Friday, April 11, 2008

Three months, one plate, two pins, and five screws later: Reflections about life after a broken leg

Greetings to all my friends and bloggers around the world. It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a blog. I had a bit of writer's block, but as Austin Powers would say, I've got my mojo back. I had lost my ability to write but it's back and here to stay!

I'll save the acknowledgments for later. But first, here's yet another installment of the...

Gratuitous Twin Nieces Update (Because we finally found someone who'll save us from the abomination that are the Olsen Twins!)

Well, the girls are absolutely adorable! They're looking really pretty and witty and fine. They're able to talk some more and they now fully recognize me, even though they can't fully pronounce my name (the downside of such an awesome name as Raúl is that it takes a while to say that R at the beginning). I also got some pictures to share...

That does it for this update. Now, on to my main event...

Three Months, One Plate, Two Pins, and Five Screws Later:

Reflections about life after a broken leg

Before I even start sharing my deeper thoughts, let me tell you this much:

I doubt I'll ever get over the cold chill down my spine every time I recall what happened when I landed on the floor after the attempted layup (and no, I don't remember whether I scored or not!) and I felt a pop in my knee and I felt my whole leg bone shifting to the right.

Every time I relive those images in my brain, I feel the same chill, the same incredulity and I keep wondering why on earth this happened. It still feels surreal, recalling what happened in the next 30 hours after that moment: Calling my friends to come to my aid, getting on the ambulance, feeling loopy from the morphine, experiencing that brief despair when I was told I'd needed surgery, calling my family to tell them, going to surgery, waking up from it, and being at the hospital the next morning. It still feels surreal, like an episode from a drama about life in grad school or something...

Until I look at my leg and see that this is as real as it gets: An eight-inch scar on my right leg, the crutches, knowing that by the time I can walk unassisted it will most likely be six months. It has been a life-changing journey for me and that's what the next lines will be all about...

Friends who become family

I've said it once and I'll say it again: God only knows that I didn't go through hell and back because of my friends in Champaign. From the moment I landed on the hardwood floor, my friends have stepped up and helped me. Some of them have already transcended that categorization of friends and have become my family away from home. You know who you are and if you read this, it's you I'm talking about. My friends have been able to look past the crutches, the awkward walking, the waiting forever for me to sit down or stand up, and still see me for who I am. Having my parents and sister thousands of miles away, they've been a source of emotional support that's made my life easier to handle. I don't know how long it'll take for me to repay them, but I surely will.

Let me say thanks to a few, since the list is long... To my Colombian friends, thanks once again. It's good to know there are so many good Colombians left in the world! To my other friends from around the world, thanks for your support. To my teammates from the best broomball team ever, ST. FUNS, I miss playing defense but I love being your Coach! To my students, thanks for putting up with me. I promised you I'd give you 150% every class and I've delivered! To my family back home: Don't be bummed because you're not here physically. You've been here in spirit every day and you're the main reason I take my therapy so seriously.

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

It's interesting to think about all that we take for granted. Before this, everything was so easy and obvious. Then, I forgot how to walk, standing up was an endurance test, and points A and B were a thousand miles away even if a few yards apart. One of the hardest days was the first weekend when I had my cast put on, at the beginning of January. It was one of those rare 40-Fahrenheit-degree days in Champaign, perfect for a long walk. I ventured outside the apartment as best as I could and sat outside my apartment... and I couldn't help crying out of sheer frustration. It's been tough not to do what I liked to do. As I was lying down in the emergency room, right after I was told I'd need surgery, I couldn't help thinking about all that I'd miss in the spring: My trip to New York, dancing nights, the intramural broomball season (the first game of the season was a tough pill to swallow... it helped me understand what injured athletes feel like at that moment and how tough it is to be on the sidelines when you'd wish otherwise), etc. On the other hand, as the months progress and I regain my ability to walk, I'm starting to look forward to the long walks I'll take and I'm even thinking of getting a brand-new bicycle for the summer. I guess that's part of reaching little milestones every day in therapy.

The Flip Side of the Coin: I'd never felt discriminated against... until now!

One thing about my graduate studies has been how sensitive it's made me about issues of discrimination. I didn't really know what being looked funny on the grounds of anything looked like. I know what "white privilege" was like from my days back home; I've never felt linguistic discrimination because of my English; and even my nationality has never been an issue. However, I've learned first-hand what being discriminated against by virtue of disability (the one form of discrimination that really seems to be color-blind) looks like, on a small scale. Let me repeat that: On a small scale. But, yes, I've had the funny looks when I stand on a dance floor and I have folks looking at me like, "what are you doing here?" or telling me, "You shouldn't be here" or "This isn't safe for you" (These are actual quotes I've heard, plus the patronizing tone that I can't replicate on a blog). I've seen how some people seem to feel mad that they have to move to the end of the bus or some even refuse to move because they're too comfortable in the front seats. I've even felt embarrassed that it takes me so long to get in or out of a car (even if none of my friends have implied anything) and I'm still really self-conscious about wearing shorts (I wear a sleeve under my brace partly to protect the scar from the sun, partly not to show it).

But, funny as it may, I've seen how some people can't really look past my crutches and all they see is those two aluminum pieces and the large brace around my leg. It's funny how some people think they can't be with me because I can't really walk that well for the time being. They can't seem to go beyond that. It's as if everything else were Photoshop blurred from their brain and their foci were those things. It makes me wonder how many of them can't look past a wheelchair or a missing limb. It makes me wonder how many times I may have done exactly the same and how many people I missed a chance to meet or know because of this.

Right now, more than wonder, it does make me pity them, those few and far between who think I'm out of place at a bar or a dance floor. Maybe they're the ones out of place in this world. After all, as Everlast once said, "God forbid you ever have to walk one mile in their shoes, cuz then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues."

But, again, let me be honest: That's a minority. My true friends don't care about that. To them, I'm still their friend and I'm not any worse because of this. And that definitely offsets any weird looks I get on occasion.

The Road Ahead...

I've still got a stretch to go on the road to full recovery. I've started therapy (after three long months of having a stiff right leg) and I'm walking... not in a figurative sense. I AM walking. That actually reminds me of the only other time I've cried during this journey. I remember it well, it was the last Thursday in March, after I came back from the hospital and my monthly check-up. I entered my classroom and actually attempted to put weight on my leg and walk. One step, then another, then one more... as I kept walking to my desk, I couldn't help repeating, "I can't believe I'm walking, I can't believe I'm walking!" and all of a sudden, I was crying, as Sting would say, "I'm so happy that I can't stop crying, I'm so happy I'm laughing through my tears." I was able to walk again, and let me tell you, it was one of the most delightful feelings I've experienced in a long time!

As I was saying, I'll be in therapy for at least two months, if not three. But, I'm optimistic that I'll be fine at the end of this. In fact, I really like Raúl A. version 2.5 (I like to think that there's such a thing as Raúl A. version 2.0 - the post-grad school version!). I've lost a few pounds, which I needed to do anyway. I've learned to be more patient about a few things and I've learned not to use anything as an excuse for not doing something else. I've learned to appreciate the things and people I have around me. Oh, and I don't feel any bit bad that this happened to me, nor do I feel that I was star-struck or anything of that kind. It was an accident and it changed my life... for the better!

Plus, how many of you can actually say that you're literally an "Iron Man"?

I didn't think so!

That's it for now. Till my next blog I bid farewell!

The Blogger, the Thinker, the Provocateur...
Raúl A. (El Patrón)

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