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Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. As an avid home cook Thanksgiving means crisp, fall air and, for me, a multi-day cooking fest that’s planned out weeks in advance. Homemade noodles, from-scratch pie crusts, cutting and drying bread cubes for stuffing, and, when finances have allowed, selecting a turkey from a local farm. I usually utilize every corner of my kitchen turning out an elaborate spread and take great pride in the meal.
But being disabled for this year’s feast forced a change. It taught me a lesson about self-compassion, and how valuable family holidays can be, even absent all the trappings we equate with them. And these are lessons I hope to bring to this Christmas, and beyond.
In March, I severely broke my leg at the ankle, shattering the bones on both sides. Surgery left me with more hardware in my leg than my knife block. For the bulk of the year, I’ve been unable to do much but sit in a chair or lie in bed. It has been a tough eight months. I missed all of summer, watching the sun mostly through the window and unable to romp and play with my 10-year-old son. I was hopeful after several months of healing that my mobility would return to normal, but even after the bones knit, sharp, stabbing pains in my ankle made ease of movement impossible. I limped and favored the outside of my foot because of the pain in one particular area.
But being disabled for this year’s feast forced a change. It taught me a lesson about self-compassion, and how valuable family holidays can be, even absent all the trappings we equate with them.
I knew something was wrong, but my surgeon insisted everything was fine. “Some people heal better than others,” he said. I finally got a second opinion. An ultrasound revealed that the two long screws placed in my ankle for stability were butting up against a tendon in my ankle. The tendon was irritated, possibly torn. I had to have another surgery, right away, to remove the screws.
Surgery was scheduled for the 2nd week of November. I realized this would derail Thanksgiving, but waiting was not an option. My original break was severe, and I’m over 50, with osteopenia, so my surgeon insisted on a very conservative approach to rehabilitation I’m once again immobile, disallowed to walk or drive, and using a walker again (I’m too clumsy for crutches).
It’s depressing and difficult living this way. I feel I’ve missed out on almost this entire year of life. Leaving home is only possible if someone else drives, and even then, the exertion of using a walker with just one leg on the ground means hat I become drenched in sweat and get tired easily. To have to return to where I came from several months ago doesn’t feel like progress. And by the time am walking freely again, it will be time for my 3rd (and hopefully final) surgery— in March, to remove the remaining hardware. Then I’ll do this all over again.
What all this meant was that this past Thanksgiving, I had to do something I thought I never would. I ordered a pre-cooked Thanksgiving meal from the grocery. Two-day old grocery store food would have horrified the foodie in me at one time in my life, but being physically challenged this year has put things in perspective.
We’ve all experienced challenges this year—every single one of us–and that means that what we need, more than ever, is to be together with the people we love most.
Cooking is fun for me. It’s a creative outlet and results in some truly decadent, delicious dishes. But ultimately, the holidays are about family, so instead of wallowing in misery that I couldn’t enjoy the holiday as I had previously done, I focused on the fact that I was spending time with my loved ones: my fiance, my mother, my son, and my sister, who recently lost her only daughter and drove several states to join us.
What this experience led me to realize was that Thanksgiving isn’t about the cooking, anymore than Christmas is about the presents. We’ve all experienced challenges this year—every single one of us–and that means that what we need, more than ever, is to be together with the people we love most. To spend time with them, trade stories and memories, and share what we have to share—those things transcend health and disability. And they’re the real reason for the season.