I had planned to mark my 50th birthday this year by running my first marathon. Instead, I now find myself learning how to walk.
I broke my ankle in March in an accident, which turned what should have been a three-second short cut into three months of hell.
My patio is lined with an 80cm-high stainless-steel barricade to prevent my dogs from charging at the main gate. I decided to cross over it instead of going around it. The slipper on my right foot got caught at the top of the barricade and I tried to give myself more elevation to clear the fence by going up on my left foot, pointing my toes like a ballerina.
Alas, I was given a painful reminder of why my parents stopped my ballet classes early as I lost my balance and my left ankle snapped backwards, causing me to fall in a heap.
I clutched my ankle upon hitting the ground and, at that moment, realised that I was experiencing my very own Harry Potter moment. Unlike the boy wizard, however, whose broken arm was mended overnight by Skele-Gro, my journey towards recovery has been significantly slower.
I had fractured three essential parts of the ankle joint – the lateral malleolus, the posterior malleolus and the medial malleolus – and my injury was classified as a trimalleolar fracture dislocation. Fortunately, my orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Anandakumar Vellasamy, has significant experience dealing with such injuries. A foot and ankle sub-specialist at Sengkang General Hospital, he had trained in Switzerland, where skiers sometimes suffer similar injuries when they fall.
If only my fall were as glamorous.
Some newsmakers had assumed that as the sports editor at The Straits Times, I had injured myself during sports. The embarrassment of the explanation has proven to be only slightly less
painful than the actual injury. Dr Anandakumar explained that while a trimalleolar fracture dislocation is not the most serious type of ankle injury, it was “slightly complicated in two aspects”.
First, a fracture dislocation of the ankle can compromise the soft tissues surrounding the ankle, leading to skin necrosis at pressure points and, in severe cases, disrupt the blood supply and cause nerve injuries, he said.
This made it important to fix the dislocation as soon as possible to prevent these complications.
Second, a trimalleolar fracture involves a joint and it is important to restore a joint as much as possible to its correct anatomic alignment to avoid long-term complications such as arthritis and
I underwent a four-hour operation to repair the joint, a procedure Dr Anandakumar likened to “putting a jigsaw puzzle together”.
And so my latest “accessories” are four titanium plates with screws, which help to re-align and stabilise my ankle.
FEAR AND FRUSTRATION
Unfortunately, the suffering did not stop at the operation. I had needed help with everyday tasks such as bathing and dressing, fetching a drink and switching on a ceiling fan and it has been a
humbling experience. The living arrangements in my home had to be re-organised, with my dogs cast out of my bedroom because there was a risk of me tripping over them. I do not know who was more miserable – me or them.
Besides the physical inconvenience, it has also taken a toll on me mentally and emotionally.
I can now walk around the house unaided, but I resemble someone who has had one drink too many. And I worry that I will never walk normally again, let alone run.
There is also guilt. My friends and I love to dine out and we used to frequently set off on various foodie adventures. While this practice has resumed after being temporarily curtailed during my recovery, our choices have been largely limited to restaurants and buildings that are wheelchair-accessible and disabled-friendly. And the options are not plentiful.
There is frustration. On the few occasions that I have left the house and been transported in a wheelchair on an outing, I have come to understand some of the issues our disabled countrymen
Outings have had to entail a logistical check for lifts, ramps and easy access, which is often lacking. My office, for instance, has few sliding doors. To get into the ST newsroom requires me to tap my electronic pass and then use one hand to swing open a heavy glass door while balanced on my pair of crutches. Office services, I hope you are reading this.
I can drive now, but getting in and out of the car is tricky as I need more space to move either on my crutches or wheelchair. Without a label that allows me to park in a space for the disabled, I need to find spots that are either extra wide or designed for parallel parking. Again, the options are few.
There is disappointment.
Like when my family took me to visit Jewel Changi Airport. It is Singapore’s latest crowning glory, yet the lack of graciousness on display made me realise we still have far to go as a nation.
Obviously, it was crowded, but I was alarmed at the number of people who nearly walked into me and my foot because their eyes were glued to their mobile phones as they walked around.
Worse was how many refused to give way or hold the lift. There was even one parent who tried to cut the lengthy queue for the lift despite having two people in wheelchairs in the line ahead of him. What a role model he was for his two young children.
INDEBTEDNESS AND INSPIRATION
But there is also gratitude. I am indebted to my colleagues at the Sports desk, who have had to step up to the plate and cover my duties for the last few months.
And to my editors for allowing me to work from home until I am more mobile.
I am grateful to newsmakers who heard of the accident and came to cheer me up in hospital. Their presence was a panacea to the boredom that engulfed me while I was stuck in a hospital bed for 13 days.
There is inspiration. Athletes have been the lifeblood of my career as a sports journalist and stories of them overcoming injury and setbacks have always fascinated me. Now, I also draw courage from them.
Last, but not least, there is love. When family and friends set aside time to visit, run key errands such as sending my car for servicing and inspection, helping with grocery shopping, and taking me on outings when I had cabin fever, I know I am loved.