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I will never be the same

April 4, 2012

Remember that time when I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my calcaneous? Yeah. That sucked.

Two years ago this month I was on my back recovering from a surgery that used a titanium plate and seven screws to put the pieces of my heel bone back together. I had smashed it into 17 identifiable pieces and a bunch of dust. No, I was not doing anything awesome like rollerblading or snowboarding (the cause of my two super-cool wrist fractures), but rather – well actually I’m not sure what I was doing. I don’t remember anything until the emergency room. But apparently I got up early one morning to go to the bathroom, took a wrong turn out the door and ended up at the bottom of the stairs.

The orthopedist on call – a pediatric orthopedist – told me I was in for a long recovery. He laughed when my first response was, “So I won’t be able to work out for a while?” That was right before he told me I’d never run again. The grown-up orthopedist I saw a few days later told me I’d definitely need surgery, adding, “Most people with this kind of injury ultimately end up getting their ankle fused.” The orthopedist who eventually did the surgery told me the bone had actually moved a quarter inch up and a half inch to the side; that yes, I’d need surgery, and yes, it would be gnarly. He had to drill a screw halfway into the back of my heel to create enough leverage to move it back into place.

Well, I thought, I’ll show them. Never mind that I hadn’t actually been a runner for years (thanks, RA), I’d run again and more. I started doing Pilates while I still had a cast on. I designed myself a swimming program before I was allowed to put any weight on my left foot. I finally got the go ahead from my doctor to do physical therapy, but my insurance put the kaibosh on that pretty quick. Nevertheless, I worked my way up to Sean T’s Ultimate Insanity Workouts, educating myself all the while by studying through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and even took and passed a test to become a personal trainer.

Damn right I will never be the same. I’ll be better.

Problem was, I was in pain. Every day. All the time. Constant pain. With that much pain, try as I did, I couldn’t actually get in good enough shape to be a trainer. Fast forward to November 2011, I’m not a personal trainer and my foot is swollen all the time, so I decide to take six weeks off, treat it like a new injury and see if I can’t bring the inflammation down to a more tolerable level.

Four weeks into that, my husband leaves me.

Almost four months later, I’m finally restarting an exercise program, I have new insurance, and I’m back at the orthopedist. I tell him, as I have told every other of his kind that I’ve seen, “My goal is to get back to my active lifestyle, including hiking, rollerblading, and plyometrics.” He takes one look at my X-Ray and tells me (say it with me): “You will never be the same.”

Some things are apparently like that: After they happen you can never be the same. You don’t look for them, you’re just sleepily trying to find your way back to the bed, and BAM. You find the stairs instead. You will never be the same. You don’t even know that so many of the things you love about your life are in jeopardy and suddenly, BAM. You lose the very things that made life the fantastic adventure you always wanted it to be. You will never be the same. Even the seemingly unrelated things in your life are forever changed when you realize that your very body – your joints, muscles, tendons, your heart itself, as it moves through the world – will never, ever be the same.

I had a dream the other night, and in it, I was on rollerblades. In times past, all my dreams were that way: perfectly normal dream-like things happening, only I’m in rollerblades. I did it so much when I was awake that my unconscious mind considered it the most natural form of movement. I never knew how grateful I should have been for a healthy peroneus longus.

When I was married I used to dream that I couldn’t find my husband, that he had left me, and that when I finally found him and asked why, he just laughed. I’d scream in my sleep until he woke me up. “I haven’t left, ” he’d say. “I’m right here.” Some dreams really do come true.

At this point, there’s no denying it. I will never be the same. Apparently, it’s not up to me. Whether I will or no, I have to be different. Though I maintain that, as a good friend has repeatedly told me, “I am who I am,” in some pretty major ways I have to be different now. I hope I always seek adventure, and I may always take the “attack the mountain,” as my brother so eloquently described my skiing style many years ago, approach to life. I may always be a Christian (I have never not believed in God), in some ways always a Southerner and a Texan (I cannot possibly get enough salt in my diet anywhere else), always a New Yorker (I have never lived in a place where people do everything as insufferably slowly as they do in LA, I mean my god all I want is a cup of coffee, this should be 45 seconds of both of our lives max), and I will surely always be my mother’s daughter. And yet, at this point, I also have to be a different athlete, a different director, a different teacher, a different friend, a different lover. A different person.

I warn you, this is going to be gnarly.

Where shall I start?

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