- Coming Clean -

COMING CLEAN: Lessons From Injury

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Three things I learned about life in the year since my ankle break.

When it comes to physical activity, I like to play it safe. Most exercises I attempt keep my feet close to the ground, and there’s not a lot of risk taking involved. No contact sports for me, thank you very much.

I’ve played football with a group class, albeit flag football, and when I felt I was in danger of an inadvertent tackle, I was tossing the pigskin away from me faster than you can blink. (Yes, I was usually chosen last by the team captains, a reality I fully accepted.)

So how ironic that such a cautious person as myself would break her ankle. On this day last year, I wound up in the emergency room.

How ironic — and how foolish I felt.

It was a simple and silly mistake: I was rushing back to my office on the main level at home after finishing lunch, and I slipped down the carpeted stairs. I was wearing cozy slick socks and moving too fast to firmly plant my footing.

Our nanny/cousin was in the kitchen and screamed out that she heard something snap. When I looked down to find my ankle pointing in the wrong direction, my first instinct was to reset it to its correct position.

I’m lucky I didn’t pass out or lose my lunch right there.

Thinking the reset would do the trick to fix it, I tried to hobble back to my office. Now, I’ve given birth, people — a completely unmedicated birth, mind you — but this pain was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. When asked by the medics at the hospital on a scale of 1 to 10, I quickly offered a 12 and begged for drugs with tears streaming down my face.

How could I possibly have done this?! I thought over and over, and repeated aloud to my husband, who had met our nanny, our baby, and me at the emergency-room entrance.

My injury was quickly deemed a clean ankle break, both of the fibula and tibia. I’d need surgery, and with the intense pain, I thanked my lucky stars the orthopedic surgeon had an opening the next day.

He outfitted me with a plate and 11 screws, now making my robot transformation complete: Along with my left ankle adorned internally, my right wrist holds a plate from a break in a minor car accident in 2008, and my head is home to two titanium plugs from brain surgery after a major car accident in 1999.

So in the year since this injury, what have I come to learn?

Slow down. Seriously.

We all tend to rush through so much of our lives, feeling pressure to get more done in less time. One of the first things that Founding Editor Pilar Gerasimo asked me was, “What do you think the universe was trying to tell you?” Of course I knew the answer: I was trying to be supermom, of course! Doing quick yet amazing work as an employee, tackling home projects and chores lickety-split, all while being one terrific and attentive mother. I still think we can strive for that greatness; only, we need to take our time, plan it out, and give each task the attention it needs. If it means we do better work — and save our sanity and ankles in the process — with more time allotted, so be it.

Learn to stretch and do it frequently.

With my physical therapy completed in early spring, I’ve really come to savor and appreciate a stretching routine to care for my body. Sometimes I flex and stretch at the sink doing dishes. Other times, my coworkers will remind us all to stand up during our meetings and shake it out. The mobility in my ankle may never be quite the same again, but I’ve discovered the importance of stretching for flexibility when I took it for granted in the past. (For a style of stretching called Functional Range Conditioning, see this month’s “Stretch Yourself Strong.”)

Mind your mental health.

After the baby was born, I went through a range of emotions, and I thought that chapter’s inexplicable roller coaster couldn’t be topped. Sure, my postinjury body wasn’t undergoing the uncontrollable hormonal shifts like after birthing a human being, but the anxiety, fear, anger, and depression after breaking my ankle were unmatched. I worry, to this day, that I won’t reclaim my level of fitness, or that I won’t be able to return to weightlifting with the awesomeness I once possessed. I don’t trust my body the same way I used to.

Even though I’ve broken a wrist before, breaking a bone in the leg, ankle, or foot forces you to change your routine, miss out on events and activities, or find new ways to complete everyday tasks. Instead of teaching my daughter to walk, I crawled around the house — and in turn saw her “walk” on her knees as mama did. My usual bustling holiday season was sidelined, and I attended fewer gatherings accompanied by my knee scooter. Coupled with winter in Minnesota, being cooped up at home definitely took its toll: No sunny snowshoeing adventures last year. When I started to feel sullen as I watched my family pull my sweet girl in a sled on the fresh snow on New Year’s Day, I knew I’d have to retrain my brain back toward gratitude, love, and kindness for what I could accomplish. Grieving the injury was a healthy part of healing, but finding a way forward has been a slow and steady process.

With this anniversary, I’m celebrating the power of my body to heal after injury, and accepting the modifications I make to my own wellness planning moving forward. If we can’t improve after life’s curve balls, are we really improving at the game of life at all?

 

For more on recovering from injury, see “Learning From Injury,”Give It a Rest,” and “Facing Down an Injury.”

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