Working with clients after injury, illness or surgery is something I really enjoy. I find that assisting them with re-connecting with the affected body part and processing emotions related to their experiences facilitates and accelerates the healing process.
This summer, I’m revisiting this experience myself. I took a fall last week and broke my ankle. This event has provided a great opportunity to notice my responses, physical, mental and emotional. In this first part, I’m exploring the somatic (body)
responses. Next time, I’ll go into the mental and emotional responses.
During and immediately after my fall, I experienced both increased and decreased physical awareness: an increased sense of myself as I’m falling, protecting my head as I land engaging body reflexes trained by years of athletic activity. Upon landing, my senses assist me as I check in with myself: Am I okay? I notice that something feels off in my ankle, correlating that with the “pop” I heard during the fall. I see no obvious deformity as I inspect my foot and ankle. I know now that I’m injured, the question is how extensively?
Not too badly, as I can bear some weight and hobble a bit. Decreased awareness is now in play; I’m a bit numb and somewhat disconnected from my ankle as I hobble into my office,
rest, and ponder what’s next. Not feeling too intensely or looking too closely is functional at this point, it allows me to take care of business: Cancelling my clients for the day, calling the clinic for an appointment, getting myself home and a ride to the clinic.
These tasks accomplished, I now bring more awareness to my injury: It is swelling rapidly,
and there’s some pain. Time for ice, ibuprofen and rest while I await my appointment, and also time to figure out how to get some crutches as walking is becoming more challenging. I’m more connected to my ankle than I was an hour ago, and I’m still not tuning in too closely, there’s a body sense that right now, I don’t want to know much more about what’s going on.
En route to the clinic, we stop and pick up crutches. A big relief to be off my foot, and I
notice some decrease in body tension. I see the doctor, and after an exam and X-ray comes my diagnosis: a non-displaced fracture of my fibula. Good news really, I know what’s wrong, and I’m likely to heal uneventfully. I now notice a feeling of relief in my body, which increases when I get the supportive walking boot on.
That evening, sleeping is a challenge. My cast-boot is cumbersome, and my usual sleeping position isn’t very comfortable. Eventually, I listen to some guided imagery for sleep. As I listen, I feel layers of muscle tension releasing all through my body. Many protective responses had activated in my body, allowing me to compensate for injury, literally helping me “hold it together”. These responses served me well, and now as they were no longer needed, my body benefited from the support and cuing of the imagery to stop those actions. As my muscles release, particularly through my back and neck, I notice my breath deepening, my entire body now can “exhale” the tension, and I am able to drop off into a restful and healing sleep.
Over the next few days, I notice that I am able to progressively connect more with my ankle, as I ice it and gently massage in healing ointments. As I do so, I feel it connecting into the whole of my body, quite literally re-membering its place in the whole. With this comes more ease, along with a stronger sense of healing, and more knowing of what I need to do to best care for myself. My ankle rapidly improves, going through a spectacular sequence of bruising and resolution, and the swelling subsides rapidly.
Now, ten days after injury, the bruising is nearly gone, similarly the swelling. I’m able to walk relatively easily in my walking boot, and am beginning to ride my bicycle for exercise. I interpret the signals coming from my leg with more ease: the creakiness and odd sensations of a new movement that is simply unfamiliar, and can also get a quick sense of what is “not ok”, often by sitting with an idea and listening to how my body responds. I anticipate that my healing will continue, certainly with surprises and challenges and that I will continue to respond and adapt in a healthy manner.
So, in addition to the very important assistance I received from my partner and the professionals whose help I am most grateful for, I am gratified to notice that my own skills
and knowledge acquired over the years have been very useful in this early part of my healing. In particular, my years as both client and practitioner of the Rubenfeld Synergy Method have honed my skills at listening to myself, as well as my awareness of self via internal and external touch. Guided imagery, thanks to Belleruth Naparstek, another teacher of mine, was also very helpful. Working with my patients and clients over the years has allowed me to hone my skills and learn from them, to the point where now, when I’m the one injured, I can apply these skills to support my own healing.
Breaking my ankle was most certainly not in my plans for the summer, and it has changed a lot of plans I did have, and it has also provided a great opportunity for me to review and experience myself and my learning in a new way. It’s nice to know, that sometimes, “Physician, heal thyself” works!
Dr. Stephanie Symthe can be reached at her web site StephanieSmythe.com