2015: The Great Personal Leg Break

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The title here sounds dramatic and perhaps a bit grandiose.  I reckon that's because this here is one hell of a personal disaster tale.  And, I’m still trying to walk correctly.

Here’s the super-short story, from last February.  On a Thursday, my brother and my dad flew in to help me gut and start the remodel of the only bathroom in my condo.  The major tear-out happened on Friday, with dust and chaos everywhere.  In related news but happening in a different room, the dishwasher broke... just at the beginning of the operation.  Also, the police showed up because a neighbor with some mental health issues was convinced that hell would soon rain down upon her.  I couldn’t really blame her:  people who are good at demolition pound things very loudly, and a reciprocating saw is unsettling even when it's not cutting tile, a bathtub, and steps made of doubled-up 2x6s.

On Saturday, my dad and I were on a standard remodeling Lowe’s/Home Depot run when we witnessed a pinball-style car accident - right next to a fire station.  After my dad literally got out of the Jeep and got the fire department, I stated that it would be nice if we could go at least one day without any police-fire-medical involvement.  We did make it one day; and I learned that I need to set clearer goals in future.  My brother flew out Sunday, and my dad and I spent that day getting rid of any remaining mold using an array of approaches.  We were so busy through the end of the day that we didn’t even notice the lack of emergency services.  But we did make it one day without them.

Monday morning, things got off to a questionable start.  It looked like our carefully orchestrated schedule might not go as planned.  We made some calls, and did some hustling to update the plan.  It was touch-and-go.  My dad was only out visiting for a week to help, and I was to be back at work the next day.  We hoped to get a bunch of things in place this first weekday so that the rest of the week would be productive and on schedule.

A Big Pivot

Suddenly - in a moment - everything fell into place.  It looked like things were going to work out just fine... for the day, and for the week.  I was pretty excited, given the aggressive schedule.  Like any construction project, there are a lot of unknowns until you actually get going - and we hadn't built in much cushion or wiggle room.  It was a relief when it looked like things might now actually happen as planned.

“Wow,” I said to Dad, “I’ll be damned.  I think this week is going to go pretty well.  I know it’s a tight schedule, but things are coming together.  This might just work.”  He gave me a skeptical look, but I think he was hoping so too. 

Just about seven minutes later, I was on the ground.  After seven more minutes, I caved and called for an ambulance.  Emergency management folks are stubborn, but going vasovagal upon the slightest leg movement can inspire a call for backup.  Calling a fire department for help that it’s your job to support is super weird.  And super frustrating.  When you’ve been working for years to support first responders, the last thing you want to do is to have them pick you up off the ground and haul you away.  Dang it.  In my mind, it’s not supposed to work that way.  Yet it is:  that’s the whole point of the system.  Helping people who may or may not know that they need it. 

Fast-forward a few hours through a whole lot of very creative cussing and several patient radiology technicians (they said they’d heard much worse - which is hard to believe), and we got the results.  To our utter astonishment, we found that I had distressed spiral fractures to both the left tibia and fibula.  That revelation brought on a fresh round of cussing, with young witnesses to boot (who would think they let kids into the ER?  They’re not supposed to have emergencies!).  Mostly the amazement was shock, added to the actual physical trauma.  This was like a REAL break.  Real real.  I mean, like you could see actual space between the broken bone parts.  Ooooof. 

I have come to learn that this is just about the worst kind of leg break you can get, short of shattering the whole damn thing.  And/or having bone sticking out.  “Lucky” for me, I was able to have a giant titanium rod inserted into the tibia, so that I could in future do things like standing and walking.  Not everyone is so blessed, and can end up with Major Additional Complications.  Despite the trauma, I cannot imagine having a break like this in a country - or an era - without excellent surgical capabilities.  In a different time or place, this would have been so so so much worse.  And it was awful

I came home later that week to a Condo-Of-Chaos, including the demolished bathroom and not-functioning dishwasher.  Neither of which wouldn’t be such a problem if you could walk and/or use crutches effectively.  Two amazing carpenters had to finish the bathroom as my dad and I were not so available to help out that week, and then my dad had to fly back home.  The extra carpentry help was good (if not expensive), because I had near-constant activity around my place... and also default emergency back-up help on site for several weeks.  I will always be greatful for those two extremely patient guys. 

It was at least six weeks before I was functional enough to get the dishwasher fixed.  It was also at least six weeks before I could brave the stairs alone, or bend my knee enough to get into a vehicle and drive.  Twenty-one steps doesn’t sound so terrible until you are learning to walk again, and all of the parts don’t quite work.  

It’s just about a year ago that I took those first solo stair steps and that first solo drive.  Today I sat in a restaurant half a country away, looking out at a beautiful spring sunset and counting my blessings.  I wouldn’t wish that kind of trauma on anyone.  But I’ve come a long way.  I’m living my dream:  I transitioned out of the amazing-and-hard-to-leave job, survived a complicated move, sold my condo, and finally got to dig in to building a business.  I’m living around friends and family that I’ve barely seen for fifteen-plus years.  I’ve got a different life.  I’m happy

Perspective, Persistence, & Survival

When I was laying on the ground right after I fell, I knew one thing:  my whole plan for the next year was quite possibly totally out the window.  Much like the remodeling plan, my the plan for the year was tightly scheduled and did not include a lot of cushion to account for unforeseen circumstances.  In the moments immediately after I fell, I wasn’t sure any of that plan could even happen.  Plus, I thought perhaps I had a severe sprain.  Those first seven minutes were nothing compared to what was coming. 

I’m both stunned and deeply gracious that I made it through.  Should I want to relay all of the details and chaos that have gone into this past year, I’d need to write a book and also get a therapist.  No one wants to read all of that, and I don’t want to relive it.  I will say that sheer dogged deep fighting persistence goes a long way.  It also wore me the hell out.  I got behind the power curve early on because I was trying to work while I was also trying to survive.  While I was trying to stand.  To eat.  To even try to deal with all of the things that you need to do to live, in addition to actually working. 

Accepting Help

I’ll offer this lesson.  When someone offers you short-term disability, take it.  At the time of my accident, I did not want to put the region or the company in a tight spot because I was the local on-call emergency notification system technical person.  It is clear in hindsight that I had no business thinking I could help someone else with their emergency when I was in the middle of my own.  The first few months after the leg break were some of the toughest months of my life.  And I’ve been through some stuff

Again, I’ll save you the details.  I’ve learned the hard way about accepting - and asking for - help.  When we are broken and overwhelmed, sometimes it’s good to bring other people in on it.  I was too overwhelmed to ask, and I paid for it dearly.  Sometimes we don’t know that we need the help… but maybe no one else knows it either.  I don’t know how you bring yourself to take a step back (metaphorically, especially if you can’t walk) in the middle of an overwhelming crisis to see that you do need help, but perhaps this post will plant the seed for someone else to do exactly that.  Maybe it’s you. 

The flight attendants are correct:  you do need to give yourself oxygen before assisting others.

We need to breathe.

Want to make sure you are giving yourself oxygen, so you can help others?  Check out private coaching at inclusive pricing rates.  We can fly.

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