This injury has been measured in days, months, weeks, and years.
As of today (August 2, 2019 – the date of this writing), it has been 555 days since my original ankle injury.
As of today, it has been a month and a half since I’ve needed to use my cane to walk. I have physical therapy twice a week, and we’re working hard to increase my strength and flexibility.
As of today, I am largely pain-free and am almost back to basic daily levels of activity. Almost. Considering where I started, almost is good enough, and I know with enough work, I’ll be stronger than before. In the next few weeks, I might be able to take a dance class, and slowly, slowly, I can start rebuilding.
I only feel that now I’m able to write about this experience, as I see it slowly start to fade behind me. Because let me tell you, this was hard. This was singlehandedly the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through or experienced. And, as my ex’s father would say, I’m not one to complain or voice that I’m in pain (mainly because it’s energy I didn’t have), now seems like the right time to address how being in chronic pain affects your life. Because, surprise! It does. And I know I don’t have it as bad as someone whose chronic pain doesn’t go away, but just finds new and hellacious ways to torture you, while you keep moving forward one day at a time. I guess this is my way of processing this absolutely difficult, drawn-out, and hellacious experience of my own.
Just for fun, I’ve decided to turn this into a listicle, because if we’re not codifying our experiences into easily digestible fast-food pieces, what ARE we doing? </sarcasm>
The Top 5 Things That You Don’t Expect With a Life-Changing Injury (Number 5 will shock you)
1. Kiss Your Life Goodbye
Here is a list – in no particular order – of all the things that not walking for 17 months changed: EVERYTHING
Not an exaggeration. I had to ration my energy like a wife rationing her Victory Garden and store coupons. I could do the dishes, sure, but if I did the dishes, I didn’t have the energy to cook a healthy dinner for myself. If I dragged myself to the end of my building to do laundry, I sure wasn’t going to be doing anything else. My life became my day job and my next doctor’s appointment. Trips I had wanted to take, both in 2018 and 2019, were canceled. I had barely enough energy for myself, let alone for any of my goals for the year. I wrote, but sporadically, and the only reason my apartment didn’t degrade to the level of utter condemnation is that I had help.
And my writing? My creative goals? All put on pause. All of them. All the writing conferences I wanted to go to, all the stories I wanted to write. Not dead, but dormant. Hibernating.
2. Pain is Your New Constant
In hindsight, I probably should have asked for stronger painkillers. But when all those choices lead you to a possible painkiller addiction or the inability to function at all…you choose pain. Pain that keeps you from sleeping well; pain that makes it hard to think; pain that makes doing the simplest task feel like climbing a mountain on your broken, blender-ridden foot (not an exaggeration: my surgeon took one look at my MRI and told me my foot looked like it had been put in a blender).
Then prolotherapy started and I experienced a whole other level of hell. Prolotherapy is all about inducing inflammation, which means I couldn’t take anything during the three days leading up to, during, and the day after. That led me to multiple sleepless nights just because of the pain. Every two weeks. I gritted my teeth and hoped for the best, thinking that if at the end of this I could walk again it would all be worth it.
3. At Some Point, Losing Your Foot Seems Like a Swell Idea
I knew I wasn’t doing so hot when I started legitimately thinking that losing my foot would be amazing. Just think! All those pesky, pain-filled nerve endings – poof! Gone in a flash. At least my ankle would be a solvable problem and I could move on with my damn life. I begged one of my brothers to work harder on developing some AI tech so he could invent Skynet, go to the future, and bring me back an awesome Terminator robot foot. A foot that I could crush skulls with because that would always be a neat party trick at the bar.
4. Surprise! You Didn’t Avoid Surgery
It’s like the punchline to a really bad cosmic joke. I put up with almost three months of injections every two weeks only to still need surgery. I was so convinced that prolotherapy would be THE thing that when she mentioned surgery I cried the entire drive home and for most of the evening. At this point, I was 11 months into the injury and exhausted at all levels. Once I stopped crying, I started shopping for a surgeon. Even when I thought I had found THE SURGEON it turns out he wasn’t in my network. Which is fine, because then I found MY SURGEON, and he did a fantastic job. I couldn’t be happier with my surgical team.
My point with all of this? It was a really hard lesson that sometimes you can do all the right things and still have to adapt. You still have to adjust and swerve and dodge. If anyone was going to get a major life lesson in needing to be flexible, it was going to be me. And I’d like to learn it this time and not have a repeat performance.
5. Burn it Down, Rise Again, Repeat
In the spirit of honesty, I have felt ALL THE THINGS. Elated when I took my first steps post-surgery in a walking boot. Ecstatic dipping my toes in the ocean last weekend for the first time in almost 2 years. Like I haven’t done enough. Like I will never do enough. Like I lost 17 months of my life that I will never get back.
But I also feel joy – with every new milestone and little accomplishment. Having enough energy that I feel like I can form thoughts. That I can focus on my creativity.
I wouldn’t have said before my injury that I took my health for granted, but I’m going to be incredibly honest and say of course I did. I never had anything major that so scarily put everything front in center. In a strange way, I was being prepped for it life-wise: my brother had had an out of the blue grand mal seizure in November 2017. My ankle injury happened in January of 2018. And in May of 2018, my father wound up in the emergency room with a life-threatening blood clot. We’re all recovered and recovering, but my brother’s seizure was the start of something shifting with me.
I was already in the process of making some major life changes when life literally dropped out from under me and continued to do so. Even in writing this, I’ve had to go back and rewrite passages in the first person. I kept reverting to second person POV because it was somehow easier to write if I wasn’t writing about myself. Because I wish I could say that the medical issues were all I dealt with, but life is life. It’s never
just one thing. As my body was healing, the rest of my life was turning to ash. But it’s okay. I outlived its usefulness. It’s time to build something better and truer.
I promise you that if you can’t write today, that’s okay. Try again tomorrow. Y
ou can survive so much more than you think you can.
What I can promise you is that life can change in an instant – for the good as well as the bad. I know that most people think of the bad, but trust me, life can still surprise you with beauty and connection the likes of which you have never seen.