Big Mistake, but a Lucky Break
Canyoning is difficult. Don’t let anyone fool you: you will not emerge unscathed. Now, that’s a rather dramatic way of saying you’ll probably get knocked around a bit amidst the climbing, jumping, and sliding that it requires, but I would be remiss to sell it short.
I had only been in Japan a few weeks when some friends and I decided to go canyoning, and, having just got here, I couldn’t afford to have anything take me out of commission. With that in mind, it seems only natural that I would completely tear my ACL . Accounts of how it happened vary depending on who you ask. One version holds that a horde of wild monkeys attacked our party, forcing me to valiantly fight them off, injuring my knee with a particularly fierce kick. Others say all I did was push off of a rock the wrong way toward the beginning of the course. Who can say which version is correct?
It was definitely the monkeys.
After an MRI, I was told by my doctor — a phenomenal woman who knew a decent amount of medical English — that I would need surgery if I didn’t want to have problems walking for the rest of my life. In addition to surgery, I would be kept in the hospital for a month while I recovered and went to physical therapy to train up my leg. Honestly, I was relieved upon hearing this diagnosis, because before that, I had been laboring under the impression that I would be recovering for nine months. Still, the idea of being laid up in the hospital for a month was a daunting one. As an American, I’m used to short hospital stays and high hospital bills. Luckily, with the aid of my friends, coworkers, and family, I was given a small horde of distractions, supplies, and snacks to keep me sane. The hospital required that I bring a few things like a set of chopsticks, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. However, I also ended up bringing plenty of things that the hospital could have provided for a small fee. I wore my own clothes out of a suitcase, used laundry detergent from home to wash my clothes in the hospital’s washing machine, and used my own shampoo and towels in the shower. In hindsight, this was entirely too much.
One of the biggest concerns, of course, was the language gap. I have a number of friends with good Japanese ability, but they couldn’t be around all the time. This, while a frequent source of frustration, turned out to not be the obstacle I had thought it would. My assault on the Japanese language proved to be better than nothing in many cases, though people stopped complimenting my language skills and started complimenting my chopstick skills rather quickly.
In the frequent cases where language failed on both sides, there was never a time where the hospital staff gave up on me. One, or both of us would pull up a translation app or they would start drawing pictures to help me understand. It helped that I was constantly doing research on my phone so I would know what to expect for things like my MRI or my operation, but the thing that meant the most to me was the fact that they always made sure I knew what was happening. I was a foreign woman who was hurt and alone, but never once did they leave me in exasperation or just shrug and hope I would figure it out.
You may be thinking “Well that’s their job, so I would hope they made sure you understood,” but I’m sure a majority of you reading this know just how frustrating it is when you can’t communicate. As foreigners, we all struggle with a variation of this every single day, and many times it’s within the realm of things we can manage. It’s those times that really test you, your patience, and your resolve that made me really appreciate the lengths the staff went to keep me in the loop.
The procedure itself was pretty straight forward. They created a bridge for a new ACL to grow and patched everything up. It was as I was coming off of anesthesia that I was most frustrated with the language gap. My language, once sweet, had turned foul and my tears ran constantly. The moment I remember most clearly was me angrily huffing “Nihongo wa muzukashii!” through an oxygen mask, and having a nurse respond in a soft, kind voice
“Iie. Eigo wa muzukashii.”
I now have a titanium bolt keeping things in place, but it was the slick new brace that I received that inspired the name “robo ashi.” (If I’m honest, I also refer to it this way because I don’t know how to say “injured leg” in Japanese.) Thankfully, I am on the mend, with my dependence on crutches ending rather soon. My friends, family, and coworkers have all continued to go above and beyond to make sure I can do my job and live my life. Despite the lingering issues that will plague me for a while more, my extended summer vacation didn’t disrupt my life as much as I feared it would.
For many reasons, I was lucky with how these events played out. I could have been further up the course when I was injured. I could have had no one around to help translate. I could have gotten injured during one of the busiest times at school. Still, accidents happen, and wild monkey hordes roam free. I couldn’t imagine going through this experience without the support that I received, so I wanted to pay it forward. Should you ever find yourself facing an extended stay in the hospital, here is some wisdom that may prove useful to you.
1. Seriously, you do not need to bring everything from home. Bring chopsticks/ fork and spoon, toothbrush/ toothpaste, face washing materials, and conditioner/ special hair products if you need them, but most everything can be cheaply provided for you.
2. You will most likely be in a room with three other roommates. Make peace with them, and do your best to find a gossip buddy. You will need the allies.
3. Don’t eat all of your snacks at once. Hospital food is like school lunch, but with more eggplant and cold wet spinach. Friends and coworkers will bring you snacks often enough, but you should still ration.
4. You will accumulate stuff. Everyone brings you something to do, and all of it needs a place among your possessions. Figure out where you want to put it all, and figure out how to pack it all up. There is always a chance that you will be moved to a new room.
5. Stay connected. Rent a pocket wifi if you want internet, but stay in contact with the outside world. It’s easy to get discouraged, or to feel alone and lonely when the world is out there, spinning without you. It is imperative that you remember that it’s just for a little while.
Of course, every case is different. By no means should anyone assume that my account is typical for everyone, but if we’re lucky, my losing battle with my own coordination may help someone down the road. In the meantime, I’ll continue to attempt to impress my kids with my new “robo ashi” and work hard to get back to 100 percent.