It has been six weeks since I broke my ankle and had surgery to repair it.
The decision to perform at Kulak’s Woodshed this past week while still in a wheelchair did not come easily. Over the weekend I asked a good friend to help me decide, because I’ve had a lot of trouble making decisions lately. She encouraged me to express my fears and after talking we both decided that it would be good for me to go if I were up to it.
From the moment I arrived in my wheelchair, I was warmly welcomed. One woman I didn’t even know squeezed my hand and told me she had prayed for me.
I shared with my audience that since July 1st, I hadn’t worn a pair of pants. I certainly hadn’t put in contact lenses or applied make up. I choked with tears while introducing my second song.
Below is an audio clip from Kulak’s Woodshed, prior to performing “Hang On,” which was my first song:
I couldn’t have performed if I hadn’t asked some dear friends if they could bring me. Stacey and her husband, Bill picked me up and I was grateful for them.
Asking was something new in my world. This has been my greatest lesson and by far the most difficult aspect of my journey toward healing with a broken ankle. There was a situation where I was forced to ask for help, which was far more important than going to perform. I am going to save that story for another time.
Until this experience, I had never gone through such an extended period of recuperation in my life before. Even though a C-section for my first-born son was extremely painful, I was able to walk within a few days.
The contrast was shocking for me. I was hiking, feeling fit and healthy. I planned to play tennis the next day. I was excited to lead a healing retreat the following month. And suddenly, within a few seconds – all my plans were derailed and my life was put on hold. This was a familiar stage of grief, all over again.
Since my accident, my days blurred together. Sitting at my computer and napping became my routine. Visitors were precious; as were the few times my son took me out to dinner.
Every morning, I woke up and found it unbelievable how my life could be so different. I learned to be careful when sitting up with a heavy boot. The first week, I really hurt my stomach muscles and worried that I’d gotten a hernia. I would lean sideways, stand on one foot, swivel and sit down in my wheelchair. When I forgot to check if it was locked, I was in trouble.
Then I would zoom out my bedroom down a hallway to get to my bathroom. I cursed regularly going in, because I didn’t want to scrape off any more paint. The pieces on the floor were a constant reminder.
I was glad to put the surgery behind me. It was scheduled the day after July 4th. The clinics were all closed and it seemed like I was the only person having surgery that day.
My daughter slept over the night before and we both woke up at 5:00 am. A neighbor had thankfully finished building a plywood ramp and I was relieved that my daughter was able to push me down it. It was so precarious, that we both burst into laughter – the adrenaline rush was actually uplifting.
By noon, we were on our way home and I was thrilled because I wasn’t in any pain. It was very noticeable, because the four days before surgery were awful. It turned out that the respite was due to lingering anesthesia.
That night when the deep bone-chilling ache began, I took every pill I was allowed to. It was so complicated for me to keep track that I made a chart with alarms going off every few hours on my phone. During that week, my life was all about alarms and ice packs at regular intervals.
Reminding myself that my situation was temporary is what saved me. If I thought about playing tennis, warm tears would gush from my eyes – so I soothed myself with the knowledge that it would be enough and amazing to simply walk outside and look at the sky on my own.
I was probably as independent as a “temporarily disabled” person could be!
I figured out how to order groceries online. My son put the microwave on a lower counter where I could easily reach it. But I was also able to stand on one leg to reach things that weren’t close enough.
I started cooking for myself right away and had to maneuver my wheelchair in all directions in order to open the refrigerator. I learned to avoid having things splatter in my face the hard way. Once, I burned my arm while reaching near the hot water kettle.
Sometimes, I was very upset when my sons left small messes in the kitchen. If I didn’t want to look at it, I took care of it. I reframed my irritation with the knowledge that I was quite capable of rinsing dishes – and that was a very good thing in my book.
But eventually I stopped caring; I began leaving dishes and chores for my son to help me with. I hired my cleaning lady to come for short intervals, instead of once a month like I usually did.
I found myself wondering, what would I have done if I lived in an upstairs apartment? My son told me “you’d go to a hotel” and that wasn’t acceptable. I thought, “I would have crawled up the stairs if I had to!”
But I had to ask for certain things . . .
My daughter took me to my appointments, as well as my surgery. Picking up a temporary handicap placard was another major outing for us. It bothered me knowing it wasn’t fun and it was inconvenient for her. She hated traffic and the parking situation at the medical center, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else dealing with it but her.
I remembered how exhausting it was when I took my own mother out in a wheelchair – this was a trigger.
I had become my mother!
For the first few weeks, my oldest son came to stay with me while my younger son was away for a job. I constantly called him to bring me ice. Late at night I didn’t want to wake him, so I would wheel myself to the kitchen to get it.
He wanted my help with his online classes and it was a good distraction for me. I would end up dozing as he typed, sitting next to me on my bed with his laptop.
By the third week after surgery, I decided that sitting and lying down all day wasn’t terrible, as long as I wasn’t in pain.
After four weeks, I was given a boot instead of a cast. It was definitely something to celebrate, although having my stitches pulled out made my eyes water.
It was after the fourth week when inactivity took a toll on my psyche. I had oodles of time to think about my life, to ponder, reflect and wonder what lessons I would learn from my “Lazy-land.”
I became a quivering heap of vulnerability – weeping at the drop of a hat.
I told myself I’d never again take for granted walking to the bathroom. The day where I had a bathroom accident and had to clean things up myself was definitely a very low point.
Standing up and pulling down underwear with one leg is tricky. Another lesson I learned was: when putting on underwear it’s a good idea to always put the bad leg through the hole first.
This was something I’d definitely add to my list of: “Lessons Learned From Having a Broken Ankle.” I began writing my list the first week, but didn’t have the heart to post it.
I’m glad I still had humor. On my list was: Don’t put on a bra while sitting in the wheelchair because it will get stuck in the wheels. (Asking my son to help me pull it out was out of the question.)
I had endless days to work at my computer. I placed my injured leg on a tall hamper with a pillow on top. Frozen peas became my companion.
Prior to this experience, I would have envisioned myself writing songs and insightful stories. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel creative – my mind was numb. I had no insights. I had no songs to be sung. Playing guitar hurt my leg and I wasn’t comfortable playing with my leg up.
Nothing could reach inside my heart. I was in survival mode.
I’ve written a lot about the hard lessons from this ordeal, but I haven’t mentioned the magnificent ones.
I am blessed with incredible friends.
When a good friend would visit, I was distracted from sobbing my heart out. All the visits, meals, gifts, flowers, love and kindness were beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I saved every single get-well card and made a nice display next to me on my desk.
Even though I sometimes grumbled at my children, they worked hard to be there for me. They weren’t used to seeing their mom in a helpless position and I tried to maintain the illusion that I was fine as much as possible.
I plan to finish my list of “Lessons From a Broken Ankle” and I have more writing to share.
In a few days, I will go back to see the foot doctor. I am praying and anticipating that I’ll be allowed to take my first steps again.
It’s all about those baby steps . . .
For lyrics, recordings and other stories about Hang On, go to the link below: