I have, as of late, been hobbled by an ankle injury. In traditional Tony fashion, it’s a sprain that would’ve been better off as a break, the pain is uncontrolled and improvement since the injury has been simply marginal.
People see me on crutches and ask me what happened. I tell them that there were these guys – eight of ‘em, big as bread trucks – hassling a lady and I intervened. They look at me in awe. And then I tell them, “and I twisted it while I was running away from them.”
Truth is, it happened while carrying a box at work. I was carrying it out to my car to deliver as an errand and, though the box was not heavy (but was wide), I rolled my ankle on the edge of the sidewalk. I heard the pop. I screamed. I fell. I writhed, crying, on the front lawn in front of the office, surrounded by a cardboard box, a pair of eyeglasses and my 3-year-old’s Sippy cup. I tried to call for help, but I’d landed on my cell phone and it was being uncooperative as a consequence. Fortunately, some coworkers were leaving soon behind me, and came to my rescue, collecting the box and Sippy cup and helping me to my van.
Now, I’m convalescing with a company-issued inflatable plastic splint that leaks and a set of aluminum crutches that I keep telling people are about an inch too short.
And I’m ill.
I’ve never been one to have anything done for him. I’ve been a bachelor for most of my life, with a circle of friends who, though dear, would find great humor in antagonizing my ailment and are therefore not to be trusted. I was raised such that, if there was something you wanted or needed, it was your responsibility to acquire it. No one was going to bring you anything or do anything for you, no matter what was wrong with you. When I broke the same ankle in a car wreck 10 years ago, it was fortuitous that I lived in the basement of my parents’ house, as I was able to slip out the side door and around the back of the house to use the bathroom without having to navigate two flights of stairs in their split-level house to reach the facilities.
Truth is, I find it unsettling when anyone does something for me. I feel obligated to do something in return, and I’m concerned that I won’t be able to fulfill that obligation when called upon to do so. Providing me with a glass of water at the right time is liable to lock me in to a life debt to you.
I’m especially not accustomed to having my wife do things for me – though she has, graciously, done a great deal, for which I’m incredibly grateful. It’s just not the way our relationship is structured. She’s a nurse, spending long hours at a time on her feet at work. When she comes home, I’m happy to run, fetch and do for her. I trek downstairs in the dark if something has been neglected downstairs. I am the toilet paper carrier, hauling it from the hall bathroom to all parts of the house as needed. If something’s been left in the car, I’ll more often than not be the one to go out and get it. It’s not that I’m the servant (though, admittedly, it does feel that way sometimes), but I’m the goer and the doer.
In short, my wife is the type who is happy to bring me a soda if she’s up at the fridge, but she’s not going to make a special trip to the kitchen for that.
So I feel awful asking for help. I feel I should be doing only the minimal things necessary to sustain myself at this time – drinking water from a jug beside the couch, foregoing snacks for nutritional paste that would only be palatable if you were on sedation and it was being pumped into your stomach through a tube in the chest, that sort of thing. I feel like life shouldn’t have much quality while I’m recovering from the sprain because, alas, enriching my life means adding a greater burden to the lives of those I love. For someone who has always done for himself to suddenly find continuing in the fashion to which I am accustomed to be such a challenge, this just stinks.
Add to that the pain, which is truly uncontrolled. The prescribed remedy is rest, ice, compression and elevation. It’s also 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, to be taken every eight hours “as needed for pain.” As needed for pain my ass – this ain’t cutting it. The pill gives me about a couple of hours of reduced pain, and then six hours of suffering before I’m permitted to take another. And I’ve only 20 – and they’re dwindling.
This would be easier to bear were it something I did myself. If I’d hurt it playing football, racing a motorcycle or doing some other knuckleheaded thing, that would be understandable. I would deserve the abuse and punishment I am now enduring. But I stepped off a sidewalk carrying a box at work. The activity that rendered me lame was in itself extraordinarily lame.
This weekend, I applied ingenuity – a trait that I inherited from my Yankee grandfather – to get things done. I tossed laundry through the open foyer into piles below to prevent carrying it down the stairs as I ordinarily would, I used my rolling office chair to great effect for getting about the house for a while, and managed to use my rolling ottoman as a crawler of sorts to help me sort and fold laundry as it washed. I used a counter-height stool to cut up the chicken and onion for my homemade chicken and dumplings – a dish that requires little more than six hours in a crock pot and it’s ready to eat. I set my daughter up in the office with a beanbag chair, a blanket and kids shows on the television to keep her entertained without chasing her around the house and throwing her around, as we usually do on Sundays.
But I’m tired of hurting, and I’m anxious about how long this is going to take to get better. I’m worried how this will exacerbate the arthritis that was already present in the ankle owing to the old break, and my bad shoulder is making it difficult to support my frame on these crutches. I’m scared that my wife’s nerves are being tested beyond restraint by my injury, the stress of being in her final semester of graduate school and her full-time job. I’m angry and bitter about how the accident happened – though I blame no one but myself – and I’m angry that so little has been done to mitigate the awful, stabbing pain I’m enduring. I hate that I can’t even carry a mug of coffee back to my desk, and I cannot bring myself to burden others by asking for their assistance.
I know I’ll get better. Already, it’s better than it was. It can support a tiny amount of weight, briefly, which was more than it could do last week immediately following my injury. I’ve found clever ways to work around it. But it’s still aggravating, it still keeps me from being myself, and it makes me feel pitiful and useless and not particularly funny, too.
Saturday, while hobbling up to a friend’s house for a baby shower, I felt a twinge of pain in my right ankle – the good one – while swinging along on the crutches. I was immediately terrified. What if I injured the good ankle? What would become of me then? Would I have to use a wheelchair? Would I have to buy the wheelchair? How much do they cost? How would I know no one died in my wheelchair, should I have to get a used one? Do they have to tell you that, like when you’re buying a house? How would I get around my house, which has an abundance of stairs?
And I thought about my wife, now dealing with me, crippled in both ankles, unable to walk or limp or hop at all. I wondered how she’d deal with it. I wondered how she’d find it in herself to take care of me. Everyone has their limit. Everyone has just so far that they’ll go for another human being. It’s biological – it’s necessary for our survival. There’s only ever been one truly altruistic person, and He didn’t make it out of His 30s. We’re in love, deeply so, and I don’t doubt that. I’m so much better off this time around than when I injured it so badly a decade ago and had no one to help me and nothing to distract me from the pain and loss of freedom and motion.
In the end, though, we’re all just one turned ankle away from being wards of the state.