I’ve had a frustrating summer. In July I fractured my ankle while trying to relive my youth and participating in a ‘school sports day’ my friends and I arranged. Sack racing, egg and spoon, assault course – all went smoothly (though confirming that I’ll never be an athlete) but the rounders match at the end finished me off. Running to the third base in a race against my (6’4″) brother in law trying to catch me out; crash, twist, ouch.
In the months since then, I have found myself challenged not only by the pain and inconvenience of the fracture but by having to face up to disability in general. I’m fortunate in that so far, relapses have been fairly few and far between, so I can pretend, between episodes, that I’m fine. I can pass, and I can go through days without having to think about my illness.
With no weight bearing allowed on my ankle, the six weeks in a cast necessitated the use of two crutches. With both hands in use, I discovered that I couldn’t move and carry something at the same time. Some things I could fling in a rucksack and carry on my back to the next destination but cups of tea were trickier.
Getting around was very difficult. I thought I had good upper body strength but nothing prepares you for lifting your full body weight for any amount of time. Suspending the bad leg with knee bent so my foot didn’t touch the floor gave me groin strain and made my thigh ache. On one occasion I hobbled about 100m, sat on a wall and just cried because it hurt so much I couldn’t go further.
Bathing was a challenge. I bought a cast cover so I could submerge my leg and then realised that actually getting in and out of the bath, and risking slipping on my good leg, was too dangerous. Flannel washing while sitting on a stool gets old very quickly.
I am very lucky to have a wife and two flatmates who have supported me patiently throughout, done my share of the cleaning and cooking during this time, and helped get me to the park for some air when I went stir crazy. This has been a temporary situation, to which we have adapted, and soon it will be over. I’m walking again with weight on both legs, and down to one walking stick. Things are nearly normal again.
It has buzzed constantly in the back of my mind over these months however, that the struggles I’ve had recently – both the physical ones and the guilt and shame I’ve felt for not being independent or able to pull my weight, for needing help – are likely to resurface again. Where someone without a progressive illness might be able to draw a line under a broken ankle and assume that going forward, everything will be ok, I have spent a hideous amount of time ruminating on the fact that in the future, I will almost definitely end up feeling these feelings again.
I’ve always tried to wrap up my thoughts neatly when I write, and to come to some useful conclusion. But on this, I’m still wide open. I know that in the future my wife, friends and I will adapt to challenges of all kinds; I know that needing help is OK, that total independence isn’t the most important thing. I know that people with all kinds of disabilities live fulfilling, exciting and engaging lives – I gorge myself on these narratives. But I’ve hated feeling like this even for a short time, and I’m shit scared about it. I’m shit scared about a time in the future when I might not be able to cook dinner because my hands don’t do what I want, or when I need to ask for help getting to the toilet in the night. What can I do but keep going, hoping and adapting?