How a Broken Ankle Nearly Broke My Mind

I hadn’t written in over two months.  The ideas came but the words wouldn’t follow, instead hanging in my mind; disjointed fragments that I just could not string together.  Like the shoes you sometimes see hanging from electrical wires, you know how they got there but retrieving them is impossible.  Writers block is something that plagues everyone who writes regularly, and for most it’s an elusive, unexplainable thing.  For me, my block had an obvious, tangible cause, as plain as the nose on my face — or the foot on my leg.

Days after writing my last piece, I suffered an accident in which I seriously injured my left ankle.  I knew the moment it happened that something was definitely amiss, but ten hours later (six of those spent in emergency) I discovered just how extensive the damage was: comminuted avulsion fractures of the distal fibula and calcaneus, with a minor fracture of the talus and a 9mm displacement of the cuboid. In layman’s terms, I had shattered my ankle and done a fair bit of damage to my foot.  Two days later an orthopedist swapped out my temporary splint for a lovely purple fiberglass cast, told me to stay completely off my foot for the next four weeks, at which time I may or may not need surgery to repair my shattered bones, gave me a prescription for pain medication and sent me on my way.

At first, the whole thing was amusing — my klutziness now had a body count!  Even the incident itself was ridiculous:  I had tripped and fallen down a step that was all of two inches high.  I didn’t even have a story to tell!  And there was a certain amount of novelty to it.  I had a relatively illness-, pain-, and injury-free childhood.  I never contracted chicken pox, measles, mumps, nothing more serious than tonsilitis and one food allergy reaction; I’d never broken a bone, sprained an ankle, jammed a finger, required stitches, or taken a ball to the head. The one and only time I fell off my bike (I went hurtling down a hill straight into a thorn bush) I was left with a few scratches and bruises and nothing more.  And with the exception of easily-treated injuries to my back and knees and one minor surgery, my adult life had followed suit.  So this broken ankle of mine was entrance into a club of sorts.  I could now empathize with all the tales of broken bones I had heard from my friends.  That feeling lasted about twenty-four hours.  Then the reality set in:  I was hurt, badly enough that I had been sidelined, and for how long no one could say.  My life as I had known it was now put on hold, and everything now centered upon my injury and the healing process.  And this, I was to discover, was even more painful than the initial injury.

My spring semester in college, which was supposed to be my “gap semester” spent taking all the fun courses I hadn’t had time for the year before, was ended before it even began.  My gym routine and my plans to begin running came to a screeching halt.  My rose garden sat neglected and bloomless without my daily ministrations.  The trip I had planned to take during spring break was now indefinitely shelved. No movies, no shopping, no lunches with friends.  Even being able to go to the kitchen by myself was vetoed by my mother after catching the leg of my walker led to a second fall three weeks later.  I hesitated to venture anywhere that I might encounter an obstacle.  My world had shrunk to an area of roughly 20 feet.  The days were endless, and the loss of autonomy was maddening.  For my birthday, I received a wheelchair.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  When my cast came off four week later and I was fitted with a fracture boot, I was devastated to learn that I was not as healed as I’d hoped:  although I would not require surgery, walking again was going to take much more time than I had thought, and I was plunged into a chasm of depression the depths of which I had not experienced since my teens. My distaste for self-pity only served to make it worse.  It was the darkest point in a tunnel whose end I could not yet discern.  But, I thought to myself, at least now I have plenty of time to read or write.  That turned out to be easier said than done as I found my mind consumed with the mechanics of everyday life.

Things that we all do every day by rote I now had to carefully plan out.  Things as simple as dressing and bathing became meticulously plotted procedures.  Navigating the step at my front door on the few occasions when I left my house became drama-filled affairs.  This left precious little room in my brain for anything else.  Topics to write about came to me often, but this became an annoyance rather than a welcome distraction.  They were an itch I could not scratch.  I tried to read but when I went back later to my stopping point, I found I couldn’t remember what I’d previously read.  Mindless television and Angry Birds were all the diversion my poor taxed brain could handle.  Any intellectual thoughts I had were barricaded behind a wall of mundane routines, and that wall became more impenetrable every day.  I began to wonder if, like my unexercised leg, my writing muscles would atrophy to the point of becoming completely useless.

But time heals all wounds, and my poor shattered ankle is no exception.  Fittingly, on the first day of spring, the end of the long dark winter of my discontent finally came in sight:  I took my first halting steps in over two months.  My walker was retired and a cane took its place. And with that simple transition, the wall began to crumble and finally, at long last, the words began to tumble free.  The mercury pushed spring forward into summer and my fabulous taskmaster of a physical therapist pushed me forward along with it.  I’m now cane-free and, for the most part, pain-free.  I’m walking again, living self-reliantly again, and thankfully I’m writing again.  And as it turns out, there was a story to tell after all.  I just had to wait for the words to come.

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Thanks to Dave Shea for X-Ray image.

Shannon Daley

Shannon Daley has been hanging around online corners for over twenty years. She contributes on an American's perspective, on politics, culture and technology. Location: Southwest by South.