Every physical trauma I’ve experienced in my younger days have returned to reminisce in my middle-agehood. Blissfully forgotten skinned knees and elbows, deep wounds embedded into my bones, muscles and joints, aging me from the inside out. I may not look my age, but I feel it with every mysterious new pain. The faint echo of wilder, faster times and fearless adventures.
Growing up, I climbed every tree in the immediate vicinity. Queen of the monkey bars. I played hard and I played loudly. Mom never had to wonder where I was. She only worried when things suddenly became quiet.
And I never walked anywhere when I could run until I outran my left knee—at least that’s how my ten-year old self saw it. The doctor referred to the prominent lump on my left shinbone just below the knee as “Osgood Schlatter.” He tried cheering me up, by telling me that many professional athletes suffer from this condition. Yet I wasn’t a professional athlete. I was a prepubescent girl who loved to run, but the doctor only saw a “puny” girl who needed to start taking a children’s vitamin.
(I was so skinny, Mom had to buy me the “slim” version of whichever size I wore and then take them in.)
Next the doctor announced the most devastating news: I had to stop running for at least a year. Although there are many therapies to help athletes strengthen their quads until the condition goes away, the doctor didn’t think that was important for me.
“You’re trying to ruin my reputation,” I told at him. Mom just laughed at me.
You see, once again, her baby had uttered another ridiculous thing, not realizing its sexual connotation. Like the time for inventors’ day in the fourth grade, I took apart a wire hanger and shaped it into a crude capital Y. I hypothesized that by striking the hanger against an object, I could distinguish the material it was made of based on how much the hanger vibrated. Of course, I named my invention “The Vibrator.”
But I digress.
In eight grade during an afterschool gymnastics club practice, I was doing mad pull-ups at a good clip on an improperly grounded portable high bar. As the bar tipped backwards into the bleachers, I managed to let go of it except for my left index finger, which became the first bone I’d ever broken. About twelve years later, I broke that same finger, blocking a kick with my hand in hapkido. To this day, if I ever were in a fight, I wouldn’t dream of blocking a kick with my hand rather than dodging.
Around the same time, I suffered my first serious fall, doing something remarkably pedestrian, walking down rain-moistened steps. I injured my left hip and elbow. Since I was teaching in South Korea at the time, my insurance covered acupuncture. Although I would have preferred not to fall, the results from my first acupuncture treatment amazed me. I went from not being able to hold anything in my left hand, to regaining full use of it.
From South Korea, I moved to Colorado. Who can resist hiking around the mountains? In Boulder, just a little over an hour north of Denver, I hiked around all that rugged terrain and managed to twist my left ankle on flat land when I tripped over a rock. Despite the interesting feeling of stretching rubberbands in my ankle as I tumbled over in slow motion, it swelled until I had another acupuncture treatment.
Not to be outdone, the right ankle had its rubberband stretching experience years afterwards when I’d finished diving in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Egypt to see the remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I was walking down some dilapidated stairs that had been covered with astroturf, camouflaging the extent of the damage. Although a group of us had used those stairs, I was the unlucky one who tripped.
Around this time, I began to suspect my ankles were cursed. A few years after that, while decorating my science classroom at a private American school in Honduras, I became so absorbed with the process of hanging up stuff on the wall, I temporarily forgot that I was walking on a countertop, which had sinks. Well, one of my feet unexpectedly sank in a sink and I ungracefully flipped onto the floor, injuring the left side of my body from the hip downwards.
A good masseuse realigned the fascia in my lower left leg, but I unknowingly learned to walk with an altered hip, locked into the wrong position. The body is an amazing thing. For several years I managed to bellydance, dance salsa, tango and samba, even play capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts, which people mistake as mere dancing, all on a locked hip.
Until, in the middle of carnival, pain radiated from my left knee in all directions. I bought a knee brace in order to walk. A week later, I had my first chiropractic appointment. That bone magician performed his snap, crackle, pop magic and poof! the radiating pain instantly stopped and he handed me my knee brace with a confident smile, saying I no longer needed to wear it.
Three years later, I wished I only needed a knee brace. Instead, a capoeira sparing accident landed me in a clinic with a broken fibula. Normally, one needs to stay off the ankle for at least 6 weeks. But I got the full experience since the bone displacement was greater than 2mm. Six metal pins and five weeks later, my ankle recovered faster than my orthopedic surgeon had anticipated. I started referring to myself as “bionic.”
For someone who was a running fool as a child, being on crutches angered me. I always thought people on crutches were in a bad mood due to pain. That may be true for some, but it was the marathon of mundane movement and loss of freedom that got me. Everything I needed to do took at least three times as long. Plus, I had few things I could do.
The only hidden benefit of being on crutches was isolating my core muscles. So as the weeks whiled away with my left leg muscles atrophying, my abs got a terrific work out!
Now that I go to yoga four times a week, I’ve been working through all the injuries life has hurled my way. Remember the left index finger I’ve broken twice? Thanks to yoga, I can no longer predict the weather by it. Also my hips are more even, but there’s still a ways to go with the lower left side of my body. No matter how injured I’m feeling from one moment to the next, I remember Mom’s sage advice: Always take the time to stand up erect. To some degree, walking around with your head held high improves your posture and reflects that the trainwrecks of life will not keep you down.