Last Tuesday, I got up, traveled ten stops on the Q train, and returned to the Weill Cornell Health complex on the Upper East Side for a scheduled MRI on my ankle. The MRI itself was almost relaxing: I got to lie down and listen to Beethoven piano sonatas through headphones while practicing meditative breathing. The results, however, were somewhat less relaxing:
<i>1. Complete tear of the anterior talofibular ligament. Small hematoma along the anterolateral aspect of the ankle contained by the extensor retinaculum. Subcutaneous ankle edema.
2. Partial tear of the deep posterior fibers of the deltoid ligament at their tibial attachment.
3. Focal osteochondral injury of the superolateral talar dome.
4. Medial talus and sustentaculum talus congruent bone contusions.
5. Posttraumatic tenosynovitis of the tibialis posterior and peroneal tendons.</I>
As my doctor explained to me the next day once he reviewed the results, this basically means that I completely tore my ATFL, the connective ligament between my tibia and my thalus, and have a slight bone bruise to boot. No actual breakage, just a lot of ligament damage and bruising. All I can do is continue to wear the compression sock and AirCast, ice the area a couple times a day, and go to physical therapy until I completely recover.
The problem with this kind of injury is that it’s entirely too easy to tell myself, I can’t. Because I found out that it’s worse than initially diagnosed, my immediate response is to tell myself I have to stay off it, which is very different than the initial attitude of “it’s getting better I just need to be careful”. So now instead of actively trying to work around it, I find myself using the injury as a crutch to mentally reinforce inertia. It’s become the self-justification for staying inside watching TV on a nice day, this concept of I can’t because my ankle.
Pilates class? I can’t, my ankle. Too far to walk.
Bike ride? I can’t, my ankle. Can’t ride.
Going outside? I can’t, my ankle, too many stairs.
Swimming? I can’t get to the pool. (Although the pool is also in Manhattan, with my gym, so on this one I give myself a pass unless I’m working at the office)
Never mind that for the first month of this injury, I did actually do a lot of things, with minimal effect, or that I know I can wear the AirCast and walk literally thousands of steps with minimal ill effects. The ankle is now the all-purpose cop-out, a reason to avoid everything. And while there is definitely an element of self-care and of extreme caution here, since I do not want this to be a permanent issue, I’m afraid of going past the point of caution and into outright self-pity and excuses. There are plenty of things I can do without ill effects, and lots of resources to do so: there are even entire workouts on YouTube geared to ankle injuries
And also, I did go to Pilates on Saturday. I wore my compression sock and AirCast the whole time and found out the hard way that not focusing even on upper body work for the last month has cost me dearly. It’s harder to do planks and push ups than it has been for years, even from my knees. I’ve been so focused on my inability to do cardio that I willfully blanked out the concept of doing other work, mostly because it’s a lot easier to say, I can’t than it is to look for ways that I can.
So it’s back to strength training, or at least, what I can do with one leg. It’s time to continue the cardio, to put on a water brace and get back in the pool. And most of all, it’s time to say, “I can” again, with a provisional clause, that I can will only extend to things that do not put weight on a tremulous ankle without a brace to support it. The list of things I can do are limited; the list of things I can’t do should be as well.