Monday, September 01, 2008


About seven weeks ago I sprained my ankle very badly. This happened a few days after I crashed my car on the way to Victor Harbour [it was the other guy’s fault], so it was a bit of a bad run.

I was walking across the parklands on my way to court, and I was running late. The court case was about my having driven my now totally wrecked car without registration and without ownership being properly transferred. It was a fairly recently purchased vehicle, and I really was quite vague about the paperwork.

I’d just crossed a railway line and was walking along beside a low wire fence looking for a break so that I could get through it without having to climb over, but there was no break in sight. The place was littered with railway bits and pieces, and I came across a small concrete platform abutting the fence. It had a gentle slope to the top, and I thought I might walk up it and jump down over the fence to the other side.

The top line of the wire was just above the floor of the platform so I had to jump up a little to make sure I cleared it. Because I was a little nervous of getting my foot caught in the wire, I jumped up quite high. I had no thought that this jump would cause me any damage, so I was completely taken by surprise by the excruciating pain when I landed on the graveled area on the other side of the fence. The pain and surprise sent me sprawling, my glasses flying off… I sat up and thought hopefully that the pain would subside in a few moments. A month later it was still painful to the touch, and I was still limping.

I made a valiant effort to get up and hobble on my way, but I soon realized that, though clearly nothing was broken, the damage was greater than first hoped. I had to abandon all ideas of getting to the court, and, to cut a long story short, managed to arrange a rescue.

For a week I could barely walk at all, and was very impatient to be healed, noting each daily improvement, trying to calculate how long it would be before things were entirely back to normal. I needed to get to shops, to replenish my supplies and so forth.

I could definitely feel daily improvements, but the foot would throb intensely at the end of each day, because every step I took on it during the day was more painful than the previous step. A night’s rest and I would imagine the foot had recovered – until I put my weight on it. I borrowed my foster-kid’s old crutches, which he kindly adjusted to my size [he towers over me]. It was his only act of kindness, mind you. To get him to help me out with cleaning and cooking during my period of greatest incapacity was impossible. Later, I borrowed Sarah’s walking-stick [a birthday gift from a waggish friend of her son], which was helpful in taking the pressure off my foot, though I refused to use it outside.

About two weeks after the accident [I was of course carless at this time] I made the effort to go shopping, which entailed a walk to the bus stop, and then back with the shopping. However, after a long and tiring struggle to the bus stop, I realized this wasn’t going to work. I was totally exhausted and in considerable discomfort, and the idea of walking back the same way, heavy laden, after traipsing about the shops, rather horrified me.

But it was probably this trip [I’d tried one or two testing ventures outside] that brought me the valuable insight about slopes. I’d already assumed it was a slope that caused my injury. I hadn’t really landed awkwardly, but clearly my left foot had touched the ground before my right, and bore the brunt of my weight when I landed, causing the ankle to squish. The ground had been uneven – possibly even a stone or rock had obtruded. I didn’t examine the ground afterward, but it obviously makes sense.

I’d gone to a local café a day or two before, and noticed that I wasn’t in so much pain walking back as I was walking there. I didn’t work out why until two days afterwards, when walking across a driveway. I felt the pain in my ankle increase, and it suddenly occurred to me that it was because of the slope. My left foot, the damaged one, was on the high side of the sloping driveway, and was bearing more of the weight, suddenly, than my right foot. When we walk, of course, we remain upright, perpendicular to the surface of the earth, regardless of local variations in slope. So when we’re walking on a slope [I mean across one not up or down one], the weight will be more on the foot on the upper side of the slope, and the ratio of that differential load will depend on the angle of the slope.

So when you have an injured ankle, take note of slopes. It’s a bit like bike-riding – anyone who rides a bike regularly will be aware that few roads are completely flat for any great portion of their length. Cyclists know all about slopes. For the injured walker, what you will soon realize is that most footpaths slope down towards the road. Best to walk on that side of the road where the high side favours your strong foot.

Another interesting point is that we walk unconsciously always as if we’re walking on the flat, decelerating quickly our forward-leading foot just before it hits the ground. It’s a bit like the sweet spot when we engage the clutch changing gears. When we’re on a slope, though, we don’t quite adjust that deceleration – that’s to say, we might still be in the process of deceleration when our foot hits the ground. We might even be in the early stage of deceleration, and so we jar our foot slightly. This is barely noticeable when your feet are in mint condition, but when you have a badly sprained ankle you really feel it.

So, God, You gave me a sprained ankle for a reason. How devious and inscrutable is Your wisdom?

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