I have become plant life. I can’t really move on my own, yet I need to be fed and watered daily. My ability to do things is extremely limited. A no-glory skiing accident transformed me for the next ten weeks into a rehabilitating crutch-dependent cripple. Just call me ‘Hop-along Karl!’
Disaster struck early on a Saturday night. At the end of a very easy run, my right ski hit a patch of slushy snow and twisted my right knee out about 90 degrees. No ligament damage occurred, but I did smash one side of my tibial plateau pretty nicely. I walked out of my bindings! I didn’t even fall! I skied down the rest of the run and then hopped to my mini-van and eventually made it home. After seeing my CAT scans and MRIs, I am amazed at the power of my adrenalin!
A week later, I left The Hospital for Special Surgery with a plate and several screws more than I arrived with. Now I must adapt and learn to walk again. This requires great thought and agility. The basic things we most take for granted sometimes can become the most precious. How humble injury can make you. Thank God that you woke up this morning and that you can breathe and walk and eat by yourself. How helpless you feel when these freedoms are taken away!
With surgery sutures, you can’t shower anymore. You learn new techniques to wash yourself, to shampoo your hair, to brush your teeth and shave all without the balance of one leg. I have a new appreciation for my elbows and how much they can offer during my morning ritual. Any point of balance becomes a valuable asset. I am very proud that I can still maintain reasonable dignity with some autonomy. My best advice: Don’t get old!
Of course, theatrical elements are included as part of the experience. My favorite is the one I like to call “The Big Crash.” This is when you lose balance on your crutches and head south really fast. People around you will hear the loud bang followed closely by some vulgar expletive and some repositioning of crutches. Warning: They will very often yelp themselves and run to save you. Now, don’t you feel stupid?
I’m getting better at this skill. If you need to crash, crash against something solid or, even better, crash into a hallway corner or a solid wall. You’ll gain much better support! Crashing into flimsy closet doors or other tentative objects is just not polite (or effective!)
Crutches are also useful as extension devices to control or grab things at a distance. Manipulation of light switches become no problem. Getting a blanket over an uncovered toe? Easy! Crutches make great air guitars, too, but reserve those moments when you have privacy and you are really, really bored!
How do you spend your weeks in asylum? One passive method is the use of a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) device. In my case, my bad leg rests in on a mechanical contraption driven by a fractional horsepower motor. Using an ingenious high-tech control box, I can adjust the speed and degree my knee will bend. Place your heel in the fuzzy cloth boot and away you go for hours at a time. CPM machines are a gift. They keep your wounded extremities flexible and help you increase your range of motion. Have a nice ride on a daily basis!
Not being a Blackberry or iPhone/iTouch person, there is only so much time I can spend on the Internet. At only a couple of weeks into this debacle, I have now looked up and researched every person I have ever known, cared about or seen in a movie. My e-mails get answered with blazing speed. I enter into dialogues with friends about all sorts of cerebral thoughts. You experience an entirely new outlook on life. It’s very interesting!
Another plus: Plenty of time to read. I am catching up on all sorts of literature I have always wanted to read or re-read. I have discovered some remarkable new technologies to study. I have time to experiment with authors I have never enjoyed before. I have time to write for myself! It could be a lot worse!
After you get past the initial despair, anger, and resignment and settle in, it is good for your soul to think about the positive things that occurred after this major event. I had a great conversation with my cardiologist about the meaning of life and other metaphysical matters. Through amazing coincidence, I met some old friends I haven’t seen in decades. I’ve solidified casual acquaintances into life-long friendships. My conversations have brought me much closer to all the people in my life. I see my family continually (a remarkable and wonderful blessing on its own!) I have had time to think and feel somehow blessed that I am still here and with everyone that I love. What more could you ask?
So, the journey begins. April is not that far away! They tell me I will walk again and I’ll be doing everything I can to get there. I’m used to long drives across