Coping with Transition & Loss via a Broken Leg: A Slippery Trip to Deeper Authenticity

When experiencing a sudden and unexpected life transition regarding a physical goal, career objective, relationship, or otherwise, have you leveraged opportunities to view and do things differently? I hope that my own thoughts surrounding loss provide you with insight as well.

My left foot slipped on the ice and I instantly fell backwards and sideways, while my right foot remained glued to the pavement. As my body struck the sidewalk, I felt a painful “pop” in my right ankle.

Later that dramatic morning, an emergency room x-ray confirmed a spirally fractured right fibula, meaning 6 to 8 weeks in a cast, followed by several weeks of transitioning back to full mobility. Because it was my right leg, that meant no driving either.

It seemed unfair on so many fronts.

Just a few weeks earlier, following a few years of regular running without any type of injury, I had committed to training for my first marathon. Now, in a split second, that vision was potentially shattered.

Furthermore, it happened on Christmas morning, while we were visiting my family out of state. I had been looking forward to a fun and relaxing few days with them, and my family was expecting a number of other visitors that afternoon.

My sister and brother-in-law had just been in a car accident (fortunately without serious injury) the night before, placing additional stress on my family.

Ironically, for the last two years, I had spearheaded efforts to eradicate a decades-old pedestrian safety hazard in our own neighborhood: water seepage from an abandoned mine that turned our sidewalk into an ice rink every winter. It had simply been ignored for years, but I didn’t want anyone to slip and suffer an injury. Just over a month earlier, with the help of neighbors, we had finally tackled that issue.

To add to the irony, I slipped just after passing a gas station called “Marathon.” The Christmas gifts I later opened included distance running socks, clothing for winter jogging, and a water bottle.

With all the above thoughts, it would have been easy to remain angry, and possibly even spiral into depression.

But there were many positive aspects as well.

Several people immediately rushed to assist me. Two cars pulled over, a man quickly emerged from the house I fell in front of, and I was back at my family’s home -- and then the ER -- within 15 minutes.

The x-rays showed that the leg was well-aligned, meaning that I could continue to visit with family and wait to see an orthopedist upon returning home after the weekend. We returned from the ER in time to join family for food and card games.

While there was pain, it wasn’t extreme or unmanageable. I didn’t have any other injuries.

My accident further underscored the importance of fixing the ice issue in our own neighborhood. I didn’t want the same to happen to someone else.

Later x-rays suggested that no surgery would be necessary. I’d be fully mobile again by summer, prime time for outdoor activities.

You can even watch me getting my cast cut off.

Dave Getting Leg Cast Removed

Along with challenging me to focus on the positives despite the negatives, the injury provided opportunity for other learning and considerations.

First, the injury encouraged me to reconsider how I relate to others, and to draw upon existing strengths to a greater extent. For example, in my relationship with my partner, one way I show affection or contribute is by doing many of the tasks around the house. This includes seemingly minor things like taking the trash and recycling out in cold weather, putting vegetable scraps into the composter, doing minor home repairs, and so on.

Given how accustomed I am to such roles, I was initially very annoyed that I had to ask my partner to do so many things for me. I could no longer carry a plate of food and a cup from the kitchen to the dining room or living room without hopping on one foot and nearly spilling everything. I had difficulty getting the mail. I could no longer run shopping errands. Despite my partner’s reassurances, I suddenly felt, in many ways, like dead weight, unable to contribute much. I had allowed the fall to fracture my ego along with my leg.

I began to consider how I might be a more fun and giving person, despite my temporary limitations. For example, I still had my sense of humor and listening abilities, which I consider to be strengths. So I started making an effort to make our conversations even more interesting and entertaining.

I looked for tasks that normally weren’t my favorite, but that I still could do, like folding clothes. Despite my usual reservations, I even agreed to watch some “chick flicks” for a change. Singing along with the Abba musical Mamma Mia was actually pretty fun.

The injury also gave me more insight into how people react to visible differences. Sure, I’ve had plenty of education on stereotyping and prejudices, written about these topics, and had my own prior experiences with not-immediately-apparent differences like vegetarianism and veganism. However, in department stores and other public places, I noticed both kids and adults staring with curiosity at my crutches and leg. Sometimes they’d even slow down briefly to get a closer look, or stare from a distance, believing I probably didn’t notice.

And my visible difference would only be a temporary one.

Thirdly, the sudden loss of ability to pursue my goal -- at least for now -- forced me to question more deeply why that goal was important to me in the first place. That, in turn, has provided further clarity on what I really value, and how I do or don’t incorporate those values into my life.

The event reinforced that physical fitness and outdoor activities are important elements of my identity, and that they add energy to my life. I considered how I derive pleasure from setting and attaining challenging goals. I thought about how much I do value my physical independence, and how easy it is to take that for granted. I also realized that far more important to me than running a marathon is remaining healthy and mobile so I can still enjoy outdoor activities at age 70 and beyond.

These insights will inform my planning and decision making as I move forward in various areas of life, taking actions that better honor my authentic self and my priorities.

What opportunities has an unexpected transition or loss provided you with? We often have little control over what life throws at us -- or places beneath our feet -- but we can control what we choose to do with it.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

1 thought on “Coping with Transition & Loss via a Broken Leg: A Slippery Trip to Deeper Authenticity”

  1. Dave,

    I can empathize with you since I have been going to physical therapy for the past six weeks. I truly enjoy the camaraderie at physical therapy but wish there was an easier way….I feel like I accomplish something pumping 90 pounds-who would have thought I could do that with two bad knees? I am feeling stronger now and glad I don’t need surgery. I even asked for more weight today in aqua therapy! Take care,Dave.

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