Getting support / internalized ableism / Spoonie Challenges

Internalized Ableism, Week 4: Solution to Being a Terrible Patient, or, How I Learned It’s Okay to Need Help

I had surgery recently on my foot to remove a bone chip and arthritis bone spurs. The pain in my foot wasn’t terrible but it had changed my gait, adding to the workload in my lower spine and making one hip pop out of joint daily. I have arthritis and degenerative disc disease, so I really can’t afford to let anything slide that accelerates the degeneration, unless I want another spinal surgery. Been there, done that, got the scars and don’t plan to do it again if I can avoid it. I’m typically a fast healer—I was up and walking within days of my back surgeries at ages 17, 22 and 46, so foot surgery seemed minor in comparison. This would be a smaller incision and an outpatient procedure—it must be minor. Right? Wrong.

There is no such thing as a minor surgery. Particularly on a foot.

Did you know that the recovery process for foot surgery is to elevate the feet for 23+ hours a day for the first few weeks and 20+ hours a day for the next couple of months? I didn’t. I read up on what to expect, but being a fast healer and pain-tolerant, I kept reading the lower estimates and assumed I’d beat them.

The first week I spent doped up on Percocets, so I didn’t really care if I was immobile. The second week, as those drugs wore off, and I replaced them with Tylenol and ibuprofen, I came back to a vivid awareness of what I had done.

I had just incapacitated myself for at least three to six months with maybe another six months before my foot was back to the expected normal. I would need help, lots of help. Every day.

A foot is not the same as a spine. It does not heal the same. You put half your body weight on it with every step you take. I could walk with a back brace within days of my spinal fusions. Five weeks after foot surgery, I still couldn’t wear a damned sock all day without pain. It hurt to walk more than five to ten minutes—even with the special boot that takes the weight off my toe.

As soon as the drugs wore off that second week post-op, I saw red. I was overwhelmed by rage. At me for doing this to myself voluntarily. My foot hadn’t been that bad—surely I could have lived with it? I raged at myself when I was alone. I raged at my family when they got home. Daily I phoned my poor mother, who really deserves sainthood for putting up with my continual complaining. I vented to a couple of trusted friends and one of those friends asked me a really interesting question when I was whining about my family not helping without being asked. “Your family don’t respect that you’re still recovering?”

That made me stop a moment. Examining their behaviors, I could see that they did respect me.

I was the one who wasn’t respecting my need for recovery. I was angry at me for choosing surgery and making my foot far, far worse than it had been before surgery, while completely ignoring I hadn’t done it on a whim. I wasn’t being selfish, upsetting my entire family’s life for a large chunk of time. I’d thought this through.

I’d looked at all the options, done all the non-invasive things first; new shoes, orthotics, cortisone shot, even when I knew they would alleviate the symptom but wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. I needed this surgery. I deserved to walk without pain even it meant upsetting my life and my family’s for the short term.

I literally burst into tears while texting with my friend and felt that huge ball of anger burst inside me. I might have freaked my friend out a bit but wow, did I need to hear what she said.

I deserved time to recover from surgery. I’d give it to anyone else. So why couldn’t I give it to me? Why did I think I was being a horrible burden on others? Why is it so hard to ask for help when I need it?

The ridiculous head-games your own brain plays on you are so frustrating. Letting go of the mindset that I have to do it all is something I will apparently have to relearn regularly. Now that I see it, I remember feeling this way with my last surgery and when I first started using my back-brace out in public. It’s okay to need help. I am not Wonder Woman, no matter what I’d like to believe. (Ooh! Cosplay idea! That corset would be AWESOME as a back-brace!)

I am worthy of being looked after even when that means extra effort is required. Even if that means sitting with my foot up for three to six months while my family does the stuff I usually do.

I’m still easily annoyed at this forced inactivity but the simmering rage of Week 2 is mostly gone now, five weeks post-op. My mood has transmuted into boredom as I sit for long hours alternating between binging TV shows, writing on my laptop and surfing Facebook. I can wear a sock for at least half the day until the swelling gets bad in the afternoon.

And daily, I remind myself that me taking time to recover isn’t the problem—it’s the solution.

Editor’s note: Carolyn is now eight-weeks post-op, at the time of publication of this piece. Let’s wish her well!

Author Carolyn Charron

Carolyn Charron is a speculative fiction writer with short stories in three Flame Tree Publishing anthologies (Supernatural Horror, Dystopia & Utopia, and Murder & Mayhem), online in The Saturday Evening Post, and in Nothing Without Us.

On the editor’s side of her desk, she reads slush for Apex and Lightspeed magazines and has been a juror for Speculative Literature Foundation grants. She spends far too much time on Facebook and not enough on her blog or Twitter. She lives in Toronto with her family and is currently working on a Canadian historical trilogy combining a lesbian blacksmith, magical clockworks, and a menopausal pirate.

You can follow Carolyn on FacebookTwitter, and her blog.

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