Let’s call it a character building experience…
Published On: January 3, 2018

You know how sometimes you have a new experience and you all of a sudden you learn a whole bunch of things that maybe should have been obvious already but you never quite thought of?  Like how it takes a lot of space to move around on a knee scooter? And how people who leave pee on the toilet seats in accessible bathrooms are assholes? And how an awful lot of the things in your house are out of reach from a seated position?  Right, so the broken leg has made sure I know all of that.  And it’s also been a good reminder that sometimes the first thing that pops into your head to say to someone when they’re hurt is maybe sometimes not the very best choice. I want to talk about that a little today.

I’ve gotten three basic types of comments about my leg.  One of them is awesome and helpful and encouraging, and two of them are not quite as great.

But before we go any further, I absolutely know that all of the things folks have said to me about my leg have come from a good place.  And I totally understand wanting to say something but not being quite sure what to say.  So if you’ve said any of these things to me or to someone else, please don’t worry.  I’m not upset, and I’ve totally said something similar myself.  But on the off chance you find yourself wanting to say something to someone in a similar situation in the future, this is what I’ve learned, and maybe it can help you.

  • Not quite so great comment type 1: “At least it wasn’t your arm!” Or the variant “At least you can still knit!”

Why that’s not awesome:  Right now, I can’t walk.  That means I can’t get to the second floor of my house, so I’m sleeping in my office.  Leaving my house requires a helper and involves scooting up and down my snowy front stairs on my butt.  I can’t take a walk outside and get some fresh air.  Getting in and out of the shower is now a group activity.  Moving around the doctor’s office is hard, navigating a restaurant is exhausting, and using the bathrooms in public places is gross.

Personally, I would much rather be unable to use an arm than unable to use a leg.  I would be more mobile and independent if I could walk.  And while I will probably eventually be able to find a comfortable way to sit and knit, I haven’t found it yet (the stuff I’ve been posting recently is all stuff I knit before I fell and stored up because I had hoped to take some time off over the holidays).

But the bigger problem isn’t the specific aspects of my situation (those are going to vary from person to person and day to day).  It’s that telling someone some variation of “hey it could be worse!” is almost never helpful.  The fact that it could be worse doesn’t make what is going on any less lousy.  Bad things aren’t a competition, and it’s ok to be bummed about a situation, even if something worse could have happened.

Recommendation: Consider not saying “it could be worse” or a variation on it.  I’m know you mean it in the very best possible way, but it might not be as encouraging as you intended.

  • Not quite so great comment type 2: “Let me tell you about all the horrible, painful, expensive, never-ending issues you can expect now!  And while I’m at it, let me offer some medical advice…”

Why that’s not awesome:  I get it, I do.  It’s totally natural to want to chat about shared or related experiences.  And if I’m talking about my upcoming trip to Norway and you want to talk about your Norwegian grandmother/your recent trip to Sweden/this neat documentary you saw about reindeer, that’s fun and helpful and interesting and a great way to build connections.  But if all you’re going to do is tell me about how unsafe airplanes are and how I’m bound to get kidnapped and how my trip will be a disaster, it becomes less awesome very quickly.

All that hearing about possible awful outcomes from my injury will do is stress me out.  I realize that’s probably different from person to person, but I’ve heard from enough other people to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.  And as for a diagnosis/treatment plan/outcome prediction, I’d much rather let the medical folks taking care of me tell me what I can expect and what to watch out for in my specific case (after all, they’re the ones who have talked to me and seen the injury and checked the x-rays).

Recommendation: Consider not sharing horror stories/worst case scenarios unless someone asks for them.  And please think really hard before offering a diagnosis/medical advice based on a tweet/blog post/ig post, especially if you’re not a medical professional.

  • Awesome, helpful comments: “That’s lousy, I’m sorry, let me know if I can help.” Or “Take care of yourself, we’ll be here when you’re ready to come back.” Or “Want some netflix/audiobook recommendations?” Or “I did something similar, if you have questions, I’d be happy to talk.” Or “When something similar happened to me, I found a shower seat/a grab bar/an extra boot liner/knee scooter super helpful!”

Why those are so cool: Having folks express sympathy and send good wishes is fantastic.  Being hurt is scary and overwhelming and isolating, and being reminded that folks care is wonderful.  I read every single comment people left here and on Instagram and on twitter, and I appreciated every one (yes, even the ones that did some of the stuff I mentioned above, because I know it’s totally coming from a good place).  If you said something, I saw it and you’re awesome and thank you!

And hearing about things that other folks found entertaining or useful is also grand.  But just to be clear, “hey, doing this thing with a pillow made me much more comfortable” is totally different than “being in a cast is a perpetual torment, you’re going to hate it, having it cut off is going to hurt worse than breaking your leg did, and you’ll never be the same after, you’re doomed”  One is helpful and encouraging and gives me something to try and lets me know that other folks got through this and are ok…the other just gives me something to worry about.

Recommendation: If someone is having a rough time, please know that reaching out and leaving a comment or sending a message is totally helpful.  I promise.  And saying either “I’m around if I you have questions” or “hey, this helped me” is awesome.  Absolutely do those things!

Still with me?  Well thank you, I know that was a lot to read. And I want to emphasize again that if you said one of the not quite so great things, you are still lovely, and I know it was said with good intentions, and I appreciate the sentiment behind it!

It’s just the tenth time I heard “at least it wasn’t your arm” when I had just been thinking how much easier everything would be if it had been my arm, I got a little frustrated.  And full disclosure, I’m also absolutely sure I’ve said something very much like it in the past.  Until this happened to me, I never would have thought it might not have the intended effect.  But now that I know, I’m going to try to pay a little bit more attention.  And because I know you guys are all lovely and would want to pay attention to that sort of thing too, I thought I’d mention it here.  Because if I get to learn all sorts of nifty new things, I might as well share!

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