In most parts of the country, this awful winter is starting to loosen its grip, and spring is attempting to make an appearance. Living in the South, it was especially jarring to deal with as many weather events as we had the past few months, consisting of freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. The relief is palpable as we walk outside and see determined little buds pushing their way through the hard ground, and trees bearing welcome blossoms. I do understand that compared to many areas of the country, most particularly Boston which had the most mind-boggling epic snowfall the past few months, we really have little cause to complain. But there are reasons one chooses to live in the South, and weather is not the least of those factors.
So, when schools were closed due to the ice covering most surfaces, I heeded all warnings to be careful. That black ice was sneaky and insidious, and every step outside needed to be taken with concentrated caution. And I was careful – at my house where I hunkered down during the bad weather. But after days of closed schools, meaning no tutoring, things changed by the end of the week, and I embraced the return to making a living.
And then, wham! The black ice got me. I ended up with a spiral fracture of the fibula. The pain was constant and it was hard to sleep more than a few hours at a time. The inability to walk or do much of anything for myself was frustrating. And at the time, I didn’t think to ask for details when the doctor told me that he wanted to see me again in 4-5 weeks. In my mind, I thought that meant that in about a month I’d be back to normal. As normal as I can be, anyway.
The first thing that I discovered to my shock, was that I have absolutely no ability whatsoever to get around on crutches. Having never broken any bones prior to this, my thoughts about crutches were largely based on the people I’ve seen who seem to get around with the greatest of ease. Younger people. I thought I was in halfway decent shape. How ego-deflating to realize I couldn’t even make it down the driveway in under 10 minutes. Even worse, there’s a step of approximately 10 inches in height from the kitchen into the garage. It was hard enough getting down without toppling over, but nearly impossible to get back into the house. What to do? For over a week, I didn’t even leave my house. But I was getting cabin fever. So I decided to be brave, and at the same time give up any shred of dignity I had left. I put a pillow on a chair by the door, and when I came home from a brief drive that somewhat restored my sanity, I opened the door, yanked the pillow off the chair, and crawled into the house. That went on for 4 weeks. My son couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just hop back into the house the way he demonstrated to me effortlessly. Several times. Insult to injury.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the options available these days when one breaks an ankle, I have to say that the invention of the knee scooter has been an absolute life-saver. Due to my complete ineptitude with crutches, I would probably be living in bed, under my covers if it weren’t for the knee scooter. But until I got the OK to balance on the fractured-ankle leg, I was unable to get the scooter in and out of the car on my own. Meaning I either had to drive with a companion or be meeting someone at my destination who would do that for me. Or, in the case of my last doctor visit, when a lovely lady in the parking lot took such pity on me seeing me trying to make my way into the doctor’s office using crutches, she went to my car with me and got the scooter out so I wouldn’t further humiliate myself. It was great until I had to get it back in the car by myself after my appointment. No helpful souls were in sight. I ended up almost breaking my nose as the loose end of the scooter swung into the car as I attempted to not fall over. As I said, the concept of dignity has pretty much disappeared from my life.
I went back to the doctor after 4 weeks and was told that things are improving and to return in 3 more weeks. Wait, what? No miraculous healing after 4 weeks? But when will I be normal I asked him, again, assuming that there was hope I could ever be considered normal. He studied me and asked what being normal meant. I told him that in this case, I meant able to walk again. Well, after 3 weeks of more of the same – except for now being allowed to use the bad leg for balance and apply slight pressure on it – if things continued to improve, I might be able to use the air cast as a walking boot. I once again forgot to ask for how long.
After almost 6 weeks, there is hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel. With the onset of spring, comes a bit more mobility and freedom. Although things that you never think about are suddenly major obstacles. How do you take out the trash? Vacuum or wash floors? Doing laundry is completely exhausting. Grocery shopping is finally an option, but only one bag per trip, and getting the groceries into the house while on crutches involves at least 3 trips of slowly emptying out the one bag into 3 little bags. I’ve been lucky that I’ve received help from my children, and kind and generous friends. When I’ve felt down, the drive-through window at TCBY has been a lifeline. I didn’t realize until someone pointed it out to me how lucky I was that I broke the left ankle since I still retained my ability to drive. Whew!
My ego has been appropriately humbled. My delusions of fitness and youth are now gone. Reality is harsh and kind of scary, but I am relieved that things do seem to be headed in the right direction. Except, of course, for the times I do topple over or run over my toes with the scooter. Again, lessons in humility.
And on a serious note, I have chastised myself for my bouts of self-pity. Because this is just a glimpse into the world of those who have to live with some sort of disability on a long-term or permanent basis. Everything we take for granted can be daily obstacles for those who can’t take anything for granted. Kindness helps. Patience helps. And empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of another person who is going through a tough time in whatever shape or form, is probably the best gift you can give to anyone.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved