Wednesday’s Word: A Story of a Short, Hard Fall v. the Long Haul

Oswald West trails along the Oregon coast

Apparently I think I have daredevil blood in my veins, if perhaps not seriously like stunt persons or Indy race car drivers (though I felt the attraction in younger years). Or maybe I entertain the idea that I’m quite a skilled athlete. Both read as faintly ridiculous–neither is close to the truth, at least not at this stage in my life. Well, maybe the first sentence is still true. I do have impulses to undertake some stuff that many people I know do not, even if they’re a decade or so younger. And I act on those most of the time. Risk taking doesn’t often seem such an unreasonable choice to me– physically, anyway. I trust myself, my animal instincts.

But I had an injury this morning that gave me pause. I had completed the task of changing a light bulb above the bathroom sink. As usual, I then jumped down from the counter. Except I didn’t land perfectly on my feet as I have a hundred thousand times in many situations over the years. My stocking feet slid just a bit, I lost balance and listed; gravity fast took me to my left. My arm and hand searched to find something to break the fall but all I found was the side of the tub, then the damp bottom that my hand slipped rather than grabbed onto, say the shower curtain or the rounded edge the bathtub. Thus, my left side crashed against the rounded edge of the tub even as my body loosened and recoiled from the crash. I felt my ribs press in, move out. I caught my breath, waited a moment, considered that I’d likely develop a bruise–I take aspirin for heart disease, so bruise rather easily. No body alarms rang out, though, so I got up. With nothing awry except a small sore spot on my side, I counted my blessings. I did feel a bit shocked by it, tried to figure out just what occurred. I rarely have fallen in any circumstance, and tend to end up embarrassed if anything. It has been a sort of a family joke that if I start to fall or even drop something, fast reflexes are my good luck, saving me each time.

So I decided to go on a walk after a bit, as the sunshine was amazing and no rain clouds in sight. The temperature was in lower to mid fifties: more almost-spring weather! I admit I also  wanted to see if I was okay enough to move about more. So I strolled along for once, snapping photos, checking out blossoming trees and bushes, even a first perfectly white tulip. I called my sister to share my story; she was surprised, too.

That fragrant, lovely walk was a mistake. By the time I got halfway home I was aware of pain. I put an ice pack on it and decided it would be wise to call the nurse advice line.

“Any swelling? Big bruising? Sharp pain when you breathe in and out? Can you move about generally okay?”

“Well, I can’t turn or bend to my left. How do you mean, like a knife or a side jab or a grating pulling sensation? It hurts when I laugh much–I was laughing earlier as I told my sister how very un-catlike I suddenly felt today…more like an unwieldy hippo in a downhill slide. It is spreading a bit but no, I’m not in agony when I take a deep breath. It just sure hurts along my left side now.”

“I imagine! Keep icing, take pain relievers. Come in tomorrow morning to be checked further. There are no openings today but if things worsen later, call. But just so you know, it will hurt more as time goes by, will be worse tomorrow. Just keep an eye out for serious pain, swelling or bruising in the next few hours as that requires attention much sooner than later.”

“I feel like a real idiot, stupid how I lost my footing, ” I mumbled.

“Naw, listen, people get injured all the time in odd ways. We all do things we expect will be fine, then they aren’t.”

At least she didn’t say: why on earth was a 67 year old woman standing atop the bathroom counter, then thinking she could just jump down to the floor?

That would have upset me more.

I expect this body to do better for me. I have counted on that a long time. It has been happy to oblige with fortunately excellent balance, some decent core strength and sure-footedness, generally limber movements. I guess it has been a source of pleasure plus a bit of quiet pride. I so love being physical, believing this vehicle of flesh and bones will do as it is supposed to. This despite having chronic and sometimes emergency health issues. What’s a medical challenge here and there?–they do keep us on our toes. We all have our hurdles; mine have been fairly manageable thus far. I still crave being active and so get out and about. I long ago learned that lots of movement pumps up general well being, is required for bodies to work at optimum levels despite our glitches. (Kids clearly know all this without thinking; we adults can forget.)

Okay, not that I am one of those older women who backpack thirty miles into the wilderness with a fifty pound backpack–finally  to sleep upon stony ground under an wide and possibly storming sky. My camping days have sadly faded away (though I’m definitely open to buying a pop-up camper; maybe if we save and then cash in all our extra change when hubby retires). I admire those who do this after 65 or 70–even at 50–and what a beautiful thing to have what it takes.

In fact, I do far less than I’d like. I could find excuses but why bother, I just haven’t done all I want to do yet. I seriously want to rent kayaks and canoes again as well as try tubing down a river, hike much farther and higher, swim at least twice a month, ice skate more, take up regular cycling after not riding a bike a couple of decades, and try more dance classes. (I had to quit flamenco due to a sore foot from hiking two years ago). I’d also like to go rock climbing, parachuting, horseback riding, cross-country skiing–some of it new, some not.

But I power walk an hour a day which is perhaps 4-5 miles, depending–more and faster when the weather is good. I dance and exercise at home, have enjoyed working up a sweat in Zumba classes. I hike often when the trails aren’t too muddy (recently we did eight miles at the beach, in the coastal forest). I wouldn’t mind weight training again. I haven’t decided to join a fitness club again; I always prefer the outdoors. But weight training was a thrill when I was forty; maybe it’d be fun now.

I also am more apt than my husband, bless him, to do physical work around our place–it’s my nature to hop to things, get them done. I used to love splitting fire wood and doing all the yard duties; I just like such work. I’m not the most daring or active a person can be but neither am I a shrinking violet when it comes to pushing my body some.

When I was a kid, I used to dream about was being a trapeze artist. It was likely after I saw a performance of Ringling, Barnum and Bailey Circus. I imagined over and over what it would be like to have such perfect timing and such strength and grace to swing back and forth and grab another swing or the hands coming toward me. It was mesmerizing. I wanted to be far up there, to feel the flight that occurred with such letting go, to sail through the air. So I rigged up a trapeze in our big old maple tree in the back yard. I’d swing and hang from that thing endlessly, as if I was really doing something. And when the trapeze broke, I put op a heavy rope from which to swing and catapult myself up onto the bigger branches. That tree was like a mountain, something to be conquered and then to rest within, a feeling of triumph filling me with happiness.

And I could be as tough and capable as any boy, often outpaced them, endured longer bike rides, climbed higher than most all of them. (This was more important as I got older rather than less. Strength, agility and stamina were crucial to my confidence and feeling safe in the world. More than once those traits literally saved me.) I also liked to practice bike tricks for hours in the medical building’s empty parking lot near our house. These required standing atop my bike seat, sticking out one leg behind me as I drifted about the parking lot. Or lying with abdomen on bike seat and chest on handle bars, then letting go of the handles. How about jumping on and off, hanging form the side as if the bike was a bareback trick horse? The fun was endless. Of course I fell, got a few cuts, shed a tear now and then. That was simply part of it.

I was athletic as a child and youth but more importantly, I was in love with human locomotion. I also wanted to see how far it was possible to push myself. I had little fear and lots of curiosity. I dearly longed to be a National Geographic explorer and journalist (besides a trapeze artist, dancer, figure skater, etc.)–that wonderful magazine inspired me far more than most tomes in our home.

I hope this lovely zest for life doesn’t subside much any time soon. But some days I wonder just a little.

Yachats, Oregon

Along the coast of Oregon are plentiful pockets of tide pools, many of which are among massive basalt rock formations. The sea crashes against the rocks sending up towering spray, waves surge and land in mighty thrusts of energy. You have to be careful out there and not many want to even venture farther than a few feet from the shore. My husband will go down to the rocks with me aided by his walking stick  so he can search for stones and starfish and anemones. After a bit I go on my own way, closer to the edge and the crashing waves. I always want to climb until I get a grand view out over the ocean; if there are peaks to scale that is where I end up. I know the dangers. I know not to turn my back to the sea, and to keep my distance from the slick edge where waves break high.

Yet…I want to get as close as I can to the swirling depths, to the action–just as a rocky outcropping or a steep hillside calls to me to climb to the top. Just as the towering maple and oak trees and the trapeze called me. It is hard to explain how it feels, all the right muscles clenching and stretching, feet reaching and finding a next toe hold, sense of balance finely attuned. Everything working together, the heart pumping happily, rich air filling up the lungs, bones ringing with the joy of it. I take chances because it is worth it. I know onlookers on the high ground likely think I have lost my mind but I am not concerned with them, only the moments when I am free, exhilarated, full of the mystery and beauty out there: mentally, spiritually, viscerally alive.

Only one time I slipped on wet mossy rocks and my hand found purchase to help me get my balance again. A slight scrape on my palm got infected; it was one of the worst I’ve ever had thanks to all the bacteria in the sea, on rocks frequented by an array of wild creatures and microscopic matter. It hasn’t kept me from going out there though I’m even more aware of how and where I step. I respect the ocean’s powers and defend myself against its beguiling, ferocious waves. Several people drown at the coast each year because they underestimate the danger. I do ask my body each time: can I still safely go out to explore? So far, it has been a yes.

Whew, right now, my left side is crying a bit, pain radiating out and I can’t easily think of leaping about all the fabulous earthy places I admire. It’s taking some effort to type all this. I need to ice more, rest awhile. Still, it was the day to post my nonfiction piece and suddenly there was a topic I’d not foreseen. Besides, I need to write as much as I desire to be outdoors, maybe more. My two loves, though.

My happiness expands within the wonders of nature. We are all part of an infinite natural design.

Because we never know. I’ve found myself unexpectedly very close to death a few times. This is a far cry from that but even little accidents can make one re-evaluate the order of things. One tiny tip of the balance, one alteration of the physics at work, one second miscalculated and we find out how vulnerable we can be. I can’t say I appreciate it much right now. Body messages and common sense or intuition do keep us going, keep us moving through life. Did my body feel a bit sluggish this morning? I think so…and then was not so smart although other times I’d land just right. Live and learn the hard way, I guess.

When I heal I’ll likely climb and hop off another counter or rocky abutment until my instinct warns me not to do it–and I will listen better. And expect a good outcome. But not while wearing my darned slippery socks, without better consideration of all factors.

******

What fluke accident have you had? Did it make you more cautious? Or do you have a slight daredevil tendency, too, and you just want to get back out there–and without real worry? I’d love to hear about it as I heal!

These Feet, Made for Freedom

DSCN2789

My loose plan was to write something light, bordering on witty or–more often my writerly bent, something laced with references to spiritual experiences, the nearness of God everywhere. About maximum appreciation of life, which tends to claim first priority. That was before I got the foot news.

I am sitting here with the podiatrist’s prescribed plastic and padded boot encasing my sweating, lame left foot. It has two secured straps, a sort of front piece that clamps on the foot and ankle to keep it rigidly stabilized. It feels claustrophobic in there though it has only been two hours. Already those toes nearly have a voice, and it says “Let me out!”

Alas, I am to wear it all the time I am walking in my home or at the grocery–anytime I put weight on my left foot. That means in bed and in the shower I can have a free, naked foot. Otherwise, this goes on for five weeks and then another x-ray and review.

I am a barefoot person. My feet have never liked their toes and high arches, skinny heels and ankles swaddled or bound in leather much less fake leather or cloth. I don’t even like flip-flops. Nothing fits so well as your own skin. Though I do have quite a few shoes stored in the closet, I’ll admit, but they’re leftover from working days and do need to be passed on. And alright, I love my ankle- and knee-high boots. They fit very well and are useful since I have to wear something outdoors to shun the damp chilliness during wintry Oregon deluges. A good leather boot can come close to conforming to one’s lower extremities after a good break-in period. It has flexibility and strength, characteristics I admire. I hope to be wearing such a pair of boots well into my old age when I cannot tromp around barefoot. I want to be wearing them as autumn arrives–if I manage to enable excellent self-repair.

Even socks in chilly weather tend to annoy me. They’re a barrier between skin and fascinating environments the foot examines and treads. Who came up with this accoutrement of footwear? Why don’t they fit snugly as fine gloves fit on hands and digits? Of course, I’m not so foolish as to ignore that protection is at times required in the natural and human made worlds. Especially in unpredictable city life. So I purchase those, too, after much inspection, finding the best cotton warmth, cushion and comfort for the least money, a challenge.

Oh, did I forget to mention I broke some small bone beneath the ball joint of my left big toe? That’s what all my fuss is about. A slightly broken foot.

It started about five or six weeks ago. I was vacuuming around my bed. The vacuum isn’t one of those light and easy machines and I am not a happy vacuumer but I swear I did nothing different that day as I maneuvered about. I did not jam my toe into furniture. I did not fall and nothing slipped onto the bare foot as I worked. I just felt a sharp pain under the big toe. I checked it out. I thought it might be a spider (bare skin and spiders…) as we have many of those lurking in our geography and bites are not so uncommon. It could have been an experience I infrequently have due to taking aspirin for coronary artery disease–tiny burst capillaries that hurt and bruise a couple of days. But I saw nothing. The next day, however, there was selling and pain, a small spot of bruising. I expected it to go away but it lingered.

A trip to my primary care doc resulted in a diagnosis of tendonitis. In the toe area. How that occurred, she didn’t clarify. Apparently this can happen for any number of reasons to active people. What was not great to hear: stop my vigorous walks and no hiking for me for a few weeks. Doctor made a referral to a podiatrist, just in case. There was an X-ray for good measure. It came back negative per my email from the health care system. So I continued to live my busy life, iced twice daily, rested the offended foot a times and believed it got better. There continued to be some swelling and soreness so I tried to behave and not walk much the first 2-3 weeks. I walked a bit more the last couple of weeks, perhaps 20 minutes with slow strides every other day, rather than the 4-5 miles a day as I usually do. No hiking in the summery, fragrant forest. I felt proud of myself for mostly following directions and not whining about it.

The podiatrist appointment wasn’t for another month. When the date rolled around, I nearly cancelled it as the hurt area looked and felt much better. I’d walked lightly (no power walks) recently without much of an after effect. I figured I would get a good bill of health and pay 60 dollars for the privilege of hearing it.

Instead, she pulled up the X-ray after telling me she didn’t think it was tendonitis, at all.

“Right. You have had a fracture. This little bone by the ball of your foot is broken almost in two. Can you see it?”

“What? How can that be? Didn’t the radiologist know how to interpret things correctly? I mean, I have been walking on it all these weeks!”

“Well, this area of the foot structure is unfortunately often misread as some people can be born with…”

I didn’t hear the rest. I had stopped looking at the screen and that narrow, incredibly frail-looking skeleton of my left foot. That terrible line across a small bone under or within my toe–who knew there were so many?

Really, vacuuming the carpet? There had to be a mistake. She kept talking and I tried to focus.

“…it will either heal–you’re saying it is much better so that is a good sign and the swelling is minimal now–or you might need surgery to take out a piece of the bone…”

“What? No.”

I gazed at her face and saw her lips moving but all I could think about was that I would not be walking anywhere, anytime soon. I would not be taking off to enjoy arduous and meditative hikes in the Columbia Gorge or scouting out numerous trails around Oregon and Washington. I would not even be exploring our own semi-famous Forest Park flourishing right in the heart of Portland–all its hidden delights would be unexperienced for the rest of the summer… and maybe beyond?

I would be sitting on my posterior for the rest of August and September doing…what?

DSCN2857

I am not a sitter nor a lolligagging type. I am, for good or ill, charged from the time I get up even if a cranky sleep has failed to be regenerative enough. My husband, more sedentary than I,  urges me to stop: “Take a load off, sit down a few.” I try but tend to pop back up. Only when I write can I make myself sit for a long while without moving a great deal. I find myslef reading when standing, sometimes sitting, my concentration accompanied by twisting, stretching, getting up and down. By midnight I give it all up and hit the bed, finally tired. Then I read or write without much other motion as I drift off.

It’s not that I’m hyper; I don’t feel nervous/anxious/unfocused. I simply love to be in motion. There are plenty of things to do, places to go. Even if it is from the dining room to a back bedroom to gather something. There is such a joy to it, the lifting of limbs, bending and reaching and turning in space. I spontaneously dance, walk for miles, jog a vlock or two, climb hills and embankments. Ice skate. Tai Chi or  a bit of yoga. Flamenco classes. Gym machines and Zumba. I used to get a thrill from water skiing and swimming and look forward to swimming again at a new pool. Sailing was a treat. It’s about working up a small sweat, giving the muscles and all a chance to get up and go, shine some. The body loves to do. When we still lived in houses with big yards, I was the first to grab a rake or spade. I was fine shovelling snow. I tried skateboarding when my son was learning decades ago, then tried it once again not long ago (he has been a pro skater for 20 years). Not with astounding success but still, it was fun. And dirt biking? Let me hop on as I did in my twenties, please.

Gosh, even sitting with pencil and watercolors and sketch pad gets various parts ready to move. What do we do that does not elicit some sort of motion, subtle or pronounced? Our bodies love us back when we give them free rein–or give them orders to do thus and so and it does it well and right. These beautifully designed vehicles to carry around soul and mind become more relaxed, strong and flexible with systems engaged, optimally humming along. We have what we need to thrive, most of us, and malfunctioning parts most often repair and adapt well. We can endure much before the body has the wisdom to quit.

All this activity obviously requires–at least prefers–feet. How we rely upon these jointed, muscled, tendoned appendages every single day!

So I left feeling a bit sad even though it could be much worse. I may have said a bad word and smacked the steering wheel before I revved up the engine and took off. I can and will soon walk and hike in our temperate, rainy winter as always. That is three months away. I surely can do this and be gracious about it, yes? There are so many other things I might have to contend with. It is just another brief pause in life.

The whole summer has been in an elaborate pause, to be honest. Except, my mind and emotions have been whirring away. We  had a scare with a depressed family member that is resolving day by day. Prayers for courage and hope have paid off; prayers for her resilience have gathered steam. I have had the honor of being here daily as she has regained hold of her strengthening center.

Then, of all things, I had a simple dental extraction that became a nightmare. After a month I am finally recovered from a dry socket and an infection that required antibiotics with the attendant negative reactions. I haven’t eaten much for a month–the yogurt and rice, applesauce and bananas are looking less wholesome and more repugnant. Still! I lived through brain-scrambling jaw and face pain and complications. I can manage to take care of a gimpy foot.

And so it has been a time steeped in a haze of needs, some trials, my own self struggling a little. Oddly, I recall telling someone back in the spring that this summer I would need stamina for the coming months.

“Why stamina?” she asked.

“I just have a feeling. My oldest sister just passed, I have had some heart issues again and…well, more stamina would be valuable.”

Yes, and patience, more than I imagined. Yet it has been supplied like life-giving water from a well wide and deep. I have found it between times of tension and worry, within a grateful embrace of each day. And compassion for myself and others. Living within the moment, as they say, works wonders–we do not need to resurrect troubles of the past or try to forecast what is unknown. The one thing that never changes for me is my faith in God, the surety that we are not alone in the wilderness of life, that we are a part of Divine Love no matter what. We can be pushed and pulled, stretched to the limits. And we can manage so much more than we think possible. We just have to trust that we can, then step forward.

Or in my case, sit back, take a deep breath and be still. Surrender.

I have taken that hard, suffocating boot off as I’ve typed. My foot needs fresh air and sunlight; it’s 85 degrees and blue skies! But I will put it back on when I walk. Yes, that is my best intention; God and my angels will help me along as ever. Once again both these feet will be sturdy and happy, may even fly in the right conditions. In the meantime, perhaps more contemplation is in order, and a bit of a gentle rest.

DSCN2784