Exactly two weeks ago, as I was walking down the stairs from my apartment, my right ankle rolled out and just crumpled underneath me. I went down, luckily on my rear end instead of my head. It hurt like nobody’s business– the kind of pain that makes you scream and curse (even if that’s not your thing) and get nauseated and maybe faint.
My very nice neighbor Melih came right away and took me to the ER, whereupon I was x-rayed and determined to have a bad sprained ankle. They gave me ibuprofen (which helped a lot with the pain), an ice pack (ditto), a pair of crutches and sent me home.
Injuries suck. They’re unexpected, often super-painful, and they snarl up our lives and schedules. And they take a long time to go away, often requiring surgery, physical therapy, and sometimes devices to wear to support us or prevent re-injury.
Injuries upset me because they highlight my vulnerabilities– places in my body where I am fragile. For me, it’s my ankles. I’ve always been prone to sprains, and I fractured my left ankle 4 years ago (minor avulsion fracture, but still). Yes, yes,– I’ve gotten very good physical therapy, and I did those exercises religiously. But once I was functional again, I turned away from focusing on my more frail parts. I didn’t give them the care that they so clearly needed.
So here I am again. This time, at age 56, living alone, and on crutches. Crutches suck, too, by the way. I had a terrible time crutching around on one foot– my upper body didn’t feel strong enough to manage it. I know, there are techniques for making this easier, and I paid attention to folks at the hospital teaching me, and also looked online (because that’s what we do these days…)
Let me say now that I’m lucky and grateful to have good friends and neighbors and colleagues and health insurance and enough money for car rides and takeout and a job where I can do some teaching online and all sorts of other things that make my life so nice. It could be a lot worse.
This feeling of fragility though– throwing money at the problem doesn’t help.
(Taking a few breaths here)
First: My bad ankle sprain is a wake-up call for me as an aging person. I want to be stronger, and I can do things to make myself stronger: continue PT exercises; get a personal trainer or join gym classes; create a regimen that includes more strengthening; pay more attention to my core and upper body (I do yoga, but need to focus more on specific areas of strength and flexibility). I don’t want to have to go to rehab because I live alone and cannot care for myself. Yes, that happens, and no, it’s not the worst thing. But it scares me. A lot.
Second: Turning toward and taking in my physical fragility and vulnerability is emotionally painful. It makes me scream and curse and feel nauseated and maybe faint. Why? Because maybe some of that vulnerability is beyond my control. I have the body I have. I have the ankles I have. I can balance on bosu balls all the livelong day, and those ankles will still be my most tender parts. This is what my life feels like.
I know, my world is not ending. I have a bad sprained ankle and months of physical therapy ahead. My world, however, is a bit different now. I’ll be paying attention to fragility and vulnerability more, even though it took some tumbling and kicking and screaming to get here.
Readers, how do you deal with fragility? Does it scare you? Is it okay? If you feel like it, I’d love to hear from you.