6.01.2015

Learning How to Read Again After Falling Down

Last November, just about 6 months ago, I broke my leg in what turns out to be almost the worst possible way one can - in three different places near the ankle, all from missing one step. I was in the hospital in Brooklyn for a week (where, if anything, they probably made it worse) and then, almost two weeks later, was in surgery eight states away. My mother had rushed up to New York to see that I could recover somewhere other than my third-floor walkup in New York, in winter.

She and my roommate packed a lot of things for the trip to Florida - clothes, devices, books, etc. We didn't know how long my recovery would be, but we were driving and there was only so much that would fit in the car; no one knew at that point that I would need three operations, three months of non-weightbearing, prescription narcotics, injectable blood thinners, a walker, a scooter, a wheelchair, crutches, a cane, a month of physical therapy, a plate in my leg, a total of nine screws (two have since been removed), five different casts, a space boot, an ankle brace, a car accident, and five months of working out of my parents' home. (There was also an episode involving a fork in a toilet, but that's a story for another day.) Needless to say, I only asked my mom to pack a handful of books - despite everything, I was somehow optimistic - I blame the painkillers.

A week before the third operation (wherein the bottom two
screws - the largest two - would be removed). You can still
see the fragmentation of the fibula.
The irony there is that, despite the fact that I was laid up with almost nothing to do for weeks at a time (sans when I was actually doing my job), I didn't read for a long time - I didn't want to. Christmas came and went with even more books arriving. And still I didn't read. I know that some of this was the morphine cloud, as I've taken to calling it - the month-long period between breaking my leg and weaning myself off of the narcotics that made living bearable for a time.

But I think the other part of it was my anxiety - my reluctance to think about anything other than my leg for any period of time where I might get distracted and forget that I couldn't stand, or lose concentration and smack it on something, etc. The anxiety was my greatest enemy and, in hindsight, I can see that - but in the moment, I only knew that I was battling some sort of demon of distraction that had caused the whole mess, and finding a way to be content or happy despite the leg and despite the setbacks was incredibly difficult.

Some time after Christmas - I want to say it was closer to Valentines' Day - a package arrived. A friend had sent gifts (two books, and the game Twister - of all things). It was around that time that I was beginning to move again (with a knee walker/scooter and my space boot). And while I can't say that I have even opened the game box, it was this delivery that gently pushed me back to reading (this, and riding the monorail at Disney while my family was in the parks - nerd alert!) I started slowly - very slowly - with books that I already knew through their movies (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and The Shining). This allowed me to gradually focus my imagination and engage in the words. It was a different experience for me because I'm so used to reading for the sake of reading, regardless of whether something was adapted. I can't say I enjoyed it very much because I'm not that reader - but it was something different - it was something.

I'm getting more into the old groove now (I finished two other books just last week, and I'm in the middle of another one now). And while this experience is not something I would wish on anyone else (nor wish to re-live myself) I can say that it has been both informational (as to my own reading needs, opinions, preferences, etc.) and refreshing in its own way. I had been in a rut for a long time even before the fall and this was a lot like hitting the re-start button.

Sunset, from the M train. 
I never thought that I would be someone who would have to learn how to read again, and yet here I am. Most victims of happenstance have that reaction - I never thought it would be me, etc. But I can honestly and without approaching pastiche or cliché say that I never thought I would need to teach myself how to read again after simply breaking my leg - not because of a brain injury or an emotional tragedy (call  my outbursts what you will, Dad) but because of my own anxieties and fears and a critical inability to think beyond my present (now past) circumstances.

I want to think that most of this is behind me now - books are flying off of my TBR pile, I'm managing my commute daily without the use of a cane (I'm not stupid, though - I'm wearing my brace) and I've even come back to writing. Our program is resuming with few residual delays. But I'm glad to know that, should I find myself in this situation again - whether that means sprawled out at the bottom of the stairs, or simply curled up on my bed not wanting to face the world - I can always hit re-start.

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