Tonight I accomplished something that just a few weeks ago seemed so far out of reach it made me cry every time I thought about it.
I was finally, for the first time in forty days, able to wash my right foot and ankle.
Tonight, I dipped my toe in the water, both physically and metaphorically.
I should start by stepping back in time, back to the point where I did indeed get fitted with that hard cast, the one I was hoping would give me more mobility. It did, and for that I’m forever grateful.
I was able to go back to work, to get a knee scooter, and to feel a bit more normal that I’d felt in the splint that had to remain elevated all the time. I even managed to attend a run with my local MRTT chapter where I “scooted” a mile while others actually ran. Not smart in retrospect, but I did it. Come to think of it, that was a bit of dipping my foot in the water to begin with.
The hard cast had its drawbacks for sure…like the swelling complications I continued to have that made it cut into my foot and calf, turning my toes blue and my outlook sullen. Like the vibrations that coursed through it every time I accidentally bumped it into someone or something.
And the smell.
Let’s not talk about the smell.
For three weeks I scooted my way around life, attending my son’s high school graduation, work, and even going out to dinner with my friends one night. I managed Father’s Day and got back to the point where I could grocery shop for myself. It seemed like heaven when I wasn’t frustrated about wanting to walk again, which was unfortunately all to frequent.
The best part was I had a date when I knew it would come off and I’d be able to move into a transition boot if all went well. No accidents, no more injury, no weight on it at all, and on the 22nd of June I’d be back on two feet. The light at the end of the tunnel.
I knew this when my son prepared to attend college orientation this week. I also knew two important things: (1) most families would be in attendance, escorting their children to some seminars and learning to let them go in others; and (2) seventeen year old boys are as self-conscious as they come but do their best to hide it. I had a choice to make.
So it was with a stoic face I reported to my son (Monday night ahead of his Tuesday departure) that I had something important come up at work and I’d not be able to attend. At first he didn’t seem phased, and then he did. So I admitted that the real reason I didn’t want to go was that I didn’t want to scoot around on that silly knee scooter and embarrass him by making him stand out as the guy with the mom on a scooter. He protested little and I took that as a sign of relief.
I couldn’t have been more incorrect if I’d tried.
Tuesday morning I woke him at five-thirty for the hour-long drive to campus and he seemed apprehensive. I asked what was wrong.
“I really want you to come.”
Even with the knee scooter, the banged up mom needing to sit in the handicapped section, my son wanted me there.
I ditched plans to go to work (no one expected me to come anyway, I’d taken the days off to be with my child) and hopped in the car, preparing to not embarrass my son.
Well, I mostly succeeded, but in the end, I failed in a big way. Picture the end of the day, hundreds of incoming UOP Freshmen in the quad, twice as many parents, and me…going head over heels off of my knee scooter, in a dress.
The scooter collapsed because of a faulty screw and I went down, showing more than I’d ever intended to show to a group of eighteen year old, newly-minted adults and their families. I hit my cast hard, taking the brunt of the fall on my toes. On concrete.
I landed in a heap of dress and blood, having split open my big toe. After a bit of first aid, I (being an expert in broken bones at this point) declared my first two toes on my right foot broken.
The words of my surgeon rang out: No accidents.
Fabulous. Less than 24 hours before I was to move into a transition boot and I’d had an accident.
I’d made it 39 days without hurting myself again, without jeopardizing my recovery.
I’d made it through ten hours of orientation without embarrassing my son.
In the end, I’d screwed both things up.
I won’t belabor this part except to say I headed home with a bleeding toe, a damaged dress (after an unfortunate soda explosion in the car…suffice it to say cans of Sprite do not fare well in 100 degree weather when left inside parked cars), and more tears than I’ve shed during this entire ordeal.
I bawled like a baby for nearly fifty miles on the freeway.
I think it was mostly frustration over making it so far and then (likely) ruining my recovery. Visions of split open surgery wounds danced through my head. I could hear my surgeon admonishing me and insisting that it would never, ever be healed.
It was also shame. Shame that I’d embarrassed my son. Shame that, despite feeling like I could do it all, the Universe waited until the 11th hour to remind me that I could not.
I came home to my younger son (the other having remained overnight in the dorms as was required, but don’t ask how I drove home with my right leg in a cast and two broken/bleeding toes, it’s not important) who performed as much first aid as he could before deferring to my parents, who came out to ensure I wasn’t too damaged.
I wasn’t. It was mostly bruised ego.
I woke today with my toes black and blue and the larger one still bleeding. I stayed down as much as I could, hoping to stem the flow before reporting to my surgeon in the late afternoon for the bad news.
I expected to leave with a new hard cast and more weeks of scooter/crutch time, but I didn’t.
Somehow, some way, I didn’t. He heard my story, took a look at my toes (praising the first aid job), and said that they were definitely broken but not a threat to my ankle recovery.
He cut off my cast, making me laugh out loud with the tickling sensation of the saw.
And he exposed my ankle.
It was as ugly as you could imagine, but beautiful at the same time. I still had orange Betadine and purple marker everywhere from the surgery, and I had tons of dry and flaking skin. I had sores under a few of the steri-strips, the equivalent of bed sores in a way. My ankle was swollen out of shape still and there is (and will remain) a strange bulge to my calf where my tibia was repaired. My calf muscle had withered and my leg looked skinny and frail. I had one dirty and bloody foot, and as I’d not been able to shave that portion of my leg in weeks, I might have looked like a female Yeti.
And that smell…
Oh, yeah. The beautiful part. Let me get to that.
The scars, previously puckered and angry, were flat beneath the steri-strips.
While still not the proper color, they looked amazingly well along their way to fading. My toes (the ones not broken) were now able to move about on their own and I could wiggle them. More than anything, I realized that I would indeed someday look mostly normal again.
And the surgeon, after evaluating me, said I’d definitely be able to run normally again. Sooner than I expected but later than I’d like.
He manipulated my foot with little pain, and he gave instructions on how I should do the same. He told me to bear weight to my level of tolerance, using my crutches instead of the scooter so I’d be forced to work out the stiffness and begin rebuilding strength. In a few days, he said, you’ll not need them at all. Leave the boot off when you’re not walking around and do what I wanted to as I was able.
He put the boot on my foot and gave me one last set of instructions: go home, take a hot bath (jetted if I could, and I can), and work my ankle in the bath as much as possible. Wash off the crud and start to feel normal.
I did just that. But not without apprehension.
I filled my oversized tub with warm water, sat on the edge, and pondered what the heck I would do next for a good five minutes. I found myself petrified of what it would feel like when I put my foot down for the first time. I expected it to hurt, I think.
No, I did. I expected pain.
I wasn’t disappointed, but the pain was simply stiffness and as I dipped my toes in the warm water, I felt a sense of relief and progress I’ve not felt in weeks.
I spent over an hour in that bath, working my ankle in the warmth and washing away the remnants of Zion.
Yep, there was still Zion dirt between my toes. It was nasty.
And that smell…
But while I did that, I felt as though I were washing away the past few weeks of sadness, frustration, and depression. I don’t go in much for transcendental rumination, but in this case I can say it really did feel like I was moving from one stage to another.
From recovery to rebuilding.
I know I’ll be on crutches for a bit longer and in the boot longer still. I don’t even see my surgeon again for a month. But in that time, I will work like a mad woman to loosen up, rebuild strength, and impress him with my determination to succeed.
I’ve dipped my toes in the water of rebuilding and I’ve emerged fresh, clean, and ready to do this.
It just may be time to order a new pair of trail shoes to replace those cut off on that mountain in Zion.
Trails, get ready. I’m coming for you.