Yep, I got injured abroad while abroad. This is what happened:
If you recall from a few posts back, I shared a photo of a happy, 20 year old me, standing in front of the Tower of London. In my hand, I held a lime green polio crutch, and promised to tell the story later.
Well, this is the story!
For those whom have never been to Mont St Michel in the Normandy region of France, you are missing out! As you near her, the Mont will rise like a gorgeous beacon, begging you to explore. She rises out of the ground, standing tall and fortified, surrounded by marshy ocean land, only accessible by a single road. As the tides rush in, she is surrounded by water, creating an island, and even the road can and will vanish under the sea. She is unique and definitely worth the visit.
Just be wary, as you should be all over Europe, of where you put your foot. As Americans, we aren’t used to having historic sights that are so worn from centuries and centuries of feet, and a slight dip in a step can bring you down. Way down.
“I’m so glad we’re friends.” Those were the words Sheb said as I fell down the stairs.
When I didn’t respond, she turned around, only to find me lying flat, blacked out, on the old, warped steps which led to the top of Mont St. Michel. My backpack broke my fall and kept my back from injury, however, it didn’t help my ankle at all. Somehow, walking down the steps in a state of euphoria, I rolled my ankle, crunched down on it, and did some serious damage. I didn’t have it officially looked at until returning to the states, buy after stepping on an acorn and ending up on crutches again, the campus nurse told me I had probably seriously damaged my ligaments (or something.)
A sudden nausea which washed over me as the most intense pain I have ever known pulsed through my body.
Someone stuck a sugar cube into my mouth to keep my from fainting and vomiting from the pain. And no- I have absolutely no idea where the sugar cube came from! But I ate it.
I really hope it was just sugar.
One of my classmates saw me fall, and rushed up the stairs to find our professors. English was his second language, with his adrenaline racing, he forgot the words he needed and simply said “Janelle fell!” What cracks me up the most is the hand gesture he used to go with his sentence – two fingers walking along his other hand, and then crumpling to the ground.
As I sat on these steps, on the brink of passing out, a Frenchman approached me.
While I am fully aware that all French people are not rude just like the media would lead us to believe, this particular Frenchman looked at me sitting there on the stairs, white as a ghost with my foot propped up, and said in a gorgeous French accent – “Move.” Ha! Sheb glared at him and said something along the lines of “Are you kidding me right now?!” She’s such a great friend!
Though I begged and pleaded, when another Frenchman asked if I needed the fire department to come check on me, my professors said it wasn’t necessary. Despite my pain, I really wanted a fireman to come check on me. My brain now went to how attractive French firemen would be! An accent and a uniform?! YES PLEASE! However, as I said, my wishes were cast aside, and they did not come. Instead, my professors and some other students became my human crutches and we spent the next couple of hours slowly hobbling down the stairs and alleyways. All the way from the very top to the very bottom we slowly went.
We will have a town doctor look at you!
I don’t remember why this didn’t actually happen – perhaps they were closed that day, or maybe the tiny tiny (did I mention tiny?) village we were in didn’t have a doctor, or he was off duty? I was loaded up into the hostel employees tiny European car and toted a mile down the road to the local pharmacy, which also had a condom dispenser mounted outside near the front door. The things you remember, right?
It’s good music, non?
My professors were inside the pharmacy trying to sort out a doctor, medicine, crutches- whatever was available for me. I sat in the car beside this guy who worked at the hostel, with his EuroPop playing. He kept trying to tell me who the artist was, the name of the song, etc, leaning in closer than most Americans are comfortable with. However, his English was so broken, I just kept nodding and smiling, praying my professors would emerge soon.
Keep in mind, I love EuroPop. Mika! Camille! Lily Allen! However, his version of it was more like EuroPop meets Electronica. Not so much. He turned the music up loader, the bass vibrating the car and making my now swollen ankle throb.
Nevermind, please go back inside.
While I sat in what had been a car but was now a techno club with this random dude, I kept wishing my professors would exit the pharmacy. I knew they would have language issues inside, but it seemed like they were gone forever. And then they emerged. With these lime green polio crutches! Why polio crutches? I still have no idea.
“It’s all they had!” I remember them telling me sadly. I had no choice, I was injured! It was only our second week of an entire summer abroad, and I needed to walk! Grumbling under my breath, I accepted them, and named them Leonardo and Raphael. I returned to the hostel, kicked my foot up, let my friends draw tattoos on it like you would a cast, and tried to make some awesome peach cobbler out of the terrible limes I had been dealt.
I spent a total of four weeks on the crutches, hobbling behind all my friends.
When we moved to London, my classroom was up the steepest set of stairs imaginable. Being in an older building, there was no elevator to take me to the third floor. My friends would carry my backpack up the stairs and I literally crawled up them.
Three weeks in, I was tired of using the polio crutches, and not having any motion in my ankle. I pushed against the pain, heard a loud pop, and attempted to put pressure on my foot. I could apply a small amount! After a few more days with Leonardo and Raphael, switched down to just a single crutch, and by week four, I was moving slowly but freely without them. It was such a relief! I limped all around Stonehenge, the Lake District, Ireland and Greece happily, and carefully.
Of course I wish I hadn’t fallen down the stairs. It has made me a super cautious person, always on the lookout for uneven surfaces. That summer, I had to sit out of several day trips because I couldn’t handle the terrain with my crutches. There were really awkward toilet breaks on moving buses and difficult showers on floating ships I had to cope with.
However, life has a way with curve walls. This was my stupid-expensive, painful, and loved summer abroad. I can now look back now at how humorous the entire situation was! In the end, everything was fine. I have only injured my ankle one other time since returning- one month after while it was still tender.
I’ve learned to travel with grace and humor, accepting that things won’t always go as planned, but it’s not the end of the world.
Have you had something really dramatic happen while traveling? How did you cope? Did you end up with absurdly colored crutches too? Share your stories and thoughts below!