ICYMI: I broke and cut my left foot badly last month when I fell from the trapeze in Washington, D.C. Five stitches around my almost severed pinky toe and an impeccably wrapped splint later, I can now check off the unofficial bucket list items of getting stitches and breaking a bone. I left George Washington University Hospital with my friend wondering how I’d deal with my active schedule over the next few months. Although my mobility has definitely been restricted, in addition to still being able to do everything I planned to do, I’ve experienced these rainbows this summer.
1. The injury has made me more empathetic.
Since I broke my foot in DC and my permanent address is in Washington State, I was inherently out of network insurance-wise. This has resulted in many frustrating experiences with clinics, insurers, and doctors’ offices. At first, I thought that I wish this accident had occurred while I was living in the UK or Japan. Both are home to fairly straightforward healthcare systems that are easier to understand and process. However, then I realized that the US is the land of ADA – American Disability Act – compliancy. This means that businesses have to be accessible to those with low mobility. Essentially ramps and elevators galore. Thus, I have appreciated that I can pretty much get anywhere and do most things via my knee walker-scooter.
Still, there have been challenges that have enabled me to understand what it’s like for someone with more permanent special needs. For the past month, I’ve found myself constantly looking for sidewalk ramps, elevators, buttons to open doors, wider doors and hallways, and flat and smooth areas. When I haven’t been able to reach the door button, I’ve wondered, “Why did someone decide to put it THERE?” Simultaneously, I’ve had to avoid stairs (or crawl up and down them!), tremendous amounts of walking, steep inclines/downward slopes, and extreme heat (or else my knee gets sweaty, I slide, and I wipe out on the knee walker. Yes, this happened.)
It’s been Hard with a Capital H but now I believe I am more aware and mindful of others experiencing the same difficulties. It’s not that I didn’t care or think about their potential struggles before. Rather, until I physically felt the same aches and pains getting around, I was unable to empathize. Even now, I recognize that my situation is only temporary and fails to equal what some people have experienced all of their lives.
2. I’ve become more patient.
America is definitely the epitome of a hurry-up-and-go culture. 24 hour stores, fast food drive-thrus, cup holders in cars, pharmacy drive-thrus, Amazon Prime, Seamless, Uber. You get the idea. As such, my desire to tackle things immediately and head on has often been encouraged and celebrated. And while I do prefer to react measuredly to my responsibilities, I don’t like waiting – just ask my parents. With my restricted mobility, it has taken more time and energy for me to do stuff. In the beginning, I was feeling as if I was exerting double the energy to do the same tasks/activities as everyone else. I developed a new approach to time, understanding that it would naturally take me longer to get where I needed to be on time and ready to go. The only elevator at the hotel is full and I can’t take the stairs? Guess I’ll just have to wait for three more elevators until I can wheel myself into one. Can’t reach something? Guess I’ll struggle to get up or wait for someone to get it for me…which brings me to my next point.
3. I’ve learned to ask for help more.
It should come as no surprise that I’m wildly independent and thrive on doing things for myself. Welp, a broken foot kinda puts a damper on that. This injury has forced me to give in and ask others to help me, something I avoided before. While working in DC and Virginia last month, I asked others to bring me food, get me ice, handle my luggage, lift my scooter into the bus, hold the door for me, carry my supplies, and lead and walk my program participants in my absence. Great practice in feeling “weaker” or “less able” that has made me more comfortable in asking for help. I’ve come to understand that in feeling and acknowledging my vulnerability in this way, I’m actually stronger.
Similarly, I’ve accepted more offers to help me. Wonderful colleagues, friends, and family members have come to my aid to make the crazy last four weeks possible and I’m so, so grateful. I would have never been able to finish my job in DC without them. A friend drove me into suburban Maryland to pick up my scooter via an ad he found on Craigslist. A simple thing but it changed my world. Other colleagues routinely offered to pick up coffee or sushi for me while my supervisor repeatedly offered to help me get set up for breakfast at the hotel every day. Much love to the hotel staffs for obliging my requests to bring food to my table!
4. My problem solving skills have improved. And my strategic thinking ability has flourished.
New challenges I’ve encountered since breaking my foot: taking a bath or shower, getting dressed, shopping, not being able to reach the low mobility button at doors, retrieving or preparing food for meals, getting from Point A to Point B with walking no longer an option, dealing with medical issues far from home, maneuvering between my floors in my house, fully assisting my DC program participants without being physically able to “go to them”, driving and moving around places, among others.
Taking a bath or a shower remains one of the most strenuous activities for me. I can’t stand up in the shower and I can’t get my splint wet. I’ve subsequently had to ask for ADA-compliant hotel rooms, wrap and rubber band my foot in plastic bags (often laundry bags in the hotel room or ones I’ve requested from housekeeping), arrange ADA shower benches just so, hang my leg outside of the bath tub, and strategically set things around my room so I can reach them afterwards. My mind now goes through a detailed process of planning out exactly how I need to complete this task without an epic fall. These 20-30 minutes wear me out but exercise my brain.
When working in Virginia, I had to examine my program schedule, write out all the times I’d need a ride between places, and then book the corresponding Ubers and hotel shuttles. Due to constant issues with my phone and internet data, I can only call others unless I have wifi. Thus, if I need wifi to call an Uber to get me somewhere, I then I have to prepare to be in a place with wifi and build that extra time into my schedule. Time to go to the dentist, I think. OK, so how do I get there? I can’t get the scooter into the car myself so it looks like I’ll drive and crutch-limp my way down the ramp and into the office.
Last week touring New Mexico with my parents, I was constantly researching the National Parks Service’s website for information on wheelchair accessibility to figure out how I could experience places like Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument. Now, living at home in the basement for a few weeks prior to the big Kyrgyzstan move, I use my scooter in the basement and leave my crutches upstairs to move around the main floor. To go upstairs, I prepare a backpack to carry my things because my hands are full dealing with the crutches. After learning the hard way, I’ve had my mom bring down specific foods to store in the mini fridge. Seriously, you should have seen me on my first day back jumping around the kitchen doing my best just to pour myself a bowl of Reeses Puffs cereal.
5. I better understand my limits.
I’m no stranger to adventure sports as I love opportunities to try something new and challenge myself. Skydiving, bungee jumping, shark cage diving, sand dune sledding, climbing Mt. Fuji, ziplining, high ropes course-ing, snowboarding, paragliding, parasailing: check. (Still plotting my hot air balloon voyage!) Finally, though, the trapeze got me. I wasn’t too scared to jump off the 23-foot high platform but I wasn’t athletic or strong enough to hold on to the bar, despite growing up as a two-sport athlete. Initially, I thought my body failed me, but in reality, I failed to understand how much I can push it before it, quite literally, breaks. (I partially have my best friend, who so clearly articulated this, to thank for this realization.) I am also more aware of the types of things my body can handle and will strive to account for my limits when taking on new physical challenges. Even though I was able how I’d correctly respond to the altitude challenges of Mt. Fuji, the trapeze proved to be a different animal and I need to approach these activities with a better sense of how they might affect me in the future.
Fortunately, in spite of the injury, I completed my eight-week summer adventure and have a very strong right leg as a reward! Just kidding. Time spent with my family and friends and new friendships with Russian colleagues and my Saudi Young Leaders Program participants were the best gifts I could have asked for. Please excuse the medical interruption and I’ll return to my normal Amelian Miles Away programming with blogs on St. Petersburg’s counterintuitive culinary utopia, the Russia 2017, FIFA Confederations Cup, and my time working with 33 inspirational Saudi Arabian young adults in the coming weeks 😉 Until next time!