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Mobility Privileges Temporarily Revoked

It’s been 6 days since my foot surgery, my wounds are healing well and I’m getting pretty good at hopping around on crutches.

The Kidner Procedure removed an extra bone on the inside of my ankle, a bonus bone I was born with, and reconnected my tendon to the not-extra bone. A bone from the outside of my right ankle and a titanium alloy bolt were inserted to reconstruct the collapsed arch. If all of this bone jenga talk is making you queasy, you’re not alone. I have flat out refused to look at my own wounds.

Was the surgery necessary? Yes. I have had pain in my right ankle for over a decade. I just never took it seriously enough to go to a bone chop chop doctor. I had gone to a French osteopath, an American sports medicine doctor (who looked after NFL players at one point in his career. I should have known), a chiropractor (for what I now know is back and joint pain caused by my foot/ankle issues), a couple of physical therapists, and a ton of masseuses.

The lesson? You only get to a solution when you’re ready to ask the right question, not when you're only looking for the answers you want.

I’ve known that there’s a protruding bone in my right ankle for over a decade. I told myself it’s just a quirk, maybe the result of a minor fracture/sprain. I went to the orthopedic surgeon fully expecting to be told to go to weeks (if not months) of physical therapy. Then 2 surgeons, back to back, told me in no uncertain terms that it’s surgery now, or bigger surgery later, when more damage will have to be repaired.

As fate would have it, I am in the perfect position to hibernate and heal for the winter. I unexpectedly had to abandon my Shanghai home and cats 4 months ago. (God how I wish I could spend the next 2 months cuddling with them, but they also might make crutch-life very very difficult). My freelance work has largely dried out. I have a recently restored National Health Insurance card and a stretch of open time ahead of me.

The aftershocks of Shanghai’s doorframe lockdown has granted me time to rest and recuperate. I even had the privilege of mentally and physically preparing for surgery. The mattress on my mom’s spare room floor has been upgraded with a bed frame with every necessity within reach. An extra stool now sits in the bathroom to help me balance on one foot while maintaining personal hygiene. A pair of crutches procured, a wheelchair rented. Most importantly: I have optimal internet access.

2 months in a cast? Pffff. It’s a voluntary lockdown, one I can prepare for and control with a degree of agency, and I cannot explain to you how comforting that is after the months I had spent feeling like even the smallest delight in my day might suddenly be taken away from me.

The pain was humbling. I woke up post-op from general anesthesia fighting the breathing tube, throwing up, and then spent a good hour shivering and hyperventilating in the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life until they gave me local anesthesia again. The pain is both dull burning and sharp stabbing. It crowded out every thought. But in the mere 6 days since the surgery, the pain has drastically reduced to an occasional annoyance. I have gone from nerve block + morphine to plain old acetaminophen as needed.

I had spent the month prior to surgery mentally mapping out what life would be like with one leg in a cast. Turns out, I wasn’t very imaginative. I didn’t factor in the fact that whenever I moved around the apartment, both of my hands would be busy maneuvering my body around in crutches. So while I myself can move around, nothing can come with me. Snacks, a book, my phone, anything to battle the endless boredom would be my mother’s job to shuffle around the apartment. My leg has to be propped up at all times, so being seated at the dining table is uncomfortable. I can barely stand more than a couple of minutes without my foot swelling up in the cast, so even making coffee in the morning in our little kitchen is now a burden for my mom.

All of this is has shown me how little people, myself included, understand the challenges of disability. My father was a card-carrying disabled person for most of my life, but his disability, like my ankle pain that prevented me from walking for more than 10 minutes without rest, was largely invisible. People complimented him on how well he looked "for someone so ill," and I now see how that probably didn’t feel like compliments at all.

Particularly after the year I’ve had, comments on how tall I am, how young I look, how pretty my feet are (legit, many, many compliments from nurse practitioners and strangers… As they prep me for foot surgery) only made me feel like I have failed to live up to their expectations. That I’m not ill enough to deserve rest and support. It makes me want to wave the X-ray and my PTSD diagnosis in front of strangers so they’ll leave me be. But that's not the hill I wanna die on this week.

I’ve stood for stop after stop on the Taipei MRT, too embarrassed to take a priority seat, while my foot and back screamed for relief. I’ve also sat, full of guilt, being passive-aggressively bumped into with shopping bags and suffered disapproving glances from older (but very agile) people for sitting in a non-priority seat. (Also, what if I’m not ill or disabled? Am I allowed to just be tired?)

And I’m one of the lucky ones. This limited mobility has an expiration date, and serves to make me more mobile in the future, not less. I could plan for it, work around it, expect it to heal and be done with at some point in the near future. That’s not true of most disabilities. My dad was never going to stop having just one donated kidney instead of 2 healthy ones.

Anyway, I’ll continue writing about this orthopedic adventure for no other reason than I HAVE NOT MUCH ELSE TO DO. Will venture out in the wheelchair soon to test out how accessible Taipei truly is.


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