A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What you learn when you are unable to walk for a quarter of a year, and also happen to be me


  • Living in a rustic unplumbed cabin in the woods outside of Fairbanks -- accessible only via several hundred yards of snowy trail and narrow, gappy, and uneven boardwalk – is a really great idea, until it isn’t.
  • Procrastinating about your need to use the outhouse while on crutches definitely does not improve the situation.
  • The fold-down ice spikes on the crutches work pretty well, but they are not designed for durability over many miles. 
  • Those spiky things collect snow.  If you try to use the same crutches indoors, with the spikes folded up, the snow will melt out and make the floor cold and wet and extremely slippery, which is bad in so many ways.  So, so many ways. 
  • Life is full of this kind of super-obvious design flaw. 
  • You need a second set of indoor-only crutches. 
  • Put a hat over the open toe of your leg brace.  Then put a plastic bag over that.  That’s it. That’s all you need, even at thirty below.  Those brace things are sweltering. 
  • Briefly pause to contemplate whether it’s actually better to have this injury occur in December in Fairbanks, for this reason alone.  Review all the above issues.  Tough call.
  • Your fear that you will become a weakened couch potato while injured is unwarranted.  Everything, including getting off said couch, takes four times the effort it used to. The amount of sweat generated by crutching half a mile uphill in the snow is epic. 
  • Now you have weird shoulder muscles that you didn’t even know could happen. 
  • All this muscle tissue has migrated directly from your injured leg, which now resembles linguini.
  • You find yourself staring at the alien linguini in the shower, once you can take showers again, which you’re grateful for.  You are especially grateful for the accessible shower stall in your office basement, the one with the fold-down bench and hand rails. 
  • You recall dim childhood memories of people complaining that making everything ADA accessible would be expensive and inconvenient, and you wonder about those people, who are now elderly.
  • You wonder whether such rumination is a form of schadenfreude.
  • No matter how strong you become on crutches they still suck because you are a tool-using ape who is really used to having hands to do things and make things and just carry this one stupid mug of coffee, and now you need another set, but growing another set is unlikely, and why can’t you get ANYTHING done?
  • You can put the coffee in a Thermos in a backpack.

  • Talking to your upbeat and helpful coworker who had this same thing happen to him two years ago is, literally, the best therapy.  Because, look, he’s fine now.  Athletic, even.  His calves are normal. 
  • You are not in the habit of looking at everyone’s calves, but now you are.  Stop looking at his calves, because even though your intent is not weird, that’s still sort of weird.
  • If there’s anything better than positive and pragmatic advice from your coworker, it’s the orthopedic stuff he loans you.  Specifically, the pirate leg.  It’s really called an “i-Walk” but it’s definitely a pirate leg.  Why don’t all temporarily one-legged people use these things?  They are amazing.  Aaaargh!
  • Getting through TSA with crutches, a metal leg brace, and a pirate leg -- in four different cities, because  you got really good deals on fares by planning your trip way back when all of this was most definitely not on your radar -- is a royal pain, but faster than you would think it would be. 
  • You get a lot of tight, pitying smiles.
  • You’re going to have to set the tone on this.  Our culture is hella awkward.  Crack jokes about your pirate leg. 
  • Everyone wants to help you.  Punk-looking teenagers and old ladies and people of all races and walks of life want to hold the door for you, just like they did when you were a week shy of giving birth to twins and looked like a cartoon dirigible. 
  • Even if you don’t really need that stuff with the door or whatever, this restores some of your faith in humanity, especially if you’ve ever made the mistake of reading the NewsMiner comments section. Or any comments section.
  • People you barely know – the kind of people you run into near the bulk bins at Fred Meyer -- and whose names you only recall half way through your three minutes of chit-chat about the price of pecans – are genuinely concerned, and seem to understand more than you would expect them to about your particular, peculiar lifestyle and frustrations.
  • Being intensely visible can be exhausting -- but feeling known and understood is not so bad.
  • Everyone has a story about their cousin’s neighbor who also busted an Achilles, or their own time on crutches after they had bunion surgery. 
  • These stories aren’t useful the way your coworker’s advice is useful, but let these stories be told.  It’s not about the particular story.  Every single story really has the same plot, which is, hey, wow, we’re all human! 
  • It’s a good plot. 
  • The people who help you the most aren’t necessarily the ones you would have expected. 
  • This might be because you’re the kind of pig-headedly insecure person who is pretty much never going to respond to “Tell me if you need help with anything”. 
  • Your pride and obstinacy will only allow you to take up offers from the person who says, “You are drugged to the gills, post-surgery, so I will walk beside you along the boardwalk, to make sure you don’t fall,” or the person who says, “You can’t drive, bike, walk or run to work, to the store, to anywhere – so, what time should I pick you up?” 
  • You resolve in the future to be one of those people.
  • All this kindness makes you realize that if you told people about all the pain and fear and insecurity and loss in your life that they can’t see, they might actually care about that, too. 
  • You still aren’t telling. 
  • You vow to try to remember that other people aren’t always telling, either.

  • Your nearest and dearest – particularly your children, who are definitely old enough to help out a lot with the chores that are now insanely difficult for you – suffer from a deep crisis of ambivalence, guilt, and resentment. 
  • They want to help out.  Totally.  That would, clearly, be the Very Right Thing to Do, and they want to do Very Right Things. 
  • They do help. Some.
  • But they also want you to be exactly the same as you always have been, which means doing All the Things. 
  • One of the things is taking care of them. 
  • Actually, many, many of the things are taking care of them. 
  • You do the things.  You hop up a ladder to kiss your big children good night in their loft bunks.  Every night.  For three months. 
  • Sometimes love builds fortitude, muscles, and calluses. 

  • Your surgeon told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • Your physical therapist told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • You tell yourself that you will run a marathon again.
  • You run a marathon again.