Sometimes getting older feels a lot like the old lady who swallowed a fly. One thing leads to another. One minor inconvenience that you might not have even noticed in your youth quickly cascades into bigger and bigger problems until your entire life is a wreck.
That’s not just my pessimism at play! I’m actually hot off of a few miserable months after just such a bit of bad luck.
The bad luck involved our sectional couch. It was destined to happen. The day I met the couch, I turned to E and said, “I’m going to hurt myself on one of its legs. I just know it.”
The legs are set exactly at the corners of the couch rather than in from the edge, and since they are metal they’re surprisingly thin – enough so that your foot could catch on them rather than impacting and sliding off in one direction or the other.
Of course, it came to pass. I was walking across the room for no particular reason and slammed my foot directly in the middle of the couch’s leg, toe-first.
It was more than a stubbed toe. It was a collapsing onto the ground after, seeing stars for an hour, ice-packs all night sort of impact.
It felt exactly the same as when I fractured middle finger just before COVID struck, another one of these inconveniences that put the whammy on my life and my plans for months on end. Something felt internally wrong in my foot.
I visited a doctor first thing the next day. He shrugged at me. “Maybe it’s chipped,” he said. I pleaded for a X-Ray, but he said that even if it was broken, it wasn’t in a way that would require a cast or splint. He thought giving me a boot would be overkill. I’d just have to not walk it off.
Easier said than done.
I tried that for a week or two – limping around the house to keep the weight off my foot while trying to avoid unnecessary trips up and down the stairs. However, all the limping meant putting more weight on my other leg all day, every day.
That made the knee on my other leg start to hurt.
Then I started doing something weird to compensate for both my foot and my knee, and that resulted in my back hurting. Any time I had to walk anywhere – like to go grocery shopping – it worsened.
My back got so bad that it was radiating spikes of pain any time I moved. I was grunting while moving around the house as if I had just been through a full-hour long weights workout. Actually, it was completely the opposite – I wasn’t getting any kind of exercise at all! I was in so much pain that I was mostly spending the day lying flat on my stomach with my laptop in front of me to do work.
My back got so tender and painful that I couldn’t even sleep. The bed was too soft for me, and every time I shifted in my sleep I awoke afresh from the pain. Eventually, in a bid to get more than an hour of sleep at a time, I started sleeping on a camping pad on the floor wedged between my wall on one side and a row of laundry baskets on the other so I’d stay flat on my back all night.
Of course, all that back sleeping lead to more snoring, which meant I now had a sore throat on top of my back hurting and being exhausted from poor sleep. And, I was now more than a month into no exercise whatsoever, so I was feeling even worse.
One day my lower back was hurting so badly while I was in the middle of cooking dinner that I shoved a pair of ice packs into the elastic band of my underwear in a desperate attempt to continue cooking. When they finally numbed my back it was the first time I hadn’t been feeling pain for at least a month! I WAS ECSTATIC!
Except… I just left the ice packs there. All night. Through dinner and a rare pain-free dishwashing… only to discover afterward THAT I HAD GIVEN MYSELF FROSTBITE. I had frozen a portion of my back solid.
(Heed the warnings on your ice packs, kids! Never apply them directly to your flesh, no matter how good it feels.)
I will spare you the somewhat gruesome details. Suffice it to say, on top of all my other problems now I couldn’t even sleep flat on my back, which I had bandaged to try to prevent too much blistering. But, hey, at least I wasn’t snoring as much?
Do you know what broke me out of this downward spiral? A well-placed kick in the back.
The kid was goofing off while I was working-from-middle-of-floor and gave me a solid stomp to the sorest part of my back. I saw stars. I thought I was going to burst into tears from the pain, but the pain also felt… kinda great?
Somehow, her swift kick had hit me exactly where the knot in my back was all tied up. I suddenly felt a surge of warmth spreading all across my back. I had to check to make sure I hadn’t wet myself! Not that that is a problem I usually have! It just was a surprising amount of warmth spreading all across my body!
I had not had an accident. Instead, I think the warm sensation was all of my back and leg muscles relaxing for the first time in weeks.
I didn’t think asking my kid to repeatedly kick me in the back was necessarily a sustainable method of relief, so I turned to a tried and true method: tennis balls. Or, actually, dryer balls, because we don’t have any tennis balls and I was desperate.
After a week of rolling my back on dryer balls, the knot was completely released. That meant I could return to my bed, so no more exhaustion or sore throat. And, I had been off my feet for so long from my back hurting that both my toe and me knee seemed to be entirely back to normal.
I went on my first tentative jog a few days later. Everything felt fine. I mean, stuff was sore after my jog. But, good sore. Expected sore. I kept on dryer-balling my back and icing my knees (with an appropriate barrier) and muscle-rolling my legs so I wouldn’t cascade to catastrophe again. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a post-workout ritual that’s not just “take a shower.”
As of Thursday night, I’ve shaved five minutes of of my 5k time from the start of 2023. I’ve repeatedly broken my own personal record on the course through my neighborhood filled with elevation changes. I hate running, so there’s nothing more satisfying than it being over sooner.
Yet, every time I start a new run I wonder if it will be the run where I step a little weirdly off of a curb and start the whole cascade over again. It doesn’t even have to be a run. I twisted my ankle a bit taking out the garbage the other night. Last year, our across-the-street neighbor broke her leg while gardening. Nothing drastic happened. She just stumbled and broke her entire frigging leg.
That’s all it takes. One minor stumble. One wrong step off a curb. One badly stubbed toe. One thing leads to another.
If my months of minor discomfort leading to major pain have taught me anything, it’s that you have to be able to find satisfaction in whatever your body offers you every day. When my back hurt, at least I could still make dinner. When my knee hurt, at least I could sleep at night. When I (probably) broke my toe, at least it was just the one toe.
I have friends that are dealing with much more challenging health outcomes than the aftermath of a fractured toe – chronic problems that aren’t going to be reversed by a swift kick in the back. They still find ways to love life and to love their own bodies, even as they age.
Our bodies are never going to be perfect. And, actually, after a point they just get less perfect with every year that passes. Instead of waiting for that perfection, sometimes it’s enough to feel like your body is good enough in the present moment.