Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How do you get back up there? Part 2

Today is the one-year anniversary of my triple ankle fracture. In an 18-month period that has included my father's death, moving my mother into assisted living against her will, taking on her power of attorney and health care duties, the sudden death of my 21-year-old nephew in a car crash, and the selling and clearing out of my parents' condo—all while trying to meet volunteer commitments and edit for paying clients, of course—this was the single most stressful event.

So I did what I always do—wrote my way out of it. Here, at this blog. It helped, but as physical therapy began it became increasingly difficult to fit in blogging. I had to reassess.

My number one concern was to get back to novel writing. I was so close to the next level of success with my novel; an editor at a major publishing had taken interest and an agent seemed truly interested. I couldn't turn my back on it now. But with what time, exactly, would I pursue this? Doctor appointments and family obligations were seriously biting into my days. A friend suggested I put the blogging on the back burner for now.

I did just that, which is why you see such a date gap between this and my last post. Yet especially on this one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene, while sitting in the camp where just outside I had lain for a half-hour awaiting the ambulance, I felt nostalgic. I wanted to finish sharing my journey.

After I moved back to Doylestown I transferred to a new orthopedic surgeon, who opened my bandages to inspect the leg. This meant that I would see my foot for the first time in four weeks.

I did not recognize this leg. Look at that calf muscle atrophy! The skin on my calf was wrinkled. I couldn't even will it to contract. Nothing. It hung there like pudding in a skin sack.

The color was remarkable. Guess which one was broken?

Although repeat x-rays showed that all the hardware was still in place, my doctor was concerned when I told him the hospital's physical therapist had suggested that, while in my soft bandaging, I flex and point to the extent of my ability. This would help control swelling, the therapist said, and I did as I was told. As you can see, the swelling wasn't bad. This new doctor preferred complete rest and put me in a hard cast for the two remaining weeks of my six-week, non-weight-bearing immobilization.

I chose green, the color of renewal. I needed all the metaphor support I could get. I didn't realize how much I'd love the hard cast. It allowed me to do everything with less fear that I would twist my ankle inappropriately, from cruising around on crutches to turning over in bed. Here was my sweet editing set-up.

After two days of planning and dry runs, I even eased myself into a nice hot tub, the cast hanging out the side. My first moment of true comfort since the fracture.

But I was tired and more dependent on others than I ever care to be again. It took me half the day just to tend to basic needs. I felt shut out out of my former writing world.

So it was a real treat to have Dave drive me to Surf City to lead a three-hour workshop with the Long Beach Island Writers Group. After, Margaret Hawke hosted us overnight. I climbed their outside stairs on crutches and the inside stairs on my butt. The experience was restorative, reminding me of who I was—but the logistics and the effort to execute them were exhausting. Once I got home I slept on and off for two days.

Time came for the cast to be removed. They were going to use this. Dear god.

With complete rest my ankle was now healed—and as fat as a spaghetti squash. Even now I feel nauseous looking at this picture.

When I (gingerly) set my foot down, I found it was so swollen I couldn't get my toes to touch the floor.

I will not ask you to slog along through the painful weeks of physical therapy, where each new impossible task was eventually met. Let's skip to January, when I was able to resume my normal fitness center workouts with the elliptical and weightlifting. By late January I tolerated a three-mile walk. In general, though, my ankle hasn't enjoyed long walks—it gets sore and sloppy—so preventing weight gain has been a bit of a problem. Running, always a trick because of shin splints, will now forever be off the table.

But I have achieved other accomplishments that make me feel competent again:

• In December I signed with literary agent Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency! She is now trying to sell my novel while I write the next.

• In June I did an easy hour-and-a-half hike through the woods with my writing retreaters. Warning! Uneven surfaces!—but I triumphed.

• Last week I swam the 1-3/4 mile length of Trout Lake in northern NY State.

• Yesterday, the day before my one-year anniversary, I did a shorter but more difficult hike to the bluffs at nearby Cedar Lake.

I balanced on an unsecured log bridge.

My less-flexible ankle made it up—and down—rocks. The scar that covers the metal plate is fading.

In this past year I have regained strength. Flexibility. Balance. But most importantly, I've climbed back up to the place where perspective resides. From this vantage point I can look back at my life—even this past year—in gratitude; I can look forward with relish; all the while believing that in this very moment, I'm just fine.