What I Learned About Myself in the Moments After I Fell and Sprained my Ankle Getting Out of Bed
It’s unnerving how everything can change in one second. I know this about life, but rarely experience a moment so significant. It always surprises me. I imagine it happens to everyone at some point, if not several points: a choice with unforeseen consequences, an unchecked, emotional comment during an argument, a car accident, or one drink too many. One weird misstep is all it takes.
That’s me now, reflecting on that one misstep I took three weeks ago. It’s hard to describe what happened. Who falls getting out of bed in the morning? Me, that’s who!
It wasn’t even that early. Seven o’clock, the dog wanting breakfast, and I’d already been awake for about twenty minutes. Maybe I wasn’t quite awake, I don’t know. I sat up, slid my feet onto the floor, and stood. Except my legs weren’t paying attention. They didn’t brace at all. No muscles engaged. My weight had shifted to the right a bit, so when I fell straight down — by which I mean crumpled like an old, abandoned hotel imploded by a demolition squad — all of me came down on my right ankle, which bent inward toward my other leg. I heard two cracks. And I thought: I’m fucked.
I was sure I’d broken it. How can an ankle bend so far and fast and make that kind of sound without breaking? I sat in the kind of shock that hits when neither you nor your body can accept what just happened. It’s that brief time when you think it can’t be real. Or maybe you can undo it. But that time didn’t last long.
I started howling in disbelief before the pain even hit. Will I need to call an ambulance? My dog isn’t going to do it. He wants to eat. He wants to know why I’m writhing on the floor instead of heading to the kitchen. Should I call a friend? It’s COVID times. I don’t know if I should. And who exactly would I call? First responders wear masks, they’d know what to do. Will they have trouble getting into my building? Will I have to buzz them in? Could they find my apartment? Delivery people always get lost. This place is a maze.
A lot of thoughts can happen in that small space of shock.
When my mind returned to the reality of my situation, I decided to test my ankle. I could move it, though it hurt. So likely not broken. Bracing myself against my nightstand, I stood, bearing my weight on my left leg. Gently, I shifted to my right. It felt weird, but I could do it. I took a step. I could do that, too. So I did the obvious thing. I walked to the kitchen and filled my dog’s bowl with food. I thought: this ankle should hurt more. I’m really fortunate —
Oh, THERE IT IS. Pain shot through my foot fast and hard and I understood that I was going to need Tylenol, stat. So I swallowed some extra-strength, filled a bag with ice, and hobbled to the couch.
My foot began to swell with pink indignation at what had happened. And I realized that this was a whole-foot situation. I’d sprained my ankle, but my entire foot was on board with the protest. I wrapped the bag of ice around it and propped it up on my coffee table. I did the next obvious thing: I texted my dog walker and said I’d need her for at least a week.
Now, with a moment to breath, I could truly feel the pain. My face cringed. But I knew the ice would help and I knew the Tylenol would kick in soon. I mentally checked boxes: dog is fed. Ankle is tended to for the moment. My dog walker texted back: she was available and happy to help. It was Sunday, so I had no Zoom meetings and no obligations. I could couch it all day. I could couch it all week even with meetings. I am no stranger to couching it, even on a good day. I love my couch.
Three things struck me within ten minutes of getting the ice on my foot. One: what the hell just happened? Did I do something strange getting out of bed, maybe move in a weird way or think the floor was lower than it was? Was I not quite awake? Is this a one-off fall, a thing that just “happens,” or am I aging faster than I thought?
Second: I was really, really lucky. This could have been so much worse. Both ankles might have been hurt, or a whole leg. Maybe years of on-and-off yoga was worth it after all.
Third: holy shit, I am an adult. I knew what to do and I did it. I thought: I know what to do when I get hurt. I know basic first aid. I know what my resources are and how to get help. I know how to take care of my dog when I’m injured.
I don’t know why being and adult surprises me. Technically, I’ve been an adult for many years now. Decades. But I’d shown myself that I can rely on my own strategizing, call on my reserves and experience, coach myself through a crisis, think my way through shock and pain, and work a problem.
I know how to take care of myself. And this made me proud. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s the first time I’ve understood how significant it is that I can do it. I appreciate more than ever the essential and vital life skills I’ve gained during my life.
It’s not a given that we know how to take care of ourselves. We have to learn through experience, trial and error, and being able to adapt. We have to pay attention and figure out when to use what skill.
I take basic life skills for granted. I can cook and feed myself. I know how to manage a job interview or drive or ride the subway or travel overseas. I know how to clean my apartment, see a doctor, call someone to repair my dishwasher, comfort a friend, care for a pet, treat an injury.
I know how to manage my life and care for myself. Now, three weeks after falling, better but still limping, this feels uniquely satisfying. I can be injured and still feel proud of myself. It’s as if I’ve learned how to be human.