On February 5th, 2022, just when I thought things in my life were looking up, they completely came crashing down.
My youngest kiddo is a lover of winter, so in an effort to get him outdoors and engage with him, we joined a cross country ski club and signed up for weekly lessons. It was marvellous! We were outdoors; we met new people with a similar interest in winter outdoor activities; my kiddo practised with kids his own age; and I got to spend my Saturday afternoons skiing around a beautiful farm property with (mostly) ladies my age.
Look at Me! I Can Ski!
On the fateful day in question, we were giddy with excitement as we “shushed” around an adjacent golf course. The conditions were perfect! Trails were beautifully groomed! The weather was sunny and crisp! And then 2 simple words from my instructor changed everything: “Stop procrastinating”. Near the end of the afternoon, we arrived at a short, but rather steep slope. It had a 90 degree right turn at the bottom, but then it levelled off. It was a narrow track, bracketed by trees and an abrupt valley on one side. As we approached, my fear crept in. I am not an athlete; I cannot ice skate. I am terrified by the thought of downhill skiing. I can’t even rollerblade. Cross country skiing seemed like a great winter activity for me… because I thought it would be flat. Peering down this slope, I came up with all sorts of reasons to take off my skis and walk down. But my instructor, 20 years my junior, said: “you’ve been doing so well all day, your practice is paying off. Stop procrastinating and just go.”
It Did Not Go Well.
So I went. The slope was scary, but I did it. The turn was cringey, but I did it. And then suddenly limbs akimbo! There was a grotesque popping sound from my knee and then I was sprawled on the trail. I heard screaming. It was me.
I lay there for some time, allowing the cold of the snow to seep through my ski pants and effectively ice my rapidly swelling leg. But then I had to get up because I was blocking the trail. I was grateful my instructor and one other classmate were there to hoist me up, but it was very obvious I could not bear weight on my leg and certainly would not be skiing the couple of kilometres back to the parking lot. A few texts and phone calls were made and after what felt like an endlessly long wait (it was about 45 minutes), I was snowmobiled to my family waiting for me by our car.
On the trip to the emergency room, the shock set in and I sobbed. I trembled uncontrollably for a few hours. The hospital staff were swift and I was sent home with a pair of crutches and a zimmer splint. Nothing broken. Probably nothing torn, but the swelling was so terrible it was impossible to be sure.
14 Nights or a Million? It was Hard to Tell.
I slept 14 nights on the living room couch, on my back, leg elevated, smothered by my concerned cats (we have two; it felt like a dozen of them). I spent hours napping, icing, and silently weeping. How could this possibly get better? It took an hour just to walk to the bathroom, wash my hair in the sink, give myself a sponge bath, and change into clean athleisure wear. I could not sit at the kitchen table for dinner with my family; my aching pelvis and throbbing leg would just not let it happen. Heck, I couldn’t even cook dinner. Under normal circumstances, I’d be delighted for the time off from that household activity, but this was not how I would choose for it to happen.
Nurse Chester and Nurse Orchid are on the job! Making sure I don't move too far from this spot.
“I do it!” All by Myself.
By that 14th sleep, I’d pretty much had enough. I hobbled with my crutches to the stairs, sat down and slowly, slowly, slowly, step-by-step-by-step, with the grit and determination of my kids as toddlers, I bum-scooted up! I slept in my own bed on day 15, still on my back, still with leg elevated, still smothered by my concerned cats. It was a relief and it was glorious.
By Day 21, I had figured out how to bum scoot up and down the stairs while dragging a tote bag of clean clothes and books. It was a game-changer. No longer did I have to holler: “Kids?! Can you bring my clothes down here?” Or: “Anybody?? I need another magazine to read!” or “Can someone bring me a snack?”
Just like a toddler, my pride was evident. I rediscovered my independence. I could do it all by myself; sort of.
On day 35, I tried sitting “criss-cross-applesauce”. It looked nothing of the sort. But my pelvis had stopped hurting and I was able to sleep on my side again. Little by little things seemed to be improving.
However, by this point, I had not taught any yoga for over a month. My formerly busy, active days spent supporting my clients were instead spent learning about sitting comfortably and climbing stairs on foot like a toddler and finding my way down to the floor and back up again. The pace of life was reeeeeaallllllly sllllllllloooooowww… and like a prisoner I was marking the days off one at a time.
Don’t Save Me; Support Me.
I started working with a marvellous physiotherapist on Day 38. And as luck would have it, we already had a comfortable working relationship, but in a very different way. E.M. is a Mom of two adorable little ones, both of whom were participants of my Baby, Tot, and Tyke Yoga classes pre-2020. She’d always impressed me with her quiet confidence and exceptional patience even when her littles were not in their happy place. It was my job to offer her support and “tools” to make her interactions with her kiddos fun and developmentally enriching. So when I started working with E.M., now as my physiotherapist, she made it patently clear she would not save me and just magically make the pain go away. What she would do is support me through my healing journey. Ultrasounds, massage therapy, athletic taping, and a structured routine of movement practice to be done THREE times a day, were prescribed.
“I do it myself”… but with her guidance, knowledge and support.
Over the course of my treatments she has said things like:
“on the pain scale it’s a 7/10? Okay, I’m going to keep going.”
And then I let the tears flow.
“no, I don’t care if you don’t want to be my friend anymore,
people have told me worse.”
I may have initiated this discussion with an angry growl as E.M. moved my joints in ways I wasn’t sure I could handle.
“I love seeing you experiment and play! Your social media posts show me that you are practising and it WORKS. I can tell people: ‘I helped her achieve that!’”
E.M., we make a great team on this healing journey and I am so grateful for the support.
As of Day 51 post-injury, I learned to ride my stationary bike slowly, with no tension or friction, for a few minutes a day. I practiced climbing and descending the stairs like a grown up, no longer a toddler; ever-so-slowly and while furiously gripping the railing. I ventured outside to take leisurely walks with my kids. My strides are short, but I hardly show a limp anymore.
I am to start teaching yoga again next week. Can I sit cross-legged? No. Can I bear weight on my knee in Cat Pose? No. Can I Squat or practice Child’s Pose? No and no. But can I offer a practice that is slow, thoughtful, meticulously careful, and observant? You bet I can.
Here’s what I’ve learned... I'm learning.
TAKE IT SLOWLY.
Like really slowly. Nothing is so important that we need to rush. I’ve found slowing down gives me more time to think, learn, and experience joy. Being deliberate and mindful also means I can do a better job and take greater pride in whatever task I am working on; be it cooking, teaching my kids a new skill, or achieving greater range of motion in my injured leg.
CELEBRATE THE INCREMENTS.
This was my first sports-related injury/trauma, and for a person that’s lived for 50 years, I’d say that’s a pretty good track record. But it has also meant I have no idea what healing looks like, or feels like for me.
In the early days of recovery I was exhausted! Partly because my body needed to use energy to heal. But also because just determining how to get up from the couch, manoeuvre to the loo, and remove my clothes, took an extraordinary amount of brain and body power to work through! Read that again: Getting to the bathroom was a monumental effort. Physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually.
So, every day, when I wake up and declare things like: “today I am going to try the stairs… on foot!” I am not attempting to be ironic; I really experience the thrill of accomplishment. These experiences, followed by mini-celebrations, keep me thoughtfully aware of how to heal myself safely and lovingly.
Video: Practicing walking on uneven terrain. Cautious baby steps... every step.
ACCEPT THAT BABY STEPS ARE INVALUABLE.
In my Baby Yoga classes, I like to share with parents that developmental movement is about one thing after another; each development building upon the last. For example, it is nearly impossible for a baby to sit before they’ve learned to hold their head up. Or consider that early toddlers need to stand before they begin to walk. And I think we can agree that it is safer for our wee ones to practise walking before running. These incremental learning moments, these baby steps, are empowering and important for the body-brain connection. We need to acknowledge and absorb the learning from these baby steps so that we can continue to move in considered, familiar, and healthy ways.
Day 71 Post-Injury
I have been tallying the days post-injury a little like a prisoner and indeed I can sometimes feel trapped in my own, not-quite-back-to-itself-body. But maybe I am actually marking the time between each accomplishment as they lead to my healed, healthy (maybe healthier?) body. I am comfortable waiting, practising, and taking baby steps toward that day when it all feels good again.