By: Maven Cade Leary
They say you don’t truly know someone unless you see how they react under pressure.
The question then becomes; how do we know ourselves if we are never forced to define ourselves and push the barriers of our limitations? Thankfully, challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and it is not required to live through a war, or train under a Shaolin Master, to get a glimpse of this teacher in all our lives. I have had many such opportunities, my life having been a mess of trials. But one of them gave me a glimpse at our humanity more than any other: The summer I broke my leg.
My life to this point had been anything but simple: I was delivered at home by my father; home-schooled for the majority of my youth; travelled around on a sailboat for many years; my father (my best friend) committed suicide due to health reasons; my university experience and first love affairs ended in disillusionment; my search for meaning and participation in this life mostly serving to isolate me; and well, everyone can complain I guess…
But that’s not what this is about. In fact, right before this happened, I had everything I could have dreamed for: A good girl; a great house and job in the Kootenays (paradise on earth I’m pretty sure); an awesome dog; an old Plymouth minivan; friends all around. And yet, it all felt not quite right to me. It felt too easy and lacking purpose. The only way I can express it is by saying that while I realized I was at a peak, I still aspired to some kind of meaning in my life that was absent, and a part of me knew the only way to get to the next higher peak was to go through a depression. I remember having this thought one evening, that I was willing to do what was needed to grow. I don’t remember making a decision either way, but then, sometimes our subconscious decides for us.
Soon after, I lost the girl, the job and the house. They were all intertwined and I needed space. I went to my brother’s place for a few weeks to figure things out. I knew I needed to slow down, but when you are going through a relationship breakup, it’s hard to focus, and much easier to engage in adventures and stuff to avoid the bigger questions.
So I decided to go to the Okanagan and pick some fruit, party and sleep in the orchards. You don’t make much cash, but you survive, have lots of time to think, and get some hours for EI. I had everything packed up and was ready to leave the very next day.
And that’s when my routine morning training resulted in one of the greatest challenges of my life.
I practice parkour. Well, really, I climb and jump stuff. It’s being prepared for all situations in case ninja commando assassins come for you.
Yeah, I’m kidding. Mostly.
So I was doing a simple jump over a railing leading with my left hand and leg. I did it a total of maybe six or seven times in a row perfectly. I run back up the hill, go for the railing, and oh no, I messed up!
My hand had not yet left the railing and already I knew things were going bad. It was like a little voice I’d heard many times. Usually, it came and gave me the strength to overcome. This time, it felt almost constricting, like self-sabotage.
I had too much forward momentum and not enough upwards momentum, not to mention I was still facing right. To execute a proper tuck and roll, you need to be either facing forward, or backwards, if you can pull it off.
When my left leg made impact, all I experienced was an explosion of light in my brain. All my senses, sight included, were simply overwhelmed. Truth be told, it was kind of amazing to have such a visual experience of the pain. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced in the waking world.
It didn’t take me long to come back to my real senses. First thing I do is take out my pocket knife and cut off my laces and remove the shoe before the swelling settles in. Then comes the visual inspection…
The foot is entirely unattached to the leg, just dangling there. There’s some blood on the outside of the leg, indicating a compound fracture. And yeah, those were little pieces of bone sticking out…
My brother was working in the garage on the other side of the house, so as I slowly made my way up the slope on one leg and one hand, while the other hand was delicately holding my foot and preventing tissue damage, I yelled for his assistance. It surprisingly takes him very little time to be there by my side. He helps me to his car and off we go to the small emergency room at the clinic of our village. One thing I notice right away is a lack of blood loss, and that reassured me a lot.
We get there, and between her nervousness at my wound and my jumping veins, it takes the nurse over five attempts to be able to get a needle in me. Then the ER doctor comes in.
I am not making this up. She says “Oh my God! Oh my God!” To which I respond: “No. We’ll fix this up and you’ll be walking in no time. That’s what you say.” To which I get: “oh, yeah, of course. Can I take a picture?” Dude, what is going on here! I tell her sure, go ahead. She asked me if I could move my toes, which, surprisingly, I could do just fine…
The ambulance ride to the nearest hospital that could operate took about an hour. I was given laughing gas as a pain killer. Honestly, it doesn’t make the pain go away, it just makes you not care about it. That stuff is a lot of fun.
Then comes the surgeon. A tough guy. He looks at me coldly, nods his head, and makes it clear this is no big deal. After having examined me and looked at the x-rays, he further assures me that all major ligaments, muscles and veins/arteries are fine. It was a relatively clean break of both the fibia and the tibia bones, and that the worst effect would be slight arthritis and stiffness in the joint due to loss of cartilage between the fibula/tibia junction and the foot.
It wasn’t quite that simple though. infection settling in close to the bone and other complications meant I had to spend close to a month in the hospital, far from friends and family.
Having a smoke in the parking lot, I met a guy contemplating putting a pillow over his dad’s face during the night. The man, Scotty, was really, really sick. The hospital had stopped feeding him and was basically letting him die. He had a few days at most at this point no matter what. But damn, how do you react to someone asking you if it’s ok if they do that? He then tells me how he had been the one to put down his suffering dog as a teenager because no one else could bring themselves to do it.
He saw it as his role to do this too, to end the suffering.
Don’t remember how exactly (pain killers make you foggy), but I guess I convinced him not to. Next day, he gets a call from his brother, and this leads to the grand-daughter coming to see Scotty for the first time in years. After this, the guy brings me up to see Scotty, telling the nurse I’m family. I saw something in his eyes that day. At first it was fear and confusion. But I took his hand and I thanked him for his time on this world, for all he had done and accomplished. And damned if he didn’t smile and his eyes went from confusion to peaceful acceptance. He went to sleep on me right there, holding my hand, and never woke up again.
I had a quick recovery. I’m walking fine now. You’d never be able to tell if not for the scars, bolts and plates in my leg. Sometimes, you need to hit rock-bottom to be able to recreate yourself from the ashes of your own complacency. At one point there, I was at the bottom of a well for sure. But I walked away from this experience with a newfound appreciation of life, mobility, health, and of death. I’m not at the peak I was looking for yet, but I’m on an upwards slope, and that’s good enough for now.
Had I been given the choice to live through this experience, I would have surely declined. But looking back, I must say I truly am grateful for the wisdom and peace it has brought me.