• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

My low-rent version of Sisyphus in hell

Image/Getty.

Michelle Langstone on being injured.

I’ve got a paper bag full of smooth river stones, and every morning I scatter them across the floor of my bedroom and use the toes of my left foot to pick them up and place them carefully back in the bag. I’ve been going on like this, a low-rent version of Sisyphus in hell, for weeks now. I have done a bad thing to my foot, and the consequences are me and these rocks, every morning, seemingly forever, while I wait for my body to mend the tear in a ligament that tugs like a wound reopening every time I put my weight on it.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to jaunt around the place with long strides and great purpose – an antelope heading to feeding time at the zoo. I could walk in shoes or without them, merrily on all surfaces. Occasionally I’d have skipping races down the hallway with my little family members, only stopping when someone banged into a wall or needed a biscuit.

I don’t know what to do with myself now I’m in possession of “a considerable injury, the pain from which must be quite draining for you”. In the MRI of my foot, you can see the fluid and nutrients my body has drawn to the injury, and precious collagen forming at the site. It’s oddly moving to see my system so earnestly trying to help. I visualise a golden thread stitching my torn ligament back together and try to be grateful.

At the gym, I accidentally whack myself in the face with one of those thick elastic bands that are meant to go round your legs. The gym instructor looks at me as if I’m a UFO and says, with amazement, “That’s a first.” I lie on the floor like a starfish with limp tentacles, occasionally hoisting myself up to do something resembling a stretch.

I go to the swimming pool and commence the physician-advocated “aqua wading”, which sounds advanced but is just me walking up and down the pool, shivering because it’s cold and I can’t move fast enough to warm up. In the lane beside me, octogenarians are energetically aqua jogging, and one cheery lady in a swimming cap waves each time she laps me.

The only upside of this unfortunate situation is that people are nice to you in public. One night at pub quiz, the guy running it gives me the answer to a question out of pity, shortly after he sees me navigate a flight of 14 stairs on crutches. A lady offers to carry my drink but I refuse – I’m proud, and I’ve decided it’s heroic to spill half your glass of soda on the treacherous journey back to safety.

I go clicking up the hallway and my cat runs away from me. The running away is not unusual, but the speed at which she does it is marked – she hates the crutches, too. In the kitchen, they slide from their resting place not once but four times, and even the little people have the temerity to look fed up. I want to yell I AM THE MOST FED UP, but nobody is interested.

On the radio, I hear about a horrific car crash, imagine the injuries of the survivors, and feel heavy with recovery guilt. I think about being permanently injured, and the thought is unbearable. I’m lucky, I know, and I lecture myself toward resilience. In the garden, one of the littles hands me a stone in a gesture of helpfulness. I turn it in my hand, feeling its sun-warmed weight on my palm, and put it in my pocket for morning. 

Find Michelle Langstone on Twitter @mifflangstone.

This column was first published in the July 2019 issue of North & South.

Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email.