Sleeping Wide Awake


In 2011, a car ran a light and struck me down at a traffic crossing, breaking my right leg and dislocating my ankle. Later, I would learn that as the bones broke, they hooked the nerve, and wishboned, stretching the nerve (and keeping it stretched until surgery remedied the problem over six hours later). So nerve damage was thrown into the mix. And then, the injury incited Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a disconnect between the way my foot and leg communicate with my brain, and how they report sensation, movement, and pain.

For two years, I had to do physio three times a day at home and three times a week at hospital, hydro three times a week, brain retraining exercises to address the CRPS (which was meant to teach the brain and the foot to reconnect), ten nerve blocks (one a week for ten weeks) to try reset the nerve (thus fixing it, the way you’d reset a problematic computer), a nine-week pain workshop to learn coping strategies about living with chronic pain for the rest of my life, and see a hospital-appointed psychologist to deal with the situation as a whole.

I did everything I could to heal. It wasn’t just the physical and psychological stuff, but also emotional and spiritual stuff, like meditating, affirmations, and visualization (imagining, as part of my meditation, a healing light shining on the area, and repairing it). I was determined to get it back to normal although, ultimately, I fell short.

About eighteen months after the accident in one of our final appointments, the surgeon confessed to me that he thought I’d never get it as far as I did. His constant and repeated qualifier throughout had been, “This is a really bad break.” So it was always an unrelenting battle for any advancement. But, as the surgeon told me, getting it as far as I did was a “win”, because the alternatives were that the foot might’ve become completely useless and hung limply from my leg, or it might’ve been in such constant agonizing pain that I’d beg to have it removed.

When I asked if it might ever return to normal, he just laughed (albeit not unkindly), and told me there was too much damage done. Two years was the magic number: whatever I was left with after two years was what I’d be left with for life (although he did concede in another appointment, he’d seen spontaneous healing happen years after it was meant to stop).

Due to the nerve damage, the right foot clawed up. One of the repercussions was losing the ability to run. Propulsion comes from the top half of the foot. My foot was no longer capable of providing that drive and, even if it did, is no longer shaped to accommodate a running gait. Then there’s my ankle, which feels like it’s been taped up so tightly that it now has very little flexion.

My right foot feels like it’s clenched and can never be relaxed. The top half is still partly numb although, bizarrely, it’ll (painfully) exaggerate sensations whenever I step on something. The CRPS produces symptoms like horrible burning sensations, misreporting the position of my foot, occasional stabbing pains, and throbbing pain in the big toe (the epicenter of the CRPS) that feels like the joint is caught in a closing vice.

If I overuse my foot – like walk for too long, or stand for a while – then it enflames all those issues. Sometimes, it’ll hurt so much I can just about imagine it screaming at me to get off it.

The right foot feels like it no longer entirely belongs to me. You don’t think about that with any part of your body. You just accept yourself as whole. But now I have this strange relationship with my right foot due to everything going on, that while it remains part of me, it’s also semi-independent of me and will do its own thing.

This is me now. Every day.

And yet despite dealing with this for twelve years and knowing that I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life (and they told me due to the location of the break and the way it went through the ankle joint, I’m likely to develop arthritis in that joint), the thing that I miss, that I actually lament, is that I can no longer run – no longer feel my feet pounding the ground faster and faster, that it’s like I’m building to a speed that if I just leapt, I could fly.

Often, I have this dream that I’m running, and I’m enjoying the sense of velocity. I want to say that I’m released of pain and restraint and restriction, but it’s like those things have never existed. What then wells up inside of me is this overwhelming exhilaration. There’s nothing else but the speed of me running and my enjoyment that I’m free. I know nothing else but the bliss of this experience.

But then reality seeps in. I realize I can no longer do this, and so this must be a dream.

It’s not disappointment that floods in. It’s not anything like bitterness or resentment or anger. I dealt with all those things years ago.

It’s just resignation and acceptance that this is the way things are.

Until the brief respite the next dream offers.

If only we could live in dreams …