I am excited to share my interview with Brian Smith. My beautiful healing journey continues and I hope my story will help anyone navigating grief to hang on to hope.
To hear the podcast, click on this link:
Ankleversary = The anniversary date for breaking an ankle.
My greatest lesson after breaking my ankle last summer has been discovering patience. That theme continues to play in my life.
I marked my time in a wheelchair with anguish over the perception that I was given a longer “sentence” than most people. My surgeon insisted I wait three full months before taking a step and that seemed excessive. Except for a brief rebellious walker attempt, I listened.
And then there was hardware removal. My surgeon told me I’d have to wait a year. I had a lovely friend from my on-line ankle recovery support group named Missie; she was close to my age and also a tennis player. Her surgeon took her hardware out after only six months.
I waited for that year mark and counted every month. The virus isolation in March was another opportunity for me to practice patience.
During the isolation, I kept healing. It was a huge deal when I became ready to play tennis again. It came back easily and my worry about the virus was stronger than my worry about my ankle. But my tennis friends and I stayed far apart when we played. It was the one scheduled thing in my life every week. For two hours, I felt almost normal again.
My ankleversary was July 1st and as the date approached, I was slightly apprehensive. I kept replaying so many aspects of the accident and what led up to it. And then I wondered, how bad would it be to keep my hardware? Many people do, including my middle brother. I wondered if perhaps I was being a perfectionist by wanting my ankle to be closer to the way it was before.
Missie reassured me that it would be great and I believed her. But it also seemed like a risk to have elective surgery during the pandemic.
With courage, I sent a message to my surgeon and asked if I could have the hardware removed. I wasn’t even sure how I would answer if he asked me what the problem was. Instead, he replied that I’d be scheduled for July 17th.
I had a Covid test a few days before, as well as x-rays. At my last tennis game I won both sets and played better than I ever imagined. I was glad that during the time I would be recuperating, it was awfully hot to play anyway.
But was I risking fate to do this?
The surgery went by quickly and I didn’t even need a breathing tube. I awoke in the operating room and was very chatty. The surgeon took a picture of my scar for me.
I left the hospital an hour later. When I got home, I was able to walk into my house in sandals. I wasn’t given any kind of pain pill other than Ibuprofen and Tylenol. I had something stronger left over from my first surgery and it saved me the first day. After that, I was fine. A huge bandage covered my incision. For two weeks I took showers with a trash bag over my foot until my stitches came out.
I had saved my wheelchair, as well as a shower bench and boot. I decided I didn’t need to store those items anymore and it was cathartic to donate them a month later.
I will backtrack to share that following my accident I wasn’t very productive. I thought that with endless hours I would be creative, but I sunk into depression and it was simply challenging to get through most days.
But once I could walk, I began to emerge from the gloom. Certainly playing tennis again seven months after my accident was glorious. My friends welcomed me back and although I was significantly heavier, I could still smack that ball.
As I healed and felt better, I was able to feel creative and productive again. I recorded my second course for Insight Timer named “Songs of Healing and Hope,” which was written a year earlier.
Shortly before my hardware removal surgery, I submitted my course to Insight Timer. I do not know the release date yet, but it is available on Bandcamp.
Healing represents transformation – I don’t see it as being “the way it was before.” With anything devastating, hope allows for hanging in there until it is possible to accept what has happened. Eventually, we are fortunate if we can adapt and adjust to a loss or an injury. Time heals physical wounds, but not necessarily emotional ones. A scar is a reminder that the wound is no longer bleeding, but an injury still occurred.
It was understandable for me to be discouraged when I first broke my ankle. Even though I was hopeful it would heal, there was truly no way for me to know when the pain would ease and how my mobility would be affected. Sadly, many people in my on-line support group have far more devastating injuries.
But I never gave up hope.
My ankle still needs more time to heal before I can judge whether this surgery made a difference. Many areas of my foot are numb since my first surgery. With this second surgery, nerve damage might be permanent. But on a positive note, my ankle feels more flexible, even though the scar tissue is tight and tender.
My patience has been rewarded. My ankleversary has brought me closer to the finish line. I will never be where I was before, but my finish line is about being able to move on from the injury. I’ve learned so much because of it.
Once my stitches came out, my recovery was in full force.
It has now been almost five weeks since surgery. I am playing my first tennis game this weekend. Just thinking about it makes my eyes water because I am so grateful.
A week before my surgery, a new creative energy erupted within me. Suddenly, I felt like painting again. This was a huge shift, as I had not painted anything for myself in over twenty years. And just as I started pulling out my paints, I received an art job. I finished the assignment and felt inspired to keep going.
In less than a month, I created fifteen new paintings. My goal was to add them to my Getty Stock Image library. I’m not sure how many more I will do, but will simply allow myself to create as I go.
Painting passes time for me without much thought. It’s actually soothing and fun. I plan to write a post for my Illustration blog soon with all the images there. And when I do, I’ll share it on this site.
Although I have a lot to celebrate, the continued isolation has kept me in survival mode. Numbness has been a familiar coping mechanism for me. I hope my emotions will break through again.
A clear sign for me is that I haven’t felt like singing or playing my guitar for months. Some of my sadness is because my daughter is moving away in a few weeks.
I wrote a story not long ago about our weekly picnics in a park. Despite being socially distant, we have grown even closer. I’m glad she could celebrate my ankle healing with me. She was traumatized witnessing my fall while we were hiking last year.
A week ago, I decided we could hug when saying goodbye. It’s a very brief squeeze while wearing our masks and holding our breaths. Reliving this makes me cry, which was unlike the actual sensation when we embraced. At the time, my emotions were blocked.
I have decided that for the next few weeks, our time is precious. I’m more open for us to create memories that will sustain us as we adjust to her moving across the country.
Last week, we went to the beach. My daughter had scouted around weeks earlier. She excitedly shared that she had found a secluded beach location. She also reassured me that a clean bathroom was nearby.
This outing was a big step because we would ride together in the car for the first time in many months. On the day of our planned outing, it was extremely hot. With masks on and the wind blowing loudly (all the windows and sunroof were open), we couldn’t carry on a conversation without shouting. Instead we enjoyed listening to loud music.
Dipping my feet in the ocean for the first time in two years was fabulous!
As I dug my toes into the wet sand, so many feelings swirled in my mind. I wanted to break through the numbness that had me in such a dull state.
I sat and watched the rolling waves. Then I closed my eyes, and pictured my younger self dancing in the surf. The images faded into ones of my children. I watched them beaming with pleasure as they dug in the sand.
Tears began to pool in my eyes. They were finally pushing their way through. As a tear began to slide down my cheek, I returned to the moment. I had countless beach memories, and now this would be the newest one. The cool ocean breeze, her sweet face, and the backdrop of rolling waves made this a perfect day.
I was truly proud of my daughter’s courage to change her life. Someday, we would make another slew of new memories. I would travel on a plane to visit her and she would take me around and show me new places.
Things would simply be different than what they used to be. Just like healing.
I had no way of knowing when it would be safe to travel again to see her. It will likely to be a long while.
Patience. I had learned it so well, and now I could practice it some more.
I have recorded and new version of my song “No Words.” Below is both a vocal and guitar instrumental for it:
One of the many projects to occupy me during the isolation was updating my music website. This link leads to a new blog where I share the latest music I’m working on: JudyUngerMusic.
I wrote a post there today also named “Wings to Fly.“
Initially, I felt simply writing about music could relieve me of the pressure to write anything deeper. This was because I have been deeply blocked from writing creatively during this quarantine period. And only a few months earlier, I felt the same way recovering from a broken ankle.
Choosing the post title I did seemed to describe that feeling well. It turned out there were words for me to find and I’m really glad I could finally write something today for this blog.
This post feels almost trivial with everything else that is going on. Yet anything that can pierce the numbness inside of me feels worth writing about, even if it is as simple as a visit with my daughter at the park.
During our outing, we were warned about the impending curfew. I received messages from my son who was concerned about when I would be getting home. Sorrow, strife, monotony and fear simultaneously surrounded me.
My song “No Words” was conceived when I was 19 years old, but it was left unfinished. I eventually finished it and the lyrics described what it meant for me to have subsequent children after suffering the loss of my son, Jason. My daughter was a “rainbow baby” because she was conceived only a month after he died.
My daughter sat on her light blue blanket.
She was on her blanket and I sat in a chair. It was far more comfortable than sitting on the ground. When did the ground become so hard and uncomfortable? I guess it was just another change I could chalk up after turning 60.
I had given her that old blanket, which was actually an old bedspread my own mother had given me. I could still remember seeing it on my brother’s bed when I was a young girl. Such memories it evoked – of trips to the beach when I was a teenager. Later on, I sat on it while my young children played nearby in the sand.
We were both bathed in the yellow light of golden hour. I learned from two of my children how half an hour before sunset was the best lighting for picture taking.
In just a few hours at this lovely park, I marveled at the simplicity of our visit – savoring a take-out meal, wearing our masks while taking a “distant walk,” and sharing our feelings.
We both treasured this time. It used to be pedicures and restaurants; now it was a picnic. Even though I longed for physical contact, this seemed to suffice. We were creating touching memories, but they were actually “untouching” memories!
The first time I broached my isolation to meet her, I was overwhelmed by emotion. She had been very ill with pneumonia for several weeks and I waited until she was symptom free for another month and a half. My son was worried about us meeting and begged me to “be safe.” I promised him I would. Staying so far apart from each other was very strange the first time. But with each weekly reunion, it became our new habit.
Gradually, golden hour began to fade. It was windy and we both began feeling the chill. It was time for us to pack up, but we lingered. As precious as this afternoon was, I still felt very detached. Everything seemed unreal and most of the time I plodded through my days without any emotion at all.
I knew that “stuffing my feelings” was a familiar coping mechanism that left me burdened by numbness. It was literally stuffing. Food was both a comfort and a torment. I preferred to deflect depression over my weight and instead focus on things I was grateful for.
I adjusted my scarf to cover my arms and looked across the soft grass to where my daughter was sitting. I was so grateful for her and that was when the wave of emotion almost knocked the wind out of me.
I gasped with an audible sob and my daughter’s eyes opened wide with compassion. I choked out my truth, and tears poured down my cheeks. “I miss our hugs!” I sobbed.
She mumbled out ideas for us (she could wrap herself up in my scarf), but we both knew there really were no safe options at that moment. I struggled to contain my emotion and eventually managed to calm myself. I stood up and folded my chair.
In the twilight, we exchanged a few items from our car trunks while standing far apart. We waved goodbye and I made contorted gestures that resembled a hug. She sweetly chirped that she was looking forward to our next picnic.
I prayed there would be many more, even though I couldn’t look that far ahead.
Last week, I recorded lovely guitar accompaniment to a solo piano track for my newest meditation version of “Farewell.” It took many hours (I recorded 20 takes of ten minutes each), but my song gives me incredible joy.
My oldest son helped me create a new YouTube channel for my meditation music. Below is a segment from my new version of “Farewell Meditation Song.”
I felt nervous about traveling alone since breaking my ankle. But I went ahead and cautiously planned a trip during the week of Thanksgiving to visit my oldest son. Because I had two suitcases and a guitar, I decided it would probably be safest to ask the airline for help. Once again, I sat in a wheelchair with thankfulness that this was temporary.
I closed my eyes during take off. As the plane roared into the sky, I could feel tears squeezing my eyeballs. They pushed through my shuttered eyelids.
For the three months that I was “non-weight-bearing” (a term used during recovery from a broken ankle), traveling seemed very far away. But here I was, leaving the comforts of home and seeing my son after four months apart. I felt like a prisoner released from jail and couldn’t believe I was free. As tears continued rolling down my neck, I acknowledged that they were happy tears. This Thanksgiving definitely held more thankfulness than I’d ever had in a long time.
I looked forward to seeing my son. This was his second year teaching first grade. His achievement was huge and my heart swelled with so much pride that I felt like I would burst. My emotion overflowed – I was definitely very close to my heart now. “Close To My Heart” sounded like a nice title for a new song.
Shortly before this trip, I had sought out another opinion for my ankle. I wanted to have my hardware removed and my surgeon told me I needed to wait a year. In my support group, many people had theirs out sooner.
A new friend from an online ankle fracture support group was having hers out today, in fact. Her accident was two weeks after mine. I was eager to see how it would go for Missie, who was an avid tennis player like me. Too bad she lived in Virginia because it would have been wonderful to play with her.
I brought to my appointment several x-rays taken by the hospital. The doctor was very nice and answered a lot of my questions.
I received his report a few days later. He referred to me as a “well-nourished female.” Oh, well. At least he didn’t write fat. Certainly, the ordeal of being sedentary and depressed did nothing to help my weight.
This doctor recommended I wait a year or more to remove the hardware. But what stuck out for me was something that my other doctor had never mentioned. I had an avulsion fracture on the other side of my ankle. It was exactly where my pain was located. I looked it up and this is what I found:
Avulsion fractures happen when a small piece of bone breaks off the site of the main fracture, sometimes affecting the ligament located near the break. They can be very painful, and can cause a lot of pain and discomfort years after the initial injury.
I contacted my surgeon and he confirmed that I indeed had one, but said it was “very small and unlikely to be a source of my pain.”
Yet I had gone through so much pain since being allowed to walk again. I was angry that it was never mentioned to me, despite showing up on every x-ray. Thankfully, I was able to put this ordeal behind me, because since having a cortisone shot my pain had ebbed away.
It was wonderful seeing my son. We both hugged each other tightly and his apartment felt cozy. He had decorated it since I was there last and was excited for me to try out his new couch.
I really enjoyed our time together. He had so much more confidence in his teaching abilities. He enthusiastically regaled me with classroom anecdotes. I was deeply relieved because I had been so worried about him.
His grandfather was a consummate teacher and would have been so proud. I wondered if my father had known this would happen, when he took his challenging grandson under his wing and guided him. My father died before he could know what a difference he had made, especially influencing his grandson’s career choice. Sometimes, I heard my father speaking to me, praising me for supporting my son the way I did. I felt so close to my heart at those times and would whisper sweet words back to him.
Our week together flew by. On Thanksgiving Day, we ordered Indian Food delivered. My son is vegetarian and it was fun tasting so many interesting dishes. This was a Thanksgiving I’d always remember.
Every day, I pulled out my guitar to work on my newest meditation idea. I practiced a guitar counterpoint with a lovely piano track. Trying to find the best chords and fingerings kept me busy. But I loved the music and it really touched my heart. I usually recorded guitar first and then added piano notes later on. This approach for my meditation song “Farewell” was reverse.
On my last day, my son shared with me a beautiful message he just received. The mother of one of his students wrote that she was so thankful my son was her daughter’s teacher. She explained that the year before her daughter hated going to school, but now she was excited to go to his class every day. I was overjoyed for him to hear this. He wrote back a thoughtful message and I could tell he appreciated her words.
Throughout my week, the biggest standout was that I could walk again without pain and for much longer distances. On my day of departure, I decided I didn’t need airport assistance. I checked in my bags and walked through the airport with my guitar on my back.
It was three days after I came home, when I pulled my tennis bag out of my closet. There was an evening beginner’s workshop at a nearby tennis center. I felt ready.
The biggest irony was that I wore the same old tennis shoes I had fallen in while hiking. Unfortunately, my new court shoes didn’t fit. I had bought them a week before my accident and now they were too tight.
I took a deep breath while standing on the court in the cold night air. It felt amazing, though I did have trouble seeing. I needed a new prescription for my contact lenses and made a mental note to take care of that soon, as well as buy new court shoes.
Despite my vision, I was able to hit a few good shots. Sprinting was scary, and I let short balls bounce without running to them. I wasn’t used to being on my feet for two hours and sunk into my car with total exhaustion afterwards. I missed the energy I used to have. The word patience continued to echo through me. I looked forward to eventually joining my doubles group again that I’ve played with regularly for over 15 years.
My blessings overwhelm me. I find myself whispering this: Thank you, God, for my wonderful children – for my beautiful music and songs – for my continued healing. Despite having an avulsion fracture on top of my broken fibula – I am going to be okay.
I’ve have struggled with depression since July.
But now I am re-framing my experience into something that led to growth, expanded my heart, and deepened appreciation for my freedom.
I’m going to share some other attachments below related to what has been going on in my life.
Receiving positive messages continue to inspire me as I follow my dream.
Last month, I released a vocal track on Insight Timer. It took courage because I knew people far preferred my instrumentals for meditation. When I received a critical message, I replied in an honest way.
When I received the message below about the same vocal track, it confirmed exactly why I wrote my response to Bob.
Moving on from Insight Timer messages, I want to share more about my Ankle Fracture Support Group on Facebook. The sharing of information, support and understanding has been amazing to behold. Below are message from that group.
It seems that Mary’s x-ray also deserved a closer look when she found out later that she had an avulsion. I wrote a response that recommended she try a cortisone shot before having surgery – or at least to get a second opinion.
This message is sad. But so many people wrote to Lisa to reassure her that she would be okay (and to find a new surgeon). I understand what she wrote, especially about putting on weight.
My new friend, Missie, had her hardware out today! She is doing very well and I share her posts.
I end my post by sharing a picture taken with my beautiful daughter earlier this year.
My post title is a lyric line from my song “In The Past.”
The full line is: “Pain that made me cry, gave me wings to fly”
Link to other recordings and stories about this song: IN THE PAST
I recently recorded a new vocal:
I couldn’t believe it was already fall. After spending the entire summer in a wheelchair, (three months of NWB, an acronym for non-weight bearing), I was finally able to walk again.
Over a month’s time, I slowly improved. I could handle longer distances and my balance was better. But pain continued to plague me. It seeped into my heart and forced tears from my eyes with every stabbing sensation. I was clearly struggling because I could hardly carry on a simple conversation without crying. And I had a lot of trouble singing, too.
My physical therapy appointments were excruciating and the exercises wore me out. I made progress with more flexibility, which was encouraging. I had one appointment every week for two months.
I had one last appointment with the orthopedic department. I was told that I was graduating because my fracture had healed on the x-ray. When I mentioned my intense pain, I was told it was “normal.” The doctor gave me a referral to a podiatrist; perhaps I had another foot issue unrelated to my ankle surgery. He also said I could have developed a pain disorder due to my extreme sensitivity. “Like Paula Abdul,” he said, “It happens with injuries sometimes.”
Occasionally, I listened to my own grief course. It was strange – even though it was my own voice speaking, it sounded like someone else. I let my own advice drill into me, and amazingly one of my suggestions set off a light bulb. I had recommended finding support groups with other people going through the same thing.
I looked online and discovered there were ankle fracture recovery groups! I signed up for one and it was mind blowing. People were all sharing their fracture experiences with pictures, information and questions. When a woman wrote about taking her first shower on her own, the supportive messages made me want to cry. I remembered when I did that!
There were plenty of posts where people wondered how long the pain would last. I scrolled down and there was a post that really knocked me over. Under a photo of a tennis court, a woman wrote: “Played tennis for the first time since my accident in July.”
My accident was on July 1st. I was so happy for her!
We began corresponding and her name was Missie. She lived across the country from me, but we wrote back and forth about the trauma we had gone through, as well as our love for tennis. Missie had fallen down the stairs backwards. She was scheduled to have her hardware removed in a month because her doctor told her, “Missie, let’s go in and take the hardware out so you can get on with your life and not have to pay another big deductible next year.”
I had already begun deciding to plan ahead for the surgery to remove my hardware. The metal plate and screws were not welcome in my body anymore and I could feel them all the time. From what I read, the removal alleviated pain for many people. It improved mobility and also prevented possible arthritis later on.
Missie was my new friend and I was eager to hear how it would go for her. All of this new support was definitely helping me. I was so isolated all summer and I wished I had found this site sooner.
There was a bright spot during all of this. I had an amazing 60th birthday party.
I had dreaded turning 60; with no idea how I could celebrate the way I was feeling. One day, my close friend Janis came to visit and bring lunch. I mentioned my upcoming milestone birthday and how sad I was thinking about it. When she offered to host a party for me at her home, it seemed like such a lovely idea.
I decided to invite only my closest girlfriends – this way it would be very intimate. As the party day came closer, I wished I felt better. My eyes were still faucets and I was easily exhausted.
My party was unforgettable. The love in the room swirled around and inside of me as I savored every moment. I’m going to share an extremely heartfelt and vulnerable video clip at the end of this post.
Last week, my appointment with the podiatrist arrived. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was sure I would be crying. The doctor was a lovely young woman and sure enough my tears began falling when she asked me how I was.
She gently explained to me that it was only five weeks since I had started walking. It was still very early in my healing and recovery. She said that it would definitely get better, but it was a very slow process and pain was to be expected.
We discussed whether a cortisone shot might help me. I had benefited from one once before when I had tennis elbow. She said it was certainly worth trying.
She gently injected the large needle into my ankle in two places. I couldn’t stifle crying out from the pain. She said, “I feel a lot of scar tissue in there and hopefully this will loosen it up. You’ll be sore for a day or two, but might see some benefit after that.”
I promised her I’d let her know.
The following day, I was very sore, but gradually my pain began to lift.
It was unbelievable! Suddenly, I could walk normally. I went for a walk and my tears were happy ones.
I couldn’t wait to tell Missie and share my good news with my new support group. And of course, send a message to the podiatrist to let her know what a difference our appointment had made.
As I walked, there were no words to describe my elation. I kept imagining all the things I would be able to do again without pain.
It was miraculous and I felt like I could fly!
Life held magic once again.