For the past 25+ years I have been dealing with ankle injuries, surgeries and recoveries. During that time I have spent countless hours trying to figure out why. For years I felt responsible for creating the drama and trauma that came with my ankle adventures. It felt as if the pain was some sort of punishment for something. But at this point in my life I have finally come to see my ankle adventures as less of a punishment and more of a gift. First some background.
The original injury happened in 1989, when I broke my left ankle and damaged the tendons and ligaments. At the time I was young, strong and unaware. That afternoon, instead of going to an ER, I hobbled onto a plane to meet my husband in NYC, where we were attending a sit-down dinner with the Dalai Lama that I refused to miss. It was incredibly romantic – my husband carrying me up the stairs of the Columbia Library in our black tie attire – and pretty short sighted. Because the choices I made then have had repercussions we have dealt with for the past 25+ years.
I ignored medical advice at the time to have surgery and got pregnant instead. In case you didn’t know, during pregnancy ligaments loosen, which is great for giving birth, but not so much for recovering from an injury. Five years later, November 11, 1994, I had the recommended surgery to deal with the damage from the injury and pregnancy.
The recovery from that surgery was difficult; I had an active four year old son and my husband was in law school full time. Naively I thought I could manage on my own, but in reality it was a struggle. I remember one afternoon eating my lunch on the kitchen floor because I couldn’t figure out how to get the food from the kitchen counter to a table while using crutches. I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends. Coincidentally our daughter was born exactly a year after my surgery on November 11, 1995.
10 years later, In November 2004, I needed surgery again. This time the kids were able to help and I accepted some limited help from friends. Even so, I felt guilty for being a burden and spent hours trying to figure out why my ankle kept giving out on me. I kept thinking that if I could just figure it out, once and for all, then we/I would be done with it.
However, life has a funny way of unfolding. Last November — yes exactly 10 year later — I had another bad fall and broke the same ankle in 3 places. But this time I accepted lots of help. My daughter came home from school, my father came from the east coast, I asked friends to come in and cover when they were gone and then my husband cleared his schedule to take care of me. What a difference this has made to how I feel about the whole experience. Fact is that this was a much more serious injury, complicated surgery and a harder recovery. But instead of feeling punished and overanalyzing “why,” I finally allowed myself to feel vulnerable and consequently loved.
Recovering from each surgery has been hard on me and my family. I felt guilty for putting them through it and responsible for the trauma and drama. Classic “blame the victim” mentality—although I was the one blaming myself. And while it felt like punishment, it wasn’t. It is just life and it happens to each of us. Figuring this out is liberating.
Some of the many gifts I have received this time around include patience, acceptance, vulnerability and love. While the surgery fixed it so that I could walk again, there is some damage that could not be repaired. This is why I still have days of pain. I now see that accepting the situation is not being a victim, but rather embracing what showed up in my life: good friends who want to help, loving family members who are there for me and a slower, more vulnerable me.
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