hands shake when he tries to strap it on my leg, and I have to take it from him. My own hands are steady, I notice with some pleasure, as I tend to my traitor limb. My right wing. Then, I get up briskly and say that I would see him again the next day for another private training session. ‘I come at ten, ok? We take it easy. This is nothing.’ He nods and extends me his hand. We shake. Naturally, we both know we will never meet again and never forget each other: he will probably remember me as someone who showed him that there was a difference between being an awesome fighter and a trainer; I’ll remember him as someone, who may have hurt me more than anyone or anything ever had. It wasn’t his fault: he was but the answer I had asked for to this question: ‘can I fight?’ That was a ‘no’. I couldn’t take from another human being what I felt like I lost on that perfectly ordinary morning – my wings.
Then, there was the visit to the Bangkok Hospital Samui, where the doctor confirmed the diagnosis I’d dreaded: complete tear of the ACL, medial meniscus, peripheral meniscus, some muscle as well as considerable damage to the cartilage and other knee joint bits with long scary names. ‘What happened?’ the leader of the white flock of nurses at my bedside inquired curiously while I awaited the arrival of a fancier brace and a pair of crutches. ‘Needlework accident,’ I mumbled in reply. ‘Koh tod ka?’ she frowned. ‘Muay Thai,’ I conceded. ‘Noooo,’ a male nurse protested, ‘you look so nice!’And I couldn’t help laughing. When she returned, the doctor shooed the flock away, and gave me my hospital papers. The day after that, she said, I would be escorted to the flagship Bangkok Hospital in the capital to undergo an operation with Thailand’s top sports arthroscopic surgeon. ‘You’ll be able to walk and do some sports again, don’t be scared,’ she encouraged me. ‘But I don’t need be able to walk,’ I whispered to myself, swallowing painfully the second part of that sentence, ‘I need to be able to fly.’
The flight to Bangkok was no trouble at all as I was accompanied by a doctor, syringes with painkillers at the ready in his bag, a blanket in hand and a polite smile never melting off his face. I was admitted quickly, and the MRI all done, I was wheeled to my room on the 16th floor. I asked the nurses to help me move the big comfy armchair to the floor-length window, so I could watch Bangkok’s night lights – I wouldn’t sleep, of course. ‘I’m sorry, miss, but the window doesn’t open,’ the chief nurse apologized as she tucked me comfortably in, strapping a rubber ice bag to my knee. The terrace behind the glass looked so alluring, it really was a shame. ‘Could you not open it for me, please?’ I wondered, examining the lock and testing the door. ‘I’m afraid not, miss. I’m not allowed to.’ ‘Ah,’ it dawned on me, ‘Top floor, sick people… that figures.’ And offering me another apologetic smile and her and her team’s help at any time, she left me to enjoy the view. Beautiful as it was, I found myself searching around the room for something heavy to smash that window with, truly a tempting thing to do. I did find a suitable object, and a few years back I would have used it – I had done a similar thing some time ago – but not now. Too easy, Mila, I said to my reflection in the night-colored glass, behind which Bangkok was wide awake, flowing, twisting, turning, coming together and coming apart.
‘Mom? Can you talk?’
‘Hi, honey! You ok?’
‘Yes, but I my right knee is busted.’
‘Busted?… We’ll get it fixed.’
My mother knew nothing of my previous illness or hospital stays. She would not have heard of this one either if I didn’t believe it to be quite serious. In the course of this year I have become immune to the doctors’ and nurses’ questions about my friends and family, and to the looks of confused pity, which accompany them. I make up excuses for the conspicuous absence of any support by my side at times when one would expect to require it. Inevitably, the excuses are more elaborate than the truth, which is just too simple: my family love me but they don’t like me: they can’t get behind the way I live, and I don’t want them to, seeing my weakness, like me even less; my friends, on the other hand, appreciate the fun person that I can be on a good day, so I make sure that they don’t see me on a bad one. Besides, I actually prefer handling my issues on my own: this way I can turn those moments of weakness into lessons in emotional resilience and save the people I value the need to suffer with me. It’s a win-win situation, by my calculation, at least.
‘It requires surgical reconstruction. I need your help finding the right doctor,’ I admit this time that I need help, because this time is different. It can end badly because I feel myself truly giving up for the first time, and so my mother, at least, needs to know.
I don’t get the surgery in Bangkok. Instead, I am med escorted to St. Petersburg the very next day after the phone call to undergo the required operation and the long rehabilitation process here, where I would have something better for recovery than all my ’emotional resilience’ – love. Mixed with judgement it may be, but it is still unconditional. If it can give me the patience not to give up for a little while longer, than I’ll take it; if it can’t, than I’ll know I have tried it all. It will be hard to get back what I had for legs – wings, and I was only as good and as strong as they used to be. It’s not that I stubbornly refuse to live without them; it’s just that for me it’s… impossible. What an offensive word, ‘impossible’! I hope that neither I, nor you, readers of this entry, ever have to use it, and mean it in your hearts.
As I await surgery, I must reconsider my climbing plans for the coming spring. I will do my best to follow through with them, but I hesitate to believe in a miracle. We shall see what is still ‘possible’. Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed for me, and enjoy the autumn.