climb

the well-documented life a broken man, part 1: what happened to me

i've only had my pink fiberglass cast for a little over 48 hours, and although i've minimized my exposure to the outside world, i have had to field many questions about what happened to me, and always, my standard response has been: i slipped and fell behind a few portalets. the story sounds almost too hyperreal to be true, but let me provide the context.

on saturday evening, i was enjoying, possibly too much, jimmy cliff's performance at the malasimbo music and arts festival. he had just finished his 3rd encore and a DJ was getting ready to mix when i realized that i had been suppressing the need to empty my bladder for far too long, so i decided to visit the toilet. when i got there, a long queue had formed, and i was eager to get back to my mat. my friends, old and new, were waiting for me. so i scouted the area for an alternative. behind the portalets were the shapes of slender coconut trees and other men apparently relieving themselves in a manner that's both primitive and without class. i didn't care, i had to go.

so i proceeded towards an empty tree, and didn't bother to look where i was walking. it was quite dark -- this part of the festival venue was unlit. it happened quickly. i stepped my right foot on what turned out to be a really steep slope, slipped, and fell the distance equivalent to half a body's length, and my poor right foot had to catch the weight of my entire body -- all 165 lbs of me. i heard a resolute snap when i landed, despite music wafting in the air. i barked a prolonged awww, stood up, and peed where i fell (i didn't bother to proceed to the tree), and limped back to where we had laid down our mat. suddenly my enthusiasm for the music had ebbed, and i decided to just sit it out. niko and kristian were very kind to help me back to my tent.


the following day, i woke up to find my right ankle swollen. it was severely bruised: blues and violets the shape of starburts appeared from just above the sole of my feet up to the side of my shin. i could still walk, albeit with a lot of difficulty, a lot of discomfort, and sometimes with a lot of pain. the camp area of the malasimbo festival was far from the road, and i had to walk that distance in my broken state. we went down to town to try to find some relief, and a resort owner drove me to a barangay councilor who was also a hilot. the man had a peculiar way of treating the injury. he put it close to his mouth and whispered what seemed to be a prayer, licked his thumb, and wiped the sides of my swollen foot. then he turned to my left foot, did basically the same thing, and massaged it a little. he said this method spared me the wicked experience of having someone press against where it hurts most.


all along i thought i was just suffering from a very bad sprain. i could walk, and i managed to carry my heavy bag up to the road, and all the way to the boat that returned me to batangas. when i arrived in manila, the first thing i did was to schedule an appointment with a sports doctor. my friend janice suggested i look up the philippine orthopedic institute, which was a skip and a hop from where i live. the minute i got there, the doctor asked me the routine questions, the answers to which do not stray too far from what i had already written. he ordered a few x-rays to see if there was any cause for worry. that i could walk was indicative it could very well have been a sprain. that it was so swollen to the point i was almost unable to put on my shoe suggested that it may already be a fracture.


after a few x-rays, the doctor said: first the good news. i'm a lucky guy, he said, because i have an extra bone in my foot, called an os naviculare or an accessory navicular bone. based on the literature i read online, this extra bone could either be a boon or a bane, but in my case, he said it could have been worse were it not for that extra bone. but the bad news was this: there definitely was a fracture on my fibula, particularly the lateral malleolus. when the nurse clipped the x-rays on the lighted screen, i didn't need the doctor to tell me that there was something wrong. it was too obvious. i was broken.


he gave me two options. the first was more conservative, the second, more aggressive, but something he'd recommend for real athletes. his recommendation was for me to go the traditional way, and get a cast first. i asked, so when do we schedule it? i had thought, initially, that it was some invasive procedure that required preparation. but he said: in a little while, i won't allow you to walk with that fracture. so we went inside the cast room and i had already opted to get a fiberglass cast (more expensive, but a lot lighter). he opened a drawer and asked me: are you from ateneo or la salle. there was a choice between a powder blue color and a moss green. i blew through my nose and said: i'm from UP, do you have anything close to maroon? the good doctor opened another drawer and said: we have pink. the circle on the cover suggested it was closer to old rose, so i said: yes, pink is fine, at least it gets noticed.


i didn't sit longer than 10 minutes on the casting couch. it was rather quick. the doctor positioned my foot, and wrapped me in this pink gauze that stiffened quickly. within an hour of my visit i was already given a pair of crutches and being given instructions on how to walk. when it came to steps, the doctor said: remember the saying good foot goes to heaven, bad foot goes to hell. he adjusted the crutches to my height and i walked around the clinic. have you been on crutches before, the doctor asked, observing that i seemed to know immediately how to use it. i was tempted to reply that i was a genius and he shouldn't be so surprised. before long, i was hopping my way out of the building, feeling the strain of having to stand on one foot, and bemoaning the fact that i have virtually no upper body strength. i had cancelled my gym membership 4 years previous.


despite my condition, i actually managed to arrange my home and pack the huge bag that i brought with me to malasimbo. since monday i've managed to do normal household chores like cooking myself dinner, sweeping the floor, sending my dirty laundry to the washers, drying my tent, and washing the dishes. i rested all of tuesday and tried to imagine myself struggling while on my way to the office. this morning i woke up early to get a head start. i wrapped my cast in plastic and taped both ends before i entered the shower. the doctor suggested glad wrap, which i have, but would be too expensive if i use it for the next 4 weeks. i hopped to my closet and wore my usual office clothes, grabbed my crutches and went outside to take a cab to get to work. the fare was P60. on most days, it takes me just over 6 minutes to walk to my office building.


seeing my condition, the pantry staff at the office offered to buy me lunch. an officemate was kind enough to bring me a glass of water when i complained about coughing. people i didn't know began opening doors for me and allowed me to cut the queue at the taxi stand even when i was too embarrassed to admit being entitled to anything just because i am on crutches. now back at home, i realize the huge amount of work it takes for someone in my condition to do anything anyone complete might take for granted. i am embarrassed by the fact that i have never appreciated the fact that i am whole. only now that i have these limitations am i able to realize the struggle other people who are differently-abled must go through on a daily basis, and yet they persevere. that is why i have (so far) not whined nor complained about the mishap which has resulted in my temporary disability. it has allowed me to have profound respect for others able to rise above their own limitations, to see that everyone is inherently good, and that everything can be achieved with a lot of perseverance.

i look forward to the aftermath of these 4 weeks (hopefully not 6). the sole of my left leather shoe would be more worn out than its pair, but my arms will likely be stronger than they used to be. but more than anything, i look forward to the kind of person i will evolve into. so to everyone asking what happened to me, i sincerely appreciate your heartwarming concern. to everyone wishing me a happy recovery, i hope our collective prayers would contribute to the early retirement of my cast. and if i hadn't responded to you individually yet, well, here's the story, and how i'm coping, so far.