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Lessons from a Broken Foot

Horizontal hold ... Barbara Grant goes back on the couch

"Put your best foot forward", the saying goes. Well at least I know which one that is. When one of your feet is encased in a plaster cast and can't be used for weight-bearing, it's not really a difficult choice.

It's amazingly easy to break bones, tear ligaments and/or sprain muscles. All it takes is a moment's inattention and an unexpected or unseen hazard. In my case it was a hole in the ground, into which one foot went, while the other remained on the surface, twisting agonizingly as it tried to compensate for the unexpected position of its fellow. The result – eight broken bones in the foot and a sprained ankle.

For those of us who are generally fit and able to take care of ourselves and our families, an accident like this is a salutary reminder of how much one takes for granted the blessing of being able-bodied. And, post-accident, an eye-opener to realize how many things that used to be easy and automatic have now become major logistical problems.

For example, how do you get up stairs? If there's no lift available, you sit on your bottom and bump your way up to the top, pushing with your good leg. You'll eventually get there but it will take you a long time and your back will be jarred and aching. And if you're above a certain age, by the time you're at the top you may well have forgotten why you wanted to go up in the first place.

Need to go to the bathroom? But the frame you use for walking (crutches are the invention of the devil – can't carry anything and far too easy to lose your balance) doesn't fit through the door frame. Turn sideways, hop through the doorway, then hop to the toilet and/or sink, Do what you have to do, then stand on one leg to get your clothing back in order, then the same in reverse to get out of the bathroom. You end up relieved but exhausted.

What about showering? Forget it unless the shower is in the bath. In which case, thank G-d for Yad Sarah. One of their pieces of loaner equipment is a plastic board which straddles the bath. You get into the bathroom (see above), stand on one leg to get undressed, and encase your plaster cast in a dustbin liner sealed with an elastic band. You then sit on the board and swivel round into the bath, leaving your plastic-and-plaster protected leg hanging outside the bath. Close the shower curtain as best you can. In the process of showering you then flood the bathroom. I guess I should look at it as an efficient way of cleaning myself and the floor simultaneously.

But there are some advantages to being unable to do so many of the things I used to do. There's no choice but to accept help and allow other people to assist with the shopping, cooking, tidying up etc. It took some time but I actually did get used to lying on the couch telling other people what to do. And friends were wonderful – I think we ate better during the six weeks I was in a cast than we had for a very long time.

Counting the days until the cast came off, I was totally unprepared for the sight (white, shrivelled, wrinkly) and the functionality (almost zero) of the newly liberated foot and leg. Now, after over two months of twice-a-week physiotherapy, things have hugely improved, although still a long way from how they were before the accident. I can now walk - with some discomfort and weakness; sit – with the leg raised; and go up and down stairs – with great caution.

So that's the first of the lessons learnt from my broken foot – that it takes incomparably longer to heal and rehabilitate than it does to do the damage in the first place. It's something like the enormous disconnect between the amount of time and effort needed to shop for and to prepare a meal, and the very short time it takes for people to eat it. More philosophically, it's a reminder that the damage done by harsh words or unkind actions can be very hard to recover from and sometimes never heals completely. 

The hole in which Barbara broke her foot

The second lesson is a reminder of how wonderful people are. Quite apart from the emotional and practical support offered by friends and family, total strangers were nothing but patient and helpful as I struggled to get into the lift or the doctor's surgery, or in and out of the car. Kindness and caring, not impatience and lack of interest, were the default reactions of almost everyone I came into contact with.

The most important lesson was a real appreciation for being able-bodied, together with a much deeper understanding of the many people who go through life with physical disabilities. Of course as we get older we almost all struggle with ill-health or decline in some form or another – but I consider myself truly blessed to have had a life almost entirely unchallenged by physical limitations or disabilities.

My broken foot was a powerful reminder of how often we don't appreciate what we have until we lose it. I have learned much from the experience. Thinking on my feet, I'd say always try and start off on the right foot, try not to put your foot in it, and don't allow yourself to be defeated. And of course always remember how important it is to keep both feet on the ground at all times. 



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Friday, 19 July 2024

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