“YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?”
There I was, bundled up in winter clothes that had taken me a half-hour to put on, (everything takes longer during recovery) having maneuvered myself for the first time outside and onto our back deck.
It was a beautiful winter day. The fresh air, which I had not inhaled for several weeks, felt crisp and invigorating. This should have been a joyous moment. I was outside! I was free!
And yet, teetering precariously in my crutches, my left leg in a cast from toe to knee, I was staring at a scene that I will never forget. For standing at the bottom of the steps, was my husband, a huge smile of helpfulness on his face.
He was holding a wheelbarrow.
“Hop in,” he said.
While you pause and imagine the amount of grace required for an adult female, fitted with an oversized cast on her leg to ‘hop in’ a wheelbarrow and be carted off like a load of gravel, I’ll catch you up on how my life came to this moment.
– – –
A few weeks earlier, in late November of two years ago, I underwent surgery. The recovery from which required me to be non-weight bearing for two months.
NON-WEIGHT BEARING IS EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE.
Not one ounce of pressure could be placed on my left leg. In fact, just to make sure this doesn’t happen (and to add an extra element of surprise to the unsuspecting patient) the cast was curved at the bottom, meaning that if you accidentally stepped down on it, you were guaranteed to fall in a spectacular fashion.
The recovery from this surgery was a comedy of errors.
Even before I found myself staring at a wheelbarrow, my best-laid plans for a smooth, healthy and productive recovery fell off the rails.
OUT WITH THE NEW, IN WITH THE OLD
Knowing I would be at home, with nothing but time on my hands, I set up a recovery station beside the couch. Included was a basket of unread books I couldn’t wait to devour. They covered a variety of current affairs, business and well-being topics, plus some puzzle books and a few murder mysteries to balance things out. On TV, I had queued up shows that always interested me but I never had the time to watch.
The first weekend I was home, I tried to read and do word puzzles, but the words remained blurry. My eyes were seeing double from the pain medication I was on. Seeing as how half my leg was completely immobilized, and at most I felt a constant but dull throbbing sensation I opted to stop taking the pain medication unless absolutely necessary.
Time to get busy flexing my brain.
The problem? My brain was in revolt.
Every time I opened a new book, my mind drifted. Whenever I went to start a new show, my thumb hit the ‘back’ button on the remote. Post-surgery me wanted nothing to do with learning new things or watching new shows.
I WAS IN COMFORT MODE ON OVERDRIVE.
Hobbling downstairs with a knapsack, I filled it with books I had already read and knew I loved. When not surrounded by characters that welcomed me like old friends, I drifted in and out of sleep to movies and shows with plot lines I knew by heart.
Failing my goals for not using the time wisely was disappointing and I was pretty hard on myself at first, but I realize now that that early period of recovery was more shocking of an adjustment than anticipated. Allowing both my body and brain to rest was important. And boy did I ever need the rest.
The month prior to surgery, I went through a nesting phase.
Our house was spotless. Did the inside of the fridge really need to be taken apart and washed before my surgery? Of course, it did! The freezer was stocked with healthy home-cooked meals, and as I would be off my feet over the holidays, the entire house was already decorated for Christmas. Knowing I’d be on the mend for so long, and occasionally entertaining guests, I also went out and bought a few fun sleepwear sets for lounging.
No wonder I was exhausted.
‘TIS THE SEASON
In my mind, I imagined a peaceful winter wonderland recovery scene: Me, sipping hot cocoa, snuggled up on the couch while watching snowflakes dance pirouettes outside.
The fact is, I really should have known better. I read The Shining years ago. Nothing good happens when someone is trapped inside during the winter months. Yet I still held onto this magical vision.
My logic was this. As it would be winter, I would not be missing out on all the summer activities I love. Gardening, hiking, biking, running. In the summer it feels like there are so many places to go and things to do. Yes, I also love winter, but it gets dark so early and we already tend to hibernate during the colder months so being housebound should be easy.
Here’s a sample of how wrong I was:
- Do you know what happens in November and December? Holiday business parties. As a new business owner, I suffered serious #FOMO whenever I received a new invite. Who launches their own business and then fails to ‘see and be seen’ at the biggest events of the year? This girl.
- Pro Tip: don’t have surgery immediately after launching a new business unless increased stress and decreased cashflow is your goal
- Winter, in Ontario, means snow. Snow and crutches don’t pair well. Neither do winter storms and hours-long highway drives to the hospital every two weeks for follow up appointments, recasting and x-rays.
- Besides adding more stress, it really limited the space for recovery to the inside of our house if the ground was snow-covered or icy.
- Going for a ride. My ‘outings’ would be familiar for anyone with a family member name Fido. I got to go for car rides. That was really all I could muster (save for one ridiculously coordinated effort to go see Star Wars).
- So, I’d sit in the passenger seat, sipping on Starbucks, and happily watch the world pass by. Sometimes I’d even roll the window down to get a little fresh air but alas, I did not hang my head out the window to feel the breeze. Woof.
- Winter is the season for comfort food. Eating healthy throughout the winter is challenging under normal circumstances. Try combining it with a new, 24/7 sedentary lifestyle.
- My stomach simply did not crave a green smoothie or salad. Visions of mac’n’cheese, lasagna and chili danced in my head. And soon in my belly. Those new pajamas were getting tighter.
When I left the hospital, they gave me a sheet of paper with some basic leg movements listed for patients who are confined to bed. They are not intended to counter the number of calories that were quickly adding up inside me. (did I forget to mention the candy dispensary I also set up as part of the recovery station?)
My typical workouts were out of the question, I couldn’t begin to figure out how to modify them to suit my new reality. To the internet! Typing in “non-weight bearing exercise” led me to Caroline Jordan. She has a YouTube fitness site and thankfully (for me, maybe not so much for her at the time) she had suffered a foot injury which led her to create a series of routines for people who are in a similar situation. How exactly does a person workout, and actually break a sweat, when they cannot stand up?
Picture yourself sitting on the edge of a dining room chair, one with no arms. Now, while doing this you proceed to do all the cardio you could ever imagine including knee raises and running. At one point, while doing chair Jumping Jacks (which strongly resemble a Russian folk dance, you know the one with squats, leg kicks and matching arm waves) you feel the stare of eyes falling upon you only to realize a small audience of curious onlookers has gathered, consisting of three cats and a husband who can never unsee this flailing miracle of movement.
Once the cardio component is over, its time to move to the floor. Gravity and the monster cast make getting down easy and not at all graceful.
Trying to maneuver through muscle work with a sack of potatoes strapped to one leg doesn’t hold the interest of the crowd and they quickly disperse. Save for one cat who stays for moral support and snuggles.
That is a non-weight bearing workout.
I didn’t conquer all the calories with those exercises, however getting the blood pumping, breathing heavy and breaking a sweat was good for both body and brain. And the movements got easier with each subsequent cast which thankfully kept getting smaller.
Phase one of my recovery hadn’t gone as I thought it would and phase two was approaching faster than I was ready for (more on that in a later post). One of the best things about my ‘time off’ was the visits from friends who’d stop by after work or on the weekend, bearing Starbuck lattes and glimpses of the real world.
Post-surgery, I grew paranoid about my speech, internally feeling like forming words and sentences was challenging. I have no explanation for this. Practicing my conversation skills and just feeling connected to the world again while they were there made me grateful for their effort.
Also, I got to play “hostess with the leastess” which I highly recommend to every woman reading this. We hosted my family for Christmas, but of course, there was little to nothing I could do except sit on the couch and loudly provide my unsolicited input on the proceedings while everyone else cooked dinner, set the table and tried to ignore me.
It was a sweet gig.
One glorious day, the snow cleared and my husband and I decided to take advantage of the weather. Yes, it was freezing cold, but the ground was clear. We going to head outside to enjoy a fire.
Getting dressed for winter was a struggle. After a half-hour, I was both dressed for the outdoors and ready for a nap. Determined, I worked one winter boot on, shooed the cats away from the back door and crutched my way outside and across the back deck.
It was there that I came face-to-face with my husband’s well-intentioned wheelbarrow scheme.
My husband is, by all means, a smart cookie, an engineer, but not known for being people-focused. That was clear in the thought process.
I was to ‘hop in’ to the wheelbarrow, and then he’d scoot me across the yard to the chairs set up by our fireplace.
First, the word “scoot” does not go well with anyone on crutches. There is no scooting. Ever, In any setting.
Second, wheelbarrows are not wheelchairs. One is intended for the transportation of human beings, and are designed to get in and out of with relative ease. The other is for moving dirt.
Sizing up the odds of me relinquishing my crutches and sustaining a further injury in the process of being transported in or trying to get out of, said wheelbarrow, I politely declined the offer. My well-meaning husband, slightly perplexed, followed behind as I slowly worked my way across our yard on foot with a renewed appreciation for my crutches.
The fire was glorious. It started to snow while we were outside, which was truly magical.
There was no scooting.
Glendalynn Dixon guides business transformations focused on data strategy, leadership & change management. She is a bestselling author, speaker and mentor who champions women in technology and uses stories from her wild ride of a life to challenge preconceived notions. Glendalynn shares the story of finding her voice to create change in Carpe Diem