A year ago today I broke my leg when I jumped down 3-4 stairs at a movie theater. I shattered my tibial plateau and spent 10 days in the hospital, getting over 13 screws, a bone graft, and two scars put on or into my body. Breaking my leg did, in some ways, fundamentally change my life. There is the time I had before it and the life I had after it, even though outwardly it all looks the same.
For the most part, breaking my leg was a positive force. It gave me a wonderful summer at home with friends and the family, the ability to quit a job I hated (and subsequently find a job I liked). It altered my self perception and allowed me to clarify my values.
But it is still, ultimately, an injury and has the frustrations attached. I did 6 months of physical therapy, therapy that was good and helpful, but ultimately unsatisfying on a few levels. My left leg is still smaller in size than my right leg and without investing in a personal trainer (and the time that requires) it might always be. It hurts when it rains or the pressure changes and it hurts sometimes when I use it to much. It pops. It requires ice. It has brought up a lot of body image issues because of my two new scars (bringing my total count of scars on me longer than an inch to four). As much good as it brought into my life, it has brought bad as well.
The biggest one is one that I would not have predicted: my sadness over not being able to run. I was never, ever a runner. My CHD gives me decreased lung capacity and while I enjoy and crave exercise, I will never be Good at it. I'm too slow. I require too many breaks.
But now, I cannot run. It's too high impact on my knee right now and my gait is changed because of the injury--when I try to run (and I have) I run awkwardly and in way that only hurts myself further. I am simply unable to do it and, again, without the investment in forms of training and therapy, I may never.
This loss, despite my dislike of running, feels huge. It hits me all the time. When I bike in the park or go to the gym I look wistfully at the people running. I wish I could join them. I wish I could try. I would love to run even one mile again, like I detested doing in elementary school. It would now take me longer than the 12 minutes it took me then, but I would relish every single one.
I never used to notice my steps this much. They weren't conscious actions, they just were. Now evert step is a thought. Every step is me repeating "Don't limp, don't limp, don't limp" to myself. Or, specific advice "Grab the quad, lift your knees, don't limp, don't limp."
Most days it's fine, but when I get tired it gets worse, but leg sometimes physically dragging behind me, my mantras tripping from my tongue to the sidewalk.
It's nothing like learning to walk as a child, when you were free and easy and just did it. It's work and effort and remembering. Remembering to engage your muscles and place the heel where it's supposed to be, because god knows your body doesn't remember. You have to help it.
It's so, so much easier than the crutches, but it's exhausting and all the same. And now when it hurts I can't finangle my way into an easy seat or a shorter line. I have to stand there, pain and all, and look, for all the world, like a carefree stepper.
(PS: I noted to my roommate earlier this week that I saw my physical therapists more than them. Everyone had a good laugh.)
I have seen a few posts here and there about people discussing their invisible disabilities, so here is my go, so to speak.
This summer I have been very visibly disabled. And, man, has it been a learning curve. Dealing with the stares and pity and questions is one thing (and it's something I have dealt with before), but navigating the world became something else all together. It's so hard to navigate the world on crutches in the city where I live that I actually left for a month.
It's not just the uneven streets that make walking with crutches hard. Or the walk-ups. It's the doors. Doors are unnecessarily, cruelly, access-lacking. Few have those convenient buttons. Most are hard to open single-handedly and many are so heavy as to make the task near impossible.
I had many, many people offer to help me when I would be going down the stairs. A kind gesture, but sort of a useless one, as really all they could do was watch me or maybe hold my crutch. Stairs are primarily a individual activity, though I appreciate the offers.
Less people, however, offered to open doors for me. They would watch me struggle and walk away or watch me struggle for a few minutes before coming over to help. Such disconnects between help really needed v. help offered abounded this summer. People (oddly, mostly the elderly) would readily offer subway seats, yet few would give up their waiting-for-the-subway-seat. It was strange.
This summer I was visibly disabled and it was a lesson. And even in celebrating my recovery I have tried to figure out how I can say "Yay I can walk again!" without saying "People who can't walk suck!" Friends congratulating me for being a real person again make me uncomfortable. I was as real on crutches as I am now with a limp.
All that said, I have wrestled with the idea of a disabled identity before, most notably in college, when my school sent me a letter about the services they offered to disabled students--a letter I got because of my heart.
I have a long, complex history with my heart condition. I proudly own it and wear it, but I would never say it makes me disabled, largely because it hardly affects my life, physically, It has had a huge impact on how I see myself, death, and the world, but little impact on what I can do in that world. I might be a little slower or breath a little harder, but overall I am amazingly, shockingly, healthy.
And this is because I was extremely lucky. If I had been born just a few scant years before, there is no doubt that I would have had multiple open heart surgeries, much more difficulty, and probably be on medication. Had my younger brother been born when I was he would have died--his surgery was still new when he was born.
This luck was become a joke between him and I, as we become more adult-like and yet still see our pediatric cardiologist. And we will always see a pediatric cardiologist for the simple (and sad) fact that most adult cardiologist aren't used to seeing and treating adults with congenital defects. Until recently there weren't enough of us living long to learn how to manage our care.
But does all that make me disabled? In rejecting the title am I buying into an implication that all disabled people are weak and sickly? In claiming the title am I taking time and attention away from people who might need it? Am I throwing myself onto a group identity I can't really understand or claim?
How different does that thin line on my chest make me?
Right now, I don't know. But I hope that it never truly becomes invisible.
So, despite what I said the other day, all the worries about work an effort, my doctor's appointment Monday basically went like this: x-rays, once-over by a resident, walking.
I was sort of shocked when the surgeon asked me to walked and even had him clarify ("with crutches?" "no") because I couldn't believe it at first. And then, with the resident next to me for support, I took my first steps in three months.
They hurt. A lot. Oh man, did it hurt. My calf is impossibly tight, my hamstring and quad non-existent and my bones so unused to walking that each step pounds on me knee. It wasn't excruciating, but lord, it wasn't pleasant.
And yet. The grin wouldn't leave my face. Texting a friend about it while I walked (!!) to my bus stop, I started to tear up. I know my immobility was temporary (just like I am now pretty dang aware of how temporary this whole able-bodied thing is to begin with) but, guys, it felt so long. And even though it hurt and continues to hurt, each painful step is still mind-blowingly awesome.
My walk isn't so much a walk yet as a stumbling limp, a sort of sideways swagger that would make me feel more badass if I wasn't single crutching it like Tiny Tim. I was supposed to have a cane, and may buy one if I can find it cheap enough, but my therapist seems confident it's not worth the effort at the moment when I hopefully won't need it for long.
So here I am. Ambulatory once more. No longer struggling with doors or carrying things. There's still a lot of work to be done, but it feels pretty good to have this hurdle crossed.
I see the surgeon again on Monday and, given my progress, it's likely that I'll be cleared for walking. It's been so long I don't even really remember what walking was like and I'm just trying not to pin too much on it. There's still the part where I have to learn to walk again, the part where I have to remember I can get out of bed in the morning and not reach for my crutches.
This summer has hit me in a lot of ways, mostly financially. Without being able to work two jobs I've gotten myself into debt and I'm freaked out and stressed by the whole thing, trying to find jobs I can do (no lifting yet, no standing, no service work). I just want to revert back to June, but I'm trying to take this as a chance to do something different.
The other day a lady yelled at my on the subway for not walking fast enough down the stairs. She told me to move and then, at the bottom, after we'd both missed our train, said GODDAM YOU! There was room to move around me, so at the time I was just gob-smacked and angry. Only later did I become upset. I'm tired of the struggle, the weighing of how much energy a task will task versus how much I need to do it. I'm tired of flights of stairs and not being able to dance. Of lagging behind my friends.
I have to remember that it's not going to get better instantly. I work hard at physical therapy and I'm doing really well, but there's still at least another week on crutches and then months of walking, slowly, towards trying to put everything back to where it used to be.
So I have an idea.
I miss taking photos of food. And, if a lot of side conversations to me/my Flickr views are any indication, you all miss it as well.
I also miss cooking more new recipes. Like anyone, especially someone with an injury that has limited their movement, I stick to a few standard recipes. I'd like to branch out of that, especially with fall and the walking both on the horizon.
My idea is this: you tell me a recipe to make and I make it and photo it. There would be a few caveats (below), but that there is the whole concept. I'm thinking of a name like Recipe Challenge.
Thoughts? Feelings? Initial recipe suggestions?
1) It can be either a recipe or a half-formed thought (what would shallots and limes go good with?), but if it's the former I need to given a copy/link to it.
2) I'm a vegetarian, so the recipe should either be meat-free or you won't be sad when I make it meat-free.
3) The less ingredients I have to go to the store to buy, the more likely I am to make it. I'm poor. The same will go for time involved in preparation.
4) Go nuts! It can be anything, from a soup to a appetizer, to a main dish, to a dessert.
Yesterday a friend called this journal long-forgotten and while I instantly wanted to say "nu-uh!" the lag between entry dates says differently.
Maybe it's that I am trying to be less narcissistic, at least so publicly. There are certain things I am trying to do to work on flaws within myself and that is one of them.
Maybe it's that I have been busy. We moved house recently, going from Bushwick to Harlem, which is a bit of a trek. I was fortunate to have parents and movers and friends help with the packing and unpacking and I now live in a wonderfully large apartment with windows and sunshine and two great roommates and friends within walking distance. I couldn't be happier, even though I know Brooklyn is the hip, fun place to be. Not only do I like where I live, actually think I could stay here longer than a year, something that hasn't happened since I left my parents.
Maybe it's that my broken leg has made me lazy. I sleep in late hours, stay up, watch more TV, and generally don't do as much. I don't like it and I know the leg is simply an excuse. I'm trying.
Maybe it's just that I have been writing less. I have had a surprisingly social summer, considering. Going home helped a great deal, but close friends moving into the city and having lived here nearly a year also help a great deal.
Maybe it's just that I have been relatively happy. Sure, there are moments of sadness and stress and frustration, but recently I have found myself being more happy--or at least more comfortable and pleasant--than I have been in a while.
There are things I still want to change. There are people I still wish were a part of my life. And there are things I wish I could do (namely, walk). But right now, with a slight breeze coming in our windows, children outside, and a roommate telling me about the cute boys at his picnic, I can't think of a better summer to have had, crutches and all.