Two years ago today, I broke my ankle while hiking the ancient Inca trail in the Andes mountains.
We were at an altitude of 13,000 feet and I saw a festive blue tanager down in a river bank.
Naturally, I jumped down to get a better look and in a classic reprimand of “look before you leap,” which I did not do, my left foot landed on a stone.
First there was a feeling of surprise as I fell over. Then I saw stars. Finally, everything went black. But before I knew it, I came to my senses, hopped up from the ground, and looked around to see if anyone saw me. Thankfully, no one had, and I pretended like nothing happened.
That worked fine for about the next mile. Then the adrenaline started to dissipate and the throbbing pain hit me with every step I took. I don’t know why I couldn’t admit to anyone what had happened. Perhaps because it was an incredibly stupid injury or perhaps it was because I’m one of those people who never liked to ask for help (note I wrote liked in the past tense; I have since given up those silly ways).
After another mile, the pain became almost unbearable and when we stopped for a break I pretended the altitude had finally gotten to me.
I asked our tour guide for two aspirin. He told me I didn’t seem to be affected and only gave me one. It did not help.
When we finally got within sight of the village house we were staying at, I almost collapsed from the straight shot up we had for the final ascent. Several hundred feet up a steep hill. It was at that point the tour guide asked me, “Are you okay? You’re limping.”
I had to admit I was NOT okay. After I made it to the village house, I had no energy or strength or stamina to move again. The family took care of me, soaking my ankle in an herbal bath and then wrapping it with an ace bandage.
But the next morning I still could not bear weight on my ankle. I had to be taken down the mountain by emergency vehicle, which in Huchuy Cusco was a horse named Cheero. Cheero had an extraordinary knack for walking as close to the precipitous edge of the trail as possible. To this day, I don’t know which was worse – the physical pain from my ankle or the mental torture of thinking at any moment Cheero and I were going to plummet to our deaths off the side of the mountain.
Hours later, we made it down and we immediately got in a car to head to the next leg of our tour, Machu Picchu. At this point because of the drastic change in altitude, I felt minimal pressure on my ankle and it was almost like nothing had even happened.
So of course I hiked Machu Picchu the next day. I didn’t know my ankle was broken at the time and I would be heading back to the states in just two days. I didn’t want to miss a chance to visit one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world.
I didn’t actually find out my ankle was broken until about a month later when I thought, hmm, shouldn’t the pain have gone away by now?
I went to my primary care physician who ordered an x-ray. I found out it was an avulsion fracture. In this type of break, the ligaments snap so tightly when the ankle is twisted that they take off a chunk of the bone. Thankfully, the doctor said I didn’t need surgery, nor would she put me in a cast because I had already started to heal. I just had to keep a brace on for three months and limit my physical activities.
Talk about a kick in the pants! How was I supposed to do yoga? Or dance fitness? And what about ice skating and hula hooping? These were all the things I did regularly to stay in shape and take care of myself and now I had to stop them.
At first, I contemplated just doing them anyway and suffer through the pain. I had dealt with the pain already for a month. But then I realized if I wanted to keep up with these activities for the rest of my life (which I hope to be long and vital), then I really did have to give myself the time to heal.
I learned a lot during that time, particularly the role cardio plays in my sleep quality. Without it, I had difficulty falling asleep and I would wake up multiple times throughout the night, even more so than because of my narcolepsy.
So as we countdown to Christmas, let us remember that one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive is our physical health. A lot of times we take this gift for granted but it should be one we are most thankful for, especially because we never know when it may be returned to sender.