In my 20s, I was invincible, with boundless energy, to-do lists on every surface. I was always building, planning, hauling or fixing something.
Now, I’m that guy hobbling down the street with balance issues, dragging a 10-pound, industrial strength, toe-to-knee boot, with dual air pumps, on my leg.
How did this happen?
Well, there I was on a volunteer expedition in Denali National Park, hauling trash, when I fell off the mountain. No wait, there I was in Cameron Indoor Stadium, planting my feet, ready to take a charge, when Justise Winslow, coming 100 miles an hour, switched hands and went right over me.
No, seriously, there I was training for the World Cup downhill with Bode Miller, joking about the icy incline, when he flew ahead and beat me to the next gate. And I slid off the mountain.
Really, I was only moving some boxes, awkwardly shifted to the left, pivoted too wide and my ankle locked up. I thought I had just pulled a muscle. Everyday stuff. A few mornings later I was stacking wood and felt a lightning strike of dull, searing pain from the same place. Time to get an X-ray. The doctor said I tore a ligament.
Friends all wish me a speedy recovery, usually adding, “But you need a better story.” One suggested I have a contest, 50 words or less, to come up with a more compelling narrative. I was in the final turn at Daytona, my foot pressed on the gas, straining the safety harness, putting all of my body against the door, when out of nowhere …
That it took me a week to get to the clinic was not good. I had thought I would just heal naturally; I have always healed quickly. Ready to get back in the game, ready for the next play. Wrong.
Alas, mere mortal, the opposite. A bullheaded, flawed treatment plan. I kept reinjuring and inflaming the shredded ligament. I had been icing it often with a frozen bag of organic peas, but what my foot really needed was immobility.
I’m not a good patient. I mean I hear what you’re saying, but “rest” I’m just not good at. I’m losing daylight, people. Weekends with my foot up, in the spring, I need to switch to decaf just to survive looking out the window.
So now it’s just me and my Aircast walking boot, inflate in the morning, deflate before bed. My wife says that seeing the silhouette of the boot by the window reminds her of a Flannery O’Connor story. I’m leaning toward Edgar Allan Poe.
I miss my daily walks at dawn, the casualness of just stepping out the back door, running up and down stairs, even the freedom of after-work errands. The passivity of keeping my injured foot up as much as possible lulls me through all the feelings of doubt, embarrassment and vulnerability. I am simply not good at waiting; I’m getting better at asking for help.
One morning I lost the hand-held blue bulb air pump. Feeling pretty stupid, I crawled room to room on my hands and knees looking for the palm-sized inflator. It took me back 25 years, when we would be picking up blocks, colorful balls, puzzle pieces and mismatched socks after our daughters’ busy days.
A few nights after the injury, I bolted up, wide awake, with a throbbing ankle, nagging fears and questions. Talk about a bad time for reflection and self-esteem issues. Cue the Shirelles’ “And the darkest hour is just before dawn.”
At home, we dealt with the inconvenience, and my newfound awkwardness, with our usual humor. We joked about “putting my best foot forward” and “getting off on the right foot.”
With her IT background, my wife christened each morning with “time to reboot” and “All right then, let’s boot up.”
Still, when the house was empty, there was that lonesome feeling that the world outside, now all giddy about spring, was passing me by.
Coming slowly down the stairs a few nights ago, clutching the handrails, crashing my encased foot, as big as a sub-compact car, on each step, clumsy echoes filling the hallway, I saw my faithful dog at the edge of the living room raise an eyebrow. “Fear not, Gus, It’s just me tiptoeing down the stairs,” I whispered.
Thumping his tail, he replied, “You’ll get over it. When’s dinner?”