Columnist Valerie Schultz

On what was supposed to be a four-day beach house getaway with three of my four daughters, I missed a step. I don’t mean this metaphorically: My right foot literally missed the step down from the porch as we were unloading our bags from the car.

In the dark, I thought the step was longer than it was. My foot glanced off the edge, and I tumbled into that slow-mo effect where I knew I was going down, but couldn’t do anything about it.

I landed sideways on my ankle and skidded through knees and hands and the side of my face, as evidenced by the gravel bits that were clinging to my cheek. My glasses crunched into my nose before they flew from my face. Two of my daughters emerged from the house at that inglorious moment.

“MOM!” they said.

“I think I broke my glasses,” I said.

The rest of the evening was a blur of pain. Initially, I expected the throbbing in my ankle to dissipate; instead, it worsened. My daughters helped me clean up my cuts and elevate my ankle. They turned a bag of frozen mixed berries into an ice pack. I stayed seated and doubled up on the Aleve. After a mostly sleepless night when I was unable to apply even an ounce of pressure to my foot without instant grief, my daughters looked up an urgent care facility and turned themselves into human crutches to transport me there.

When it looks like a purple garlic bulb is trying to push itself through the skin covering your foot and ankle, when that same skin appears to have been inflated with a bicycle pump to the point of bursting, when it seems like the bones in your foot have mysteriously disappeared, you may have a sprained ankle. Or so I learned.

At least it wasn’t broken, was the consensus. But four hours of waiting for X-rays and an examination and crutches and an ankle brace equaled no one’s idea of a beach getaway. The prognosis was a few weeks ahead of slow recovery. I encouraged my daughters to go explore while I rested and read a novel in the sunny patch in the living room. I could see and hear the ocean, but I wasn’t going to be walking in the sand. It was a far more sedentary vacation than we’d anticipated, thanks to me.

When you are incapacitated, you learn that people are basically nice, from the folks who admit you to urgent care to the folks who hold doors for you to the folks whose job it is to transport you by wheelchair to the airport departure gate. People are sweet and solicitous and smiling. The hip waiter at the wine bar lets you in on the advice his surgeon gave him in anticipation of his heel surgery next week: Keep the crutches at ribcage level, rather than jammed into your already-sore armpits. The gentleman sitting next to you on the plane helps stow your crutches and empathizes with your plight by recounting the several sprained ankles he has endured.

“You need a better story than a fall,” he joshes in a charming British accent. People are exceedingly nice.

The best people of all, however, are the ones who love you. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have such steadfast, thoughtful, caring daughters. They helped me to the bathroom and in and out of the shower. They fed me and cleaned up around me; they made me tea and made me laugh. Their faces betrayed worry when I proved less than competent with crutches. As I watched them doing all the mom things that I had expected to do on this vacation, I remembered taking care of my mom in the last months of her life, when she was unable to stand or walk or manage any self-care. I often got impatient with her when she’d say, “Well, used to be the one in charge!” Now that memory tugged at my heart as I was given a glimpse of what it was like to be so utterly dependent on someone else. I also realized with a pang that my children were no longer sure of my invincibility. It was humbling that I’d become someone who needed their care more than they needed mine. And again, I remembered back when I grasped that about my mother. The cycles of life are slowly, sneakily, unstoppably turning.

Now that I’m home again, my husband has to deal with my graceless gait. The ankle, although the color of old guacamole, is healing; the walking is steadier, the crutches set aside. My grateful heart, however, is still a bit swollen.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com; the views expressed are her own.

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