I’ll tell you, you don’t appreciate your ankles until you mess one of them up.
“Great! Suitcase in car! Ticket in hand! I’m all set! Newfoundland, here I come!” Down the stairs I bound. Bound, that is, until the last step, when I land wrong and turn over on my ankle. Insert obscenities here.
I end up on the floor, the ticket’s in the air, and my dignity is out the proverbial window. I’m wincing like Peter Griffin. If you’ve never seen an ankle swell up before, you don’t know what you’re missing. It was like an inflating grapefruit. Amazing, really. Not that I’d recommend seeking out the experience.
I’ve sprained my ankle before, but never like this. “What does a broken ankle feel like?” I’m supposed to be on a plane in an hour. I need to leave within a few minutes, or I’ll miss it. Obscenities.
“If a bone IS broken, how long can you wait before you have to put a cast on it? A plane ride length? 24 hours? ‘Til next Monday?” Nobody knows. I can wiggle my toes and sort of halfway move my foot. That’s good. I can stand up and sort of put weight on it without collapsing again. It’s probably not broken. Let’s do this. I’m getting on that plane.
I DID make that flight, though moving around the airport was slow. I’m pretty sure I got passed going up the ramp by a senior citizen in a wheelchair – being pushed BY a senior citizen. But I made it.
I might have prioritized x-raying my ankle over going to Newfoundland if I weren’t going for the 2010 annual Engineers Without Borders (EWB) National Conference. EWB has been an amazing source of people in my life over the past six years, and conferences are always chances to reconnect. You know the people who accept you for who you are, but also inspire you to be better than you are? EWB seems to be an abundant source of those people for me, and I think we ALL need to find people like that and spend lots of time with them. They help us thrive and become our best.
So while I was hobbling around the conference hotel in St.John’s, feeling accepted by the love of EWB friends, I couldn’t help but notice that the physical world isn’t always so accepting of people with sprained ankles. It’s little stuff: Getting into the shower, using stairs, or even just standing and chatting - the gluteal group doesn’t get much rest when you can’t shift your weight. Oi. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining here; I’m not. A sprained ankle isn’t even a blip on the radar screen of the world’s problems. I’d just never had that much appreciation for how people with disabilities cope in this world. Nor had I had that much appreciation for my left ankle, or for my right gluteal group.
I’m 95% better now, so don’t worry. Poke fun at my clumsiness if you like, but consider these few reflections:
1. There’s a quote from a book I recently read: “Slow down! We’re in a rush!” Precisely because we’re in a rush, we must be extra careful. That’s probably true. Be quick, but be careful.
2. My temporary disability put me in a weird spot - I didn’t WANT special treatment, but I sure appreciated people who offered a chair, a hand, or even just a listening ear. Whether designing an accessible building or just being a friend, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
3. We probably don’t appreciate our ankles enough. Or our health in general. Or our jobs. Or our security. Or our friends. Or those sources of amazing people. A sprained ankle made me appreciate things just a little more. What will you choose to appreciate?
Some of my favourite people:
Boris - who first brought me into EWB in 2004 and now works in French West Africa, Holly - the redhead - we met in 2005 on the plane to the Vancouver conference, and Jen - who's been around EWB longer than all of us, but I only met her this year. She's hilarious.
One of the highlights of the EWB conference is the closing banquet. Many people involved with EWB have been overseas and had clothing custom tailored in African fabrics. The banquet , aside from being generally inspiring and a whole lot of fun, is surely one of the most colourful "semi-formal" events in Canada.
January 28, 2010
"The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one."
- Oscar Wilde
Joel Hilchey is the founder of The Beanstalk Project, a youth engagement initiative to develop global leadership and create positive social change. He speaks at schools and events across North America, inspiring character by juggling, storytelling, and playing with mousetraps.
This was really just the start of the bruising. It later moved down into my toes and got
much worse up above my ankle also. Somehow, even the inner edge of my
foot was bruised. If someone happened to catch a glimpse while I was
wrapping or icing it, they'd usually wince enough for the both of us.