Be kind to the lame " you could be next
My friend Jim heard such a loud pop he thought his ski binding had broken. Then he wished his binding had broken. His anterior cruciate ligament ” his knee ” was gone.
Schools in Aspen had closed for a snow day. Jim, a school principal whose wife, Lynn, and kids were out of town, had of course gone skiing.
He delayed surgery for the holidays, gaining three weeks in which to mull with escalating dismay such dread concepts as “general anesthesia” and “femoral block.”
A friend who’d had the same surgery buttonholed him the day before his own, to say in impassioned, piquant accents, “You can’t believe the pain. And no one will help you. You push the button and no one will come.” He thanked her, edging away.
“I push and push the button!” she roared as he fled.
Jim confessed his disquiet to Lynn. She listened, said, “Come off it, Jimmo, I’ve had two babies!” and walked away.
“I was fully dissed!” he related, shocked.
“Jim?” “Yes?” “I’d had the same thought.”
It was Lynn who summed up the process, when he was trying to commit mentally to the surgery, best by saying, “These are good doctors and it’ll just take a little while.”
I phoned afterward, finding Jim lying in a loquacious opiate state, ebullient following a successful surgery. (“Jim?” “Yes?” “You’re slurring.”)
Herewith, I propose a small primer of what to say, or not, to our fallen warriors. I know. Last year, bouldering, I dislocated and broke my heel, in enough places that when I asked my doctor the total he shrugged and laughed.
Stunned, foggy with Percocet, my leg propped up and black to the knee, fat and shapeless as a sea serpent, I was treated to these words of wisdom:
(In singsong tones) “Alison’s gonna get fa-a-at!” What kind of a nut would say that, even on the phone from four states away, which is how he survived it?
Or: “That’s what you get for trying to do all these things at your age.” I was 44. Friends in their upper 50s are high-performing athletes.
“Doesn’t it suck getting old?” The injury was caused by impact.
However, among many kind words, some were truly helpful. From Jim: “You’re just going to use your time in different ways. You’ll read, see films, write.”
A climber, Kestrel, herself newly recovered from an injury, said tranquilly, “The bonbon life is OK. I got used to the bonbon life. I was almost sorry when I got better!”
I had thought of being injured, unable even to drive, as only to be endured. Maybe I could try to enjoy the rare solitude and quiet.
Another thicket is needing and receiving help.
I summoned my young sons in front of me. “Mama is hurt and needs help.” They nodded eagerly. “I am going to start by asking you to make your own lunches.”
“Our lunches!” they said, aghast. But they did it.
At first they vied to fetch items for me. “He got to get you the last thing!” That lasted a week.
I was immeasurably grateful for the dinners people brought, the rides given (my husband couldn’t do it all), the laundry folded. My climbing friend Lee took me for X-rays, to recycling, even to the hair salon. Yet if someone said, “Call me to drive you,” no matter how earnest the intent, I could never bring myself to ask. What did work were specific, finite proposals ” “I can drive you somewhere Thursday,” or “Can we take your kids Saturday?”
As soon as I was even close to being on my feet I was hyped to help someone else. Two friends, a couple, broke bones. I brought them three dinners; really, I was practically a stalker.
Pay it forward. It beats saying, as a friend with frostbitten fingertips was once told, incorrectly, “Those’ll have to be cut off.”
” Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write “GSPI” as the subject heading to avoid a spam block.
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That sideline parent is me, parading to the field with a foldable chair, carrying an iced-coffee, armed with a bag of band-aids and a salty vocabulary ready to slay the referee or opponent that meddles…