One Leg Up on Understanding Disability

I need a much cooler reason for how I broke my leg on February 7, 2020. Tripping in my apartment in a carpeted area in between a cushy mattress and tufted ottoman is anything but heroic. On my first post surgery visit to my physical therapist, Shawn, I remained steely eyed when I told him I fell at senior citizen roller derby rumble. Without flinching, Shawn replied,

I know someone that was in that – that means you have a really cool name – what is your roller derby name?

Only my Starbucks name came to mind in my arsenal of cleverness, and I sat speechless in a wheelchair in front of a young man my son’s age who was now responsible for mapping out my future ability to walk on two legs.

I wasn’t Grand Slammed in the Curvy Derby. I haven’t been on skates since junior high, and most of those Friday night outings were spent hugging the Skateland wall.  I fell because I am clumsy. While those close to me would be the first to applaud my fine motor skills in drawing and graphic design, they know large motor skills such as walking while carrying in groceries can pose a challenge.

Clumsy has loomed over me most of my life, but it became life-threatening on February 7. I was early-to-bed that Friday evening, ready to tackle the next exciting day at five a.m.. That midnight trek to the bathroom in the dark with my 62-year-old bladder yielded a disastrous tumble and a compound fracture in my left femur bone. The fall included the bone perturbing out of my skin, blood bath included. That was not the worst of it. It was the one time I left my phone in the kitchen, leaving me out of voice range to beckon Siri to call 911. The pain was almost unbearable, but as I looked at the trail of blood I knew I needed to fight for my life. It took two hours to drag myself inch by inch close enough to the kitchen threshold to make an emergency 2 a.m. yell to my iPhone. Siri responded, and within minutes no less than six smoking’ hot pin-up calendar-worthy firemen rushed in to what now looked like a crime scene.

Sweet Jesus…kill me now.

I was hardly dressed for the occasion, scantily clad in my new “Work Hard” t-shirt. I had been working harder, but not on my personal appearance. My hair color was a month over due, with half an inch of white sprouting through my greased-backed pony tail. A quick glance at my bare feet made me a little embarrassed that I hadn’t scheduled a pedicure the previous week, as planned. I had a sigh of relief when I assessed that there were no rogue hairs sprouting from around my big toes, disqualifying me from a starring role as The Hobbit. However, the little piglets were still a sad cry for polish and evoked an ambulance ride vow to put an higher value on self-care. And you know that part about Mom’s telling you about underwear etiquette in case you are in an accident…well, Oops Mom. I’ll just leave it at that. In the time lapse from fall to the arrival of help, my leg swelled to Macy’s Parade balloon size. My only sigh of relief was that I had indeed shaved my legs the day prior, ending a 60 day moratorium.

My “What Not To Wear To the ER,” internal dialogue was over when the orthopedic surgeon arrived on the scene. Dr. Darren Keiser came in the early morning hours, looking well rested. He was reassuring, letting me know I wasn’t his first femur bone repair. But the Part B of that sentence was “I wouldn’t be your doctor if I didn’t tell you the risks.” “You could die.” “You could have a stroke during the operation.” The list continued. I signed the paperwork, surprised that I was not afraid.

It was a defining moment there in the E.R. My former need-to-worry personality did not make a guest appearance. There were no operating room negotiations with The Almighty about my mortality. I was wheeled into a four hour surgery knowing I would live exactly the number of days allotted to me. Fret would not fuel a prolonged life, and only rob me of joy. No pun intended…something broke in me, and I’ve felt different ever since.

A critical fall yielded critical evaluation of the use of my time as I faced 90 days of no weight-bearing in a wheelchair. Social interaction was limited to friends dropping food at the door. My life choices were

  • Lay in Bed. Feel Sorry For Myself. Eat Cheetos. Keep Up With the Kardashians. Gain 20 lbs.
  • Lay in Bed. Be grateful I had a leg and a plan for recovery. Eat healthy. Spend hours every day studying my craft on

I choose the grateful one.

Today I’m well into my fifth month of recovery. The wise use of time made the break a step forward and not a set back. I mastered skills on that propel me months beyond my previous design level. I shredded through countless boxes of clutter, and digitized and organized close to 1700 photos. But more than mastering my job, half a year at wheelchair level was eye-opening to the world of disability. A few of the challenges that I faced were

  • 100% dependent on the apartment elevators to be operational
  • 100% dependent on friends to drive for first 90 days.
  • 100% dependent on grocery delivery services.
    • Ordering from Instacart, and with COVID only half the requested items are delivered.
  • A world where my chin was barely over the top of the stove, making cooking a challenge.
  • Stores with handicap parking, but once parked there is no ramp for wheelchair – just a big curb.
  • Stores where all the handicap parking slots are taken.
  • Wardrobe challenges because long flowing clothes or robes tangle in the wheels.
  • A world that is growing ever more impatient, feeling giving out the death stare if you take too long at checkout.

As of today I’ve advanced to a cane. I can drive and go to the grocery store, able to manage limited groceries. Recovering and normalcy are within reach. But what I did grasp the most was a first hand view of life for the disabled, giving me one leg up on understanding disability.


Key Notes:

  • I join the ranks of the 2020 fallen – Oprah fell onstage. The difference between me and Oprah? 2.7 billion dollars and my fall wasn’t caught on camera for 2.7 billion to see 🙂
  • Research suggests King Tut died circa 1323 B.C. from a gangrene infection at age 19. The infection was possibly the result of a broken leg. He was buried with 130 canes.

On A Lighter Note:

  • “I fell on the way to the bathroom,” has now been revised to
    • I wasn’t experienced enough for the advanced snowboarding slope.
    • I faltered during the hang-gliding land.
  • My Roller Derby Name is Varoom Val!
  • My older sister pimped my ride with amazing wheelchair lights from amazon.





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  1. Oh my gosh Valerie, I’m so sorry to hear about your fall. That X-ray is horrifying! I can’t imagine the pain you suffered for two hours while crawling to the kitchen – it’s a wonder you didn’t pass out. You’ve gone through so much in life my friend! I admire your courage and determination – not to mention your creative “signature” humor in writing – it’s so good! You are the BEST! I’ll be praying for Varoom Val’s 100% complete recovery.

  2. Your recovery is miraculous and your attitude is amazing! Glad you’re out and about.

  3. I am sorry you broke your leg but I love your story and your writing and you! Don’t ever stop writing. Maybe another book????

  4. oh Val, so sorry this happened, so glad you took the healing route, know now why the prayers changed to healing and strength when I drove south on 90th street. blessings

  5. This is perfect Val!!!!! You are amazing and you make THE MOST AWESOME banana bread! I love you and your writing! ?????

  6. Val-you did it again! Always look forward to your writing. I’m sorry for what you had to endure. So glad you took the route you did toward healing. Best wishes for continued joy & health. ? Holly

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain

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