About 4 weeks ago I broke my ankle.
I was out on my 1-a-day walk, the weather was stunning, and I was coming down the quarry road to the centre of town. My right foot hit some loose gravel on a slope, and it all went a bit ‘Bambi on ice’ as my left foot folded 90 degrees just in time for me to come crashing down on top of it. Snap.
It was pretty obvious I’d broken something, mostly because I saw it happen. But thankfully it was just the fibula that had fractured – the smaller bone in the lower leg that takes about 17% of the body’s weight – the tibia seemed to still be ok. Thankfully I could still move the foot a bit and put enough weight on it to shuffle awkwardly. A quick bandage crafted from my soggy swimmers and I managed to hobble down the hill (and occasionally slide on my bum down the steep bits), while swearing at regular intervals. Add in the ski poles that my lovely flat mate brought me halfway down and I think we can safely say I won the crazy lady of the hill award that day!
Anyway, the reason I wanted to write about this experience is partly because I’m bored stiff, but also because I’m used to helping out the people who come to me with their injuries and aches and pains. And now I’m the broken one, its interesting to see the barriers to remaining positive and realistic about injury when we are a society with such a non-disabled view of the world, that we can’t possibly imagine anything worse than temporary impairment.
1. First of all, people love to tell you how bad it is. They’ve done it before, their friend did it once or someone at work did it and it was NEVER THE SAME AGAIN. Its war stories, the pain and the struggle, and we love to tell them (see above). It’ll hurt when its cold; bound to get arthritis; never heals right; or the simple favourite, you’ve really f*cked that up. And to be honest, when you’re up to your armpits in inflammation and feeling fairly sad about the situation as it is, its easy to absorb further negativity from all this unsolicited anecdotal information– even if its meant with all the goodwill in the world.
My main advice for this one would be to ask ALL the questions when you’re with the consultant, or physio, or whoever else has studied for years of their lives to become an expert in their medical field. I asked for rough timelines, whether the metal work would come out, how good the chances of full recovery were etc… And I got really reassuring answers from the experts. Which then meant I could happily brush off all the other nonsense.
Remember; one person’s experience does not equal scientific evidence! Also, googling – don’t do it!
2. There doesn’t need to be progress every single day and you never have to put a happy face on it. ‘Good vibes only’ can get stuffed. I certainly found the first 2 weeks of being laid up in a cast pretty crap – I’ve watched a million films but can’t remember any of them. I even started binge watching Made in Chelsea; my friends were concerned for my wellbeing. But frankly, watching a bunch of posh people mess up their care-free lives made me feel a little bit less rubbish.
I slept for ages, had some big cries while attempting to hop upstairs, fell flat on my crutches a couple of times, and generally found everything exhausting. Luckily, I have good friends who told me that being miserable and resting loads was the thing I should be doing – and they still called me up for chats even though I was a mardy cow.
3. I also realised, after the initial ‘the world is ending because I’ve injured one of my limbs’ period, that while my leg was out of action, I could still do some self-care stuff that would make me feel better – physically and mentally. Humans have a tendency to focus on the bad stuff – our broken bits or the areas we feel let us down. It’s a frustrating habit, but by acknowledging that we’re doing it we can choose instead to turn our attention to the good stuff, or in my case, the bits of me that were still working hard to keep me upright!
I’m VERY lucky to live with another sports therapist who is very good at massage, so we sorted out treatment for my arms and back, which were groaning from the crutch action and sofa sitting. I also treated myself like a customer and scheduled in some movement – starting with basic resistance band work, moving onto bodyweight exercises, then free weights and this week I’ve even managed a 30 minute bike ride on the turbo trainer (with ankle immobilised). I hadn’t realised how much it would improve my mood to sweat a bit, turn the colour of beetroot and feel the good ache of muscles that are getting stronger!
And only last week I managed to inelegantly manoeuvre myself in and out of the bath tub – which felt amazing. I think there is definitely a fine art to the balancing act between points 2 & 3 – and remembering not to beat yourself up when things don’t pan out as planned. Some days I’ve woken up feeling like a superhero, overflowing with energy, and other days I’ve kept the curtains drawn, pulled the duvet up and wished the day away. Both are valid.
4. And finally, my main realisation (and rant) from this brief experience is that we live in a world that was designed for non-disabled bodies. When I came back to my flat from hospital, I stood in front of the MASSIVE slate steps and had a little cry. They were HUGE and I had absolutely no chance of hopping up them and over my ridiculous doorstep with 1 leg throbbing in a cast and the other one frankly knackered from jumping everywhere. I had to use my bum shuffling skills to haul myself up the steps, promptly followed by collapsing in a heap on the sofa. And my first recent crutch-laden trip to the corner shop was less than fun, thinking I’d topple the loaded up displays balanced on every corner, and not being able to move out the way of the person that was desperate to pass down the aisle I was in.
Disabled people are forced to face big, scary obstacles every single day. Public transport, shopping trips, visiting the local café or pub – things that you’d usually do without thinking, can become obstacle courses if you add in an impairment of any sort really. I mean, is it that there aren’t many disabled people in our community, or simply that we don’t see them, because more often than not our public spaces are not fit for purpose. How hard is it to put that thought into planning, and why do we so often choose not to?
As Disability Wales put it succinctly, it is society that disables people who have impairments ‘because the way it has been set up prevents us from taking part in everyday life’.
PS I wanted to reiterate that my injury is just that, an injury, NOT an impairment. I’m not comparing my brief inconvenience due to accident in any way to the lives of people that live with impairment every single day. It just opened my eyes to something that I don’t think we discuss enough! It has had the positive effect of helping me think of ways to improve my business accessibility and maybe if it can inspire 1 or 2 others to do the same, its worth sharing.