“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”
― Charles Swindoll
Island life is a series of long walks on beaches, swimming in the surf, paddleboarding to spot sea life, boating to new spots for snorkeling and dancing the night away at beach bars. It’s the good life and full of adventure and ultimate relaxation. I love the activity and waking up to find the sun blazing and the Bahama breeze flowing. These simple activities bring me immense joy. Until one day in March, they were all snatched away in an instant.
It was a beautiful morning and I had been invited to play friendly match of tennis with a group at the Dolphin Estates tennis courts. I hadn’t played a match in 10 years, but was excited to flex my competitive muscle in sport. I was rusty that was for sure, but the group assured me my amateur skills were welcome and we would have fun. I looked forward to some match play, some good ole friendly competition and breaking a healthy sweat. I dug out my tennis skirt, put on my matching blue running shoes (one size too small I might add), filled up my water bottles and I put my earbuds in to listen to Maria Shriver’s podcast “Meaningful Conversations” in preparation and decided to do a two mile brisk walk down to the courts. I was supposed to do yoga that morning, but I decided instead to dust off the ole raquet and try something new. Plus, I could use a good cardio workout, the island has helped me put on a good 20 pounds since I moved here.
When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by the group and we warmed each other up by volleying the ball and joking around. We were having ourselves a good laugh about our aging bodies and keeping up our fitness. I felt good and warmed up since I had made the choice to walk down to the courts. After lobbing the ball back and forth for a bit, the nerves of playing my first tennis match in a while dissipated. The sun was hot and I was excited to up my fitness game a bit. My serve and backhand was definitely not championship worthy, but I knew I could return shots with relative ease. We decided we would play in rounds and my buddy Glenn and I paired off together to start the first match. We won the first two sets handedly and were leading the third set when I lunged to return a ball when I heard a loud SNAP!
As the sound echoed in my ears, I felt as if I had been whacked in my calf with a tennis racket. My foot planted down but instead of feel the hard court beneath me, it felt as if I stepped in a bowl full of jelly. In this instant, my heart sank. I knew exactly what it was. I had ruptured my Achilles tendon. I had heard horror stories of this injury before. I knew it was one that can sideline you from walking or any activity for months …even a year. I felt the flash of anxiety rise up in me knowing that this was the beginning of a very long road.
My court mates heard the snap too. Their looks of concern leaked across their faces as they gathered me off the courts surface and help carry me to the cart. We all knew this was not an injury you walk away from and they gave me their quiet condolences and feeble assurances as I hobbled into the cart. I said to them in jest, “Guess I get a free to trip to Florida?” knowing full well that I could not stay on the island, that I would have to leave home to receive any sort of medical treatment.
I was ushered into the medical facility at Bakers Bay. There I was attended to by the medic and he immediately performed the Thompson test whereby they squeeze the calf muscle to see if the foot flexes. If it doesn’t flex, then the tendon is severed and requires immobilization and possible surgical repair. Of course I knew as I heard the snap that I had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. It was confirmed by the medic, they gently wrapped the injured foot, gave me a pain killer and advised me to have imaging done and a surgical consult with an Orthopedic surgeon.
With the diagnosis confirmed, my heart became heavy. All the things that bring me joy like paddle boarding, swimming, yoga, snorkeling, even walking on a beach are now strictly forbidden. The diagnosis was like anchor tied to my ankle pulling me to depths of despair. My usual buoyant, optimistic spirit was now drowning in sadness. I knew that my mobility and my independence will be compromised. I knew that I was going to get through this, but I was going to have to really dig deep to come out stronger on the other side.
My husband Jimbo sprang into action. He left to go back to our house to pack my bag. Unfortunately, that morning I had upended my closet looking for a tennis skirt buried underneath piles of clothing. As I pulled everything from the shelves in a rush to make the court time earlier, I had promised myself to return to the closet and begin the chore of refolding and organizing everything that was now laying in a heaping pile on the closet floor. Well that task obviously didn’t happen. Jimbo had minutes to pack my things and he said it looked like “a bomb went off” in my closet. Oops!
He returned with a random smattering of clothing and toiletries. Which proves why I should have a “bug out bag” packed at all times. His effort was valiant, but I knew the packing situation was less than ideal, who knows what he decided to pack for me. Turns out it was only one pair of underwear and lots of unmatched clothing and some that don’t even fit my ever growing island tummy. He only had fifteen minutes to carry out the task as we were set to board a boat to take us to Marsh Harbour to find a flight to the United States.
When “shit hits the fan” it is fantastic to have people you can lean on. My husband Jimbo is amazing in these instances, always keeping a calm and determined demeanor to problem solving, My older brother, Jimmy., is also my “fixer” whenever I find myself in trouble… Lots of funny stories with him fixing my problems throughout my life but I’ll save those for another time.
My brother Jimmy and my husband Jimbo figured out a way for me to fly to Orlando where Jimmy would drive two hours to receive me and take me to his home in St Augustine Florida. It’s amazing how fast they mobilized a plan of action to get me the help I needed. Jimmy began calling his friends and contacts in the Orthopedic world to find out who could see me right away. He managed to secure an appointment with a surgeon the next day. Jimbo contemplated accompanying me, but we had Wolfgang who had school to attend and Jimbo’s job demanded he be available. We agreed that I could fly on my own and Jimmy would take the reigns when I arrived in Florida. Having competent and flexible and emotionally strong men in your life is a complete God send. When you feel at your most vulnerable in life, it is nice to be cradled by love, support and competence.
Lucky for me my brother’s family lives in Florida. They had just recently hosted us short notice when Wolfgang had a life threatening emergency just a few months prior and once again welcomed me to their home to convalesce and find out what was next for my foot. My brother and sister -in- law took turns carrying me to a series of appointments: the initial surgical consult, the next day was MRI imaging and the final consult the third day to determine what the best case scenario is for me.
The Orthopedic doctor laid out two options for me. The first was getting surgery to percutaneously repair the injured tendon by suturing the tendon back together and anchoring it to the heel bone. Surgery involved general anesthesia and required me to be in the States for approximately three weeks to ensure there is no infection or nerve damage and the incision was completely healed. The surgery also offered a faster recovery of three weeks and gave me a 5% better chance that it would not re-rupture. Option two was to stay in the immobilized boot and allow the tendon to heal on its own in what is termed “conservative treatment”. Being that I am active, the doctor urged me to get the surgery. Through my tears, I tried to explain how I lived on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, how I was displaced from my family and the challenges of ferry boats, docks, sand, uneven surfaces and relatively no medical care. The doctor was brusque and offered no sympathy other than to say,” if I were you, I would get the surgery” and slammed the door as he left the room.
I was so discouraged by what he explained was the protocol for treating the injury, either way, I would be in a boot for 4 months. I would not be able to weight bear on the injured foot for eight weeks, meaning I was to be on crutches for two months at thievery least. After two months, I could start to partial weight bear but would not be walking on my own in shoes until June possibly July. There are high instances of re-rupture in the first three months so I had to be diligent not to rush walking and bearing weight. Each person heals differently but he cautioned that without surgery I could run the risk of hurting my self again if I wasn’t completely healed. I could not imagine having to start the whole process over again.
Rehabilitation is a crucial piece to the equation because you have to re-learn how to walk by strengthening the injured tendon and the surrounding muscles and ligaments. The body will atrophy and it is likely I might not regain full range of motion or previous strength in the calf muscles in that leg. Even with the proper guided rehabilitation of a physiotherapist, it will take a FULL YEAR to walking, running, jumping and playing any sports. That means a full summer watching everyone else play in the crashing waves, no long walks on the beach, no hiking, no swimming and snorkeling the reef, no paddle boarding. It is like a cruel joke. I have to live in a paradise but I cannot engage with it. I have to admire it from a cage. A boot that shackles me from activity and movement.
This is the part that is most frightening. Living in the Abacos islands you don’t have access to the best in physical therapists and facilities to help with rehabilitation of the foot. So we scheduled the surgery a week from the appointment under the advisement of the doctor.
After lots of research on the internet and soul searching I was becoming increasingly more trepidatious about getting the surgery. I felt an unease about being away from my family for a month. I knew the inherent risks of going under the knife, blood clots, infection, nerve damage and even death. While I am not new to surgery, I felt a tightening in my chest and throat every time I began to think of getting the surgery. It seemed like a lot of risk to go under for three weeks faster recovery and only a 5% better chance that I wouldn’t re-rupture. When it takes 6 to 12 months to recover what is an additional three weeks? I may live in constant fear of re-rupture but 5% better chance did not move the needle that much for me.
Intuition is a powerful thing. We are programmed to override our intuition by following advice, safest path of discourse and societal rules. My body and intuition kept saying don’t cut yourself open. I was just reading the book called, “The Infinite Power of Love and Gratitude” by Dr Darren Weissman which was featured in a netflix documentary called “HEAL”. The movie and book uncovered scientific ways that people can heal from disease and injury through a myriad of ways without medicine and/or surgery. Interesting, that I was just reading this book as this happened to me. My intuition kept leading me back to allowing my body to heal the tendon. So against the advice of the Orthopedic surgeon, I cancelled the surgery.
It was if my body suddenly became light when I made the decision, as if I was freed from fear of the idea of going under the knife. It also allowed me to return to my family and my friends of my island who I knew would be essential in my healing. This is injury is a physical nightmare, but worse, it does funny things to your mental state. I researched many forums regarding the injury and many people reported that the mental stress is far worse than the injury itself. You lose mobility, independence and stability in one fell swoop. I knew I would fall into a deep depression if I didn’t return to my loving husband and child and the island that is now my home.
Just as I had made the decision, I received a phone call from my Bahamian mother Donna who looks after Wolfi on Abaco where he attends school. She said, “Krissy, I have been praying on you. I pray every night for your healing and I called to tell you that you need to come home.” She didn’t know I had the options of healing or getting surgery. She just had been praying and had brought me the message that I needed to hear. I can heal on my own and I need to be where my heart lives on Great Guana Cay.
I need to gaze one the azure colors of the Atlantic ocean, watching the tides roll in and back out to where they came from. The waves talk to me and teach me that it is all temporary. The waves come roaring in with such energy and force til they crest at their potential and then crash to the shore only to recede peacefully not holding on, but moving to a new state. Life and energy are constantly moving, changing, evolving, growing. I will not be impaired forever. I may never be the same as I once was. I may never be as carefree as I once was. I will always have to regard this injury site. I may not be able to run fast to jump and play, but I will be strengthened in knowing I can face adversity and put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
Change can come in many forms in our lives. It might come forcefully like a tidal wave, or creep along incrementally like a glacier. It might come in the form of devastating tragedy, difficult choices, broken relationships, or even new opportunities. But even though change is often difficult, many times it’s also for the best. Accomplishing anything great in life requires significant change that pushes us beyond our comfort zones.
Many times, the only way to improve our lives is to force ourselves to undergo difficult change. That might mean breaking up and leaving a stale – but comfortable – relationship, leaving a mediocre – but stable – job, moving away from a nice – but uninspiring – location, or anything else that’s holding us back from accomplishing our dreams.
Of course, dealing with uninvited change in our lives is often difficult and painful. In many cases, instigating major, but necessary, change in our life can be just as painful. But whatever change you’re dealing with, know that how you cope with that change will have an impact on your future.
Some might call this a foolish decision, to disregard medical advice, to go to an island with no medical attention. Island living requires walking through sand, navigating boat docks, climbing in and out of boats to go to a grocery store, climbing countless stairs to access homes that are built on stilts to be protected from hurricanes. It may be foolish to some, but I have been connected for a while with Spirit and I can tell when I am being guided. I need to listen to the whispers of my soul.
Even if I am on a stranded on a tropical island with no medical care, I am never alone. The support system of the community here is like the warmest hug you could imagine. Every day I get a different visitor who comes bearing gifts of food, flowers, offering assistance with chores and transportation. The love and the care I receive is soul therapy. I feel infinite love and gratitude for being in a place where people genuinely care and show great compassion to me. I know my decision is the right one when I feel the support that surrounds me here. It is quite incredible and shall I say “healing”.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise,I rise, I rise
–Exerpts from the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou