If you follow me on Instagram, you may have already heard that Summer 2019 is the year of gardening on crutches.
In early June, I fell and fractured 3 bones in my ankle (if you’re gonna do it, do it right!), and I’ll be on crutches well into August.
Which posed some interesting questions: How would I water and harvest my garden? And what am I learning through this experience?
Plant early. You never know what might happen.
Luckily I had planted most of my summer vegetables early in the season, thus before I fell. I had built up my soil and planted out the babies I’d been nursing along in my greenhouse. As luck would have it, I had planted blueberries and tomatoes (Napa Chardonnay – yum!) in large containers all around my patio, which have been easy to access and have given me some fun harvest moments.
2. Acceptance of what is.
There were a few plant babies left at the time of my fall, but I accepted that they won’t be headed into the garden. I’ve had to accept that the front yard will look weedy, probably all summer long — and that means it will redeposit seeds so I’ll have extra-more weeds next year. I’ve accepted that many of my grand plans for this season simply won’t get done.
And I’ve also had to accept that the kabocha squash and watermelons, that I had planted before I fell, really are going to take over the side garden. I watch them climb through the branches of the pomegranate tree and rampage OVER the strawberry guava, and I wonder how this will all turn out in another two months …
3. Accepting help.
In the first weeks, friends and family came over and watered my garden (thanks Ashley, Carter, Alexis, Hannah!). I needed help not just in the garden, but inside the house — simple logistics (like carrying a teacup) became a huge challenge. David has stepped up in awesomeness.
It is impossible for me to navigate inside my garden beds, even with all the enlarged stepping stones I had recently added. I have to rely on friends and family (thanks Linda, Elizabeth!) to harvest the plants in the interior which I can no longer reach.
4. Understanding the Gift of mobility.
I’ve always been blessed by being physically able. This is my first journey into mobility challenges, and it has really opened my eyes. Sure, in the past I thought ADA and providing for people who had mobility challenges was a good idea. But I didn’t really understand.
Last month, the first time I stood at the bottom of a staircase and realized there was no other way into a building without a huge and painful climbing effort made me truly appreciate all the ramps California has mandated. I’ve been thankful that those who have been down this road before me insisted upon 36″ clear pathways free of trip hazards, substantial handrails on stairways, and a decent turning radius with heavy-duty handrails inside restrooms.
And I’ve learned that chip-bark mulch in gardens is one of the worst surfaces on crutches (sorry Dorothy!).
(I’ve also been puzzled by the braille dots that are appearing on all public curbs, I’ve read that they are for the visually-impaired. Yet at the same time they are no picnic to jostle across when you’re in a wheelchair in pain, they’re absolutely treacherous when you’re on crutches, I cannot imagine how they work with a walker’s tiny wheels, and they’re quite slippery to women in leather-soled shoes or high heels. In spite of my challenges with curbs, I find myself scanning for places to climb the curb without the dots. Why was this design selected?)
5. Pride in what you Can do
Now that I’m beyond the pain, and into the waiting-for-the-bones-to-grow-back phase, I’ve had to become really ingenious. I’ve invented ways to maneuver a pitcher of water across a room to water my houseplants. I’ve become calculating about getting multiple things done in a single crutches-pass around the room. I’ve learned how to drag garden hoses despite the crutches. My husband put out milk crates around the garden so that I can sit down to work with the plants around the edges. Rather than focusing on the limitations, it’s become about increasing the list of things I CAN do.
6. The desire for Normal.
If you have someone in your life who is suddenly less-able, realize that it’s the little things that make up Normal. And a stir-crazy patient craves anything that might make her feel a bit Normal — whether that’s a conversation about something other than the injury/illness (thanks Ashley and Azita!), or pursuit of a hobby from the old days that she can still participate in (thanks Linda for pursuing the Welcome Blanket project right now!). Even being taken out to a Normal restaurant becomes a Very Big Deal (thanks Julian and Alexis!).
Right now, just crutching around my patio, harvesting my Napa Chardonnay tomatoes, is a tiny bit of Normal that keeps me going. I’ve learned to pack an over-the-shoulder go-bag before I venture down the stairs. The bag carries containers to collect seeds, as well as plastic tubbies to collect harvested tomatoes. It’s a very different sort of gardening, but it feels good to be able to achieve even this limited amount.