Jenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.
The other day I was in the Peak Alignment class at my gym, rotating my right ankle this way and that, in various positions. It’s a true testimony to the promise of and potential for healing. I suspect that most of us have an injury that has surprised us by how well it healed and I suspect that we worked hard for that outcome. Here’s the story of my 2008 ankle adventure.
It was the last Sunday of September, the Hyalite mountains alive with deep green and brown, vibrant gold and red, the air scented with change, warm and crisply cooling all at one time. A glorious day for a hike. When I saw an unexpected turn to a waterfall along a mountain trail, I didn't hesitate long before deciding to follow it.
As the trail rose, I felt the first tingles of misgiving. Wearing hiking sandals, I had left my walking poles at home. I had been having trouble with balance, worried about slipping and falling if the trail got too rocky and steep.
When I stepped over a creek, I paused to enjoy its tiny cascade, small and sweet, then climbed on, lured by the promise of a waterfall. When I reached it, I found it beautiful but brief - a quick cascade over stepped rocks that fell in to a pool, then narrowed to become the creek I had crossed earlier. I could hear the roar of a larger fall above, would need to climb over and around a boulder and up a mountain-goat steep slope to see it.
I sat on a shelf at the base of the boulder, studying the graveled slope I had already climbed, negotiating with myself. Prudence won out. Sighing, I stood up.
I heard bones snap when I fell as if I had heard them break every day for years, this fall, this break, as eerily familiar as if I had not just known it would come, but had already experienced it.
My first thought was that it would be good to put my foot in the water to cool the injury and keep it from swelling. The lower fall's pool was within reach but I would have to crawl to it. My stronger impulse was to use the energy medicine protocols I had learned, to believe in them enough to trust them to help.
I began the self-care Fast Aid procedure I learned in my tranining to become a BodyTalk practitioner. It includes a series of techniques that helped bring me out of shock, alerting my brain to my ankle's injury and asking the brain to begin to heal that injury. I found a rhythm of tapping and breathing. As soon as I finished one cycle I started the next, again and again.
I knew someone would find me, could hear voices echoing from somewhere up the trail, but out of cell phone reach, I guessed that it would take at least three to four hours for someone to alert Search and Rescue and for them to reach me. It was cold in this spot. As the afternoon progressed it would be much colder yet. A long, cold wait, caught up in the fear of what ifs, what now?
As I tapped, suddenly my toes tingled, squirmed. Their awakening surprised me. I hadn't known the feeling had left them.
I kept tapping, breathing, working with the Fast Aid protocol. As suddenly as the feeling had come back in to my ankle, a knowing came that I could walk if I wanted. Not only that I could, but that for me, in this moment, it was so much better to stay with this trance-like focus on healing, to move with it, than it would be to lie and wait for help when I knew my mind would get the better of me.
I rummaged in my pack, ate the very few almonds I had brought, drank some water and thought about the challenge that confronted me. It was probably three miles to the trailhead and my car. Once there, would I be able to drive? It was my right ankle that had snapped.
I conjured the presence of a friend who had trained as an EMT and had a real practicality about how to handle emergency situations. I wondered what he would do with with the things I carried in my backpack: fluorescent green hiking socks; a long-sleeved, flannel shirt that I had given my ex-husband and stolen back when we divorced fifteen years before. I looked at those, dug to the very bottom of the pack and found what I didn't remember I had left there even though I hadn't worn it in months: a foam rubber, black knee support.
A plan came in to focus.
I bent, reached, gathered up two robust, relatively straight sticks, broke them to the same 3 inch lengthes and put them on the ground next to me, picked up the socks and pulled one on to each foot. With the sock making a padded covering for my right ankle, I braced a stick on each side of my ankle, then tightly wrapped the knee support to hold them in place, pulling its Velcro closures tight, creating a makeshift walking cast to support for my ankle, my suddenly vocal ankle that I had taken for granted for so very many steps, over so very many years. I wrapped the long-sleeve flannel shirt tightly around it all, tying its arms securely, closed my pack, hoisted it and myself up, stood, and . . . walked.
After a bit, I noticed a long stick with a forked top tucked in to bushes along the trail, picked it up, and let it help me take the next step, leaning in to it, on to it, walking in a state of expanded awareness, my focus on and in my ankle, on the miracle of its willingness to keep carrying me, one step after another, down the trail.
People along the way wanted to help, were curious and concerned. One young woman lent me -- a complete stranger -- gorgeous, resilient walking poles. She wrote her name and cell phone number on a scrap of paper so I could contact her later to return the poles. Her name? Charity.
Further along, a couple recognized me from the downtown business I had owned. Later, on their way back down the trail, they caught up with me again. The woman, Judy, said she would walk with me. Her husband would go on ahead, then come and pick her up once she had driven me home in my car. I wanted to demure but already was learning I needed help, that I couldn't just handle this one alone. Without Judy's company, I don't know if I could have made it that last mile of the walk. I talked with her about any and everything then, using the chatter to distance myself from my exhaustion.
As soon as she drove me far enough out of the mountains to get cell phone reception, I called my daughter and asked her to call the friend who had inspired my creative walking cast. He was the one who later peeled down the sock on my right ankle, took one look and said: “We're going to the Emergency room.” Several hours later he arrived to pick me up just in time to watch the Orthopedic sketch the bones of my ankle. The x-ray had revealed that both the tibia and fibula were broken.
That following spring I took a Wilderness Emergency Medicine course. Three years, two surgeries, and multiple sessions with a physical therapist and a host of other healing practitioners (including myself), I walked the same trail, dismayed by how steep and rocky it was, astonished that I had been able to walk it with a broken ankle.
Mostly I take the strength of my ankle for granted. I like it when something, like ankle rotations at the gym, remind me to be appreciative of — and a little awed by — the gift (and commitment) that is healing.