When It Hurts
When I was about 10 years old, I was running up the stairs to my bedroom when my ankle rolled and gave way. Over the sound of my body thudding down each and every step, was a very distinctive and sickening “popping” noise that sent chills down my spine and a searing pain up through my leg.
Crumpled at the bottom of the stairs in a heap, I laid there bawling my eyes out. My mother — who had been walking up the stairs in front of me — leaned over the railing from the floor above me and told me to stop crying and get up.
I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I do know that the conversation ended with my mother turning her back on me to go pack (they were going out of town), and me crawling up the rest of the stairs to my room.
You see this wasn’t the first time that I had hurt my ankle, and quite frankly I think that my mother was just tired of me complaining about being hurt. But I did hurt, and I hurt almost all the time. Not even just my ankle, but every single part of me.
Later that night, my parents dropped me and my brothers off at my grandparent’s house, where we would be staying for the weekend while my parent’s went on a short getaway. As I hobbled through the doorway, my grandpa asked me what was wrong. “Oh you know her” my parents both chided, “always the drama queen that one.”
Choking back tears from both humiliation and pain, I made my way to the living room where I sat down until it was decided by my parents that I just needed to walk it off. And by walk it off, they meant jump rope. I was given a jump rope and all but shoved outside where adult faces were pressed against the window and I was told that I could come back in after I jumped rope for a while. My grandpa, assuming that my parents were right and I just needed to “walk it off,” was cheering me on.
I honestly can’t tell you if I did it because I felt like I had no other options, or if my ten-year-old brain really thought that it would help, but all I know now is that it did not help, and it hurt like hell.
My parents left and I spent the rest of the weekend hobbling around in pain, and trying my best not to let anyone know how bad my ankle was hurting, because the last thing that I wanted to do was to “walk it off” again.
When Sunday night rolled around and my parents came to pick us up, we found ourselves (grandparents, parents, brothers, and me) sitting in my grandparent’s family room when mid-sentence my father stopped what he was saying, leaned in towards my skinny little legs, and I saw his eyes visibly widen.
“Eden,” he said, “what happened to your ankle?”
In disbelief that he would even be asking me that, —as the events of the past few days had been consistently on the forefront of my mind — I reminded him of my fall down the stairs. Looking at my mother, he asked her “have you seen Eden’s ankle?”
As my eyes darted between the faces of my grandparents and my parents, all four of them started confessing to each other that none of them had actually looked at my ankle… ever.
In fact, and looking back I have absolutely no idea why, but I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t even looked at it.
It was black.
Not purple, not blue, just black. If the injury site had occurred closer to my toes, I would have been convinced that the end of my foot had died and would probably need to come off.
After the shock had settled down to a more “reasonable” level of alarm, it was decided that my mother would go home with my brothers and my father would take me to the hospital. When tests revealed that I had torn two major ligaments and all the tendons clean in half, it was advised that I have them surgically repaired.
My father, not wanting to do anything that drastic, drove me to “physical therapy” twice a week for a month. And by physical therapy, I mean I went to a podiatrist’s office where I stuck my foot into what I can only equate to a pedicure foot bath, and I made the motion of doing the “ABC’s” over and over for twenty minutes. I’m not really sure what that was about or what it was supposed to do, but the reality was that it did absolutely nothing.
My ankle never stopped hurting, and over time it got worse. I have several VERY distinctive memories of the time I was doing absolutely nothing but walking across the backyard when my ankle gave way and gravity pulled my entire being down to the hard ground, but nothing was done but to put me in an ace bandage, and I spent the next week “punished” for getting hurt. I’ll never forget the day that my mother took my brother’s and I to a PlayLand, and I was made to watch everyone else have fun while she made me sit at a table, and constantly reminded me “well, if you are going to complain about being hurt, then you obviously can’t go play.”
But I was a kid. I was a kid, I was hurt, and it didn’t seem like anyone cared. I was a drama queen, a trouble maker, and I deserved no sympathy.
Over time, I decided that it was better to hide my injuries and mask my pain, than let anyone see me as weak and inconvenient. From chronic dislocations to issues with my heart and lungs, if anyone asked, I was fine.
When I was 18 I broke my foot and walked around on it for ten days before I finally went to the doctor and was told that I would need a surgical fix.
At 21, after getting to the point where I could barely support the weight of my 100lb frame, I finally saw a doctor about my now chronic ankle issues. Looking at my x-rays and MRI reports, the doctor was so stunned that he called his colleagues in to consult on my exam. “I just don’t get it” one would say to the other. “I’ve never seen anything like this” another would comment, and then, as if I wasn’t even there, the head doctor muttered to an intern “this is what medical neglect looks like. This problem could have been solved when she was a kid, and now the problem has grown so large that I’m not even sure it’s repairable.”
The doctor sat there for a few minutes before presenting me with a surgical option that he promised would be complicated, painful, and radical, but also warned me that if I did nothing, things would only continue to get worse.
Terrified at the prospect of facing even more pain than I was already in, and knowing what I had to lose, I kept thinking about all that I had already lost, and I decided to go for it.
Thankfully, the doctor was able to fix my damaged body with some very intense surgeries. And although I know I’ve written about it before, to summarize for my new readers, the “fix” involved breaking the rest of my remaining bones and rebuilding the entire structure of my foot and ankle. Since 90% of my tendons and ligaments were gone, and the only way to “fix” them, was to take them from another part of my body, and the bones were so damaged, that I became an donor recipient when I was given bone grafts from a person that had passed. But still, so many things were damaged beyond repair, that whatever couldn’t be harvested from somewhere, or someone else, was repaired with titanium.
When I came out of the surgery and awoke from anesthesia, the doctor apologized for me on behalf of my parents; telling me that he was astonished that I had not been treated sooner, and that he never would have put his own children through that. My case was so bad, that I later agreed to let the surgeon use my medical file, surgical video, and follow-up care notes, as part of a widespread teaching seminar on surgical techniques. Yet despite what seemed to be a successful surgery, in a follow up appointment in his office, I remember him telling me that he had done all that he could, and the rest would be up to me, and how I healed. He reminded me that if my healing process didn’t go well, that I was at risk of losing my foot; or even losing both of them.
The recovery was nothing short of hell. I honestly didn’t even know that it was possible for the human body to experience that much pain, and to date, with a septo-rhinoplasty and two childbirths under my belt, I’ve still never come close to experiencing anything of that caliber of pain again. The recovery was intensive and painful, but 12 years later I can run, dance, and I thankfully feel whole again.
Several years later when I received my genetic disorder diagnosis, the geneticist commented that she couldn’t believe I was coming to see her at my age. You see, I was at a children’s hospital, because the disorder that I have is in a family of disorders that are most often diagnosed in children, and so a children’s hospital was the only place that had the type of geneticist that I needed to diagnose me. “How did you make it through your entire childhood, with a medical history like yours, and no one caught this?” the geneticist asked me.
I shrugged my shoulders, because I really don’t know.
In defense of my parents (I can’t believe that I just said that), I really don’t think that they did what they did out of ill will. I think that because I complained so much about being in pain and feeling sick, and because the house was utter chaos anyway, that I just fell under the radar of what should have been important, to what became their “normal” with me. I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t make me angry, but as an often overwhelmed parent myself, and knowing how sick my mother was, the only way that I can really make peace with the situation is to accept that they just never saw what they should have been looking for. They missed the issue not out of direct neglect, but because they kept ignoring it and hoping that it would go away on it’s own.
Next week my daughter will start an intensive course of physical therapy. As you know, she has the same disorder that I have, and as you have also seen, she has inherited my ankles. But unlike me, I don’t intend to let her suffer alone, and I won’t sweep the problem under the rug.
Therapy will stretch her overly tight muscles, and possibly even inject Botox in them. She may go through a series of castings where they stretch her ankle into a more normal position, and then place a cast on her leg to keep it that way until the muscles are permanently stretched to where they need to be. She will work on strengthening the tendons and ligaments that are too loose, and hopefully, when all is said and done, she will be stronger; but that doesn’t mean that she likes any of it.
“Can’t you just leave me alone?” she asks me through tears, and the only thing that I can do is to try to explain to my tiny little seven-year-old girl, that if we don’t fix this problem now, that we will have a much bigger problem later on.
The path may hurt, but the goal is to make her stronger.
The goal is to never let her get to the point where someone looks at her and says “I’m not sure that this is repairable.”
When my husband first left me and I came out of the fog that was domestic abuse, I felt irreparable. I felt broken beyond comprehension, and as I stood there and looked around at the pieces of my shattered life, I couldn’t even fathom what piece to pick up first, or where I should even put it. I felt destroyed beyond hope, and even thinking about trying to deal with the despair that filled my soul, felt overwhelming.
But I didn’t have a choice to stay “broken,” because I had two kids who needed me whole; who needed me functional. I couldn’t give them what they needed, if I couldn’t even take care of myself. I knew that by not dealing with the problem head on, that I was at risk for continuing the cycle not only in my own life, but also passing it on to my children.
I thought about all that I had already lost, and faced the reality that if I didn’t do something, that I still had so much more that I might lose.
After an immense amount of counseling and some unbelievably intense support groups, the progress was slow, but steady. It was often painful, and it always made me cry, but I didn’t give up, because I realized that just because I would rather ignore the problem, it wasn’t going to go away.
The proof was in the support group members who were decades older than me and on their 4th, 5th, and 6th abusive relationships; some burying their problems in drugs, and others falling apart to the point where they were barely functional. Looking around, my feelings were confirmed that ignoring a problem didn’t make it go away, it just let it fester and grow until it was too big to ignore, and its ripples had engulfed everything around it.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t dreading The Girl Child’s therapy. There is nothing in this world that I want more than to be able to protect my children, but in my daughter’s case, I can’t do anything other than support her. Hopefully she accepts the help that we are all trying to give her, and can understand that no matter how painful this process is going to be, that in the end she will be stronger and more functional. I can be there for her, I can hold her hand, I can cheer her on, but in the end, the rest is up to her. She needs to fight with me to face this problem head on, before it becomes too big for anyone to handle.
In life we are going to encounter things that are so painful, that it feels like the only way to protect ourselves from the pain they cause, is to ignore the problem altogether; but ignoring the problem is not going to protect you. Bills will still pile up, addictions will continue to grow, our health will decline, our weight will creep up, the house will never get clean, and we will never make amends with friends. The trauma from abuse and the devastation from rape, it’s not going to go away just because you don’t feel like you can handle dealing with it.
Whether you like it or not, the issue will grow, and it will eventually take you down with it. It’s like your car; if you were driving around town and suddenly all the warning lights in your car went on, and your car started making a horrific noise, would you continue to drive as if nothing was wrong? Would you really believe that just because you wanted to pretend as if everything was fine, that everything would actually be actually alright?
Heck no, your engine would be ruined.
It might even explode. Catch on fire possibly, and take out everything around it.
Sorry, but you just can’t argue with that logic because that is not an unreasonable scenario.
So don’t argue with it. Don’t ignore your problems. Don’t pretend that they are going to go away just because you want them to. Don’t give problems the opportunity to damage your life more than they already have. Don’t wait until the situation has gotten so far out of your control, that it is taking you down with it; because if you think that dealing with a problem is hard now, wait until it explodes and the only thing you can do is try to manage the fallout.