From earliest childhood, upon graduating from the front seat in our family stroller, I let go of my mother’s hand. Walking along downtown, I ran ahead, my mother’s cries of “Slow down” faintly detectable, yet unheeded. This is not to suggest that I was particularly agile. My tendency to forge ahead frequently ended in crashing and burning—tripping up stairs, wiping out on my bike, sprained ankles, and roughed up elbows and knees. Fast forward to my adult life, when on my first date with my eventual husband, he remarked, “You’re a fast walker and I’m a slow walker; we’ll never get along.” Undeterred, we have survived several decades of marriage.
As summers go, this past one ranked with the more idyllic I’ve experienced: warm but not hot, dry but not parched, still but not airless. The gardens in our valley overflowed with blossoms, and herbal scents drifted over outdoor dinners under starlit skies. Guests and family roamed in and out throughout June and July, until one busy morning, dashing to the car (ahead of my husband, naturally), I lit on our recently reconfigured entry steps. My left ankle gave way, and I went down hard, crying out. I can still see in my mind’s eye my printed wrap skirt askew, short tapered heels scuffed, appearing ludicrous as I sat back and looked at what damage my haste had wrought: a grossly malformed ankle, left foot folded under and jutting right. I called for ice, and visiting family emerged on the front stoop, to hold me, cover me, as I was going into shock, and to call 911. This was no minor mishap.
Within three hours, we had made it into and out of the emergency room, me in a temporary cast and my diagnosis pronounced: a trimalleolar fracture (translation: three bones broken) requiring surgery within the coming week. The surgical repair included piecing my leg together with a bracket and six screws on the left, two more screws on the right. I had two weeks to acclimate to immobility before being placed in a knee-high boot, so I hobbled one-footed on crutches. My husband installed grab bars in the bathroom and took care of everything that needed care in our home, our property, and ourselves. I learned to live with little bird baths from a warm water pot the first week, then braved lowering myself into the tub, left foot upraised to keep it dry. Within several days I had gathered my wits enough to seek alternative means of mobility and ordered a knee scooter.
With my husband as mainstay, both daughters—and one of our sons—soon arrived, from two hours north and from France! They cooked, sat alongside me in bed and chatted, and outdid one another in preparing exquisite bouquets for the house and fabulous meals for dinner al fresco.
Throughout the next six weeks, friends stopped by with meals, treats, and books. My stack of completed books rose—and I stared out the same windows for hours on end. Eventually my desire to move overcame trepidation. I tried my means in making coffee and lunch and breaching the threshold to the great outdoors. Eventually I ventured stepping down from the deck into our garden. I reached what seemed a milestone when I walked a full ninety paces on crutches to pick up the mail. I worked out a series of maneuvers that would get me into and out of the car, savoring our rides to a local farm for fresh blueberries, greens, peaches, and tomatoes. I leaned in to smell apricot roses nodding between lavender and hydrangeas in the perennial bed beyond my reach.
As I progressed with the orthopedic boot, I scoured local boutiques for flared pants that would slip on and for wider, half-size larger shoes and boots to accommodate my grotesquely swollen foot and ankle. I acquired five pairs of knee-high compression socks to help push out the persistent fluid pooling from my toes to mid-calf. We had several planned cross-country flights, including a major family gathering in early October, just as I was emerging from my ortho-prison. We strategized to garner other people’s forbearance, my husband packing along my ankle x-ray to secure pre-boarding for each of our flights.
Fortunately physical therapy would be prescribed as part of my rehabilitation. The refreshment of exercise! Steadily plodding, I built up my fully atrophied left calf. I relearned how to point my toes, to squat, and to walk backwards. A friend had three years earlier experienced the same sort of fracture much more heroically: by falling down a mountain rather than off a six-inch step. She told me the key to her recovery was going to the pool every day for an hour and essentially just treading water. Having been an avid swimmer in my first twenty-five years, the prospect of recovering that habit was beyond tantalizing. I found I could hit up a lap swim/aquatic exercise session twice a week for $5.60 and dove in with a vengeance.
Now that six months of recovery have passed, I can walk without a trace of a limp. I’m still working on left ankle strength, but I go to the fitness center for weights and treadmill two to three times a week. Two days a week I swim. Things fit better. Life fits better, now that I greet each day not with a manic drive but with an equanimity that relishes a slower, steadier pace. Earlier this past fall, my husband had admitted thinking, a split second before my fall, “She’s going too fast.” These days we walk in tandem.
Moving along when your life is shaken requires you to rebuild from jarring circumstances to prioritize what you value. We know intuitively that the unknown has the potential to become a new tool in our toolkit. How does one put it to use—without resistance? Can we welcome the jolt of change as discovery of a long-lost self?