This Is What It’s Like to Get Injured in Your Late 30s

I smashed up my foot. Now it’s difficult getting to the bathroom more than a few times per night.

Content warning: I’m going to curse in this post. I think I’ve earned it.

If you follow me on social, you know my family just moved in what some have generously called “a downshift” so we could take advantage of our now-fully-remote careers and live near the rest of the family again. The result was a new three-car garage taken up in small part by my Jeep Grand Cherokee and in much larger part by about half of our earthly possessions. We rented a 20-yard construction dumpster, pushed off large items on to loved ones, and we’re trying various storage experiments like one I call “Russian nesting couches.”

As a man approaching 40, I would not be happier at Disney World than I am throwing things in that dumpster. Sure, there’s a certain satisfaction in successfully retrieving an item we need inside from exactly the right box in the garage, but there’s a much greater rush in deciding I never want to see a single item in that box ever again.

Keep, move, or throw, I’ve been spending a ton of time hauling cube in the garage.

Suddenly, on something like my 50th trip out the kitchen door, I miscalculated. As best I can figure out, I got focused on something outside and tried to step straight forward instead of down the three steps. The sequence of events that followed were a cacophonous blur until I was laying prone on the garage floor, but I think the long step out the door caused me to only catch my left heel on the first step. This pitched my foot downward and caused me to land with my full weight on the second step with the right side of my left big toe. I think I quickly overcorrected and hit the garage floor with the left side of my left small toe, then brought down the rest of my weight on the soft part of my left knee.

In my teens I was free-running and climbing trees. In my 20s I picked up kickboxing and Muay Thai. In my 30s, trying to go outside nearly put me in the hospital.

Everyone has an involuntary pain sound they make. Middle-aged men make so many stupid sounds as it is, when I made a POP-“WHOA”-WHAM-WHAM-SPLAT-“OH SHHHHYIT,” everyone thought I was probably just out there cursing at the boxes. It was a good guess, but in reality, I was frantically patting myself down in disbelief that I hadn’t just shattered my whole leg. My knee (other than some swelling later) was inexplicably fine. My foot is wrecked. My arch hurts, my ankle is a little swollen, and I wouldn’t be stunned if both of those toes were fractured. I hadn’t even sat up yet when my dad brain went, “at least that wasn’t my driving foot.”

When our guests left (yes, there were guests), I showed the battered leg to my spouse–our resident healthcare provider–and she agreed that, yep, that could have been even worse, and if I can move and feel everything and nothing is pointed the wrong direction, there isn’t much to be done for the foot but stay off it for a while. Everyone qualified to say that always gets quiet at the end while they silently think, “and try walking better next time.”

Like every parent, I said something like “well, if it was going to be anybody, I’m glad it was me,” as if someone was cosmically required to eat shit on the garage stairs that day. I’m old enough that I was probably going to do about this amount of chair sitting anyway, but I’m still young enough that I don’t like being told I have to. I’m playing old video games I like on my fancy gamer laptop, but not without thinking of all the actual tasks I need to achieve because I’m one of the adults here. My shoe definitely isn’t going to fit for a little while, but maybe that’s God’s little way of telling me, “Let’s sit tight for a bit and work our way back up to that.”

Yes, I’m frustrated. People in their 20s survive worse than this making TikTok videos.

Meanwhile, I’m lamenting hurting myself at 37 because I’m already starting to forget things upstairs a lot. Sleep at this age is about as reliable as a house of cards. Trying to sleep well with an injury is like trying to remodel that house’s kitchen. I’m not getting the amount of rest the foot needs because I can’t bring myself to ask anyone else to take the trash cans to the curb or take trash bags out to the cans or any number of other mostly trash-related tasks. Thank God everything is remote now. If I went to the store right now, I’d be too injured to walk as quickly as the people around me but not nearly injured enough to use any of the accommodations for anyone with actual difficulty. Not to mention the conversation.

“Oh hey, what happened to you? Uh huh. Hit your toe? No, yeah that does sound bad. What’ll that be like two weeks? Oh, just eyeballed it at home? Yeah, sure, got it.”

Limping inherently looks super dramatic. In my head I’m thinking, “everyone thinks I’m exaggerating, right?” Then if I’m feeling a little better for a minute, I feel like I can walk a little easier. But then it looks like the other limping isn’t legit. I’m not being careful, I’m worried about the appropriate limp for the circumstances. It’s no wonder everyone says to just fucking stay off it. No one wants to spend this amount of time thinking about it.

It’ll heal naturally enough, no doubt. It won’t come up again for some unknown number of weeks or months when I’ll have one of those blowout fractures like you see in UFC fights after a fighter has put a body part through too much abuse during training. I won’t be a young kickboxer sparring for glory this time; I’ll be a middle-age dad trying to prop open a bathroom door with my foot at the local McDonald’s. My shin will fold, and I’ll collapse onto the filthy floor. No one will check on the weird bathroom guy noise. It will just be me and the onlookers on an old flyer on the wall.

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