Sally Berkovic
Sally Berkovic

49 Days of the Broken Ankle

David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created in marble between 1501 and 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. David is a 5.17-metre (17.0 ft)[a] marble statue of the Biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence...David was originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, but was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of civic government in Florence, in the Piazza della Signoria where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The statue was moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica...Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were fixated towards Rome.
David's Ankle, Michelangelo. Wikicommons, photo: George M. Groutas, https://www.flickr.com/photos/22083482@N03/48170120556/

I am ready to perform the mitzvah of Counting the Ankle,
as it is written in the WebMD Bible:
You are to count seven complete weeks
From the end of the operation
On the day the cast was set and the Ankle immobile,
To the day after the end of the seventh week
you shall count fifty days…

Today is the first day of the Omer. It was surgery, not Seder and I am counting the unexpected kindnesses in the hospital. I was meant to be home, enjoying the Diaspora’s second Seder, but I fell on my ankle on Friday night and was whisked to hospital by our local Hatzala ambulance.  My ankle was thoroughly broken in 3 places and I was in agony.  I missed the first Seder, and as the charoset was being replenished for the second Seder, I was post-op, lying flat on my back.

Derek was the first nurse who told me his name. A lithe, gentle man from Ghana, Derek noticed the matzah that arrived with my Passover meal. He explained that he was a Seventh Day Adventist and asked if this was the unleavened bread of the Bible. His excitement was palpable, and I was delighted to off-load it onto him. He carefully wrapped the fragile pieces and the next morning he said they were ‘very tasty.’ For the rest of my stay he couldn’t do enough to help me, although it did come with the price tag of a bit of theology.  Speaking of kosher food, a box marked Kosher for Passover was delivered on the first Seder night, just as I was really feeling very sorry for myself. I opened it to discover a small Haggadah, a disposable Kiddush cup and a small bottle of grape juice. I almost cried, but I saved that for finally being released from the hospital. I was taken from the ward by two rather burly men who wheeled me into an ambulance, and when we arrived at my home, they quite literally lifted me in my wheelchair, took me up 15 steps and transferred me to my bed. They were anonymous angels whom I never saw again.

Today is the ninth day, making one week and two days of the Omer and I am counting the ways that people tried to cheer me up.

Flowers arrived from colleagues and friends. Punnets of strawberries were dropped at the front door. Hand-cream came through the post, as well as a book of poetry while bountiful, delicious meals helpfully arrived including a fruit platter on a magic carpet from Israel.  Friends who have had similar injuries reassured me that I will be fine – after all, they are now hiking, running and swimming.  I had made plans during the intermediate days of Passover to catch up with people and go for long walks but I had to tell them that I’d be sitting down for quite a while. Lovely texts of support and concern pinged on my phone. Never underestimate the power of what seems to you like an innocuous message saying ‘hello.’  In those early days, when I was feeling really rubbish and irrationally anxious that I would never walk again, those texts reminded me that I’d not been forgotten and that I mattered to someone.

Today is the eighteenth day, making two weeks and four days of the Omer and I am counting the minor indignities.

My dependence on others makes me feel vulnerable and hopeless. The pain, now largely under control, has dulled the brain so that I can’t focus properly and I’m half as efficient as usual. How many times can I ask for a cup of coffee?  I repeatedly count the stairs in my house. I come downstairs in the morning to sit in a well-lit room, and have my computer perched on a side table next to the sofa while my foot is elevated ‘toes above nose’ for most of the day.  Coming downstairs is done rather elegantly on my bottom, but what if I’ve forgotten my glasses or a cardigan upstairs…ah, the upstairs where the toilet has been elevated into a throne with a raised seat. Well, then we have the spectacularly inelegant bottom shuffle in reverse.

Today is the twenty sixth day, making three weeks and five days of the Omer and I am counting the silver linings.

I am so lucky. I have a job that I can do from home sitting down and am under no pressure to return to the office until I am ready. I have someone else at home who doesn’t flinch from the extra burdens I’ve created. I am grateful to have a friend who is an occupational therapist who kindly gave me invaluable advice about the extra bits of equipment I need. I count the number of little bruises on my thighs and around my belly button where I have had to give myself an injection of Tinzaparin every day to prevent blood clots. What a blessing that such medicine is available and what a relief I’ve finished its course. While I am not beyond self-pity, generally I’m a stoic, understanding that it could always be worse. And indeed, this broken ankle could have been a lot worse, but as history has taught us, this too will pass.

Today is thirty-nine days, making five weeks and four days of the Omer and I am counting the days till the cast comes off.

How much longer? Surely that’s the main question anyone asks their doctor. Six weeks with the cast, to start with and I count the days between appointments.  I count the nights sleeping on my back with this heavy cast raised. I count my chilly toes every couple of hours to make sure that they are still there. I count the number of times I lift my leg to try and give it some modicum of movement. I remember how I used to count the steps – nearly 20,000 a day – and now I can barely hop a dozen steps on crutches. Shortly I hope I will be in a boot, and I count the number of physiotherapy sessions I’m likely to need that will help me regain the confidence to walk again.

Today is the forty-fourth day, making six weeks and two days of the Omer and I am counting the days till I can get to Israel.

Two of our daughters live in Israel, so I am always counting the days till I see them next. For the last few years, we come to Israel for Shavuot, enjoy the rich offerings of lectures during the night, walk to Jerusalem’s ‘Tayelet’ for the prayers at sunrise and head to friends for a delicious breakfast. Obviously we could not travel last year and just as the skies opened and the bureaucracy melted, I was making plans to get there for this Shavuot. Now I am glued to the news, counting the rockets aimed at Israel, and as my daughters rush downstairs to their communal shelter, I pray they don’t break their ankles. I think of all those with disabilities who cannot run quickly, who are dependent on others to ensure their safety and I shudder.  It won’t be so bad to be stuck on the sofa, ready to count the two Diaspora days of the Festival.

Today is the forty-ninth day, making seven weeks of the Omer and I am counting the commandments.

We received the Big 10 on Shavuot – thousands of people gathered at Mount Sinai and  proclaimed their willingness to accept the obligations embodied in them. Rav Simlai taught that 613 laws were said to Moses [Talmud Makkot 23b] and they are enumerated by several rabbis, including most famously by Maimonides’ in his Sefer HaMitzvot.  

I count the commandments I enjoy, I count the ones I find difficult, I count the ones that exclude me and I count the ones I am particularly obliged to carry out. I count the ones that seem eternally relevant and I count those that seem to have no place in the modern world. I count the ones that are manipulated for coercive control and I count the ones that have compassion at their core, for it these that have sustained me over the last 49 days.

Although it’s not very communicative, my ankle is grateful beyond words for the unstinting  support and kindness of friends. Now I am commanded to carry out the exercises to strengthen my bones and build up my muscles. My ankle is counting on me.

About the Author
Sally Berkovic is the author of Under My Hat, now available on Amazon.com and fishburnbooks.co.uk A mix of memoir, sociology, history, and acute observations focusing on Orthodoxy and feminism, this 2019 edition includes a new, 75-page introductory essay reviewing the extraordinary changes in Orthodox women’s lives since the book was first published in 1997. Her writings are on her site https://sallyberkovic.com/
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