Let me be clear: breaking an ankle at 47 years old, with three active kids at home and a working wife, is not a good idea. All those reports about the busy American families running from one place to another all day is an apt description of our life. There is no slowing down, and so my inability to hold up my end of the responsibilities became glaringly obvious from the first day.
Did I mention that this mishap occurred during a ski trip out West, not with my family but with the guys? Last day, Alta, skiing way over my head with Kevin, my ski bum buddy who has lived out West for 20 years and gets in 100 days a season. Yeah, my temporary handicap went over real well at home, so well that to this day I can still recall the crazed look in my wife’s eyes as I explained for the millionth time how I couldn’t help with anything, and in fact needed her to bring my cup of coffee to the kitchen table for me, and could you please add a little cream. “Please?”
There were plenty of comic episodes associated with the ordeal, ones that are much better in hindsight than when they were actually happening. Like when I didn’t think it was broken and tried skiing down the mountain. As the pain increased and I slowed to a snail’s pace, I cursed under my breath at the little 5-year-old girls racing down the mountain and — I’m sure I heard them — whispering insults as they laughed at the old guy while trying to make him fall. The little maniacs were tormenting me and loving it.
Once at the lodge, an ice pack and a couple of cold ones eased the pain. I made plans to visit an urgent care center, but an auto accident backed up traffic in the canyon until past closing time. I detest emergency rooms — especially on Saturday nights — and decided in my delirious mind that it probably wasn’t broken and all would be OK in the morning. I awoke with a green and purple swollen stump where the day before there was a calf and foot. But I had a plane to catch at 8 a.m.
Getting through the airport without crutches was funny, but hopping on one foot about 300 yards to my car at the Charlotte airport’s parking area was a real scream. Once home, the excruciating pain left me unable to climb the stairs, so I used my arms to pull myself up on my rear, one stair, then another, each a mountain to climb, until I reached my blessed bed.
The story goes on, but by Thursday I was finally in a cast and on pain medication. And then, for nine weeks, I heard the best stories. I didn’t do any scientific polling, but it appears the most common ankle breaking injury is a result of people who are clumsy, drunk or for some reason in a big hurry in the middle of the night and simply fall down their stairs.
Everywhere I went, I heard this story repeated. There were other good ones — tripping over curbs, falling while getting out of cars, sports injuries like mine, slipping on ice — but stairs appear to be the most dangerous item in American households.
Better than the stories, though, was the laughter. A number of people, many who otherwise are not that funny and don’t usually laugh a lot, would just chuckle or shake their head smiling whenever I saw them. This I understood perfectly. They didn’t have to say it: “Damn, that does not look fun. Glad it’s you and not me, buddy.” Often, the truth is funnier than any joke.
And, truth be known, I was shown a great measure of kindness. Say what you will about kids not being taught manners, but I beg to differ. Dozens of adolescents and pre-teens opened doors, offered to carry stuff, and were just generally curious and courteous. That, perhaps, was the most refreshing of all.
But this is not about the experience of breaking an ankle and wearing the cursed cast. This is about getting out of the cast. For a week or two after it finally came off, here’s what I heard from nearly everyone I talked to: ARE YOU F#%&!@$ C%&;$#!? That’s a line we can’t print, but some of the words we can use go something like “stupid,” “redneck” (of which I’m particularly fond) and just plain “dumb.”
Those comments followed my decision to take off the cast with tin snips, a butcher knife and about a half dozen other kitchen utensils and tools. Only took close to three hours, and there was more blood involved than there was in breaking the ankle.
Seems my doc, on the day I had been dreaming about for nine weeks, the day I was to gain my freedom from the cast, had to do emergency surgery. We tried to reschedule, but it was going to be another week before he could get to me. Nope.
So off it came. Lori tried to hang with me that night but got bored as the hours wore on. She finally left me, alone in the kitchen, a Frankensteinien array of cutting and sawing devices laid out on the kitchen table and the plaster cast fighting me every step of the way.
At my last visit as I told the doc my story, he just shook his head and smiled, perhaps even chuckled. Just like those people when I was still wearing the cast. I knew just what he was thinking.