Broken Toe, Fixed Perspective

I wish there was a more interesting story to tell. Like, “My parachute malfunctioned, but I came away relatively unscathed.” Or, “I was playing ultimate frisbee on a volcanic island and I tripped over a lava rock,” or . . . “You should see the other guy.”

However. It was just me trying to get my two kids off to school on a Friday morning. That, and a house rearranged for painting – hence the wooden box where it shouldn’t be, and the resounding crunch to my left baby toe.

I howled. I hopped on one foot. My children stood open-mouthed, waiting to see whether I’d say a swear word. I waited for the pain to pass.

Then I noticed the toe was perpendicular to its friends. The kids asked: “Mama, why does it look like that?”

I dropped them off at school and continued up the street to the hospital.

Now, at first I was tempted by the usual thoughts of what a useless waste of a Friday morning, how could I be so stupid, et cetera. But after joking with two cheery emergency ward nurses, I realized I should view the broken toe as an opportunity.

An opportunity for what? I didn’t quite know – maybe just to learn something about the world. After all, the universe had been trying to tell me to slow down for several weeks already. I’d felt the nudges, but ignored them. Now, here I was, sitting on a plastic chair with a throbbing malfunction on my foot, forced to give up on my life’s agenda.

So, sitting there, I began to notice things. How clean and organized the hospital was, everything stacked, stocked, and labelled, right down to the nasal speculums. How shiny and complicated the machines were, with all these bright, educated orderlies running around knowing what to do.

The hospital staff – doctor, nurses, janitors, technicians – treated me with respect and good humour. And almost all the patients were afflicted with something much worse than a broken toe. A young dancer cried over a leg fracture, knowing she wouldn’t be able to perform for months. A woman smiled at me as best she could with two black eyes and a face half-swollen with bruises.

At the medical imaging desk, two people paced back and forth waiting for the results of cancer screening tests.

Sometimes you have a sudden chance to observe as the world wheels on around you in its cycles of joy and anxiety, life, death, and everything in between. I felt so young and whole and free, sitting there in my wheelchair with my gimpy foot, receiving the attentions of folks who spend their days – their entire lives – helping to ameliorate sickness and unexpected tragedy.

I recalled reading about hospitals in Haiti following the earthquake, how their supplies dwindled and had to be stretched or re-used, how instruments and wounds couldn’t even be sterilized for lack of equipment, how people crowded and slept and died in hallways.

So – there is a more interesting story to tell, and it’s about a moment of slow on a Friday morning. A moment where I was blessed with the chance to see our country, our people, and our social systems from a new angle.

I came away thankful in my heart.

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