This blog post isn’t really about photography, but it is about what makes photography possible - in the majority of cases at least. And that’s the ability to walk! Or even stand up . . . and believe me, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how you might go about it if you can’t. I’m sure there are many wheelchair-bound photographers out there and if any of you are are reading this, I salute you! And please do get in touch . . .
For those of you that don’t already know, on August 12th I was on the first morning of a two week cruise to Italy, Montenegro and the Greek Islands when I fell down the steps of our shuttle bus at Salerno port and broke my ankle in three places - when they call a ‘trimalleolar’ fracture. I had my camera over my shoulder at the time and that miraculously survived - which was something at least, but my ankle didn’t! I was taken to hospital in Salerno where I spent the next six days, having an operation to fix the bones with a plate and 11 screws - and then waiting for the surgeons to release me, and the insurance company to fly me home. There’s enough material there for many more articles (about Italian hospitals, travel insurance companies and so on) but for the purposes of this one I’ll skim over that for now.
So anyway, here I am, back in the U.K. and it’s now almost seven weeks later. From the moment I fell I was completely ‘non weight bearing’ on my right leg for five weeks - so relying on crutches (which are harder work than they look!) and a wheelchair to get myself around, ably assisted by my wonderful husband and sister. I'm now what they call 'partial weight bearing' but that means hobbling a few steps and putting a small amount of weight on my leg, which is in encased in a rather sexy 'Robocop' boot!
I have learned many things over these seven weeks, not least of which is how much we all take our ability to walk around for granted, and how flipping difficult it is to do almost anything when you can’t. Going up stairs has to be done on your bum or your knee, brushing your teeth has to be done sat down or balancing on one leg, and as for making yourself a cup of tea - if you can manage to balance on crutches while making it, you then realise that you have no ability to actually carry it anywhere once you’ve made it!
Of course there are ways round things, and I’ve gained valuable advice from other people who are going through the same thing - for example putting your tea in a sealed travel mug and carrying it back to the sofa in shoulder bag, or wheeling yourself about the bathroom on an office chair - but trust me, it’s all hard work and it all involves huge amounts of planning. And that’s without even mentioning the fact that you’re dealing with high levels of pain and exhaustion at the same time, alongside regular trips to hospital appointments, physiotherapy sessions and so on. Sleeping is a challenge, and trying to keep your leg elevated above your heart for as much of the day as possible also limits your ability to many things as well. But if you don’t, then healing takes longer, and your foot swells up like a balloon and turns purple!
I was reminded recently of a throwaway comment that my sister made years ago. Something along the lines of needing time in her hectic life to go through and sort out all of her thousands of old photographic prints that she took in pre-digital days - and that what he really needed to do was ‘break a leg’ as she’d be off work but still mentally with it. If only that was the case! One key thing I’ve learned from this whole process is that it seriously messes with your head as well, and just because it’s ‘only my leg’ doesn’t mean it’s not affecting the rest of me as well. I’ve tried to do the odd bit of work (non photography of course!) but I find I just can’t focus or concentrate in the way I used to, and after just a couple of hours I’m absolutely shattered. And a trip to the hospital can result on a full day of sleeping the following day as well just to recover! It’s like your whole body so focusing on healing and it can’t really do anything else. Even writing this article is a little exhausting!
There are a few upsides though. At a recent family wedding, which I managed to get to (with actual make-up on for the first time in weeks!) I got prime position in the church and was able to take a few more unusual shots from my low angle - thought once I transitioned to crutches at the reception then my ability to hold my camera was completely taken away - but it was a start at least, and nice to actually take some photos for the first time in weeks!
So I guess what I wanted to say is that you don’t realise how much you value the simple ability to put one foot in front of the other until it’s taken away from you - even temporarily as in my case. So next time you get out of bed and walk to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, or walk out the front door for a wander round the shops, or climb a hill to photograph an amazing sunrise like the one at the top of this article, take a moment to really appreciate the simple ability to get yourself from A to B under your own steam. It’s a real gift, and can’t be under estimated! I look forward to the time when I’m the one at the top of that hill again, camera in hand of course . . .