James Hayman: Two and a half weeks ago I was carrying a moderately heavy wooden table down the basement steps of our new house, missed the last step and fell over on my left foot. Happily I didn’t break my hip which I landed heavily on. But I did fracture my fifth metatarsal in two separate places and broke a chip off another bone whose name I can’t recall.
Since the injured foot didn’t seem to hurt that much and since we were expecting six people for dinner in half an hour, I declined a trip to the emergency room and managed to smile my way through dinner, doing me best to play the role of gracious host. I thought (hoped) the injury was only a sprain. Next morning we went to the doctor, got the x-rays and learned that I would be in a boot and possibly a cast for anywhere from four to sixteen weeks, depending on weather or not surgery would be required. My doctor told me under no circumstances to walk or to put any weight on the offending foot. The penalty for disobedience, he said, would be the surgical alternative, in which two pins would be inserted in my foot to bind the fractures together. He even produced a “no-walking” traffic image which Jeanne has taped to the wall in our living room.
I’ve done my best to obey. I sit with my injured leg raised all day and try to concentrate on my writing with only semi-success. I never did like writing in the house anyway. Too many distractions which are made even worse by my inability to answer a caterwauling telephone or to get anything at all for myself. I’m constantly asking my wife for this or for that which, to her credit, she usually gets without complaint.
When not writing, I fool around on the Internet or sit and read. Still I’m bored and impatient for the damned thing to heal. And yes, I do feel sorry for myself. Which is, I am totally aware, ridiculous. It is, after all, only a broken bone in my foot. I’m not being bombed in Gaza or chased by Muslim fanatics in Iraq. I’m sitting peacefully in a comfortable house in Portland.
On the other hand, I can’t use my left foot. And, heck, even Christy Brown could do that.
For those of you who remember it, My Left Foot was the title of a 1989 movie that tells the true story of Christy Brown. Brown, an Irishman, was born with cerebral palsy and able to control only that single appendage of his body. In spite of his overwhelming infirmity, Brown became a successful writer typing his autobiography (as I recall) with his toes (amazing!) and also a respected artist painting with a brush held between his toes (equally amazing). Daniel Day-Lewis played the role of Christy Brown. Many of the scenes of Brown using his left foot to paint or write were shot in a mirror to reverse the image since Day-Lewis could only manipulate his right foot in the way the scenes required and then only with considerable practice.
The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards for best picture, best director (Jim Sheridan), best adapted screenplay (Sheridan and Shane Connaughton). It won two Oscars. One for best actor for Day-Lewis in the title role and one for best supporting actress for Brenda Flicker who played Brown’s mother.
There is no way not to be inspired by Christy Brown’s extraordinary courage and accomplishments in the face of a debilitating handicap.
So as I sit here in my heavy plastic boot with my wife waiting on me hand and foot (or is it mostly foot?) I tell myself to stop whining and emulate those like Brown who have far more determination and courage than I would ever have imagined possible.