On Physical Injury and Recovery: How recovering from an injury shook my world
I recently incurred an injury that kept me from walking for five days. One nasty cat bite near my ankle turned into a weeklong saga of trips to the doctor’s office and then the ER when things got worse. I’m writing this on the first day that I’ve been able to walk. (I’d gotten pretty good at a three-legged crawl, but I was ecstatic to leave it behind.) Being couch-bound and relying on Vicodin to get through a few hours of sleep was humbling.
Thankfully, my injury was treatable, and I received excellent care from the doctors I saw (one of whom happens to be one of my fiancé’s groomsmen) and my parents and fiancé while I recouped at home. If I’m smart, I’ll never forget what I felt during this brief but trying period.
For one, you don’t realize how much you take your mobility for granted until you’ve lost some part of it—even if temporarily. Before my injury, I prided myself on the fact that I did honor my body by looking for ways to be active every day: from dancing in the kitchen to taking the long way to the mailbox to going running even when I didn’t feel like it. But even this appreciation seems shallow now. A few days into my injury, my foot was incredibly swollen, and a mere adjustment of position, even when the foot was elevated, felt rough. One morning, I crawled to the bathroom without any catastrophe, but I couldn’t bear to wash my hands before lying on the bathroom floor to elevate my foot for a while. I swore to myself that I was going to get up, balance on one leg, and wash my hands, but I had to be carried back to my pillows. (Apologies to the germaphobes out there.) Being able to stand at a sink never seemed so unattainable.
On the note of appreciation, I am grateful for the athleticism I’ve been cultivating all these years. My athleticism was my crutch before I had crutches. I am not an “athlete” in any official sense—far from it. I am a twenty-minutes-of-yoga-every-morning athlete, however, and my strength allowed me to bathe myself (while still riding a Vicodin, of course) and balance securely on my good legs for minutes at a time. Moments of self-sufficiency brought more joy than the indulgent 4AM TV marathons I allowed myself during those days.
I also noticed that my injury changed the way I thought about conventional medicine, antibiotics and painkillers, to be exact. After dwelling among alternative and holistic health blogs and books, I’d sworn off conventional medicine. Cold syrup, aspirin, and antacids have no place in my cabinet. That space is reserved for probiotics, milk thistle, and whole food vitamins, thank you.
While I was in college, I visited a handful of dermatologists who’d put me on antibiotics to rid my skin of acne—and boy did those antibiotics work some fast magic. My stomach could never tolerate them for more than a few weeks, however—a blessing in disguise. Only later did I learn how hazardous long-term antibiotic use can be. As soon as my foot showed signs of infection, however, I opened my arms to any pharmaceutical that could bring me back to the world of the walking. In my case, that turned out to be three varieties of antibiotics—each in both pill and IV form.
And then there was the prescription painkiller that allowed me to get some rest. Again, I normally try to avoid even the OTC kind. Headache? Drink cool water, rest your eyes. Menstrual cramps? Do some easy hip openers and only bum a single Advil from a friend if you absolutely just cannot right now. But this past week? For a few hours of peace, I welcomed something a little stronger and was grateful for it.
But I didn’t rely solely on my drugs. I accepted help from others and tried to stay positive. Even though I love being independent and hate having to ask for help, I realized that letting people take care of me when I couldn’t made everyone’s life a little easier. My fiancé carried me up and down stairs, which circumvented the sometimes-painful process of crawling and made him feel better. If I was in his arms, there was no chance that I could lose my balance and take a tumble.
One thing that I could do for myself, however, was focus on recovery. My attitude wasn’t always perfect, of course. When I realized that I’d have to go to the ER, I felt utterly defeated. Although wallowing was sometimes a tempting option, I was ultimately drawn to staying positive. Whenever I felt down, I would silently repeat affirmations until I believed them, usually as I was falling asleep. My affirmations were some version of the following: My body is strong; my body is healing; my body is healing; my body is radiant.
The entire process of healing got me thinking about the concept of recovery. Regaining my health and mobility meant recovering more than a physical ability. It was a returning to and rediscovery of the quiet but indomitable spirit that dwells in each of us.
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Photo: Phoebe McBride via Flickr