On Asking for Help

Of course it occurred to me that I could get hurt. At least it hypothetically has crossed my mind. I routinely take falls while rock climbing, secretly loving the post-fall high and not-so-secretly loving the inherent risk. But, if injury is the first thought in your mind while attempting the next move, it becomes paralyzing.  I am learning to suppress the fear and the urge to calculate all of the bad things that could happen. I often remind myself that bad things can happen at any moment, not just on a rock wall.

This sort of calculated, yet youthful ignorance in regards to injury, led to breaking my leg. I took a calculated risk while jumping off the bottom of a rope after climbing to the top, and either jumped too far or landed entirely wrong. Both leg bones broke, and the tibia broke in 7+ places. I didn’t know right away the extent of what had happened, but the noise was unmistakable, even though I had never heard it. Bones breaking make a very particular noise.

Injuries feel very fast at first. The actual trauma is fast, your brain focuses in on the two things that you need to deal with: figuring out what is wrong and how to get help. In the aftermath my brain can’t even remember actually jumping or how far it felt. Ambulance rides and emergency rooms are busy and quick, as you are passed between x-ray machines, CT scans, and doctors, while trying to keep your composure between pain and medication. There are decisions to be made and action to take. The real challenge of injury is when the emergency part passes, is that time slows down. Time slows all the way down.

I knew immediately that spending a month on the couch, with my leg positioned above my heart would be a challenge. The couch month would be followed by various months on crutches without using my leg. (read: no activity) Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Slowing down also isn’t an activity I excel at. Yet, February required both. Beyond my own internal battle of whether or not I could stay on the couch, I needed help. It was humbling to have a friend and roommates help me change my underwear, help me figure out how to shower, make sure I ate, and the list goes on and on. It was humbling simply to watch friends spring to action – making dinners, visiting, calling, and sending care packages. Perhaps this forced slow time is a lesson in gratefulness for my friendships and community.

It has been a lesson in appreciation. On the day after surgery, I woke up in agony as the anesthesia wore off before the pain medicine took effect. Six hours of crying in pain reminded me that I am lucky to have not experienced this in 29 years and to be in a place and community where I have access to information, medication and health care. The past month has also been a time to appreciate stories. It seems, from all the stories of broken bones and surgeries I have been privy to, that the real danger is in more mundane, often times less risky moments. Stress fractures occur while running, people break ankles stepping off the curb wrong, and of course, people slip on ice and break all sorts of bones. I have heard stories and learned more about friends and their experiences of healing had I not been on my couch.

In many ways asking for help in this context has been much easier than grieving. I can only assume that grief has come to mind, since this month has called to mind other moments of needing help and relying on my community. First, it is easier to talk about what happened and the healing process with injury (in this context). There is an end. There is a time when everything will be “all better,” and thus friends don’t shy away from asking about it. The road to healing is less linear than with grief. With loss, the “all better” moment may never arrive, yet many moments where we can move on do arrive. The process cannot be charted on a calendar, as appointments to check bone healing can. Secondly, there are specific ways to help that make a big difference as they are difficult to accomplish on my own. Since I knew what I needed help with, I could ask for it. While grieving (and still) I often had no idea what would help.

Perhaps these experiences resemble comparing apples and oranges, yet the ability of a community to mobilize and be supportive has been a beautiful and appreciated parallel.  Not to mention the experience of asking for help, and constantly re-learning that it is okay to ask for help.

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