Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Broken Bones

In October, I fell down a few stairs in a parking garage breaking my right ankle. This was my second major bone fracture. The first happened when I was six. I fell from a playground’s unusually high, monkey bars and broke my wrist a few weeks before I started first-grade. I clearly remember the timing because as the doctor covered my arm with a plaster cast he let me know that my summer filled with swimming and physical play had come to a premature end. The restrictions continued into the first few weeks at my new school. While my classmates ran and bonded during recess, I had to sit in the grass by myself. Later that same year I missed our biggest field trip because I had chicken pox. My poor health was leading to a life as a social outcast.

Thirty years later, my broken bone did not have as big an impact on my social life. It did put a temporary hold on our Sunday hikes with friends, but the cold winter would have slowed those down anyways. Regardless, a sudden change in your physical abilities is inconvenient. My initial reaction to the loud popping noise, intense pain and swelling in my ankle was denial. I continued walking on it while chanting, “it’s not broken, it’s not broken.” My mind is not stronger than my body, but my injured body did allow me to learn a few lessons about myself, my body and Ezra.

First, be more calm. I am clumsy, but this time falling down a flight of stairs was not from lack of grace. It was from impatience, annoyance, and panic resulting from miscommunication. Amanda and I did not connect after work, and I was unsure if Ezra was going to be picked-up from daycare in time. If I had defaulted to a more rational reaction than frustration and anger I would have realized why Amanda did not meet me at our normal spot. I also would not have frantically changed path mid-run, mid-flight of stairs in the parking garage when I realized my mistake. Instead, I would have calmly walked to the spot where we actually parked the car several blocks from the garage. Being in a bad state of mind was 90% of the cause of my injury. The other 10% was probably from not owning a cell phone like a normal person.

Second, bodies are amazing and each one is different. When the doctor sat me down (or since my foot was broken I was probably already sitting) to tell me the bad news, she began to explain that part of the bone in my foot broke off causing a tendon to detach. I immediately began to panic (my lesson about calmness had yet to sink in). How was having surgery going to affect work, taking care of Ezra, camping the following week, ... ? She then said it should heal on its own without any help. I would just need to wear a walking cast to keep it immobilized for 6 weeks.

My foot basically produced additional bone in the damaged area to reconnect the tendon and pull it back into place. Once the tendon was secured the additional bone would smooth and remold itself back into its original shape. At least that is my understanding and simplification of what happened, but my take away was mostly amazement at how the body can, to some extent, self-repair so effectively. If only my house and car could do the same.

I also had to have several weeks of physical therapy to help regain mobility in my ankle. After wearing the walking cast for six weeks, my ankle was weak and frozen in place. I could not move it up or down or left or right. My feet are pretty flexible, and my therapist and I have worked really hard to get back to what is normal for me. I am still not quite there yet. I am sure most everyone has fantasized about what it would be like to temporarily switch bodies with someone else. What would it feel like to be in the body of someone taller, more athletic, or of the opposite sex? After this experience, I now realize how off-putting that experience would be. I am so used to how my body works that not being able to pick up a sock on the floor with my toes feels like I am inhabiting an alien form. I’m sure this pales in comparison to how a woman must feel during pregnancy.

Finally, Ezra does not view me as superhuman. When a coworker saw my cast, one of her first questions was how Ezra reacted to my breaking my foot. She said that her father breaking his wrist when she was a preschooler was a significant moment in her childhood. She had previously not realized her father could be hurt. To her he was godlike: immortal and infallible. I think Ezra’s and my relationship is more grounded than that. In fact, he didn’t even seem that surprised that I would fall and break my ankle. I hope and believe Ezra realizes I am very human. I am not perfect. I make mistakes. Every once in awhile I fall down stairs. He also knows that sometimes I might need help.  For weeks after my injury he insisted on “carrying” me down the stairs “so you don’t fall again.”

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