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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

I used to think that someone had “just” broken their ankle, perhaps because it seemed reasonably common and I’d never had cause to think about it seriously. Now, unfortunately, I know that broken ankles involve complicated joints, that internal swelling might last for up to a year and prevent a full range of movement, and that as a result, healing can take a long time – and that is completely normal. This is a good lesson to show compassion to anyone who suffers an injury I have never experienced.

Why do people tell someone who has suffered an accident that they will never heal fully, and/or that their injured part will “never be the same again?” Three people have unhelpfully said this to me about my broken ankle, either unthinkingly or deliberately ruining my day.

First, it is the expectation of my medical advisors that I will rehabilitate and get back to normal again, as long as I do all my physiotherapy, so unless you are a surgeon, sports doctor or physiotherapist, how would you actually know? Secondly, what does this statement achieve, other than ruining my day, and reminding me never to seek empathy from them in the future?

I guess that’s why I haven’t told quite so many people about my ruined knee … well, until now.

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It’s been over two and a half months since I’ve been to this cafe. It’s my first Monday back at the gym, taking it gently, only 15 minutes on the bike, to get my ankle and knee moving, followed by some free weights and my ankle/knee physiotherapy exercises. It’s nice to get back to some normality, to get back to a routine, but it will be nicer still when I can go down the stairs alternate feet first, and don’t wake up to pain in my knee every hour or two.

When I was working out the sun was blinding, reflecting off the sea and the polished concrete floor, but now the clouds have covered over, and the sea is softly choppy, as the wind is gentle, and the temperature outside ridiculously mild for the day before the shortest day of the winter. Across the harbour, as I wait for my flat white, I can see the container transporters working on the wharf, multi-coloured containers piled high in office block proportions, looking like Lego blocks, or several complicated Rubik’s cubes, though perhaps not so complicated after all, as at least one cube has been solved on the side facing me, smugly monotone white and complete. The Eastbourne ferry crosses in front of me, reminding me that even after all these years I’ve never taken it, and wondering if my 13-year old nephew* would like a trip on it when he comes to stay in a few weeks.

The simple act of moving, the people I got to know at the gym, going to my regular coffee shops, seeing the recovery of my favourite coffee shop (after a fire), being outside, enjoying the harbour – all these little things I used to take for granted mean so much more after an extended break.**

*okay, great-nephew, but I think we’ve reached an understanding where he calls me his great aunt (ie. aunt who is great, because I am) and he will be my nephew who is great because he is.

** pun not intended.

Update: I am pleased to report that two weeks later taking stairs is easier, and my knee is less painful.

 

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After six weeks, my cast came off today, and I’m allowed to put weight on my ankle, though I will confess that these first hours are scary, and my crutches are still my best friends. I learned some lessons over these last six weeks:

  • Maintaining leg, shoulder and arm strength is important for all of us. We never know when we will need it, and I’m pleased that prior to my accident I had increased the weight exercises at the gym.
  • Time actually goes really fast, and I didn’t really have time to read all the books, watch all the TV programmes, or learn all the Spanish that I thought I would six weeks ago.
  • I need to lose weight, and I missed cooking, and I’m not sure if the two are linked.
  • It is hard to ask for help, but we will all have to do it at some stage, and we need to learn that

a) there is no shame in it, and
b) if you don’t ask, you often don’t get, and
c) in asking, we’ll learn how to better help others.

  • We should appreciate how lucky we are to be able to do things like walking, or using our hands and arms, or other basic functions that we take for granted, but shouldn’t.

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Studies regularly point out that loneliness can be deadlier than obesity or smoking, especially in your old age. Just do a search, and you’ll find many references. Clearly, friendships and other relationships nurture us in ways that are more than merely emotional. Whilst it is sad enough that elderly folks are lonely (or that anyone is lonely, to be honest), it is beyond sad that their loneliness may shorten their lives and bring them physical ailments that limit their lives, and isolate them even further.

It made me think about my life. Right now, I’m spending weeks stuck inside, on my own. My husband is working hard and of course has been looking after his parents over the last few weeks. I joked – sort of – to him that it was okay, I clearly knew that I was ranked at least third in his life, behind his parents and work, right now at least. My friends were busy at work, or travelling, or busy with kids during school holidays. So I’ve been feeling a bit lonely really. I know that this will pass, though, and I’m counting the days till I will more easily be able to navigate the steep driveway and road to my car, and will once again get the freedom to travel independently and spend time with other people!

My old age might be different, though. We don’t have children, so won’t have them popping in to visit – now or when I’m old. (I’m presuming I’ll be lucky enough to grow old, of course, which is not guaranteed at all!) I look at my in-laws, and whilst I’m glad that they still have each other against the odds, I am sad that they don’t really have friends, and increasingly, only have my husband and me. I think that’s a danger of being part of a couple, whether or not you have children. It is easy to focus inwards, rather than to nurture outside relationships as well. It is also easy to assume that your children will be there for you, that they’re your insurance against loneliness when the evidence is that this often isn’t the case. And by the time you’ve lost some of your independence, it’s too late to build that support network you didn’t realise you needed.

Ultimately, I realise that in preparing for my old age, I’m going to have to build friendships and other relationships. More relationships than I currently have, probably. There are many ways to do this, of course. But most importantly, I think simply preparing for my old age, being aware of the fact that I have to create and nurture my relationships, rather than rely on blood or familial relationships, will hopefully help ensure that I won’t be lonely. Internet relationships are good, but they can’t pop in when you’re hungry for the sound of another voice, for the feel of someone’s hand on your shoulder, or need practical help.

Which is why I’m feeling grateful for my friends this week, popping in with ANZAC biscuits, or staying over last night – as Peony did – to chat (or perhaps, listen to me rant), and cook me a delicious pumpkin risotto. I don’t take these relationships for granted, and I hope I never will.

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Sombre times

Today is ANZAC Day, and a very welcome public holiday, even if the reason for the day off is much more sombre. But then, we’ve had a pretty sombre few weeks, or in fact, a pretty sombre year so far, to be accurate.

Whilst still dealing with the aftermath of my mother’s death, a week or two after tumbling down the stairs and breaking my ankle we were woken in the middle of the night to find my father-in-law had had a heart attack. It took over a week to get him stabilised and safely home, and then just a few days later, there was another early morning call, and he was back in hospital again, with another suspected attack.

So it has been a stressful few weeks, particularly for my husband, as he’s had a particularly busy period on his current contract, has had to care for his mother and drive her to and from the hospital (a three-four hour round trip every day after work), and then on top of that has had to look after me. With little time (and less inclination) to cook, he’s become particularly innovative at finding different forms of takeaways for meals, including roast meals and of course the ubiquitous Chinese, both providing lots of vegetables to ward off the scurvy that was threatening if we lived on pizza or fish and chips.

Brothers are flying in, coming back into the country to see their parents over the next week or two, giving him some welcome relief. We are all hoping, of course, that the crises are over for the time being, but life isn’t always that cooperative, is it?

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It’s been over a week since I broke my ankle, and I miss being able to walk, to climb stairs, to go to the gym, to shower easily – in fact, to do anything easily. We take our mobility (if we are lucky enough to have it in the first place) for granted, until it is taken away. 

I also miss my laptop. Writing on my iPad as I hold it in one hand reclining in bed or on the couch or even at the table with my foot elevated isn’t very comfortable, and my Swype Keyboard that makes this possible is both my best friend and an infuriating frustration. It means I can write with one hand, but its predictive text is odd (the one on my Samsung phone is so much better), and so my text is filled with typos that constantly need correcting.

My desk is in the top floor of this five-level house, so my husband is going to set up my computer temporarily in the dining room. But I can’t yet sit there comfortably, without pain and numbness in my foot, so I’m relying on my iPad in the meantime.

Hence, I’m posting a #Microblog Monday post on Tuesday … from my bed.

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I’ve had an educational week. These are some of the things I have learned:

After years of saying that my in-law’s steep staircase down to their basement and garage was made for tiny feet, and warning my elderly in-laws to be very careful, I should have listened to my own comments and advice more attentively. Do as I say, not as I do. It’s good advice.

It is possible, even whilst falling down the aforementioned staircase, to fear that the aforesaid elderly in-laws might also fall, and call out to them to stay where they are, even as I’m coming to a halt.

In another instance of do as I say, not as I do, I waited two days before seeking medical help. I was hoping it was only a sprain. I could put just enough weight on my left foot to be able to hobble or hop forward, provided I was holding onto my husband or some support. But after two days it was worse not better, so we headed off to the urgent clinic. Once again we are always urging the elderly in-laws to get to the doctor, to get ailments and medical issues that are worrying them checked out by professionals. Do as I say, not as I do. Yes, I might eventually learn this lesson.

I’ve never had a broken bone that required a cast before. (A broken little toe was untreatable.)  I had three casts in 24 hours. One was cut off within two hours, after I transferred from the urgent clinic to the Emergency Department at the hospital. The second stayed with me overnight, and was sawn off the next morning at the hospital. I’ve had to put trust in medical professionals before. But there’s nothing quite like learning firsthand an appreciation of their skills and concentration when they’ve got an electric saw in their hand cutting through a cast.
Also, I learned how they put on a cast. It is a surprisingly unsophisticated process.

I learned that I didn’t have much of a reaction to the gas and air (nitrous oxide) offered during a painful procedure. I was quite disappointed. Or perhaps I just didn’t have enough!

I renewed my appreciation of our healthcare system. It had been dented by my mother’s experiences, but not even 24 hours after first walking (ok, being wheeled) into the Emergency Department, I had had an operation, with screws and plates holding the broken bones in my ankle together while they heal, at no personal expense.

I learned how an asthmatic must feel. I had a difficult reaction to the breathing tube, and spent some minutes gasping for air. It was frightening. But I learned too that my yoga breathing techniques helped me keep as calm as I could (I didn’t feel calm, but I’d just woken up) until the medication made the air come more easily.

I learned that taking stairs on crutches is scary. I’m trying to gain confidence and technique. I’m learning to take it slowly. I’m learning that when necessary, going up and down on my butt will do just fine.

I’m learning that taking care of myself is going to be tough. For example, today is the last Pasta and Chardonnay night of the season. But I’ve learned that I can’t carry chardonnay when I’m on crutches! The pasta, too, is going to have to wait till my husband gets home after golf tonight. It’s not all bad though, if I can convince him to cook it or me!

I only arrived home last night. I’m sure I will learn a lot more over the next six weeks.

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