Thursday, July 9, 2009

What People Really Want to See: Why We Like Gross Stuff

These photos of me with a grotesquely-swollen, Betadine-stained leg with dual rows of bloody staples are...what's the word? Disgusting. They are also the most-viewed items on my blog.
I get traffic and hits from around the world, visits from countless people who apparently want to see what a tri-malleolar ankle fracture, post-surgery looks like.

I wonder if I'm scaring people, or titillating them? I wonder if people are refusing surgical fracture fixes because of me? That's actually not my intention.

These photos are up as a public service (no, don't laugh).  I also posted them because I wanted people to stop asking me what it looked like. It looks like a nightmare. Yes, it hurt like hell. In fact, it still hurts.

This injury occurred nearly 10 months ago, and I am still not better. I wonder sometimes if I will ever be better, or like I was before. I try not to think about it too much, though. I just do my exercises and shut up. But my limp gives me away. The bandages I still have (now, after second surgery, this time to remove the hardware, and my second round of staples) are like a flag. "What happened?" everyone asks.

At least I don't still have to use a walker--that, for a 37-year-old, was so...I can't even go there. People almost can't look at you when you have a walker, like you might somehow infect them with Unfortunate Accident-itis.

My main complaint right now is Dowdy Shoes.  I have to wear sneakers most of the time--thick-soled trailrunners (which is ironic, as I may never run a trail again. I am not sure if these shoes, which I am wearing for their stability, really, are motivational or just reminders of what I am missing).  I don't think there's a worse look than the suit jacket with sneakers, but I rocked that one quite a bit this past year.

Currently, I am sporting Birkenstocks, which I think are not the most attractive shoes, but I frankly don't care anymore.  I am just happy to be wearing shoes. I couldn't for several months, at least on one foot, and let me tell you: there is no way you can feel like a normal, put-together woman when you have one foot in a giant hospital sock. No matter how nice the rest of your outfit might be (or might not be, because really, why bother if you're wearing tube socks?).

If you really want to know how it felt to break my ankle, and the story of how I broke it, you can read my December posting (my article is helpfully entitled, "How Does it Feel to Shatter Your Ankle?")  I am not one of those people who want to tell everyone their bad news story. I swear I'm not.

Most people, I've noticed, don't seem to read my ankle-break story. They just want to view the gory pictures (which I've reposted, for convenience).

All of this is fine with me. I know there are people who have been through much, much worse. I am not interested in one-upping anyone's injury story. I also don't feel particularly sorry for myself.

The ultimate point of writing the story of my accident and this current analysis, too, was to examine the "Google" effect. I wanted to see whether or not it is psychologically helpful for people to Google their symptoms, and what--if anything--they might get from reading different forms of health information and shared online stories of injury and recovery.

I also wanted to see if it made me feel better to write about my own broken-ankle issue. Would it be cathartic--or was that purported benefit of writing about a personal crisis just a bunch of hooey?

I came to the conclusion that Googling is helpful. Knowing that other people out there in the wide world share your pain and feel what you've felt is oddly comforting. 

It's not that I am pleased to know that other people have suffered in similar ways; that's not it, at all. It's just knowing that I'm not alone, even if I am sometimes.

As for writing about painful experiences--I do think it helps. Once you get the pain on paper, it seems to stay there. You've sorted through it, and now--one hopes--you can leave it behind.

But back to the pain in these pictures:  I look like I'm going to my executioner, don't I? I don't look too happy.  This is mostly because my orthopaedist's assistant was just about to remove all those staples, and I had the distinct feeling it was going to hurt.

Yeah, I was right.

A few weeks after breaking my ankle (too soon, actually), I was back at work. I am a writing and English teacher and my students quickly figured out that I have a blog. They thought it was funny in a gross-out sort of way to log on, fire up the SmartBoard and show the entire class these photos.  “Eeeww!” they all screamed. 

This was weird to watch in person. I felt the pain all over again when they shrieked. I also had to point out that the color is worse when the photo is projected. It looks oddly green and yellow, while in real life, my flesh wasn’t rotting, just recently disinfected.

So I guess that putting up the photos and writing my story helped me, but what definitely doesn’t help is watching other people wince when they see my words, look at my ripped-up leg.  As long as I don’t see other people’s reactions, I can begin forgetting about the pain. Until then, if I help anyone with the story I've written or with the posting of these gory pictures to face the truth of what they will likely go through during recovery, then it was worth it.

Be well!

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