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A lucky break? Long road back from knee injury leads to crisis of confidence — and blessings, too

News_Katie Oxford_hair cut_column mug_head shot

Editor's note: One of our favorite CultureMap columnists has been missing from these pages for a few months. Here she explains why. Welcome back, Katie!

Your wheels (legs) are a big deal. They take you places far beyond distance. Early on, mine carried me up trees and through ballet classes. To the upper deck of bunk beds, down beaches, through high school to the real school that follows.
 
When dancing, my legs take on a life all their own leading to joy.  Freedom.
 
For years, I took my wheels for granted.  Like breathing.  
 It would be a while before I saw anything as positive. But the break would bring some things into view slow and sure, like molasses pouring from a bottle.   
 
So over Memorial Day weekend when I broke my knee chasing after a tennis ball, I was stunned! I had rushed to the net and hit the ball when suddenly my knee buckled, followed by the sound of three clicks. Like knuckles cracking. I went over on the tennis court as in "Timber!"— my knee bending just in time to provide a landing pad.  
 
Holding onto a teammate, I hobbled to a chair, feeling like my leg was on fire.  Mariaane, always the encourager, found something positive.  
“Well, look at it this way,” she smiled, “at least you won the point.”
 
It would be a while before I saw anything as positive. But the break would bring some things into view slow and sure, like molasses pouring from a bottle.  
 
Strange as it sounds, when my knee broke, somehow, my voice did too. Not vocal cords, but my writing voice. It shut down as gradually as my muscles would. 
 
I had what you could call a lucky break, meaning no surgery was required nor was wearing a cast. After a leg brace was fitted, I was given a pair of crutches and the journey into another land began.  There’s nothing like a big ol’ dose of humility to get you going.
 
 Strange as it sounds, when my knee broke, somehow, my voice did too. Not vocal cords, but my writing voice.  
 
I’m not proud to admit it but a pity party ensued immediately, followed by acute shame.  Here I was, home on Memorial weekend with a broken leg while thousands of others were coming home with their own legs blown off
 
Self-pity progressed into a funk that wouldn’t go away or rather — I wouldn’t let it. Just ask my friend, John, who called several weeks later inquiring, “Are you doing any writing?”  
 
I immediately broke into tears – questioning my ability to write, and every other ability. My self-confidence in general felt as shaky as my leg.  On lots of levels I wondered, what the hell am I doing?  
 
Months later now, here’s one thing I’m doing.  I wake up at 5 every morning but instead of tuning into Morning Joe on MSNBC for the latest news, mostly politics, I turn to I Love Lucy and laugh my head off.  Morning laughter beats Morning Joe any day of the week.  
 
Humor, Lucy reminded me, is huge.  Also, healing.  I made a list.  TOP TEN SIGNS OF CRUTCH FATIGUE.  Here are a few. Some are not so nice so I apologize…
 
#1 – You finished 3 books of Sudoku and you’ve just asked for more.
#5 – You look around your bedroom wondering where to put a port-a-can.
#10 – You frequently say this mantra to two metal sticks, “Fuck, shit, go to hell.”
 
Eventually, I found some positives about being stove up. If you’re an independent cuss like myself, you learn to ask for stuff. Easier said than done. Communication skills with my husband improved and so did my manners. Captain Kangaroo was right. The three most important words are, “Please” and “Thank you.”
 
 Eventually, I found some positives about being stove up. If you’re an independent cuss like myself, you learn to ask for stuff. Easier said than done.
 
With crutches, you can finely tune your hand-eye coordination. Same goes for toes. I actually spent one morning looking like a human version of giant tweezers.  Using my crutches as arms, I picked up a pencil from the floor and placed it on the kitchen table — 20 times or more.  Silly I know, but let me tell you, these are pleasing feats.
 
The day the doctor said, “You can toss the crutches,” he quickly added, “No more running.”  But I’d tossed the marathon shoes in my 40’s. No more dancing was my biggest fear.  Still is.  Swimming, so far, comes the closest thing to it.  If in the ocean – the free feeling is magnified.  
 
Finally, I picked up a pencil.  This time to write.  Writing feels like coming home.  Like a best friend, it waited for me patiently and without judgment.  The BIG CHIEF drew me back like a fresh baked pie brings a boy (or girl) to the porch.  With or without crutches.  
 

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