Like my life in the Western world, my bone will forever be misaligned. I was determined to not also break my vacation plans.
Warning: This article contains an x-ray image of a broken bone.
It was a just over three weeks ago when I made a free fall at the bottom of the staircase. It wasn’t my first snafu here—I’d slid down the same narrow turn two years prior, jamming my toes into the base of the front door. This time was worse.
My partner, Brad, and I live in a 1940s cape full of character and challenges. It’s a quaint cottage in the treetops in an old growth neighborhood, a neighborhood I’d been stalking since I first drove through it some 20 years ago. Our home has been a refuge for us, sturdier than most built today. And it’s as cute as can be. But, like all castles, it presents some challenges.
It was a Monday afternoon when I was in pack-and-prep mode for our summer pilgrimage north to visit with family. After driving the long haul from Maryland to Maine with our pup for so many years, we’ve continued this way, enjoying the freedom of having our own wheels away from home. And so, there were no airline bag limitations to keep me packing light.
I was in my prep mindset when the sound of something urgent, and unimportant, happening outside caught my attention. I came down the stairs in a hurry, making a sharp turn where the steps fan out to the wall and all but disappear close to the railing. Where my mind told me the next step would be, there was only air.
It should have been a slow-motion moment in my mind, but it happened so quickly that I barely grasped the situation, as my forward motion persisted beyond the phantom step. I landed on the ball of my right foot, and the momentum of my body sent my knee into a tidy fold over my toes to a hard thud on the floor. The moment was so abrupt that, focused, I crawled to prop open the storm door and share my very unimportant packing instructions with Brad, as a sit contorted on the entryway floor.
After accomplishing my very unimportant goal, I gathered myself and hobbled to the living room carpet where I slumped onto the floor once again and cradled my foot, hot tears sliding down my cheeks. I felt no pain yet, only intense frustration. In 36 hours, we were to start the 11-hour drive north to Maine. With visits too infrequent and so many people’s schedules already aligned, I could not be talked out of going.
I moved through the next day and a half with lots of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) in between packing, laundry, and prepping food for the cooler. I delicately contorted myself inside the upstairs knee walls to unearth our camping gear, which was an addition to this year’s trip. And I picked up Maryland blue crabs, a treat I bring for my folks since they moved back north 15+ years ago. I found driving to be surprisingly pain-free.
North we went at 4:00 am on a Wednesday, my foot propped on the dashboard until it was my turn to drive.
Eleven hours of driving and we finally found ourselves navigating the last gravelly mile to my parents’ cabin. Soon after, I was sipping the only gin and tonic I’ve ever liked, handcrafted by my colorful father for the happiest of lakeside hours. Over the next week, my mother’s culinary feats in potato salad and pasta made us feel extra loved. My aunt popped in for a visit while she was visiting New England, and we had more to celebrate. My sister and my 14-year-old nephew, only 40 minutes east, joined us often for laughs and antics. One evening, my nephew’s face lit up at the unexpected smell of the blue crabs re-steaming, and he forgot for a moment that Brad and I had been pressing him for the scoop on his fresh teenage shenanigans. We knew more than we alluded to.
The hues of the sunset and my mood muted the increasingly darker shades of my foot. The swelling persisted, and I thought frequently about the potential destruction lurking within. Not just from the fall, but more so from putting off a diagnosis and treatment. I’d see to it when I got home.
I salvaged as much adventure with my people as I could physically tolerate, and it was another bittersweet episode as we stirred dust back down the camp road. Our fingers were crossed that we’d be back for the holidays, Covid ebbs willing. Next stop—Vermont. We headed due west to visit Brad’s side of the family, with a first stop outside of Burlington.
I Surprise Myself
I may have been hobbling, but I remembered well enough my way around a tent I hadn’t pitched in almost 12 years. Once up, I gingerly crawled inside to sweep. I found remnants of our sweet girl in the silky spaniel hairs she left behind. She used to snore as she nestled between us in the conjoined sleeping bags. It’s been nine years since she passed, and I lost a few silent tears in the tent and then pressed on.
We spent two nights camping along the panoramic shores of Lake Champlain, Brad offering a steady arm during midnight strolls to the bath house. I gazed upward, mesmerized by a hazy cluster of stars that floated light years above the tent’s transparent rain cover and passed out of view an hour later. The second night whipped and drenched us, and I imagined that half the soaking was being slapped up from the unsettled shore, just 30 feet away. We rose at dawn with a few other hardy tent campers to pack up our soppy gear during a light-sprinkle lull.
And in between it all, we chatted up locals and found ourselves on a blanket at a vineyard in the middle of nowhere, clapping to the sounds of a local band with hundreds of other people who came out of nowhere.
We visited with Brad’s niece in Burlington, we tourists constrained by limited time on my foot. We vegged out on her front porch and quenched our curiosity about her life there and her beautiful flair for authenticity. And then we headed to southern Vermont to be spoiled by Brad’s father and stepmother with more tasty food and conversation, before finding ourselves back home too soon.
I made an appointment this week to find out how it goes inside my foot. The break in my fourth metatarsal was evident on the big screen in front of me, along with some crooked fusing. I’ve been promised that nothing would have been different had I come in the day after my injury—no surgery, no splinting, no cast—and that my foot will again be structurally sound when it heals; I reserve judgement. And I was congratulated on my high threshold for pain. But it’s only physical pain, after all.
I offer prompts during my story circles to help participants mine their memories for their life stories. My next story circle prompt:
Have you found your way through an adverse situation to its silver lining?
I was fortunate to have avoided further complications from delaying diagnosis and potential treatment. This is not always the case. Don’t delay your own care.
Happy storymaking, friends!
Stay in one piece / peace!