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My Temporary One-Legged Life

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I recently ran a marathon in Paris. The 26.2-mile race was all guts and glory. It was the most incredible experience, from the first grueling training run to the moment I crossed the finish line. I returned to the US with a smile that beamed for weeks, a medal, and unbeknownst to me, a stress fracture in my left femur.

I ran and my leg hurt the entire time. I was extremely stiff and sore for days afterwards, which is typical for marathon runners. Before leaving Paris, I ran a gentle three miles so that I wouldn’t be overly stiff on the eleven-hour flight home. Despite the romance of the location to transport my mind elsewhere, that short run hurt like hell. Back in LA, I took a couple of days off then ran, as per my Coach’s suggestion, another three miles. It hurt again. I finally got the message that things were not good, so I stopped running, and stepped up the rehab. Cue lots of foam roll and softball rolling, specific stretches, and application of ice packs five times a day. My husband took to leaving a yawning chasm down the centre of our bed and refused to cuddle me back to warmth when the icing was over, arguing that he didn’t need icing too.

Physical therapy consisted of chiropractic adjustments, more ice, and electrical stimulation, and some extremely deep tissue work at the hands of The Bulgarian Thunder Thumbs, Dr M., owner of thumbs who warned me that he was going to work deep. Past experience had me expecting bruises as a result of his massage and I was not disappointed. Additionally, as instructed, I sported a highly unattractive “Ace” bandage around my thigh, which made for some unsightly bulges inside the only pair of jeans that were suitable to wear with my sneakers. Heels were banned—possibly the cruelest blow of all since I construct my outfits around my footwear. For the past five weeks I have alternated between jeans and sweats and various T-shirts. This style of dressing is just not me. More than one friend has commented on my new ‘look’ stating that this is the only time that they have ever seen me looking less than ‘put together’. 

Actually, I did disobey the heel ban on one occasion in order to attend my marathon reunion dinner in my post-marathon celebration shoes—a vertiginous pair of silver, platform soled, spike heeled, peep toe pumps by Barbara Bui. I purchased these shoes in Paris the day after the race, taking the very fact that I could walk in them as a sign that I was meant to possess them. They are shoes for the fierce of heart and as one of my friends pointed out, “you’re gonna have to act like you own those shoes, otherwise they’ll own you”.

One month into the intensive therapy routine, my coach had me run on the treadmill. The plan was to try one minute ‘on’ (running), followed by one minute ‘off’ (walking) and repeat. I did. It hurt.

All evidence clearly pointed to the fact that the injury was more sinister than simple muscle damage. The results of an MRI suggested the presence of a stress fracture in my left femur. Standard care for a stress fracture is complete rest. In other words, suspending the use of my left leg. This is a radically conservative treatment plan, so much so that my chiropractor sent me to an orthopedist for a second opinion.

The orthopedist prescribed Celebrex for inflammation and the aforementioned radically conservative treatment plan. I would be on crutches for six weeks. I argued that I would be going to Europe in five. The orthopedist countered that I would be going to Europe with my crutches. I argued that I would be traveling alone for some of the trip and this would make life extremely difficult. He compromised, stating that he would assess the situation immediately before my departure and pronounce whether I would fly with or without crutches.

In the meantime I can’t put any weight on my leg. Since I have no pain during normal activity this is tricky. I forget that there is anything wrong until I actually attempt to run. The orthopedist suggested I stick rigidly to the treatment plan since further damage could mean that surgery would be necessary. I got the message. I left his office on crutches.

The past forty-eight hours have afforded me a swift and steep learning curve during which I have considered many issues, which arise for all those who are both temporarily and permanently disabled. I have been simultaneously, frustrated, exhausted, sore, confused, perplexed, and vexed. For somebody who thrives on control, the experience has been humbling. There are some things that I am simply unable to do without assistance, and there are things that I am unable to do—period. I have an issue with asking for help (don’t ask me why—I’m trying to figure it out in therapy and am nowhere nearer the answer than I was a year ago). Fortunately, I am meticulous about organizing and planning. This is imperative since life on crutches requires that one plan before executing any sort of task to minimize the number of steps taken. I’m as fit as someone who recently ran a marathon could be—that’s pretty damn fit—and I’m shattered at the end of the day. 

I can drive (thank God) and I am permitted to swim. The ability to perform some sort of exercise is my saving grace, my athletic tendencies are such that I go crazy when I can’t work out. I am fortunate enough to have a pool at my house. Unfortunately, the pool has been empty since November when we began a remodel and landscaping project in our back yard. Fortunately, friend has invited me to use her pool at my whim. In theory, the visit to her place should be a breeze. In my new, one-legged world, it is a protracted struggle. I dress ready to swim beneath my sweats and negotiate the stairs, cross the kitchen, and get to the door that leads to our garage. The door opens towards me and much hopping is involved to position myself correctly for my exit before it swings shut again. Once through the door I clear the obstacle course—scooters, soccer boots, bikes, balls, and the like—left by my kids. 

Getting into the car necessitates the removal of my two backpacks (one strapped to my front, the other to my back) before I sit. I toss these onto the passenger seat, lower myself into the driver’s seat, and then wrestle my crutches inside the vehicle. I catch my breath, take a moment to curse my contractor and start the engine. The drive itself is a cinch. Arriving at my friend’s place, I reverse the getting into the car routine, further accessorizing with a floaty “Aquajog” belt. Once my bags (one containing towel and water, the other now doubling as my purse) are positioned I hobble to the pool. Opening the cover, undressing, and placing my towel, water, and crutches in an accessible position make me exhausted before I start.

But once I’m in the water—oh, the sheer joy of being able to move freely. The floaty belt holds my body upright so that I can emulate the stride that a runner would make on dry land. I get a great workout from this and the endorphins are keeping me sane. There is a lot of bum shuffling before I am dry, dressed and ready to hobble back to my car where the whole getting in/getting out routine is repeated for the return journey.

It never occurred to me how time consuming simple chores are for people who suffer from physical disability. I’m normally a multi-tasking dynamo but in my new, one legged world I can only do one thing at a time—though wearing a wireless headset does enable me to make calls while I perform my single task. If ever there was a lesson in taking one’s fitness and mobility for granted then I am learning it, fast track. I can’t fetch, I can’t carry, I can barely cook but can just about tackle the laundry. There’s piles of the stuff, neatly folded, sitting on top of the washing machine because I can’t carry it upstairs. My knicker drawer is running low and I hope that somebody steps in before I’m forced to go commando-style.

Aside from clean clothes, there’s the issue of a clean me. I was totally stumped as to how I would shower and hair wash while balanced on one leg, until someone pointed out that I should sit on a stool. I am now the proud owner of a very charming white, plastic seat, which I had the satisfaction of assembling from flat-pack all by myself. So, I’m doing okay in the hygiene stakes, in no little part thanks to the fact that my bathroom has a marble floor which makes sliding from one side to the other easy. However, it still takes me twice as long to get myself showered, dried, body lotioned, made up, and coiffed.

My children have been surprisingly helpful once they got over the hilarity that their mum, who likes doing everything her way and doing it herself, is pretty much incapacitated. I realize that my life could be a whole lot easier if I continue to have them help out more once I’m off crutches. They’ve previously had a pretty smooth ride as far as chores go and I guess I really never asked enough of them. I would periodically lose my temper with my boys, yelling about the million tiny things that I do that nobody notices or appreciates … until the time that I actually stop doing them. And that time is now. The kids fully grasp that once dinner is over they can’t make a beeline for the TV while there are dishes to wash; clothes to be loaded into the washer/dryer, fish to feed, mail to sort, and carry to the office, toilet paper to be distributed around the house, etc.

My husband has been in Asia since I became physically challenged. While he ‘enjoyed’ a grueling, five-day tour of Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul, I’ve been using the time to perfect my performance on crutches and will look pretty damn professional once he returns. I just hope that he doesn’t want me to return his easy-to-get-into Audi A6, leaving me with my high SUV

There are certain benefits to my one-legged life. I’ve given up alcohol for fear of harming myself with a DUI on crutches. I’ve nearly broken my Starbucks habit since I can order and pay for my “fix” but can’t carry it away with me. I can’t drink my extra hot, wet, cap unless I have the time to sit in the coffee shop. Not only am I consuming less caffeine but I no longer graze my way through the day. Schlepping to the kitchen and feeding myself is really hard work. All the preparation, moving around, and dealing with hot/wet surfaces is lethal. I’m tempted to survive on Raisin Bran until I’m back on two feet since I can park my bum on a stool by the cereal cupboard and reach for a bowl and spoon at the same time. By hopping a little way forward on the stool, I can open the fridge and grab the milk.

Now that I’ve had some time to adjust to life on one-leg things really aren’t so bad. Today I located and successfully operated a drive-up ATM. There was no need to park and walk to the bank although I now have a disabled parking placard. When I hang this magical red rectangle of plastic on my rear view mirror, it gives me the right to park on meters without paying a cent. I think I might just go and hang out in my local retail area for a few days, enjoying my right to park almost anywhere, metaphorically giving the finger to each and every one of the vicious parking officers who patrol Pacific Palisades, waiting to pounce on perfectly law-abiding people whose meters expire purely by mistake. My parking pass expires in November although I hope to have no further use for it beyond the middle of June. It briefly occurred to me that I could abuse it once my injury was healed but then I thought about the bad Karma I would reap for myself.

I have to say that the most unexpected benefit of my time on one leg is the fact that I suddenly have oodles of opportunity to write. Despite a confirmed commitment, my memoir has been ‘shelved’ since Thanksgiving. The longer I leave it alone the harder it becomes to return to the work since I really don’t recall where I left off. My convenient excuse for this slothfulness was the fact that my running here, there and everywhere being Superwoman gave me no time to write anything other than short essays. My memoir is a meatier piece of work altogether and I shall use this opportunity to tackle the story with the commitment that it deserves. Thanks to long sedentary periods necessary to give my good leg a break there are many spare hours to fill with the solitary pleasure that can be found with an open laptop and an engaged brain.

There’s no doubt that I will maintain a positive attitude to see me through until everything has healed. While there is little to gain by feeling sorry for myself there is a lot to be said for being thankful for a body that normally functions perfectly. As an active person, I had never stopped to consider how life is for the physically challenged. I am very grateful that this opportunity has forced me to think deeply about what real life is like for those who don’t enjoy the full use of their limbs. This experience gives me an understanding of what I’ve always taken for granted—the ability to walk, run, jump, and wear those killer silver shoes. Yes, I hope that one day before summer’s end I’ll not only wear the aforementioned virgin sandals, but also strike out for Martinis shod in my fabulous post marathon celebratory heels.


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