Exactly three weeks ago, I was in a rush to change trains in the early morning hours when I lost my balance on a staircase. I was in quite the hurry to make the next train, so using my Flash-like supernatural speed, I attempted to use the last step of the staircase to change directions by 90° in order to position myself for the next flight of stairs. You see, I’m a millennial, and we believe that our bodies are simply invincible despite daily reminders otherwise, and I wasn’t going to be late to my event for the sake of “prudence.”
Anyways, the result of this maneuver was that where normally I would have used the bottom or “sole” of my shoe to push off the ground (instructions on walking properly), I instead used the top of my foot (please don’t overthink the physics on this; it is what it is). As you would expect, my ankle rejected this abnormal use, and punished me by severely damaging my tendon.
For a moment afterwards, I couldn’t see, which is not an exaggeration — such was the pain my ankle inflicted on me. After a few seconds, rational thought returned, and I sat down in the middle of the next staircase to consider my options.
- Limp home.
- Limp to the hospital.
- Call an ambulance (as they’re free in Japan, people regularly call ambulances even for small injuries).
- Limp onward.
At that moment, I was on my way to a charity relay run for the YMCA (ironically to benefit the disabled), for which my team and I had spent some time (in Japanese fashion) enduring a number of preparatory meetings and awkward fundraising. I wasn’t about to throw all of that away, so I did what any of you would do (right?) and went with Option 4: Limp onward. Turns out that was a bad call, but we’ll get to that in a second.
I met up with friends, made my way to the event, made a couple of trips to the convenient store for coffee and spicy chicken, and even participated in the warm up exercises with the other hundreds of runners.
Please see the video below for a reference to the type of warm up we do in Japan. Please tell me how this in any way prepares you for a run? The front-most person in the video accurately demonstrates how I would be doing the exercise today.
However, by the time my race had finally arrived, at the strong urging of my wife and fellow participants, I decided not to run.
My decision was underscored by the searing pain each step brought me, and the fact that the swelling made it difficult for me to distinguish basic anatomical features such as “heel,” “ankle bone” or “foot.”
Nevertheless, I insisted that I stay and watch my friends complete the relay. One of them graciously offered to run my segment for me, and as it was a just “fun” relay (not competitive), they were permitted.
Pictures Emi Snapped at the Event
After the Event
At this point, I was in so much pain that I had to hop and/or be carried at the same time, so I didn’t stick around for the free barbecue (in truth, the idea of receiving free food had up to this point made the whole event seem worthwhile, so it’s a shame I didn’t get to partake).
YMCA staff members, Emi and Shalom helped me find a taxi, and I made it to the local Red Cross Hospital.
Japanese Healthcare & Insurance
Say what you want about the quality of a national healthcare insurance system, but in my (now growing) experience it seems to get the job done. I enrolled in national insurance immediately after arriving in Japan, and I’ve paid an average of $24/mo for my health coverage (includes dental and optics). Sure there are long waits even for simple procedures, but the doctors and nurses are top notch, and I don’t mind too much when I can get out of an emergency room visit, two visits to orthopedic specialists, crutches, casts, ankle brace and pain medicine administered over three weeks for under $100.
Life on Crutches
Life on crutches is tough. Once simple tasks take ages to perform. Unlike a wheelchair, with crutches, simply picking up a cup of coffee and moving it the four feet from the counter to the table is virtually impossible when you’re arms are tied up balancing you body. Ortho-glass can’t get wet, so taking a bath is impossible and taking a shower requires carefully wrapping your cast in a towel, tied plastic bag and sealed with cellophane wrap. Our shower is a raised step up from the regular floor, which means I had to use the crutches to swing myself into the room… wet… wearing nothing but my ridiculous 2′ radius towel-bag sphere boot.
When Emi was home, I could ask for help with things, but when she was at work or studying, I found it really easy to get frustrated and sometimes even a little depressed, as I was completely useless for helping out around the house or even cleaning up dishes after myself. We quickly purchased small rolling trolley to help me move things around, but pushing it feebly with my knees as I tried not to topple from my crutches also proved frustrating.
Probably the most difficult thing about my temporary disability was dealing with others in public. Most people just don’t know how to treat the disabled, and I often found myself receiving accommodations when I didn’t want them and not receiving accommodations when I did.
One particular incident stands out. I was running a bit later than usual (haha, running? get it?), but I had arrived at the school in ample time to make it to class. However, our school has six floors, and it’s always shocked my how able-bodied young adults cram into the tiny elevator to do something simple — say go from Floor 3 to Floor 4 for a soda. I’m aware of this fact, and while it bothered me (being the only one of several hundred people using the building who actually needs an elevator), I had come to grips with it.
But, when I trip-podded through the glass front doors, pouring with sweat from a lengthy trip, something I didn’t expect happened. A lone 18-year-oldish girl was in the elevator. We made eye contact. I huffed with all my might — man and metal operating as one in a silent symphony — to close that 9 meter distance between me and the elevator. Without breaking eye contact, she closed the doors, and I had to wait and watch as the elevator proceeded to stop at every floor on the way up, and again at every floor on the way down for five agonizing minutes.
Jesus forgives her.
Doctors said that my torn tendon, aggravated by 5 hours of walking the morning of the injury, would take a long time to heal. In fact, it might have been better off I had just broken the bone. I was informed that I would be in a ortho-glass splint, which I was not permitted to remove, for three weeks, and I would be on crutches for at least 5 – 6 weeks. But as all good charismatic Christians do, we prayed that by the time I went in for my follow up visit at the three-week mark, that I would be completely healed.
My follow up appointment was on Friday, and I’d be lying if I said it was completely healed, but we did hear excellent news from my doctor. Because most of the pain was gone, I was going to be moved to simple ankle brace, and I could walk without the assistance of crutches so long as it didn’t hurt. If it hurts, he said, don’t do it.
So by God’s faithfulness, here I am walking even longer distances without the aid of crutches. I still brought them along today when I went to church to help reduce the weight I put on that foot when I walk really far, but I can walk almost completely pain free, just two days out of my ortho-glass splint. Praise Him, I’ll take it!
On top of that, we had nearly perfect weather with no rain (except once briefly during the night) for the entire three weeks I was on crutches. This was a huge blessing as I walk every where I go in Japan (even on crutches), and severe heat, cold or rain would have been absolutely miserable.
Lastly, staff at my school are working on my behalf to use the automatic life-support insurance I get as a student to pay for an uncovered healthcare costs related to my injury, which even includes taxis to and from the hospital. Thank you Jesus.