The past 16 months have really been a struggle.
I’ve been living in Ireland now for just over 3 years. In September 2017 my mom came to visit. We spent a few days in Ireland before flying to Greece for 3 weeks. We had an amazing time! We visited Athens, Delphi, Rhodes, Santorini, and Milos before heading back to Athens to catch our flight back to Ireland.
The day before our flight, we slept in and went to see the changing of the guard at the parliament building in Athens. Afterwards, we were walking across the street to the National Gardens. After waiting to cross the street, the light turned green and just as I stepped down off the curb, someone behind me in a hurry pushed me and down I fell. I heard two cracks and knew instantly that something really bad had just happened.
It turns out that I had severely dislocated my ankle (about 90 degrees), fractured my fibula at the ankle joint, and torn – in half – multiple ligaments in my leg and ankle. I was in the hospital in Ireland for 4 days before having surgery, where the doctors inserted a metal plate and two metal pins in my leg. I was pretty much bedridden for 8 weeks while my ankle healed. One hour after the cast came off I was standing on my leg during physical therapy. I was told that I could bear some weight on my leg as long as I used crutches. It took until about February of the next year before I could really walk any distance without my crutches.
By August, I was walking further and further and the pain was lessening. My ankle was still very swollen (I had trouble finding shoes my ankle would comfortably fit in) but I was feeling so much better. One day in early August, after getting a haircut, I was walking home when a sharp pain radiated from my ankle up to my knee. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t help crying in the street. With every step I took the pain intensified. I don’t know how I made it home and up the 5 steps to my apartment building.
After a week the pain was still very intense so I went back to the hospital to see what was happening. After x-rays and an examination I was told that both the pins had snapped in half (not too uncommon with my injury and the pins they used). The doctor said that the x-rays looked good and that he wasn’t concerned about anything he saw. With time the pain would recede and I could get back to rehab and physical therapy.
I somehow managed to get through the next couple of months and by the time October rolled around I was feeling better than I had since before my injury. In October, my physical therapist mentioned that my ankle might be as good as it would ever get, due to the intensity of my injury. So we began focusing on how to maintain the progress I had already made while still pushing it a bit.
A few lifestyle changes needed to happen in order to make sure my ankle was able to function for the rest of my life. The first was changing my footwear. Before my injury I almost always wore ballet flats or motorcycle-type boots. Neither of these is good for my ankle so I am now relegated to wearing athletic-type shoes with thick soles. I was unhappy at first, but noticed a huge difference in how my ankle felt after wearing sneakers. The second major change was that I needed to exercise regularly in order to maintain the strength and flexibility in my ankle. My physical therapist suggested cycling at the gym on a regular basis. Having struggled with my weight most of my life I was not unfamiliar with the gym after many attempts to lose weight. I wasn’t a fan of going to the gym for many reasons, one of which is that I was always bored on the treadmill – my torture device of choice. I was afraid that I would be equally as bored while on the bike.
Luckily, there is a small but well equipped gym in my apartment building. In October I began to regularly use my gym. At first, my ankle could only take about 15 minutes of cycling before tiring. I could feel my ankle start to shake on the pedal if I went much further. The day after I went to the gym, my ankle would be a bit sore. I gradually worked up to cycling about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in 30 minutes. I’m now up to about 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) in 45 minutes.
I’ve been going to the gym almost every day. I’m not nearly as bored as I thought I’d be and I’ve come to look forward to going each evening. A couple times a week I even lift weights. So far I’ve lost about 25 pounds. It can be difficult to remember that I don’t go to the gym to lose weight, but to make sure my ankle can continue to function properly. The gym has become an integral part of my daily life – and it’s something I really look forward to at the end of the day. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Being fat can be difficult enough, but when you go to the gym it can be even more difficult. In the States, every trainer I spoke to when I first joined the gym assumed that my main goal was to lose weight – without even asking me what my goals were. Because I was fat it was assumed that that must be why I was joining a gym. Then there were all the funny looks from fellow gym members: the double takes and sneers when I attempted to lift weights. It made the experience one I dreaded, so much so that I never stuck it out very long.
My gym experience here in Ireland has been much better, but not without a hiccup or two. The first few days I went to the gym there was another resident there, using the weights. He also happens to work part-time at the front desk of the apartment. I had seen him around a few times but we had never really chatted. The third time we were in the gym at the same time he introduced himself and we talked a bit. He asked me if I went to the gym often, and when I told him yes, he seemed a bit skeptical. But I was willing to overlook his comment. But then he started going on about how he is taking a personal training course and how he has lost over 50 pounds since he started going to the gym. He then turned into a motivational speaker, encouraging me to not give up because losing weight felt so good and it was worth all the gym time. Again, he assumed that my main reason for being at the gym was to lose weight. He never asked why I was there. My fat body spoke for itself. What other reason could a fat person have for being at the gym? It gave me great pleasure to inform him that the reason I was there was for my ankle.
My ankle is feeling better and better every day. It’s getting stronger and more flexible with each gym and physical therapy session. I’m slowly resuming my life, even though it will never be exactly as it was before my injury. It’s been a long, stressful 16 months, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself in the process. In a way, my injury has helped me look at my body differently. I’m less concerned with losing weight and more focused on ensuring that my body (i.e. my ankle) remains strong and functioning for the rest of my life.