Break a Leg! — Part 2

Cycling in a cast. Though mine was a plain old plaster version, and I’m not Schwarznegger!

In the previous post, the reader learned that an uncanny premonition warned me that my left ankle would be broken that day–a message from??? I will never know. But wrapped in the plaster cast I wore post surgery were two gifts:

*          *          *

Upon returning to work I discovered that it was extraordinarily difficult to open the heavy plate glass doors to the office building while on crutches. I could shove a door a few inches, move forward the same distance, and then shove a little more, hoping I wouldn’t lose my balance. However, I rarely needed to do that. People—mostly men—would rush to my assistance. I was unused to guys holding doors for me, but I smiled and said thank you.

Despite the madness, the part that insisted my injury was no big deal and that I could continue as if nothing much had happened, my body overruled it. I found I could only work half days.

I’d been in therapy for some months with a woman in San Francisco. Her office was up a long flight of stairs in an old Victorian building. Now I had to crutch up those stairs, using the technique the physical therapist had taught me and, at the end of the session, go back down on my butt, letting the crutches slide alongside. One day my therapist insisted on carrying the crutches downstairs for me. The message was pretty clear—it’s all right to need, and all right to accept, help. This was the first gift my broken leg gave me.

Help was forthcoming. A co-worker brought me some TV dinners, and that tided me over for a few days. Since crutches require both hands, I couldn’t carry a plate of food or cup of tea. Another friend, Chana Wilson, showed up with a tea cart on wheels. I could heat something on the stove or in the microwave, put it on the cart, and nudge it with my belly over to the kitchen table. I would call Chana before going shopping at Berkeley Bowl, where the cashier would load my groceries into the car. When I returned, Chana was at my door and would carry the bags into the house.

By the end of the first month my energy was close to normal, and the tech at Kaiser put me in a walking cast.

I gave up the rental car and, after a couple of tentative days, drove the old VW up to Tilden Park and hiked along the Inspiration Trail. I remember doing a mile or a mile and a half in, and the same distance back. On the way I passed a sturdy looking woman, a tourist who shouted in a thick German accent, “Good for you!”

I returned to Alex’s kung fu class. Our dojo had two wooden pillars holding up the ceiling. I could kick almost normally when standing on the right leg, but the cast on the left leg was rounded on the bottom, so I had to hug one of the pillars while standing on that leg so I could kick the right one up into the air.

Around that same week I started riding my bicycle again, swinging the injured leg over the top tube and pedaling along Shattuck Avenue. It was too early for the box trees, but some other plant was in bloom and I was happy to be alive, happily immersed in their fragrance, thinking, How could I have been so foolish, so sad because I didn’t have someone to share it with? God created those flowers and gave me this day. I’ll appreciate it, and be grateful. And that was the second gift.

At the end of October the walking cast came off. The skin underneath it was wrinkled and blotchy, peeling in spots the way it does after sunburn, the calf muscle shrunken, the joint frozen at 90 degrees. That evening I visited a hot tub to help rejuvenate the skin. Next I started physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility.

My 50th birthday came at the end of December. I threw a party, a potluck with friends and food, at the little house on 59th Street. And music! I was determined to dance for that anniversary and did so, for hours, until the last guest left. My ankle ached all the next day, but I hadn’t damaged it.

When summer rolled around again, I was ready to go backpacking. Alone, and into the wilderness. And I did!

7 Responses to Break a Leg! — Part 2

  1. Connie O Byrne December 5, 2022 at 7:45 am #

    gifts from injuries coome in many forms. like you, I learned it really is okay to ask for and accept help. when I fell and broke my arm my best friend showed up at the ER and said, with a laugh, guess you know where you’re going to be. I spent the next five weeks with Kat and her husband Jim. A friendship which had spanned some 20 years was deepened beyond belief.
    Friends from all over showed up at one point or another before the orthopedic surgeon could get me into the hospital (outpatient) to put my arm back together. Kat had arranged for those friends to come and both entertain me and boost my spirits. Her husband and I learned we really like one another, more than we already knew. My son drove the six hours down from his place and used a week and a half of vacation time to rearrange my house, insisting that I would not “live upstairs”, but rather learn how to be a normal person and not only live downstairs, but also start cooking in the kitchen for a change, not relying on the microwave that lived on the counter in my bathroom. What a novel concept….lol. The Care Team from church brought me two works worth of ready to use meals…made in their kitchens. Friends drove me to physical therapy and doctor appointments for the next two weeks.
    Like you, I received several gifts from this experience. like you I learned it really is okay to not only receive help, but ask for it. I also learned that I’m really not as young as I thought I was and not as physically resilient either…76 really is older than 56, my mental age. I learned to accept that I won’t live forever. Most importantly, I learned I really did have friends who loved me as much as I loved them. I’m not expanding my gardens anymore, accepting that what I already have really is more than enough.
    Funny isn’t it that when bad things happen they often give us gifts we didn’t know existed. And the true meaning of gratitude.
    Long live spunky old women!

    • Martha Shelley December 5, 2022 at 10:29 pm #

      Something similar happened when Sylvia and I were hit by a car in 2010. She had one broken arm and I had two–lucky we didn’t have brain, spinal cord, or internal organ injuries. People brought us meals and even changed the cat box.

  2. Esther M Newton December 5, 2022 at 11:01 am #

    Martha, you’re one tough cookie. I empathize with all those crutch problems. They are exhausting and endlessly difficult, and when I had to use them, at age 29, I cursed them every day. Also had a full leg plaster cast.

  3. Martha Shelley December 5, 2022 at 4:46 pm #

    Full leg plaster cast? that sounds like torture in itself.

  4. Connie O Byrne December 6, 2022 at 7:02 am #

    changing the cat boxes a true act of love…lol

  5. NESTOR L. LATRONICO December 7, 2022 at 8:34 am #

    I enjoy your writing, Martha. In this case, the crux of the story is the premonition you had that something would occur. II´d love to know more of your feelings about this matter. These premonitions have happened to me before. It looks like the future is already established, and all of a sudden one “knows” something will happen. Sometimes it is a warning, but other forms may emerge. An inquiry in this mysterious matter defies the “rational mind” (western philosophy), and maybe is more the subject of poetry, and the knowledge that one is more than what it seems to be. Congratulations, Martha!!! I love your stories!!!

  6. Martha Shelley December 7, 2022 at 10:21 am #

    I don’t know the answer re premonitions. However I am reminded of some of the theories in quantum physics, where “all the possibilities described by quantum theory simultaneously occur in a multiverse composed of mostly independent parallel universes.” Are we living in one of these universes, and getting messages from another? If that has been the case throughout human history, perhaps we’ve taken to describe those messages as coming from supernatural beings. I don’t begin to understand the math behind quantum physics. As you say, maybe the best way for us humble folk to deal with the premonitions is through poetry.

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