As promised, the VA has provided me with a custom-made leg brace. The name brand of the brace is Arizona Brace. And yes, the company resides in Arizona. The brace is rather large, hot, uncomfortable, and is much like wearing a leg cast; however, the brace is helping to lift weight off of my ankle joint in addition to adding compression to the ankle, which will hopefully help to reduce pain. The current plan is that the new brace, the cane, and I will attempt to get along together for the next few months in order to determine whether or not this partnership will be a workable long-term option.
Rather than spending the winter in the cold, snowy, northern hinterlands of Minnesota, in mid-October Apollo and I will be returning to meet up with Pepe in warm, sunny Oaxaca. If the brace and cane are working well, Apollo’s (and our) journey will continue onward towards South America. But if the brace and cane are not providing sufficient benefits to maintain a decent quality of life, surgery will be pursued sooner, rather than later. I think we’ve said this before, but because our travels are about getting out of Apollo and experiencing these wonderful places, including walking, hiking, and scaling pyramids, it’s important not only that I be able to participate in our activities but also that no further damage (read: pain) hinder our ability to continue.
As for the surgical options… they are another story for another day. Do stay tuned.
In an attempt to put the new brace and cane into use, spend time with my mom, and visit my brother, my mom and I recently took a road trip (in mom’s car; Apollo was able to rest for a few days) from Minnesota to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Despite my hopes of doing a fair amount of hiking in the Hills with the new brace in place, I quickly learned that I am able to walk only for a short while, but not without pain and not without using the cane. Hiking with a totally immobilized ankle inside of a rigged brace was challenging. Seeing other hikers heading out on the trails was, to be candid, frustrating because I wasn’t able to do the same. But as challenging as this ankle situation is, I work hard to stay positive (thanks, in part, to our 11-day meditation retreat last fall) and I know that everything could always be worse.
Aside from the increased ankle pain, spending time with my mother, brother, and friends in the Hills was great. When we were not all out eating together at one of the lodges in Custer State Park, we were usually planning where to eat next. Mom and I were even able to stop at two different locations to do some wine tasting. Yes, there really are wine tasting rooms in the Black Hills! Who would have thought?
There was one evening in particular that I will never forget because it was so unexpected and also so meaningful (and, curiously, very relevant considering my current situation with my ankle): During the nightly lighting ceremont at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, I found myself standing on stage with dozens of other U.S. veterans. We were all being honored for the time that we served in the U.S. military, my service having occurred in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm. In total, there were about 75 armed forces veterans on stage that night. After being on stage for the lowering of the colors, each veteran stated her or his name, branch of service, and operation/war that he/she served in, if any. This moment in time has really been my most memorable moment all summer. It really was a very moving experience and certainly not without a few tears all around.
Having been back in the States for over two months now, I have prepared and consumed a lot of homemade bread, both multigrain and rye. (Meanwhile, poor Pepe is surviving on a store-bought bread called Bimbo that has a frighteningly long shelf life.) When staying with family in Minnesota or at HQ in Wisconsin, I’ve made it a point to always travel with bread yeast and unique flours. Although baking bread does require a bit of time standing on the painful ankle, the benefits of baking bread far outweigh most anything. The process of creating something is therapeutic.
Up next for me: along with my two new accessories (or accoutrements?), I’ll be visiting friends in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the lake country near Brainerd, Minnesota. In addition, there are several more appointments to attend at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, one of which is with my new orthopedic surgeon, who happens to also be a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Minnesota. For this appointment, I’ve been doing my homework and currently have two full pages of questions for my new surgeon, to prepare for possible surgery. As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”