Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One-footed emotional balance

While I'd missed the tour of the assisted living facility—its floor plan was great for seniors, but too much walking for the recently wounded—two of my sisters determined it was a good fit for my mother. If we moved her in by the end of the month, she could lock in a lower monthly rent. "The siblings"—all five of us, including my brother in Denmark—decided this was the route to go. We had just two weeks to get her moved. From that point on everything seemed to happen in fast motion.

This put considerable stress on my mother, who had only recently returned home to a condo that no doubt felt quite empty. We'd kept her busy in the weeks after my father's death in the spring; she saw a lot of family and friends at the lake this summer, especially during the week of my dad's memorial; and as the summer waned she'd had a nasty adrenaline surge to recover from as her daughter/caretaker lay screaming out in the rain, requiring an ambulance and then surgery. Now, recovering in the convenience of her one-floor living, that daughter was no replacement for my father's constant adoration.

One day she broke down crying. I'd seen my mother cry maybe three times in my life prior to my father's death; since then her tears came readily. She said, "I'm trying to be good about all this, because you all think I should move. But I need time. To..." She couldn't go on.

"To grieve Dad's loss," I offered. She nodded.

I told her I wished that we could give her that time. I remembered the advice from when my own husband died: don't make any major life changes while you're actively grieving. I'd stayed on the farm another twelve years. But my mother's memory decline had been relentless since my father's passing. Some of that might be temporary, due to grief, but the result was clear. She needed more support.

We were at a loss as to how to provide it. If she were in a wheelchair, we could bring someone in to bathe her and make a hot meal. If it were only that she couldn't drive, we could hire a driver. But how do you support someone whose daily life constantly confuses, whose medications overwhelm, whose diet is degrading, and who needs a sane sounding board for most every decision? We felt she needed the support services of assisted living, so I once again told her so.

"But I need to be here," she said tearfully. "Around his things. I can't take all this with me."

This woman had looked me straight in the eye before my first wedding and demanded that there be no tears. I now wanted to put down my head and sob right along with her, but choked it back. I laid my hand over hers and said, "I know. But we'll make sure you take enough."

Unable to put weight on my fractured ankle and still struggling with the walker and crutches, I could do so little for her. But on my last day there, before Dave came to pick me up and take me home, I sucked up the pain and accompanied her from room to room in her condo. We catalogued all the furniture, lamps, and artwork (there was a lot of that; my Dad was an artist) and, on a clipboard, divided items into three categories: things my mom hoped to bring with her, things she hoped would stay in the family, and things that could be sold at auction.

Once she got going she wanted to plow through the whole six-room, two-bath condo (yes, there were even multiple artworks in the bath). I worried that these emotional decisions would overtire her.

"Do you want to rest?" I'd ask.

"No, I'm fine. Do you need to rest?"

Frankly, I was exhausted after the first two rooms. Physically and emotionally. My ankle was throbbing; this was the longest it had been dangling down since the surgery. But I popped another pain pill and pushed on. Undertaking this task seemed to energize her, and I would not stand between her and its completion. By the time we reached the living room I sank to the floor and stretched my broken ankle out in front of me. And when it came time to move to the bedroom, rather than strain that overused ligament on the outside of my "good" hip to stand, I crawled on my hands and knees, pushing the clipboard along in front of me like a trained dog.

By the end of the day we had finished cataloguing the whole condo. The next day, when Dave picked me up, he dropped off the three colors of bright Post-Its I'd requested so my brother-in-law and nephew would have no trouble identifying the items that needed to be moved. The next day another sister arrived; using the list I provided she went through the condo and affixed labels to every single item.

I left knowing I had pushed myself to do what I could. The sibs were really pulling this together, with an extraordinary team effort that continued over the course of the final preparations that next week. E-mails flew between us. Everything was set. It would go like clockwork.

The day before my brother-in-law and nephew were slated to move the furniture, I called my mother, sensing she might need another pep talk. But she was already in a great mood, and asked how I was doing. After my report, she said, "And oh, have you heard my good news?" It had been so long since I heard such enthusiasm in her voice!

"No," I said. "What good news?"

"I'm not moving after all! I'm staying right here, in my condo. I just finished throwing away all the tags Nancy put on the furniture."

I reeled as if I'd just been sucked inside a cyclone; she'd knocked me completely off-kilter. There had been no e-mail chatter about a change of plans among the sibs. And all our work, gone! "How? Why?" My recent surgery had sapped my powers of speech; I was now monosyllabic.

"Someone called me and said I didn't have to go. And I never wanted to move anyway."

All I could think to do was hang up quickly and tell her I'd be back in touch. Then I quite madly started calling my sisters to find out what was going on. I left messages everywhere then simply had to wait it out. My mind and gut churned in turmoil.

One of my sisters called back in an hour. She followed up with my mother and got back to me—apparently, to the abnormal short-term memory loss that instigated her doctor's initial diagnosis of dementia, we could now add the symptoms of creative memory and wishful thinking. It had never occurred to me to suspect anything of the sort; as evidenced in her comment before my wedding, my mother had always been frightfully direct. While I ran and hid, my sister was able to face my mother down and straighten her out.

Her husband and son did indeed move my mother's furniture the next day, completely winging it—and they did an amazing job.

And I learned that "winging it" was not at all in my post-surgery emotional lexicon. Moving about on one leg was not just a matter of physical balance; I'd been thrown for my own loop. I needed rest, away from my mother, in my own home and with my husband, to restore a desperately needed emotional balance, as well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Perspective at the great 55

Oprah, at 55:

Bill Gates, at 55:

Martina Navratilova, at 55:

Golum (age unspecified):

Kathryn Craft, age 55:

What do these stellar 55-year-olds have in common?

Those of us who want to preserve our youth must stay in the game. Train our eyes on the prize. Keep moving, even when it hurts. Get out among other people. Follow our bliss. To that end, I'm pictured above, still gamely trying to convince myself I could pull off my fall writing retreat at the lake, despite my ankle fracture, just because I could perch on these stools long enough to chop up ingredients for chicken salad.

I always schedule my fall writing retreat for women on the first weekend after Labor Day—my birthday weekend. Part of this is because the lake has grown quiet but the weather's still good. But it's also pre-emptive: my birthday is the one day of the year that I fear major disappointment.

Maybe it's because, growing up, I'd usually get back-to-school clothes and school supplies for my birthday. (As did my other siblings. On my birthday.) Maybe in another way my mother raised my expectations too high—she'd make me anything I wanted for dinner and dessert, and my answer was always the same: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, and a dark chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting.

But then came the year in college when we had my birthday at the lake and she bought me a Sara Lee pound cake. In light of her compete lack of elbow grease, I thought, She doesn't love me any more.

I think I've been running from my birthday ever since. During my first husband's slow decline into the bottle, each of my birthday gifts was more extravagant than the last, even though I suspected—and eventually knew—he couldn't afford them. Dave, always paying attention as to how not to disappoint me, over-corrected: he usually takes me out to dinner and gives me a card. In order not to feel left out, I only sometimes give him a gift on his birthday. For two mid-lifers typically steeped in gratitude and joie de vive, we've turned into a couple of non-celebraters.

So I've been happier, in recent years, entertaining a group of women writers at my summer home, doing what I love to do in the place I love the most. This year, though, as the following portrait by my son Jackson shows, my fracture took front and center. No retreat. No husband, either—the day before my birthday, Dave dropped me off at my mother's and drove the additional hour home. I didn't see him again until a few days later. When he brought me a card.

My birthday wasn't a complete bust. One sister, newly arrived from Boston to take my mother to visit an assisted living place the next day, picked up a nice dinner and bought a yummy mocha cake. Another sister, who went along on the assisted living trip, stopped by a drug store to buy me a tee-shirt and some cushy grips for my walker.

But my favorite part was when Dave arrived later that week with a package from my best friend. I'd always cracked up when she'd tell me how pathetic her husband was when he didn't feel well: he'd sulk on the couch in a sweatshirt, its hood up like some sort of signal that said, I don't feel good. Comfort me. We'd laughed about it many times over the years.

She knew exactly what I needed for my birthday. After her gift arrived, I had a whole new "55" look to sport:

Readers, help Dave and I out here! How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One floor—or three? Ask once, or thrice?

In my last post I said that Dave was driving me "home."

That wasn't quite true.

I wanted to go home. I really did. Living with my mother (and her dementia, and her grief over the loss of my father) at the lake all summer, while juggling a heavy workload, had stretched my patience (and, apparently, my ankle) to the snapping point. She needed more support than any of us had realized, and fearing her inability to live alone upon her return home, my siblings and I decided it was time to move her into assisted living.

This is not an easy conversation to have with a parent, nor one best initiated by phone, so the task fell to me. Explaining our need to move her was tough, considering that my mother would probably place such a confrontational heart-to-heart somewhere lower than toenail removal on her bucket list. Plus, she didn't want to go. I'd said, "The only other option is if one of us took you in, but frankly, I don't think you like any of your children enough to survive that." She said, "No, I don't." (Score one for Mom for lobbing back some equally confrontational truth.) These conversations wrung me out—over and over and over, since she could never remember the rationale—and sapped what pre-fracture energy I had.

Now that I was just a week post-surgery and in significant physical pain, I had no energy to spare. More than anything I wanted to hang out with my husband. Relax. Soak up a positive vibe in an atmosphere that felt a tad more sane and a lot less tense.

But to do that, I'd also have to choose vertical living that in no way supported my current, non-weight-bearing needs.

We hadn't wanted another vertical home. For 27 years I'd lived in a farmhouse in which we utilized each of the four floors. But you only have to fall down the steep twisting stairs once, and hit the stone wall at the bottom, to own the truth that this isn't the safest choice for an aging body.

So when Dave and I identified the borough of Doylestown as the place where we could enjoy the walkable, small town life we now desired, we sought there the age-in-place comfort of single floor living. But in this town of old Victorians and newer town homes, the only one-floor options were 1) ranch homes that came with mowing (after mowing four acres at the farm all those years we were quite done with that), or 2) 55+ communities well outside the bounds of that small town walkability. We caved on the issue of one floor living in favor of the lifestyle that living in the borough would provide, and determined to make good use of the town home association's gym to keep arthritis at bay so our knees could handle all those stairs.

Of course knees didn't end up being the first problem. Who knew that less than two years later, my fractured ankle would assert a critical need for a one-floor layout?

And guess who could offer me that?

My mother.

I was thankful for the opportunity to rest up at her condo before tackling our Doylestown stairs. But her memory impairment (or the grief, or both?) made it so that she could not anticipate any of my needs.

I had to ask for everything. One. Item. At. A. Time.

Despite the fact that I simplified my meals, and ate the same thing every day to ease her grocery shopping burden, this is how many requests I needed to make for breakfast alone:
"I'll just have one of my yogurts, please."
"That's all?" she says.
"I'll eat up some of that granola, too, if you want."
"No, not the Triscuits, that granola you bought. The one you didn't like."
"You put it over the fridge."
"I know because I watched you."
"No, that's the one you like. Never mind, I just didn't want the other to go to waste."
(She does not "never mind.")
"No, the one in the taller box with the red writing. The Kashi. Thanks."
[sound of granola hitting bowl]
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mom, I can't eat a whole bowl. I just wanted to sprinkle a little on top of the yogurt. Like I did yesterday. Thanks."
"Could I have some juice too, please, so I can take my pills?"
"Now I need my pills. I'm so sorry, they're in by the bed. And while you're there can you grab the extra pillows so I can prop up my leg?"
"Thanks for the pills. And whenever you can get to it, I could use those pillows. I'm sorry you need to make an extra trip."
"Kathryn, for crying out loud. I'm sorry, too, but there's nothing to be done about it."
She plops down the pillows on the couch where I sit and goes to the kitchen table to eat her own breakfast and read the paper. I've clearly harassed her enough.
Meanwhile, I watch news. It depresses the hell out of me. She is not watching it, she's reading the paper, but this frugal woman who followed me from room to room all summer, flipping off lights at the camp that I'd have to flip back on moments later but with my hands full, blares TV news during all her waking hours. The sound keeps her company.
A half hour later she comes into the room. She takes in my yogurt, its sprinkle of granola, my juice, my pills. "You haven't eaten anything," she notes.
"Um, could I please have a spoon?"
"You are so polite," she snaps.
My mother needed support while awaiting her move. She needed help with medication and bills. I needed help washing my hair.

Neither of us treasured our dependency.

But for twelve more days, we were stuck with each other.

(Know anyone interested in single-floor living in Macungie, PA? My mother's condo is for sale.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Newly handicapped on Rt. 81-S

Nine days post-surgery, Dave drove me home. For the seven-hour trip from our summer home in Northern New York State to Southeastern Pennsylvania, I sat with my left leg stretched across the backseat of my mother's Camry with my broken ankle propped up on a pillow. The night before I'd taken a muscle relaxant—one tiny pill—to help me sleep, and I still could barely stay awake. This was probably a good thing. I would need all the strength I could muster for our mid-trip bathroom break.

We stopped at the Whitney Point rest area, located between New York exits 9 and 8 on Rt. 81 south. We've always loved this location. As you can see from the photo above, it overlooks the gorgeous valley that runs west of Rt. 81 from just south of Syracuse almost all the way to Binghamton. My little cockapoo Max had always given it two paws up (or at least, one rear leg). Relief would not come as easily for me.

At first everything looked great. The rest area had been redesigned in recent years, allowing cars to pull much closer to the front doors. According the the architects' website:

To rectify the inadequacies a new building was built to include the necessary components to provide for present and future needs. The new and upgraded facility includes increased parking for cars and trucks along with improved services for elderly and disabled persons. In addition, the facility contains multiple public restrooms, which are handicap accessible. Other amenities include seating areas and vending machines as well as public telephones and tourist information displays.

We were able to park right in front, beside a labeled handicap spot. At this point I was still painfully and effortfully hopping along with my walker—I didn't think a public place would be the best place for my first experimentation with crutches since an eighth grade ankle sprain. A ligament on the outside of my right hip was feeling the strain, as for more than a week now I'd relied on that one leg for everything. While my arms were generally strong from working out—thank goodness!—my wrists were not used to bearing my weight. I was heartened that it looked to be just a car length or two to get to the door. I could do this.

The interior of the building was spacious. A real beauty from tiled floor to wooden vaulted ceilings. One of my best friends is an architect, and I have a healthy respect for all aspects of design. But I also believe in the old maxim, "Beauty is as beauty does," and this was never truer for me than during my recent induction into the world of the temporarily handicapped.

The ladies room is just beyond the frame of this photo, at the near right side. By the time I made it halfway from the entrance doors to it, I was ready to collapse. I needed to stop and rest.

Despite a design so spacious it could have held enough pews for a small church service, I could find nowhere to do so.

Let me point out the only seating: see that wooden corner in the foreground corner of the photo? That was the one and only bench—I'd have to hop twice as far to get to it. What was the point? Turning back held no special allure, because I needed to use the restroom. I felt stranded. Shaking and sweating from the effort, I had no choice but to carry on.

I turned the corner and through the doorway, relieved that my trek was almost over.

It was not.

I now faced a long open hallway—one longer, it seemed, than my trip from the car door to the entrance. Clack. Clack. My efforts with the walker became dangerously uneven as fatigue set it. "Rest area"—what black humor. There was nothing restful about it. I presume this design had to be ADA compliant, but it did not take into account a full range of human needs. I finally reached the end of the hall and made another turn into an anteroom with a baby changing table. One more turn...and I face a long corridor of toilet stalls, the very last of which was the handicap stall large enough to accommodate both me and my walker.

I almost cried. My 80-year-old, 115-lb. mother, who was already done, said, "I waited for you." That was incredibly sweet, but there wasn't a blessed thing she could do to help me. I needed Lou Ferrigno to sling me over his shoulder and carry me.

An older woman with a cane stood at one of the sinks washing her hands. She turned to me and said, "I know. Welcome to my world."

I had to move on; my supporting hip was cramping. I made it down to the handicap stall and took a seat, as much to rest at this point as anything else. When I finally thought I could stand, I reveled in the joyous presence of sturdy handholds to help me get up—that right hip ligament had about had it, and I still had ahead of me a long return journey.

I went to the nearest sink to wash my hands. There were no towels or dryers in sight. My mother pointed them out—to get to them, in a separate section, I'd have to backtrack.

To hell with that. In addition to the extra effort, other women had wet the floor with water from their hands while getting to the dryers. It didn't look at all safe for one who had to rely on hopping, or using a walking aid. An aid whose use, of course, required dry hands.

So I wiped my wet hands all over my pants and began the long trek back to the car, looking to all the world as if I hadn't made my destination after all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kathryn, meet your new ankle

Employing a complicated car exchange, my husband Dave and two sons had planned to converge at the lake on Labor Day for one reason: to arrive with one extra driver so we could get my mother and her car home before my fall Writing Partner retreat for women the following weekend. Now, my ankle broken and the retreat canceled, we would all be heading home.

First, however, I had to get my staples removed. I'd seen the x-rays of my foot, and knew about the fibula plate and the fact that I was now quantifiably all screwed up, but it wasn't until eight days later that I'd see what kind of incisions had been made.

I looked forward to the big reveal. As a former modern dancer, my feet had been the subject of much scrutiny. So when the nurse pulled away the layers of surgical wrappings and exposed all that had been hidden, my first thought was:

What the hell is that?

I'm sure some of my female readers will relate to the first thing I noticed: leg hair. I had never before put this particular aspect of my personal growth to the test, so it was interesting to see what it looked like. The skin beneath was yellow from the Betadine wash they'd used to sanitize my skin, pre-surgery.

As for my foot? The color and shape were simply all wrong.

I had a small incision on the inside of my ankle and a much longer one on the left, where the plate went in.

Dave was a real trooper with my cell phone: "Can I snap a few more photos before you take the staples out? My wife is going to blog about this." I include this next shot because I think it speaks best to the Frankenstein-esque nature of my experience: it looked to me as if someone had removed my foot and tacked on someone else's. Someone...purple.

The beauty of the fall colors I sported notwithstanding, the outside of my ankle was as tender as a rotting plum. To that the nurse applied her staple remover.

The staples they used look something like this before they're crimped:

After they're crimped, the sides of the staple pull together beneath your skin. To remove them, the nurse used an instrument that looked like this:

One part of it slips under the loop at the top of the staple, and side pieces press down on the wire in a way that raises each side, effectively releasing the staple's hold on the skin. On the inside of my ankle this was relatively painless. Where the skin was so mushy on the outside, though, each removal delivered a sharp pinch that resulted in some oozing. I'd had so little sleep in the past week that my tolerance for additional pain was nonexistent. The nurse kindly gave me time to recover between staples. After, she applied ster-strips to the incision, first swabbing each ankle with more Betadine to help them stick. She covered all with a Jones bandage, a tube stocking wrapped with gauze and then Ace bandages, that would stay in place for the next four weeks.

Dr. Perrier agreed that I wouldn't heal well if I couldn't sleep. In addition to instructions to continue follow-up care with an orthopedic surgeon back home, I left with two prescriptions: a refill for my Percocet, and one for a nighttime muscle relaxant.

That night, for the first time, I got a couple precious multiple-hour blocks of sleep.

The next day, we went home.

One trial was over, and another just beginning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Checking in: Who am I?

I'm currently seeking representation for a novel in which a professional dancer with body image issues must re-imagine her life after a devastating blow to her career is followed by a mysterious accident that leaves her unable to move. At one point, in the hospital, my protagonist concludes,
The harsh truth: without movement, I didn’t know who I was.

I thought about this, holed up as I was with a fractured ankle in a camp that still echoed with vibrant memory. The running footsteps of my youth (my mother: "You better have washed the pine needles off your feet!") and slamming screen doors (my grandmother, now: "Quick girls, the bats!") had been replaced with an eerie stillness. Although this place had made me feel more "me" than any other setting I'd known in my life, my new immobility allowed the dissociation my character spoke of to set in. Floating free from my writing and editing in a sea of pain medication, as out on the lake other Labor Day kayakers and swimmers reveled in summer's last rays, I felt like driftwood of an unspecified nature.

I have always been sensitive to the way change, especially when unanticipated, can challenge your very sense of who you are. A move to a new state in sixth grade, the loss of a beloved cousin while I was in college, my fertility struggle, my first husband's suicide—in the parlance of story structure these are inciting incidents: unexpected forces that tip a character out of her everyday world and that forge within her a desire to create a new reality.

Why a new reality? If you had a good life, why not just wait things out until I could get it back again? After Ron's suicide, at a meeting of Parents Without Partners, a man asked me just that. "Why are you working so hard at this?" he said, after I'd mentioned the therapy I'd sought. "He did this to you. It's not your fault!" He literally shook with anger, as if my choice to heal implied he might be culpable in his own divorce.

My rationale then was the same as it was fourteen years later, after my ankle fracture: why voluntarily return to a world in which such frightening circumstance was possible? While change is capricious and inevitable, I'd rather hedge my bets and reach for a life with different challenges rather than take another spin through the hell I'd already been through. Otherwise I'd feel as doomed as Sisyphus, rolling that rock back up the hill, over and over.

As a result I'm a rather voracious healer. I do not sit well with a disrupted sense of self; I can't muster the hope that time will knit my soul back together as tidily as it will the bones in my ankle. I'm more proactive than that. But a seeker needs motion. How could I rebuild my sense of self as a lively mid-lifer while stumping through the camp with a walker, each step taking such a toll? I'd hoped that "Kathryn Craft + walker" was a good three or four decades down the road.

The universe offered a grace of timing: by Friday night my sons, ages 22 and 24, already scheduled to spend Labor Day weekend at the lake, were on their way.

Their bed-head appearance late Saturday morning made it seem like the stork himself had dropped them off during the wee hours. At once I knew how much I needed their beautiful familiarity; I was more off-balance than even I had realized.

This was the first summer I'd been at the lake without my dad, whose spirit was evident everywhere but whose physical presence was sorely missed. I'd spent all summer with my mother, with whom I'd always had a trying relationship, but who needed me now that her short-term memory was fluttering to a halt. I'd fractured myself: at the same time struggling to catch up with my own interrupted work, I'd wrapped my life once again around her needs. Her dementia's constant assault on my sense of what was real and true knocked me as far off-balance as Hurricane Irene had, and now I had only one leg with which to right myself.

But in watching Marty glide over the water beside Dave in a vessel my Uncle Bob had bequeathed him, or listening to Jackson and his girlfriend enact the tireless debate on which is the best way to build a fire, the camp sprang to a most familiar life.

When my dad's sister left the lake this year—at 92 the only remaining Graham of that generation—she gave me a check for $50 with the instruction to purchase something for the camp in memory of my father. To that end my mother and I had purchased the Jack Graham Memorial Barbecue Grill to replace its dangerously rusted predecessor, at which my Dad had distractedly lorded over many an overcooked hamburger. On Labor Day I couldn't see, from my perch in the camp, my sons out at the grill. But knowing they were out there with chocolate bars, the old marshmallow forks ("Mom—here's a perfect marshmallow for you, golden brown!"), and my favorite—the graham crackers—I reclaimed a core aspect of self.

I am Kathryn, of the Grahams, and through me, tradition lives on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Letting go is hard to do

Decades ago my sister was hit by a car while walking past the exit of a downtown parking garage. The impact threw her into the street, where a crowd immediately gathered. Had she survived? Her first words: "I need to get to the subway station or I'll be late for work."

I know this syndrome, born of shock and denial. Even while waiting out the standoff that would result in my first husband's suicide, I kept thinking: as soon as I get home, I'll file the newspaper article that had been due that day. Our plans are important. They organize our lives and make us feel safe; we know what to expect.

So when I broke my ankle two weeks before the fall Writing Partner retreat I was to host at our summer home, my immediate inclination was to forge on. For a variety of reasons I'd had to work hard to do it but I'd finally pulled together an awesome group of women. And after planning my father's memorial service, living all summer with my mother who suffers from dementia, and working 12-15 hour days to catch up with the most editing work I've ever had in a year—adding to that now, the ankle injury—I really needed to retreat, in every sense of the word.

I assured everyone, even from my hospital bed, that the retreat would move ahead as planned. I had two whole weeks to get better. I could do this, I thought.

That was before I realized just how far I would have to retreat.

My first inkling was how exhausting it was for the fiercely independent woman I'd become to ask for every little thing I needed: That a pillow relocated to another room be delivered. My pills, please. More water. Food? My whole life my mom had been dutiful in the nursing department, and she still was, but she couldn't remember where to find anything; I constantly had to fight through my medicated brain-numbness to find the words I needed to help her locate what she needed. Often more than once. Then again.

And let's just say that to depend upon a walker, using only one leg, was akin to walking on your legs your whole life and then being told to instead walk on your hands. Muscles rebelled.

Although I ferried between only two locations—the bed at night, and the couch on the porch by day—at every meal my mother would set me a place at the table, sometimes even starting her meal before saying, "Oh, you're going to eat over there tonight?" As if I was inconveniencing her by my sudden decision. And here I was supposed to be taking care of her. Dave was a big help, but caring for me in such a way was new to him, too. Rather than patronize me, he erred on the side of waiting to be told what to do.

Even as guilt and impotence drained me, lack of sleep screwed with my head. Part of me felt I had to stand guard all night lest Dave—who has no trouble sleeping despite his jumpy leg syndrome—strike out at my ankle. Yet I wouldn't ask him to sleep elsewhere. What if I needed him? I sandbagged a barrier between us with an extra pillow but couldn't fall asleep. And when I finally would I'd jerk awake with continued flashbacks—the slip, the sudden fall. The snap of the first bone, the crunching of the others. The rain, the shivering. In the middle of the night, with nothing to distract me from my hot ankle pain and stranded between pain pill dosages, I'd lie there softly crying for as much as an hour and a half.

My days, once a multi-tasker's mishmash (blogging, social networking, writing on my own book-length projects, editing for others, booking future speaking gigs) were now simply mash: clomping to the bathroom, sponge bathing, getting to the couch, eating, resting, and trying to find new ways to get up from the couch. Every single thing required creative problem solving that sleep deprivation left me poorly equipped to tackle, from washing my face (I put a stool beside the sink to kneel on, effectively creating for myself another leg) to tentative forays into food prep (I could chop veggies if someone washed and dried them, brought me a knife and a cutting board, then came to retrieve them).

It was clear I couldn't provide the type of bed and breakfast retreat experience my ladies signed on for. So I could contact them Dave rigged up this system so I could sit at my computer: a bench-like coffee table shoved beneath my desktop table, with a pillow on it that I could slide my foot along as he pushed in my chair. I went online to negotiate with my retreaters. I'd go ahead with the retreat and return some of their money, I said, if they'd agree to an alternative, commune-like experience where all pitched in.

Turning on the computer meant hitting the wall of hundreds of e-mails missed during the three days I was in the hospital. I opened a few, wondered how the hell I'd ever handled dealing with so much mail, then shut it off. Ten minutes sitting up had my ankle throbbing; I needed to lie down and elevate it. Above my heart; above my passions.

My awesome retreaters quickly agreed to the new terms. But as the days wore on, I was still only capable of staying up until 8 pm, the time when our evening readings would usually begin. My sleep was so fractured I couldn't make it through the day without a nap, either. I felt incapable of leading anything. And for the first time in many years, I needed rest more than I needed to write.

Uncle. I had let go in stages, but I finally faced my limitations: this retreat would not be anything like the experience I wanted for my guests, and further, it would fail to feed my own writing soul, now held captive and inaccessible in some parallel universe. I canceled the retreat, and while I was at it, all but one of my fall speaking engagements.

I had to face my new reality: not only was I no longer the multi-tasking modern writer, I couldn't figure out how I'd ever even lived that life.

For now, I was a simply a woman trying to figure out how to survive, and how to ask for help doing so.

I love that saying, "Life is what happens while we're busy making plans." Have you ever tried to hold onto a plan despite an extreme change in circumstance? I'd love to hear your story.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Going home

The day after my surgery a physical therapist stopped by my hospital room to display my choice of walking aids: crutches, or a walker. I said I was a little worried about the crutches because of the flooring we'd used when we'd renovated the camp: the wood-look floor could be slippery. Since I wouldn't be weight-bearing on the ankle for three months he suggested I take both, and benefit from the added stability of the walker while at the camp. Dave should remove all the area rugs that were now trip hazards.

"So, let's see you use the walker," the therapist said.


Nothing phases these guys. He got me right up out of bed, hooked all my bags to a movable pole he'd push along behind me, and told me to walk to the door and back.

"Relax your shoulders, move the walker forward, and hop toward it," he said. The choreography was elementary—the trick was performing it while my foot felt radioactive with pain. I held it out in front of me where I could ensure it would come to no additional harm.

I am nothing if not determined. When my college dance students would say "I can't do it," I'd tell them their choice of words would not be honored in my classroom. They were, however, allowed to say, "I'm currently finding this movement a challenge," a response that would both improve their humor and result in some added tips and tricks from me. So I had no doubt that I'd make this walk, no matter what. But it wouldn't be pretty. Even before the edge of my roommate's bed I was wracked with the kind of sobs that make relaxing one's shoulders a challenge.

"That's good. That's enough," the therapist said, but he'd told me the door was the objective and I was only two-thirds of the way there. So I pushed through those final few hops before my return trip. This is how surgery and sleep deprivation sap you: just days before I was lifting weights and doing sprint/walk cross-training and swimming quarter-miles, sometimes all on the same day. By the time I got back into bed after this herky-jerky attempt at walking on one leg, I was completely spent.

Because of his practice in the Canadian border town of Ogdensburg, some thirty miles to the west, my surgeon conducted his rounds in the evening. I braced myself when he came in. I knew our country's health insurance philosophy as concerns hospitalizations: cut 'em and turn 'em loose. The summer before, post-Cobra, Dave and I had spent months shopping for affordable health insurance; we now spent half of his monthly pension check on a major medical policy whose attributes my memory couldn't distinguish from the sea of coverages we'd applied for.

All afternoon I lived in dread of being sent home. I even hated to hear how well my nurses and doctors thought I was doing: my vitals were great, my overall health commendable. And I'm thinking, how could I possibly survive the hour's ride back to the camp, let alone the hobble from front door to bed, which was so much longer than the one I'd pushed through that day?

My fate would turn on the words of Dr. Luc Perrier. I was sure my vitals were fluxing all over the place as he made his determination. With that French accent I was unwilling to yet label charming or hateful, he said, "So try to get some sleep tonight and I'll see you tomorrow." Charming it was: because he did late rounds, I'd have another full day to gear up for my next challenge. I let out the breath I was holding and thanked him. As he signed my chart with a flourish he repeated what he said in the ER: "But don't forget to cast me as the handsome doctor who saved your life in your next novel."

That extra day would end up making all the difference.

Making "handicap accessible" camp

We weren't the kind of family to spend a summer vacation pitching tents and cooking over a fire, yet I grew up with a healthy respect for "making camp." Five kids, two parents and an Old English Sheepdog would pour out of two cars and stake our claim to what space we could, divvying up dresser drawers and unrolling bags onto sleeping porch cots. My older sister always claimed the cot nearest the screened-in wall that overlooked the lake; if we knew what was good for us, the rest of us didn't even try. Since youth I was drawn to physical obstacle—I'd wanted the top bunk in the room I'd once shared with my sister—so I chose the cot wedged deep beneath the angled beams. A night during which I escaped whacking my head was a night well-executed.

I'd use these skills when returning to the lake after my ankle fracture and subsequent hospitalization. The day after surgery my departure seemed imminent. Even as I was still hooked up to a variety of bags and machines a social worker stopped by my room to ask if my summer home would allow single floor living for awhile. Thanks to my Lifespan Design Studio friends Doug and Ellen, the answer was yes.

After Dave and I purchased the camp from my parents and determined the best way to save it was to pull most of it down and rebuild, we went back and forth on whether to include a first floor bedroom. It would increase the footprint and the cost, pointed out my eighty-year-old father. "Don't do it for your mother and me," he said. "When we can't do stairs we'll stop coming to the lake." I thought of my grandmother, and the many years my uncle parked her wheelchair on the porch so she could continue to take in the view she so loved. My dad may not want that bedroom, but I did.

Once architect Doug was in on the project, he was all for the downstairs bedroom—so much so that he added a wheelchair-width doorway into the room and another into the downstairs bathroom. Because they embrace the philosophies of universal design, Doug and Ellen encourage the kind of forward thinking that allows people to stay in their homes despite future health challenges. The wall sink I wanted to re-use for reasons of nostalgia, Doug pointed out, would perfectly suit someone approaching the sink in a wheelchair.

I had thanked my dad for his input but told him Dave and I planned to add the downstairs room. "Anyway, you know me—I'll probably use it first, after breaking my leg or something." From then on, no matter where Dave and I slept in the camp, when referring to that room my mother called it "Kathy and Dave's room." It could accommodate my folly, but would never touch her aging.

Six years later, my father now deceased after negotiating the camp stairs until the end of his life, I was facing that exact circumstance. Our foresight made the summer home an even more welcoming environment than my permanent residence in Pennsylvania, a three-floor town home that kept me fit while in full orthopedic health but which now provided an imposing challenge. An added bonus at the camp: my cousin had purchased a classy commode for her aging mother to use while visiting one year and had left it behind "for our use." How we'd grumbled to see it fill up so much of the newfound closet space in our rebuilt camp. It was the first thing I told Dave to set up.

Dave drove home with me strapped into the back seat of our Ford Contour, facing sideways with my leg propped up on a pillow. When we got to the lake Dave pulled onto the lawn so he could deposit me right beside the front porch. He pulled my walker from the trunk, snapped it into the open position, and helped me pull myself from the car.

Now what?

I faced the first of many challenges to come: the step up onto the front porch. I stood there with my walker, the clock ticking—gravity was creating an inferno in my foot—with no clue how to negotiate it.

Now that I've had a bit more experience I think I'd turn the walker around and push down on it while hopping up backwards, but I wasn't feeling like such a monkey that day. The youngster who once loved the obstacle course and scrambling into her cot beneath the lowest beam was now completely stumped by a four-inch step. Through some sort of ugly push-me-pull-you Dave and I got 'er done, but I was already realizing how hard the next few months were going to be. I was so thankful for the design of the camp: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, porch: everything I'd need, close together on one floor.

As I made my way to the couch on the porch to prop my leg up so I could eat the take-out we'd picked up on the way home, Dave honored my new reality by helping "make camp": one by one, he pulled all the area rugs from my path. Perhaps the opposite of the "red carpet" treatment, but in my new reality, just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Secret to Happiness?

That a flower grows from a single seed is a useless metaphor when it comes to reaping happiness. Those of us hoping to buoy our spirits must sow and sow and sow, throughout life, so that when fate nudges us toward the edge of despair we can reach back toward a rich and varied garden from which we might graft renewed happiness.

My husband Dave understands this. When his spirits sink he goes for a run or plays his guitar or reads stories from the Bible in which the stakes were more dire. I tend to write. Or seek water: either a bracing swim or a long, hot bath. I'll go outside for a long walk. Read a novel.

None of my spirit-saving options were available as I lay on my hospital bed, a little loopy (not nearly loopy enough, in my opinion) with my newly stabilized fracture propped on a stack of pillows. I had to cast around for something new.

Granted, some happiness flowed toward me from outside sources. Since I was eight hours from home and an hour from my summer home, I loved the fact that I had any visitor at all. Mine was Emma, the young woman who hired me to teach the Healing Through Writing workshop at the hospital's rehab program, who crossed the lot with a co-worker to say hello (see Emma? You never know when you'll suddenly emerge in a leading role in someone else's life). All the family and friends who played "whisper down the lane" and then called me while I was in the hospital—then reminded me later that they'd done so—all that was precious.

But let's face it. Happiness can't be applied from the outside, no matter how thick someone tries to slather it on. For that reason, strategies that connected with some inner desire worked the best. What I needed the most was hope—and the offer of it pulled me through my days, time and again, no matter how false.

Like the fact that I had an orthopedic surgeon whose sports medicine history suggested I might once again play ice hockey (okay, got me there, I'd never played hockey—but that my ankle would withstand its rigors, should I want to, connected with me). That the nurses promised my surgery would be soon, and that the post-op pain would be more manageable (to which reality said Ha! and Ha, again!, yet the promise of which helped me believe). That the spinal would be great because of fewer side effects (even though it shut down my urinary tract completely, which apparently is not uncommon—some dozen unsuccessful trips to the commode kept me up all night and in significant bladder discomfort and ankle pain; I finally had to be catheterized).

For me, though, my first inklings of happiness grew not from a flower I'd planted but from a wind-blown weed: I coveted something of my neighbor's.

Now, the big reveal. I found a goldmine of hospital happiness in this product, which cost Dave all of 87 cents:

Which meant more: that Dave wrapped up his business back home the morning after the accident and drove straight up to a hospital located just shy of the Canadian border, or that he stopped on the way at my request and arrived bearing the gift of Cherry ChapStick?

I'd like to say it's a toss up. But I suspect it's the ChapStick.

All day the curtain had been drawn between me and my new roommate, who was recovering from a hysterectomy. Local to the area, she had entertained a revolving door of well-wishers. Their attentions were not the focus of my jealousy. Through a crack in the curtain, I noticed that she kept applying ChapStick. I was in a situation in which there was so little I could do to achieve my own happiness—but I, too, could do that.

I'm sure I'll forever associate the flavor of cherry with this ankle break. Six weeks out I carry it still, in my pocket, ready to comfort me with its fragrant, waxy warmth.

Ironic, isn't it? Turns out happiness can result from outside application, especially when slathered on thick. The happiness wasn't the application itself, though, but my relationship to it.

At a time when I felt acutely my own powerlessness, applying ChapStick was one pleasurable thing I could do for myself. It may have done nothing for my ankle, but as for its ability to improve my spirits, I was able to attach to it the one thing necessary to make it work: hope.

Readers: When you faced tough circumstances, what helped you raise your own spirits?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

General, or spinal?

"So I wondering if you want general anesthesia or a spinal?"

It's the morning after my big break and the Korean anesthesiologist has come to call. I'll call him Dr. Lee. He's mostly hidden by his paper surgery hat, gown, glasses. If something goes wrong, I think, I'll never be able to pick him out of a line-up.

I consider his question. My mother had slept through childbirth five different times while blanketed by the bliss of general anesthesia. I'm thinking that sounds good, but hey, he's the expert.

"Which do you suggest?"

"General anesthesia good, very good, you fall asleep, wake up, all over. But sometimes side effects not so good. With spinal you feel nothing, you wake up. Either one good."

I'd had general anesthesia before for other procedures, and had never suffered side effects. I'd had a spinal for my C-section—an injection of opiates right into the spinal fluid. I remembered lying on my side, "curled into a ball" to the extent that a nine-month pregnancy allows, trying to heed the warning to lie still lest the doctor nick something he shouldn't with that needle, even while my entire mid-section was wracked with contractions.

Now my brain was addled with trauma, lack of sleep, no food or water, and pain meds. I simply wanted this show on the road, in the least dangerous way. "I'll have the general," I said.

"Hmm. You sure? Spinal really very good. Also it last beyond when you wake up, which help with pain."

"So you're recommending the spinal?"

"No, no, general very good also. You fall right asleep, no problem."

Dr. Lee would be no help at all. But sleep? That sounded like the antidote I'd needed all night. I craved it. I settled on the general anesthesia.

Take two. Later that afternoon, another guy in scrubs came in. He strode in, shook my hand, introduced himself. I'll call him Dan. He had a red beard and mustache and the kind of stocky build and fresh face that suggested he'd been bow-hunting in the woods earlier that day. Thanks to a scheduling change, he would be my anesthesiologist.

"We're going to be taking you down for surgery soon but I wanted to meet with you first. I understand you want general?"

"Yes." With my work life blown to Hades, my loved ones scattered, and my ankle lying in pieces, it felt so good to feel confident about something.

"No you don't," Dan said. "Believe me, you want a spinal."

"I do?"

"No doubt about it." Dan smiled. "We'll take you into the O.R. and give you a little juice to relax you. We'll have you sit on the edge of the bed, bent over, and you'll feel one little pinprick for the injection. Next thing you know, the surgery will be behind you. Added bonus: complete pain relief for another few hours. Sound good?"

I'm not sure if it was his targeted argument or the thought of Dan out there in those woods, bow in hand, but something gave me faith in his aim. I said, "Where do I sign?"

I was alone when they came to get me for surgery. My mother hadn't come—while she was able to get me the help I shouted for when I fell out on that rainy hill, her grief over my father's recent death and her memory issues had made the struggles of daily life enough for her to worry about. A neighbor was looking in on her. Dave had left Pennsylvania that morning and was on his way. On the ride to the operating suite, as ceiling tiles flew past, I took deep breaths and tried to relax, hoping I wouldn't flinch when the needle went in and inadvertently cause my own paralysis.

They parked my bed next to the operating table and I inched from one to the other. I remember seeing Dr. Luc Perrier, my straight-from-the-pages-of-a-romance-novel surgeon, tying on his mask. Dan said, "Here comes the feel good juice" and I recognized the heat going into my arm...

"Mrs. Craft? Mrs. Craft?" It sounded like someone was speaking to me through a long tube. "The operation is over. How are you feeling?"

All I could think was, How many operating nurses does it take to balance a patient on the edge of a table if she's completely passed out? Memories of half-carrying wasted friends home from college parties came to mind. Maybe I should have told them that when two aspirin are suggested I can sometimes get by with a half.

Oh well. It was over. And Dan was right about the added bonus: then, and for a few additional, blessed hours, I felt nothing but relief from all that had plagued me. I'd had a great nap. They brought me a tray of food that I was able to enjoy with no distraction from pain, and a full pitcher of water. Dave arrived from Pennsylvania and I was no longer alone.

On my left ankle I sported a new wrap made of felt-like material bound with Ace bandages. Hidden within, my new permanent hardware:

That night, my post-trauma flashbacks would recur. But there was a difference in my reaction to them: with respite from the pain, some heavy-duty stainless steel on the inside, and my husband by my side, I now had resources to help hold me together.

Tomorrow: my hospital roommate's secret to happiness.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Awaiting surgery

I can fall asleep for only a few minutes at a time. Then I hit the mud, slide, hear my bones breaking...and wake up crying out. To try to outrun my repeat fate I have pressed my broken ankle into its stack of pillows, and it is now on fire with pain.

And heat.

The posterior leg splint (right) the orthopedic surgeon made for me in the ER—bent to suit my ankle and strapped onto my broken yet realigned bones with Ace bandages—is curing. It heats up to do so. Every single thing I know about first aid injury treatment says this heat is my enemy. Time's a-wasting; my foot is swelling out of control but no one seems terribly concerned about this. My foot structure (narrow heel, high arch, small bones) never handled well my active life; it turns easily and I have sprained each ankle at least eight times. Experience tells me that the immediate application of ice can be the difference between walking and not.

I ask for ice. My nurse says she'll check my orders. Ice isn't listed, so I can't have it. It amazes me that ice can't be administered unless it's prescribed by a doctor.

What the hell. Guess I'm not walking anywhere soon.

They give me pain meds every four hours but as the interior pressure builds they only take the edge off for three. The last hour is a killer.

It's the middle of the night. I'm in a double but do not yet have a roommate. A hundred cable channels and nothing to watch but zumba routines I won't be able to dance and exercise machines I won't be able to use. I try, again, to sleep. Almost there... I hit the mud. Slip and roll. My bones snap and crunch. I wake mid-stride, ankle searing.

I've been panting. Mouth so dry. No water—can I have ice chips?

"I'll have to check your doctor's orders." I know where that will go.

Although my thirst cannot be slaked I'm hooked to plenty of IV fluids and I can feel them pumping, pumping into my swelling foot—then redistributing to my bladder. I have to get off the bed and onto the commode about every half hour. Lifting my leg from its pile of pillows is so painful as the tissue fluids redistribute, but that's nothing compared to the sensation of the broken bones shifting, and the hot knives that thrust into my ankle once my leg is dangling off the edge of the bed. Thanks to the efficiency of movement conveyed by a previous life as a dancer, I can get from bed to commode in one graceful pirouette (one must take one's small victories).

As I perform this bravura feat my debonaire cavalier (okay, the nurse) holds the commode so it won't kick out from under me. "I'm sorry, you can't have the ice chips, you're scheduled for surgery."

I keep my eye on the prize—that more manageable post-surgery pain, which they promise like offering a horse a carrot, then yank away, time and again. They can't give me water because surgery will be later that morning. Then it won't be until early afternoon, I'm told, so sorry, you can't have breakfast. Looks like the surgery will be later this afternoon, so you can't have lunch. Good news! We've heard from your surgeon, he'll be over after his office hours, so your surgery will be this evening.

I was glad I'd taken the sandwich offered the night before in the ER; I hadn't eaten since noon that day. (Then again, the offered sandwich was ham. I was thirsty.) The night before, when they'd come to the ER to take me up to my room, I'd instinctively wanted to wrap the uneaten half and take it along like some hoarder in a nursing home but they took it away, saying there'd be more of the same up on my floor. No such luck.

Luckily, dawn brought the distraction of my anesthesiologist comedy team—and a roommate who held a small key to happiness. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Big Break, in pictures

Today I'm sharing a series of photos of my broken and dislocated ankle. I'm going to go out of order so you can appreciate the mal-alignment after the fracture. This first x-ray is of my ankle after the orthopedic surgeon pulled on my foot and crunched my bones back into approximate place:

Compare that to the next x-ray of my ankle when I arrived at the ER:

I know, ick. If you have a good eye, even in this "scan of a printout of an x-ray" you can see the way the bottom of my fibula (here, on the right) is snapped off to the side.

Here's an x-ray of how the dislocation looked from the side. Without dislocation, the tibia bone should center over that hump beneath it:

The next photos show you what this looked like in the flesh. Although the angle of the photos make it difficult to appreciate the way the foot is twisted down and to the outside, if you let your eye travel along the top line, you should be able to perceive an aberration. (Got to admit, I have to take a deep breath to look at these, even four weeks later):

To make me feel better—and because we know all such accidents happen in the most heroic and romantic fashion—let's review the effort on my part that resulted in this mishap. Hurricane Irene had knocked something from one of the tall trees by our camp, and it had fallen at such speed, it thrust right into the rain-sodden earth! I was talking to Dave on my cell, and couldn't see what it was through the raindrops stuck to the window screens. I had to go out into the wind-driven rain and investigate!

Turned out there wasn't as much of an emergency to report as I first perceived. The object that had fallen from the sky on August 28 was still skewered into the lawn on Labor Day weekend, when Dave and my sons were scheduled to arrive. Indeed it was still there there when we closed up camp on September 8, when Dave snapped this photo, and it was still there on September 19 when Dave returned to the lake to retrieve my car.

Who knows, it may be there still. What do you think it looks like? (If you missed Dave's answer, it's in the post that explains how I broke my ankle.) Here it is:

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I hit the Canton-Potsdam Hospital Emergency Room on a slow evening, I guess—or maybe that's just the kind of service you get when you arrive by ambulance. They wheeled me right into a room, transferred my backboard to a bed, and had me roll off it. Right away a nurse came in. She told me to get changed—I'd never so happy to don a hospital gown. I peeled off my cold, wet clothes, begged her to cut off my wet pants so I didn't have to jar my leg, and asked for a towel. I soon lay clothed in a dry gown and beneath heated blankets. For the first time in two hours, I stopped shivering. With these small improvements, my sense of the emergency felt behind me.

The nurse started an IV and did an EKG (I was thinking, isn't that for older people? It took me a moment to realize that I was just days from my 55th birthday.) They told me the on-call orthopedic surgeon was on his way over from Ogdensburg, a border town on the St. Lawrence River, and he should be here within the hour. I was told how lucky I was: he was the orthopedic surgeon for the Clarkson University ice hockey team. I was also told that if I'd gone to the emergency rooms of Gouverneur or Star Lake, I would have had to transfer to CPH for orthopedic specialty care anyway, so I silently offered up a quick thanks to the EMT who diverted me here, and begged forgiveness for objecting, however silently, to the disgusting cigarette smoke smell on his fingers as he tied on my oxygen mask.

My mother and neighbor Beth, who drove her, soon arrived with my purse. Beth is a real take-the-bull-by-the-horns type; she had already rifled through my wallet, given them my insurance info, and called Dave to tell him we were at the ER. She found my mom something to eat while they took me to x-ray. Thankfully, the tech was able to x-ray through the splint, positioning plates so that I didn't have to move.

When I got back to the ER the nurse pulled the splint from my foot; the doctor would soon arrive. As she put some dilaudid in my IV she explained that some of the pain was from the dislocation tugging at muscles and ligaments now held in an unnatural position. I recognized an opportunity—as gross as it was to look at my foot, I was a bio major with a graduate degree in health and physical education; I knew I'd one day want to study my foot in its current condition. I asked Beth to look in my purse for my cell phone to snap a photo. I hoped it was in there—my mother suffers from short term memory loss and she was quite stressed when I asked her to dry the rain from it and put it in my purse. I also hoped the phone would still work.

Beth pawed around in my purse and said, "Look at this." She pulled out my digital camera, which I never carry around in my purse. For once, dementia to the rescue—my mother had a hard time distinguishing my cell from my camera, so had brought both. Beth took several shots of my foot.

The doctor arrived and told me he'd already reviewed the x-rays. My ankle was fractured in three places (a trimalleolar fracture): the tibia, the fibula, and the talus, the ankle bone that these longer bones articulate with at the ankle. Later research put me right in the middle of the demographic for such fractures. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
During the past 30 to 40 years, doctors have noted an increase in the number and severity of broken ankles, due in part to an active, older population of "baby boomers."
As soon as the doctor found out I was a writer he said I must cast him in my next novel as the handsome doctor who swoops in to save my life. I smiled, but knew this wouldn't be possible: the details would strain believability. Because he was Canadian by birth he spoke with a French accent, his name was "Luc Perrier," he was fit and handsome (as you can see), and, like most orthopedic surgeons I've met in my life, quite full of himself. I try not to adhere to such stereotypes in my creative writing. He marched over to my foot, picked it up by my big toe, and suspended it—I prepared to scream, but this didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. My guess is gravity itself was beginning the process he would soon complete.

"We will add something to your IV now," he said, and I turned to watch the nurse insert a syringe into the port. "Can you feel it?"

"It feels all hot going in there," I said, looking at my arm, and with that he grasped hold of my dislocated foot and pulled. I heard and felt the crunching of the bones as they realigned, but whatever anesthetic he'd given me had done the trick—it didn't hurt, at least not any worse than it already did. I now understood the orthopedic surgeon stereotype: it certainly would take some mad hubris to do something like that and believe you were helping the situation.

Before I was wheeled off for a set of post-reduction x-rays, he told me he'd admit me tonight and perform surgery tomorrow. The need for this didn't surprise me. Beth, however, followed him from the room and demanded to see my x-rays, she told me later. She doesn't think people should be operated upon without some proof of the necessity.

But even to her untrained eye, she said, after seeing the x-rays, she knew he spoke the truth.

Tomorrow: a photo montage of my ankle, inside and out, and a special tribute to the cause of my accident.