Saturday, January 7, 2012

How do you get back up there? Part I

When I finally got back to my townhouse with my fractured ankle, this is what I encountered:

Anyone who’s had to step away from a vibrant life—to birth a child, to heal from illness or injury, to bury their dead—understands the metaphor this photo represents. My life as I’d known it was hidden at the top, out of reach, and I stood on one leg at the bottom. My energies had been diverted to concerns of human survival: how to get food and water. How to move safely from here to there in my vulnerable state. How to find some small enjoyment while managing the pain.

How to get to my third floor office and check my e-mail.

Reaching for any aspect of my former, happy life was a strain. My writing, teaching, retreat hosting, editing—that life was all about self-actualization. No wonder I wasn’t feeling like myself. My fall during Hurricane Irene shattered that life as well as my ankle. Circumstance now required that I hang out at the bottom of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Over the next few months, I’d have to find a way to climb back to the top of the pyramid. For now, however, the stairs were enough to face.

Fifteen risers, to be exact. Times two.

That first night home I handed my crutches to Dave, turned around to sit on the bottom stair, and went up on my bum. I made it halfway up before having to stop and catch my breath. As Dave hovered below, spotting me (more likely, should I have slipped, I would have clipped him in the knee and taken us both down), I muttered a quick prayer of gratitude for my general state of health and fitness before continuing up.

When I woke the next morning I did the math. If Dave brought me breakfast in bed, and if I only had to use the bathroom once during my morning computer work, and if I edited downstairs in the afternoons and stayed there until bedtime, I’d only have to do six sets of stairs per day. I’d leave the crutches at the bottom of the stairs to use on that floor, and the walker at the top for use on the second floor. When I got to the third, I’d crawl the fifteen feet to my computer.

My new life.

One morning while I was working in the loft my son Marty came for a visit, and Dave, downstairs fixing lunch, sent him up. We spoke for a few minutes and Dave called up that lunch was ready. An awkward moment passed—no one had yet witnessed my loft evacuation plan. I said, “Marty, I just want to warn you that I’m now going to sink out of my chair and crawl to the stairs.”

I couldn’t imagine the feelings it would stir in me if I’d ever had to watch my mother crawl.

I got better at doing stairs on my bum, over time; the human body and spirit have a capacity to adapt that never fails to amaze me. My triceps strengthened, my heart accommodated, and my palms hardened into a protective surface that eventually allowed 10-12 sets of stairs a day:

See those spots at the heel of my hand? Those are my rug calluses.

Have you ever had to adapt to new circumstances in a way that changed your body? Share your oddest sports injury or overuse syndrome.