The Summer I Disappeared

Submitted by Robin Wilson EdD, MSN, RNC

Tags: Disabilities Knee Replacement

The Summer I Disappeared

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I found out this summer what it was like to be a ghost. After hobbling on a bum knee for several years, I finally was ‘persuaded’ by my family and my physician to have a total knee replacement. Okay, so fine. I thought it would be great to be able to get around better, less pain, less issues. I’m a nurse. Although I don’t work in the hospital everyday any more, I teach nursing and I am still required to be able to work like a nurse, because I take students to the hospital for clinical practice.

July 8th was the day that I disappeared. I had the knee replacement that day and poof, I was gone. Two days later I went home. Lots of pain; unable to do much of anything for myself. Therapy was distressing, to say the least. The funny thing was that it didn’t matter. I was on a walker now. As I entered buildings or left, I would try to make eye contact with people like I always had, to share a ‘hello’ or a friendly smile. Nobody would look at me. I suddenly was a leper. I guess people thought that my temporary disability had affected my brain. People did not look at you, nor smile, nor greet you, period. I felt ashamed. My self-esteem bottomed out. Was I depressed from my surgery? No. Was I depressed because I had disappeared? Yep.

The first day of school in August, I felt like students looked and me and thought, “Can’t they afford a real nurse, one that can actually walk?” Other thoughts that ran through my head were, “She must be ready to retire,” and “She probably won’t be our teacher long, anyway.” Maybe they thought, “She must have Alzheimer’s.” Yes, I had disappeared.

Now that my therapy is over and I can walk mostly on my own without even a cane, I feel like the biggest change that has occurred is not the shiny new titanium knee that I have, but rather the mindset that came along with it. Don’t ignore people with disabilities. Give them a smile or a few words of greeting. Really, inside that person, is someone who might be sad, maybe lonesome, and needs a hug and recognition. Please let them know that you see them, that they are not invisible. They are not ghosts. They are real.