One day early in December, I hurried down my staircase, listening to my iPod. In an instant, I missed the bottom step and crashed onto the hardwood floor. Blammo! I went down like the proverbial ton of bricks, letting out a startled scream. I knew this pain in my ankle was not going away soon. Rarely one to ask for assistance, I was forced to yell to my husband, John, for help to limp to the couch.
This was just the start to an annoying chain of events that is far from over as I write. My husband ran for ice as I assessed the damage. Even the ice pack made my ankle smart and my arms were starting to ache. The next day I went to “Emergicare.” The amount of purple swelling that showed up overnight was unnerving. John drove because, of course, it was my right foot.
Anxiety set in as I contemplated sitting still for days. Fidgety by nature, parking myself in a chair during the Christmas rush was a recipe for frustration on steroids. I would need help.
I remembered as a kid thinking eyeglasses, braces and crutches would be cool to get. I suppose I craved the attention the lucky owner received when he or she showed up at school sporting one of these luxury items. Other children loved to try out the crutches or glasses, and braces meant your parents had money.
Today, I do not find my eyeglasses fascinating. They are downright annoying when I open the dishwasher and am temporarily blinded by fog. And neither friends nor my husband showed any desire to try my crutches for fun. My teeth are still crooked.
The nurse perused the damage and commiserated over the swelling and bruising. The doctor called for an X-ray to check for breaks. Negative. She left the room, returning with an elastic bandage and splint. She wrapped it exquisitely in a manner I have not once been able to replicate. Next came the blue-and-white splint with Velcro everywhere. She uttered dreaded instructions to stay off the ankle and rent some crutches. “RICE” was advised: rest, ice, compress, elevate. What a bummer. Her parting words were, “Sprains take as long to heal as breaks!”
Two drugstores later, we found brand-new aluminum crutches, still encased in shrink wrap. If I returned them, I would earn a refund and a gift card. John carried them as I limped gingerly out. I was too self-conscious to use them. History told me I needed to practice before my public debut. I stood at the curb, waiting for him to pick me up and take me home — to my house arrest.
I endured only a day or so until my tolerance ran out. Although prudence reminded me to “RICE,” that was overridden by cabin fever. I knew I had to get out, or get very grouchy. This recent immigrant from California loves the joy of avoiding sales tax by crossing the bridge to Oregon, so I persuaded my husband to chauffeur me to Cascade Station and was cheered, knowing I would foil the tax man.
John let me off curbside and searched for a parking place. I waited, leaning on my crutches, feeling foolish. Then he rejoined me, carrying my purse for me — because it was impossible for me to haul anything while propelling myself forward on arm strength alone.
The moment I entered the store, it hit me that I had been in denial. A young woman dressed in the compulsory red and khaki Target uniform asked me if I wanted an electric shopping cart. I declined out of some weird sense of pride, even though I had picked a store three football fields long.
I am a shopper par excellence, but this proved to be too much for my wimpy biceps. I asked my husband to travel to the far corner to pick out a fake Christmas tree. Why wrestle with a real tree this year? I told him I would be in the vitamins aisle because it looked close. I traveled at a snail’s pace toward calcium, grateful I hadn’t broken a hip falling. A line from the old Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” began playing in my mind: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Next came the realization that some people endure this misery each day. For them it is not a temporary setback; every trip is a challenge. I thought of my benign indifference to their plight. What if no one ever went to the far corner for them? I am not callous, but I’ve never helped much beyond holding open a door. I was touched by gratitude and a bit of shame.
After a ridiculous wait, my husband returned with a cardboard box full of phony tree. Tired, I did not even quiz him on what he had chosen, or the price. I grabbed a calcium supplement, chucked it into the cart and asked him to check out. In the time it took me to “walk” to the front of the store, he had finished the whole process. It was impossible to hurry.
Humbled, I traveled the bridge back home, pondering how the disabled survive and the courage it takes to muscle on in life. The next day, I gratefully shopped on the Internet.
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