The importance of being afoot

On Sunday I injured my left foot walking off a walkway. It was one of those freak accidents where you just land wrong. The friend whose house I was at told me I sounded remarkably calm when I told her that I thought I had hurt my foot more badly than the routine “Whoops, I rolled my ankle, it’ll be fine in a few minutes” type of hurt. Indeed, I had, and it hurt quite a bit and started to swell fairly quickly. She helped me inside, gave me ice and ibuprofen, and drove me home.

On Monday, the doctor said it wasn’t broken, but it was sprained (probably at the anterior talofibular ligament) and that I should stay off it for a few days, then work toward weight-bearing as I felt comfortable. So I’m on crutches at the moment (thoughtfully donated by my friends) and experiencing life as a gimp. And not just any gimp: a carfree gimp!

As a carfree person, my feet are my mode of transportation, whether I’m biking or walking, and even taking transit requires walking. All of a sudden I can’t walk to my friends’ houses, I can’t bike to work, and I can barely walk a half or even a quarter mile to the transit stop. Any unevenness in the ground will throw me off, whether because it means I can’t set the crutches down evenly or because I start swinging too fast (downslope) or can’t swing fast enough (upslope). I can’t hurry up to “make” lights or shoot the gap to cross a road, and I definitely can’t jaywalk; I have to wait for the crossing to be clear. I have to head for the curb ramp if at all possible. I can only go about 150-200 feet without resting (a block or less).

With all that crutch work, my whole upper body is sore — it’s a serious workout. Even standing isn’t much of a rest because I can only stand on one foot, which means the muscles in my leg and the bottom of my foot are sore. I’m left-footed, so it’s my weaker leg that has to hold me up.

Thank goodness for yoga! I have far better strength and balance than I used to from my yoga practice. Still, I find that gimping around is giving me a whole new perspective on life, and reminding me about something I had largely forgotten since 2006 when my arms were injured: Life is full of small efforts that add up, and anyone who has fewer resources than normal sometimes struggles to manage all those efforts, so it’s really important that in our social structures and behavior we accommodate and are patient with those who have a few extra needs. Why does the TriMet trip planner need 1/10 mile walk settings? Well, that’s about all I can manage right now, frankly, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Why do we need signalized or improved crossings and long walk light times? Not everyone can walk even a moderate pace of 3 miles an hour. It took me half an hour to go half a mile today!

This is definitely is one of the major challenges of being carfree — because I rely so much on my physical capabilities, a change in them that might be minor for someone else is major for me. Sure, even if I had a car I’d still be struggling with things like going up and down the stairs at my house (my house is terrible for a gimp, something that never occurred to me until Sunday afternoon) or doing any kind of shopping (you can’t drive your car through Rite-Aid, and, despite the good intentions of the women who tried to help me there today, when you’re on crutches you can’t drag a rolly shopping cart through the store either). But most people (in the US) in my situation, although they’d still have trouble getting around between their car and  buildings, and inside buildings, wouldn’t have to think about the distance to the bus stop or their friend’s house, and aside from recreational limitations, might be able to carry on mostly as usual for their major trips.

That sounds a lot easier, but ultimately, despite the challenging workout, I’m glad to be carfree right now. It exposes me to the challenges that other people face on a daily basis, and to the kindness extended by the people I encounter — the bus drivers who wait patiently for me, the people who stop and leave me a clear path on the sidewalk, and most of all the friends who offer extra help with rides, equipment, and care. That sense of contact and community is one of the things I most value about being afoot, and in tough times, it’s something I need more than ever.

One thought on “The importance of being afoot

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    July 18, 2012 at 10:57am

    When I badly sprained my ankle in high school, it was my right ankle and I couldn’t drive for a week. Probably if I had been older I would have tried, but driving left-footed is not for the faint of heart.

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