I am pleased to post today’s story from Joan Rose, my son’s grade three teacher, a dynamic, motivating, and decidedly un-diva like woman. When I invited her to contribute a story to the blog, I didn’t actually know much about her personally. But I knew that she was one of the most infectiously positive people I have met in a while. And I knew that with her as his teacher, my son was having the kind of school year every parent dreams of – where he forgets past frustrations and comes to believe in his own brilliance. I felt sure she would have a great story to tell. And I was right. Here it is.
The foot, encased in my ski boot, flopped over sideways at a 90 degree angle from my leg. Boot buckles flat on the snow, the rest of the leg facing forward. It was this incongruity that captured my attention, not the pain. That was yet to come.
The trip from the very top of the mountain to the infirmary at the base was not particularly painful or stressful, but it was long. I considered the irony as I stared up at the sky, strapped to the toboggan. Every run at Lake Louise is a long one – that was a selling feature for us when we purchased our season’s passes. It seems we had not foreseen every way that that could play out.
Pain first registered – loud and clear – upon arrival at the bottom of the hill. A stabbing bolt of pain overwhelmed me as the patrollers unloaded me from the meat wagon and helped me to a bed in the first aid room. And I was cold, so cold.
Then the boot had to come off. That boot, snug and stiff by design so that I could carve beautiful turns in the powder. So difficult to get my foot in and out of at the best of times. That boot had to come off. Now. And worst of all, no drugs. Nothing for the pain. Not until the ambulance came.
When the paramedics (pair of medics I remember thinking) arrived, the nice man with the drugs asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being almost no pain and 10 being the most pain you have ever experienced, what is your pain level?” To which I replied, “What number is morphine? – that’s my number.” Lucky number 7.
Four ambulance rides, three hospitals, one surgery and two weeks later, I was home and on the long road to recovery. Pain was my constant companion, percocet my first line of defence.
It’s easy to understand how people get hooked on percocet. It is a loyal and calming friend, taking away your pain and anxiety. Until you are no longer able to move your bowels. I can’t help but think that people who are addicted to percocet must also be addicted to laxatives.
So now I couldn’t walk or poo. And I desperately needed to restore some normalcy in my life. After a month of daily doses of pain relief, I quit taking anything for pain. Three long painful days, during which I tried to distract myself with books, music, even rug-hooking. Or I simply watched the snow fall from my cozy perch in front of the living room window. I wondered how much longer I could manage. Then I realized I was managing. And it was only going to get better from there.
Finally, my surgeon gave me permission to start weight-bearing – the moment I had been waiting for. Now it would be up to me. I would be walking in no time, I told myself. I was strong and determined and I was pretty good at managing pain. Just watch me.
This is the point at which I learned what frustration truly means. Screaming, crying, tantrum-inducing frustration.
I had picks on my crutches to help get me over ice and snow from the house to the car. Then I had the handicapped parking to help me make it from the car to the pool. A major struggle to remain upright while I pulled open the doors to the pool. Then a wheelchair to get from the changing room into the pool. And at last, buoyed by the water, I could walk – actually walk. Just like a normal person. I cried.
It felt so good to be walking, despite the pain. Coming up the ramp into shallower water, however, my reality returned. I couldn’t support my weight. Not even close. But I returned every day and celebrated small successes, always believing I would return to normal. It’s not like learning a new sport that you can simply decide is not for you after all. You have to learn to walk again – you have to.
And not just walking but walking without a limp. It’s unbelievably hard to relearn to walk without limping. Even when it didn’t hurt, Leg (as I affectionately called her) just couldn’t do the smooth stride. I walked for hours in my bathing suit in front of the full length mirror, monitoring my hips, feet, everything, as I corrected my stride. I practiced my walk like a runway diva. I progressed from crutches to cane. My mantra: no limp, no pain, no cane. I walked without a limp with the cane but simply couldn’t do the stride without it.
I longed to be normal again. I just wanted my life back. I didn’t want to be noticed when I went out in public – the comments people made cut like a knife. This was the greatest test of resiliency. I wrote in my journal: Do it anyway. When people say things you don’t want to hear, when it hurts, when you don’t think you’ll ever walk normally, when you’re scared, when you’re frustrated…. Do. It. Anyway.
It’s been a year since that fateful day that changed my leg and my life for good. I am walking now without a limp (perhaps a small gait anomaly), and only a little discomfort which has been helped significantly by orthotics. And I am skiing once again. Although I would never have wished such an experience upon myself, I dug deep to summon the strength and determination to pull me through. I am so very proud of myself – the perseverance, the strength of character. I rose to the challenge. Also I am humbled. Mostly, I am grateful.