Achilles Was a Heel

Last week, a former world champion swimmer and current Paralympian who injured his spinal cord and is now paralyzed below the waist was in town as part of a program on disabilities. He said something that really resonated with me: "Focus on what you can do and not on what you can’t."

"Great idea!" I thought. Sometimes we dwell on what we can’t do and forget there are still things we can. I decided to take his advice. But that was before I messed up my Achilles tendon, strained a muscle in my back, and split a nail.


Maybe next week.

OK, OK. I will. But first, you know I have to grouse about my latest infirmities.

All I was doing was bringing groceries in. There are five steps up to my back porch and I was two steps short of reaching the top when I heard a POP! I got a burning pain in the back of my calf and it felt as if the heel of my shoe had come off. I was not wearing shoes with heels.

At least I was close enough to be able to set the groceries down on the porch before struggling to climb the last two steps. Holding onto doors, window sills, shelving, and empty boxes awaiting a trip to recycling, I made my way into the house, where I took care of the most important task: Calling a neighbor to bring in the groceries and put the cold stuff in the fridge. Calling my doctor and taking a trip to the emergency department ensued.

So. I have no cartilage in my knees and now I have an injured Achilles tendon which I am supposed to keep immobilized. You thought I looked funny trying to walk before…

The changes to my gait resulted in a strained muscle in my back, but only if I bend over a certain way, as I do to brush my teeth.

My leg was feeling better. Until Sunday morning. Walking across the room, I caught my Aircast (or “moonboot,” as my husband calls it) on the leg of a chair and went careening across the room, arms windmilling in an attempt to remain upright. Which I managed to do, but not before tripping over another chair leg and splitting a nail when my hand hit the table.

All the time, I was yelling “Owie! Owie! Owie!” because there were young children present. And they looked frightened. Probably because they thought I might fall on them.

I decided it was time to take the doctor’s advice: Stay off the leg. Keep it up. Put ice on it.

Now that you’ve put up with my grousing, what are the good things about this?

I have good neighbors. The one I called not only brought my groceries in and put them away, she offered to take me to the doctor, get me something to eat or drink — whatever I needed.

The visit to the emergency department was quite different from previous ones: Fast, friendly, efficient, and with no sense that there was any weight bias.

Even before the Achilles tendon debacle, I had trouble walking and standing for long. Rather than dwell on that, I need to think about what I can do. And the list is long, ranging from I can sit on a stool in my kitchen and cook (my relaxation) to I can travel anywhere I want with the help of a mobility scooter. I can still work because my skills allow me to do so from home. Another plus — I get to work in my jammies.

Yes, there are things I can’t do. For example, I can’t garden. But I can supervise. Hey — I have teenage grandchildren. They have to be good for something. With young drivers, I get my car cleaned out and washed, too. No clean car: No driving. Works for me.

Speaking of the grandchildren, I can still go places and do things with them. In fact, they’re quite helpful. I can’t get the scooter out of the van by myself, so I just take at least one of the children along and I’m set. Right now, I’m looking forward to a couple of days in Chicago with my granddaughter in May, when we’ll go to the theater and do some shopping and just plain bum around. I am fortunate that they are teenagers now so I don’t have to chase them around as I did when they were younger.

My husband is very supportive. He took off work on Friday to take me to the emergency room and then stayed home with me, even though it meant he spent Sunday in his office catching up. He brings me my coffee in the mornings and makes sure I have food prepared so I can grab and go instead of hobbling around the kitchen.

Diabetes isn’t near as limiting as it was in the days before home blood glucose monitoring. With an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, I can keep a close eye on what my glucose is doing and make changes as — and when — needed.

If you think about it, we really don’t complain about having to wear glasses or contacts. They can be annoying but, rather than limiting us, they enhance our ability to do more. I can’t see to read without them, so I’m happy they’re available. I can’t stand long enough or move around well enough to cook, but I can sit on a stool. Same thing. Sort of.

Since I’ve decided to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t, I do believe my depression has lessened some.

Now I’m looking forward to the Achilles tendon thing getting better so I can go up and down the steps a bit better. In the meantime, perhaps my forced downtime is a good thing. It gives me time to contemplate the good things in my life.

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  • Merriel Griffin

    Hello Jan,
    Until my ‘minor’surgery to repair a torn meniscus in February I would probably not have agreed with you 100%, as I do now. I’m only 62, and have had the normal, expected pains from arthritis, particularly in my knees. The surgery went well and that pain has gone; however, the ‘good’ knee decided to gain revenge and is now hurting worse than the operated-upon knee. Go figure. No one (doctor) warned me this might happen, but certainly they were not surprised when it did. You ought to see me get out of either door, both have only two steps, but it’s like planning for the invasion of Europe! It’s only been 6 weeks but I’m feeling like a prisoner, which causes anger which causes depression. I may be short and fat but I was certainly always on the go before this. I know (I hope) it will get better, but WHEN? Take care and I’ll keep a good thought for you.

  • Jan Chait

    I feel for you, Merriel. I have five steps in the back and about 10 steps in the front. Not surprisingly, I go in and out of the back door. Feel free to picture me, cane in one hand, hanging desperately onto the railing with the other to get down (and up) the steps. Then I hang onto the trash bin and recycling bin with one hand while plying my cane with the other to get to my car. Sorry for your circumstances, but as for me, it’s good not to be alone!