Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Being Broken has Mended Me

Tomorrow, almost two months after walking out my front door to take the dog for a walk and breaking my ankle instead, my cast will be removed. Immediately after my accident (in the ambulance, in fact), all I could think about was the need to call my boss and tell him that I most likely wouldn't be in the office in the morning. When I was told that the break was a bad one and would require surgery and six to eight weeks completely off my foot, I was at first in shock and then defiant.

"I don't have six to eight weeks," I insisted. "Not an option!" As a dedicated and consummate Senior Project Manager working on Microsoft projects, I am in charge of scheduling resources and following timelines to the tee for a very demanding client -- and breaking my ankle definitely was not in the scope of work!

No can do. Sorry. This injury doesn't fit into my schedule at this time. Thanks anyway.

The thing about project managers is that we seem to think that we can manage our own lives with the same control and finesse with which we manage other people's projects. That night, as I lay on the gurney in the emergency room, in agonizing pain with a foot that flopped awkwardly sideways, I began to realize that sometimes we can do neither.


The need for surgery allowed me to escape the pain -- both physical and emotional -- by focusing on a few project management tasks, such as finding the best surgeon in the Pacific Northwest, Dr Benirschke and scheduling surgery at Harborview Medical Center just four days after my accident.


I knew I was in good hands, but still, I had to insist to Dr. B, over and over, that "I really don't have time for this!" Clearly he'd heard it before and challenged me, sarcastically, yet lovingly, to get up and walk away if this didn't fit into my life's schedule.

Point well taken.

I spent four loopy days here... IMG_0680

....allowing me plenty of time to think. Even then, my thoughts were dictated by an I-don't-have-time-for-this attitude. And even in the hospital, I was in constant touch with my boss and co-workers, insisting that I'd heal faster than the average patient and that, fear not, I'd be back to work very soon.

I was obviously delusional, Percoset or no Percoset.

During the following week, I could neither think nor move without incessant, painful throbbing, and it was only then that I began to accept that I might not be as invincible as I'd made myself out to be, and that this injury might have a grip on me that I couldn't shake just by wishing it away. I was forced to accept that I had no choice but to slow down, stay quiet, let go -- and be grateful.


I'm normally an early riser, getting up and getting to work in my home office (or doing laundry or dishes) before getting in the car and driving to the office. But there simply was no getting up for the first three weeks after surgery. My toes would turn as purple as my cast within minutes and I was forced back to bed, elevating my foot and pacifying my pride. I had no choice but to slow down, to stay in bed, and to just simply rest.

And that's when being broken began to mend me.

I stopped fighting my injury and began to accept it. I learned to enjoy taking afternoon naps with Boo propped on the pillow, wrapped around my cast, or purring under the covers in the crook of my arm. I began to revel in not having to get dressed each morning and hurry out the front door, ready to fight traffic so I could get to work and fight project managers who -- oh, my god -- were in just too much of a hurry and who couldn't slow down long enough to ask themselves whether one extra day to finish a project would truly end the world.

I began to enjoy my mornings without an alarm clock jolting me from much-needed sleep. I began to enjoy watching TV in bed with Tom without my conscience insisting that there's work to do -- GO! And I began to let go of my need for control and revel in and appreciate Tom's devoted and capable caregiving.

I could feel myself letting go and, although I was more physically broken than I'd even been, I began to feel more emotionally quiet and steady than I'd been in a very long time. Suddenly work didn't seem so end-of-the-world critical, and what became life-saving critical instead was the commitment to walk for an hour every morning before work instead of work for an hour every morning before work (once this cast comes off).

I was changing and it was my injury that was bringing me this gift of perspective.

Soon I began to get up for longer and longer periods of time, starting with a few minutes in the living room... IMG_0426

... and eventually making my way down the steps...


out the back door (because I feared -- and still fear -- those outside, railing-less steps!). IMG_1033

As long as I have my cast, I still need help getting my scooter out of the house and into the car...


...but within five weeks of my accident, I was slowly beginning to return to real life, as I attended client meetings at Microsoft and even went out for dinner.

Even being out among the living felt different, though, as I became acutely aware of the availability of access for the disabled -- something I'd been only peripherally aware of before. I came to realize, through personal experience, that a long flight of stairs that pose no problem to 99.9% of the population can mean thousands of dollars of lost wages to one person whose family counts on her to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, and that a handicapped parking space means very little if there's no nearby accessible sidewalk.

Now that I'm preparing myself for the day that couldn't come soon enough eight weeks ago, I'm beginning to lament what I'll be giving up tomorrow when my cast comes off and I "walk" (with quotes, as I'm sure to hobble) the halls of Harborview Medical Center in my new Darth Vader walking boot.

Eight weeks ago I hit a brick wall (or flagstone step) that forced me to go from warp speed to mosey speed. But I'll be returning to full-time, in-office work next Monday and now I'm scared of something so vastly different than the fear that gripped me in the ambulance last January 4th: I'm scared that I'll forget the lessons of the past eight weeks and the peace that I found in the hidden blessing of a broken ankle.

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susandennis said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah but my burning question is how in the world did you suffer through a pedicure when you were in so much pain?? Do not tell me your toes always look as nice as they did in the purple cast shot. My feet look like I've been using them for 60 years. Even a pedicure would probably not make them shovel ready for a photo!

and, hey, have a lovely cast off day.

Carol said...

Hilarious! I've never had a pedicure in my life... though I have a feeling I'd love one!


Margaret said...

Congrats on making the most of a bad situation and turning your lemons into lemonade. I know it was "bitter" at first, but you've discovered many positives. I'm really the Queen of Cliches today!

Anonymous said...

Being without a leg for an extended period of time is indeed humbling. Don't worry. I'm sure your leg will continue to humble you over the next year as you go through rehabilitation.

AstroYoga said...

you will forget - like you have forgotten the real pain of childbirth. The lessons will still be in your heart, and every once in a while, they will pop up when you least expect them only to be forgotten again.

At least, that has been my experience in recovering from a similar injury - perhaps you will remember better than me.

Jen said...

That's the real question, Carol - how to incorporate those changes into your work environment.

I've been going through something similar, although not nearly as dramatic over the past 6 - 7 weeks, and I'm still trying to sort out similar lessons/strategies.

Anonymous said...

Carol, there's so much wisdom in this post. You are an awesome writer. I don't think you'll ever quite forget, but in the crunch of a deadline, the lessons learned here might slip your mind for a bit. When that happens, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and let yourself remember this painful, yet illuminating time. What you learned is very important life lesson.


surfie999@gmail.com said...

I have been impressed with this post and that of Feb 17. These sorts of events can bring reflection, change and appreciation of how lucky we generally are in our society, with relative health and wealth, usually taken for granted. Even here in Australia we have had ugly fires across Victoria, many lives, all one's wordly possessions and homes are lost.
There is usually someone much worse for wear than most of us.

Try to take the time and do the rehab as recommended and needed; that can be be difficult in this crazy world!

[ should be here]

Goofball said...

you know what....I can see it in your pictures. You look more and more relaxed, hell you look younger and younger in each picture! You should break your anckle more often as it's doing you visibly well ;)

ok I exaggerate but not entirely

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