Life Turns On a Left Ankle

Change doesn’t care how it occurs. It just arrives. Any fall will do at any speed, at any time, anywhere. Sometimes, life turns on an ankle. For me, it was the left one this past July.

My fall was slow-motion, body meeting cement, but the landing was hard and decisive, buttocks pounding the pavement like a hammer hitting a nail. My head lay stuck in nearby shrubs, my legs perfectly perpendicular to the sidewalk.

I’m broken. I feel it in my core…

I try to turn my left leg, and I almost faint from the sensation. I won’t walk away from this, not on my own. I call 911 and for a moment or two, the operator and I have a conversation about buttocks and location. Why not?

Both of my hips are titanium, which I mention because titanium doesn’t react the way bone does. Like the bubble in a carpenter’s level, titanium hips are ever in search of balance—for themselves—if not for the rest of the body.

The EMTs help me stand, a glimmer of hope that fades quickly.

They are so-o-o-patient with me as I keep saying “but my apartment is just around the corner,” and they are amenable but my body’s core will not give up one step. Hours later in a hospital bed I will learn I have fractured the left ring of my pelvis, top and bottom, but in the arms of the EMTs, I think it’s my titanium hips, which are in perfect balance, and I am not.

If I sound ungrateful for my titanium hips, I’m not. They have kept me pain-free and mobile for years but they are not of the body, only an imitation. As well, I don’t have full feeling in the bottoms of my feet or in my legs for that matter. I’m a house of cards that collapsed.

Being in hospital in the time of COVID was as bad as I had read. Maybe worse—controlled chaos—the beginning is the end. Staff do their jobs and don’t complain—that’s a luxury they don’t have—their faces aged in angst over people refusing masks as they beg for life.

Mine was the day to day healthcare experience of arriving by ambulance and when it was time for me to go to rehab, another ambulance with compassionate EMTs. Trump may have COVID, but he has no idea of the dreams it has taken from healthcare workers or all the years they won’t live.

I hoped to avoid rehab but even with a walker I could not manage to reach my hospital room door until the fourth day. I could not take up a hospital bed any longer. Probably overstayed my welcome the way it was. I had hoped to go home but I could not yet care for myself so it was rehab.

Using a walker was not the usual slow stroll, shopping cart experience. Anything but. It was almost a hop except hopping was not allowed. Any tortoise would have zipped passed me.

Gingerly, I would step forward with my left foot, keeping no more than 50% of my weight on it (and less was better) as my right foot brought the rest of me, with the aid of both of my arms pushing down on the sides of the walker. Ideally, I’d keep all my weight off my left foot but my spinal cord damaged arms could not do the lifting. Literally, they just didn’t get the message; theirs is a pins and needles world, full of white noise, the static of nerve damage.

Every physical therapist had a variation on this hop-but-don’t-hop technique, and each was skeptical about me even attempting it. I hadn’t been given an alternative. When I wasn’t in physical therapy, I worked through the physics of the weight and the walker, how I might shift my body.

“You’re going to need to bring about 100 pounds with you on every step,” one physical therapist told me, midway between my bed and hospital door.

I looked up at her. “You and I both know that’s not going to happen.”

“Don’t hop,” she said, turning away so I could.

Even when I got the weight distribution right, the pain in my arms and neck brought tears to my eyes. All of my autoimmune meds had been stopped in order for the pelvic bone to heal so I was in a full flare of Sjogren’s/ inflammatory arthritis for 10 weeks.

And pain meds never came on time, sometimes not at all. I never asked why. In rehab it was better, and we found a “cocktail” of meds that worked for my daily physical and occupational therapy sessions. We met three times a day and I welcomed those sessions so I could learn to sit, stand, and not hop. My main physical therapist had at least heard of degenerative cervical myelopathy. Occupational therapy, no matter which therapist, was always interesting.

Mostly, I was patient. Mostly….

The occupational therapist pulled out the bottom drawer of a wooden chest of drawers and told me to pick up three items of clothing (socks or underwear) with a reacher or grabber.

“This is ridiculous. Why would I keep my socks or anything I regularly wear in the bottom drawer? Why would I do that to myself?”

“You don’t keep clothing in a bottom drawer,” he said, not believing me.

“No, I don’t. That would be stupid.

 “I don’t have the fine motor skills to use a grabber, which you know. I arrange everything in my apartment where it is easiest for me. Everything. I don’t have that kind of energy to waste.”

We would not meet again, to the relief of both of us, I suspect.

At every day’s end and every morning, I listened to Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, a book I am never without. At some point, a sentence or section centers me and I am able to look through the new life lens I have, which is not to say the darkness does not stay or the light does not blind. I’m just able to open myself to them, regardless.

When I left rehab, my mobility was 50% weight-bearing, but a wheelchair would be my legs for a while because my right leg was weakening. I wanted out of rehab but when I thought of home, I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know what that life there looked like now. What I feared most had happened, and I didn’t know if the fear would ever go away.

I “hopped” about the apartment trying to figure out what to do about anything but nothing seemed the obvious choice. Finally, I found specific placements for the wheelchair and the walker, for there was no mobility without one or the other. This wasn’t my first rodeo with either walking aid—I had lost the angst and vanity about using them years ago—I wondered whether I lost my enthusiasm for walking as well. That first night home was one of the few times in my life I felt alone so I sat with it, stripping back the layers of pain to see what was at its core.

Sometime during those early morning hours, I discovered Netflix’s In The Dark. The irreverence of character Murphy Mason is magnificent. She’s blind and sometimes uses her disability to get people out of her way because she has a life to live. Besides, she’s usually doing what most people are too afraid to try, much less actually do.

Later that same day, I met the physical therapist who would treat me twice a week for the next six weeks. Like Murphy Mason, she had no time for soft words, just kind actions, even if they didn’t seem that way at first.

“We’re going to stop all this hopping. That’s ridiculous.” She spoke with the force of a woman who knows her mind. “You’ve got a broken bone and it takes three months for a bone to heal. For the first two weeks bedrest and the wheelchair.”

“The two Murphys” set the tone and pace of my therapy. We did more work in two days than I did in 10 days in rehab, building up my strength by working with spinal cord disease rather than against it. We were irreverent in our approach but serious in designing how I would live in my apartment and in the world. We worked with what we had and made a life whole again, different but vibrant, nonetheless.

Change will come. As always, it is just a matter of who determines what that change will be.

Winona LaDuke
Sunbeams, May 2020

22 thoughts on “Life Turns On a Left Ankle

  1. Sorry KM it’s taken me so long to find you. Somehow I lost some of the blogs I follow. It’s a bit scatter-brained here, of late.
    I am amazed how you are able to make your way through the deepest pain with an ongoing curiosity, “…stripping back the layers of pain to see what was at its core”, as if nothing can make you unaware. The getting on with it… there’s a bravery in this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiramit, I apologize for taking so long to respond to your comment. I appreciate the notion of scatter-brained; so far, it is defining my third act, old age. thank you for your kind words; truly, I am moved by them. I can no longer imagine my life without what I have come to call my Zen practice. I am an autodidact. When I began, I was truly desperate to find a way to live with daily pain, and the passage you cite is what I came to practice. I learned not to fear pain, which is not to say I do not have my dark nights of the soul but life is an experience, and there are so many lenses with so many perspectives, so I just go deeper into every experience. I Sounds like psychobabble, perhaps, but I have found it to be true. I hope you are well, Tiramit; I am long past due a visit to your blog.


  2. What an astute and beautifully written account of your disaster. Your ability to bring intellect and reason to the situation is amazing. I think I would have indulged in some irrational yelling at the very least. You have a remarkable grip on life Karen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Certainly, at times, I cried and I’m sure there were a few comments I made to staff that could’ve been more thoughtful and less ironic, but I was determined to get home and I had to keep my wits about me. Without the care of the incredible therapist I had for home physical therapy, this would’ve been a disaster but irreverence is no stranger to her and we found many ironic moments. And sometimes, I was so sad I wondered if it would pass, although I knew no thing stays, so I sat with the sadness and peeled back the layers. Also, your daily calls reminded me how fortunate I am to have your friendship. It made a huge difference, Adrian.


  3. a harrowing tale. i feel your desperation as you reach for anything that can take you out of the misery, like the book “When Things Fall Apart” even if only for a moment. It is brave and fearless for you to share your agony in your blog. It reminds me that we often have false expectations about the fairness of life. I am an atheist but my hopes and prayers go out to you nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such kind words, Craig. They mean a great deal to me. I’ve always thought blogging is for sharing what we learn, in whatever capacity. You never know what the next person might need. Again, thanks, Craig.


    1. I really learned a lot, Cindy (I say in hindsight) 😀 but I remain curious about the profound impact this “turn” has had, unlike any of my major surgeries. I suppose it’s that it was an accident, unplanned and as such, life changing. Thanks for your kind words and support.


  4. As ever, I am awed by the grace and largesse with which you experience life, and I am so glad to hear from you. Although of course not at all glad that you went through this. It’s hard to know what the silence of an online voice means. (I looked you up onTwitter a few times and was relieved to find you Tweeting!) Sending you hugs through the ether.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean about the “silence of an online voice!” I spend a lot of time on Twitter and after January 2021, I hope a lot less; as I was recovering, tweeting seemed effortless and no doubt a way to channel my frustration, perhaps not always constructively.😉 Your kind and thoughtful words mean a lot to me, as does your support. Big hug back at ya!


  5. Oh, KM. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a difficult time. And I’m glad you’re past the worst of it. I am awed by your personal strength. You are an inspiration and a treasure. Thank you for sharing part of your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I want to thank you again for the wheelchair suggestions (my physical therapist liked them, too!). The wheelchair will stay, although I’m back to using my three-wheeled walker; I suspect I will find it quite handy this winter (prime arthritis time). It is amazing what I have learned (and am still). The fear that comes with a fall is formidable; I’m still working through all that it means. I have gained a great respect for fear. Your words are so lovely and so kind. Thank you, Lynette.


    1. Patience is no doubt a virtue and a work in progress for me but I have my moments. Acceptance seems to me a long distance runner, meeting bend after bend in the road, and then one day, the race is run, acceptance has arrived. This seems true for each limitation, at least for me. We tell each other stories to see our own, perhaps; so many times I have learned from your posts. For what it is worth, I’m right there with you, Robin. Your words of support mean a lot to me.


    1. I am late in thanking you for your lovely words. I apologize. The ability to dig down or peel back the layers is one of the most important teachings I have learned. It’s a bit of journey, sometimes with detours, but I get there, eventually. Thanks, again.


  6. Words almost fail me, KM — something that rarely happens. Sending you much love & healing energy, my friend! Our circumstances are not identical, but pain & difficulty performing certain functions are kind of a “universal language” category. Besides the indifference & ineptitude of some in adapting to the benefit of the patient. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am past the most difficult phase—I think.😉 I learned SO MUCH though, Maeve, and for that I am grateful. As Jane noted, the “enlightened” physical therapist I had for home therapy made all the difference. Those two weeks of bedrest and wheelchair training evolved into my walking with my three-wheeled walker, NOVA’s Traveler. No more walking stick or cane for me; yet, the Traveler is built for just that (I have some blog posts on walking down trails). The wheelchair I kept for the rough days, basic but functional (and it works great as a cart to take the recyclables). The pelvic bone has healed; that bedrest and no hopping was a game changer. The other physical therapists were working with the protocol for a fractured pelvis (which wasn’t written for people with spinal cord damage) the “universal language” as you call it (I love that!) but they were doing the best they could. Thanks for the support and kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Karen, Wow, you have been through A LOT! I love all parts of this, but especially the drawer part. Every old person should move clothes out of the bottom drawer! I did this last spring. Thank goodness for your enlightened physical therapist. You’re doing the work — and lots of it — but it’s great that you’ve got a good guide! Love, always — Jane

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jane. Much, much appreciated. Gail, truly the “enlightened physical therapist,” is one of the wonders of the world and funny—really funny. You would really like her. Love you, too.


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