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What Breaking My Leg Taught Me About Life

10/26/2015 12:06 EDT | Updated 10/26/2016 05:12 EDT
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patient with broken leg in cast

I call myself an AAA personality. You know, a Type A gal but on steroids. Remember the Tasmanian Devil -- the beast who can't stop whirling long enough to show his mug? Type AAA. And the Energizer Bunny who happily runs on limitless juice? AAA.

Let me elucidate. Just the idea of meditation makes me antsy. Same goes for yoga or regular manicures, or any type of relaxation that doesn't involve actively checking things off a to-do list. If it's not a necessity, I don't have the time. Not surprisingly, I also don't do well (read: understatement) with slowdowns, such as computer glitches or flat tires.

So, when I was delivered the ultimate sentence -- that I won't be able to walk or drive, INDEFINITELY -- I practically collapsed.

Here's what happened. It was the second day of spring, so I raced out to do stuff -- walk the dog, buy bagels, pick up coffee, mail letters -- and I didn't see (OK, yes, I had been texting just seconds before) the single square of black ice in my path. Oh, and I was wearing Uggs, the traction equivalent of a snowboard. (Consider yourself warned.)

In that split second, everything changed.

Once the emergency was over -- surgery performed, leg casted -- life marched on. But not really. Because I couldn't walk on two feet. Now I had to spend an indefinite amount of time staying put, allowing the bones I could not even see to heal. It meant I had no choice but to make the sudden shift from Type A to Type B status -- to stop, reflect and figure out how to survive being laid up.

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Here are just a few things I learned.

1. You can multitask while sitting still.

It turns out you don't have to move to get stuff accomplished. In today's technological age, being forced to sit still means having the means to multitask. All you need is a computer, a phone and an Internet connection, and you can do just about anything: work, talk, text, watch TV, play Scrabble, order food, everything.

Bottom Line: Stay productive. Being brain-busy will save your sanity.

2. Tears will sneak up on you.

No matter how positively you frame your situation (yes, it could have been worse and people are starving somewhere) and how many chin-up days you have in a row, eventually, you will break down because being laid up is hard. It's hard on the body, it's hard on the will, it's hard on everyone around you, and all that hardness will catch up with you -- when you least expect it. So prepare to lock yourself in the bathroom and scream yourself hoarse more than once.

Bottom Line: You need to open the floodgates. You're not crazy (well, no more than anyone else). 

3. It's a good idea to be in shape all the time.

Letting it all hang loose until pre-bikini season when you ramp up your fitness routine just in the nick of time is a seriously bad move. Am I ever glad I tortured myself into shape all winter. There's a benefit to pumping your arms to football player status. You never know when you'll need every muscle just to climb the stairs.

Bottom Line: You don't realize how valuable a strong body is until you really need it.

4. Asking for help is tough.

Friends will offer help, but it will feel beyond awkward calling in favours. Plus, people are well-meaning but busy -- and they won't know how hard you have it. Heads up: they'll insist they'll be there for you if only you ask, but the truth is, most of the time, they can't. And after a certain number of weeks (three), even the loudest well-wishers will forget you exist.

Bottom Line: Make a safe list of people to call in an emergency (see 7). And add a taxi app to your phone. It's worth the money to be sure you're covered if you're in danger of falling apart when no one's available (see 2.).

5. Being disorganized won't kill you. 

When you can't keep track of where anything is, you will feel like a failure. Not everyone, least of all a Type A, can deal with helplessness -- or sustained mess. But when you're broken, you have to learn to give yourself a break. It's almost impossible to do, so start practicing early.

Bottom Line: Tell yourself, over and over, that your missing jacket or the crumbs on the floor or the jumble of shoes everywhere do not signify the end of life as you know it, and is not the best reason to lose your mind (See 2.).

6. Beauty can save your life. 

Although it's tempting to hibernate until you're better, some things are essential to feeling like you haven't been excommunicated from the planet. Like the hairdresser. As superficial as it sounds, looking good is feeling good, and if you sacrifice your roots, your wax or any other routine that makes you feel like you, you'll find your soul on a downward spiral.

Bottom Line: Do yourself a favour and get whatever help you need to keep your beauty regimen intact.

7. The story gets old fast.

Everywhere you go, people will ask how you broke your leg. At first, you'll feel grateful to be noticed and you may even mistake concern for love, but pretty soon, you'll find yourself refusing to relive the sordid tale yet again. Don't be shocked by your crazy desire to punch someone in the throat.

Bottom Line: Fabricate the most fantastic tale you can: I'm a competitive hockey player but at least we won the Cup! (Wink, wink.) Didn't you see me on Dancing With the Stars? Oh, it was a disaster. Clearly, I need to file divorce papers. Sigh. 

7. You think you know who loves you most, but you don't.

You may think friends you can count on in a pinch will be there for you when that pinch goes on for months, but I bet you'd be wrong. When it comes to true empathy, helpfulness and generosity of spirit, you're in for a surprise.

Bottom Line: Discovering friends you didn't realize you had just may just be the one blessing in all of this, and almost makes the pain worth it.

8. TV is a necessary drug. 

When you're laid up, you'll want to shoot reality TV straight into your veins. There's something fabulously satisfying about lying there losing yourself in the addictive drama of people who are fighting to make it to the end of anything.

Bottom Line: No more turning your nose down at the basest forms of entertainment. If nothing else, you can bet their lives are more exciting, and more pathetic, than yours.

9. The outdoors is all it's cracked up to be. 

You would have thought a forced hibernation would rejuvenate you. But the body really does crave the outdoors. Something as simple as being able to walk down the street and breathe the air makes you feel alive, and when you're without it for long enough, you wither (See 3. above.).

Bottom Line: Get outside, no matter the weather. You'll never take Mother Nature for granted again.

10. Chicken soup really does cure you.

Besides a good cry, some fresh air, grocery delivery, a dye job, TV, a few friends and a laptop, you only need one thing and that's homemade chicken soup. In fact, now that I've been laid up, I think it may be all I want to eat for the rest of my life. This stuff is so healing that I almost want to bathe in it.

Bottom Line: Fine tune your own chicken soup recipe and keep it handy. It will heal anyone you know who's feeling low and make you a hero for life.

Have you ever been injured or laid up? What did you learn? 

Written by: Randi Chapnik Myers, Editor of BrazenWoman.

This was the first in a series about her rehab journey. You can read more about it here and here.

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