Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Stress Fracture Diary: Do's and Don'ts of Interacting with Injured Athletes
Over the last six weeks, I've had a lot of conversations with a lot of people in my life: family, friends, co-workers, strangers, other runners, students- all about my injury. When you're moving around on a knee scooter and wearing a boot, it's bound to come up in conversation.
Out of those interactions, there have been some that have been positive and helpful and then others that have pissed me off or made me cry. So, if you don't want to make your injured friends cry, check out my tips below on how to interact with the injured runner.
DO ask someone if they need help.
Scooters/wheelchairs/crutches are tough to get around on. If you see someone struggling with steps, a door, carrying something, simply ask, "Can I help you with something?" It can be a huge help to those of us with mobility issues.
DON'T stare, point, or laugh at someone using a knee scooter.
Seriously, this has been the WORST part of being injured. I can't tell you how many people point, snicker, stare, etc. when they seem me walking by. Yes, I get it- knee scooters aren't that common and you've probably never seen one before. But really, would you stare and point at someone in a wheelchair? No, I didn't think so. It's rude and annoying. So please, if you see someone on a knee scooter, just make eye contact, smile, and don't stare at their medical device.
DO remember that there are still other things going on in their life outside of the injury.
Every conversation I have doesn't have to be about my foot. Trust me, there are some days that I just want to talk about anything but running or my injury. Respect an injured athlete's feelings and boundaries on what they are comfortable sharing or discussing. And ask them about other areas of their life- work, family, traveling, etc.
DON'T assume you know everything about their injury or how it happened.
Just after I got diagnosed, when everything was still shocking and sad, one of my college students said to me, "Oh I guess you got that from running. You shouldn't run so much." Even typing it now, I'm still furious. Please don't assume you know how someone got hurt or why they got hurt. And even if you do, rubbing it in is only guaranteed to make someone feel worse.
DO ask permission to ask about their injury.
I can't exactly describe why, but constantly hearing "OMG! What happened?!?!" especially from people I don't know is infuriating. If you'd really like to know, try asking, "May I ask what happened to your foot?" Then I have the opportunity to decide if I want to share that information with you or not.
DON'T treat someone's body like public property.
No, you can't touch my foot- or my scooter. No, you don't get to talk about me in the third person while I'm in earshot. No, you can't ask me tons of questions that are invasive- especially if you are a stranger. No, you don't get to disturb me when I'm trying to relax and ask me 20 questions about how my scooter works and does it hurt and how long do you have to wear the boot. Just no.
DO show empathy and care by relating to the person.
The best interaction I had was when a random runner came up to me at the Marine Corps Marathon and said, "That sucks. I'm so sorry." I thanked him profusely. Don't underestimate a simple statement that says 'I get it and I'm sorry this happened.'
DON'T try to comfort someone by saying "but there'll be other races!"
Yes, I'm not a moron. I know there will be other races besides the ones I'm missing. But that doesn't mean I can't mourn for the races I won't be able to participate in. Matthew and I agreed that this year would be our last (for a while) Wine & Dine and Marathon Weekend. It sucks that I'm missing them- and it still sucks even though I know there will be other races in the future.
DO realize that this person may be in a lot of pain- physically and emotionally- for a long time.
Yes, most injuries only last a few weeks or months. But the mental impact can last for much longer. Having an injury feels like a betrayal- like you can't trust your body anymore. And that can spill over into other areas of your life and in general, just bring up a lot of feelings. Try to remember that your friend may still be in pain, long after you think they "should" be.
DON'T say "Well, that looks like fun!"
Seriously, if one more person looks at me and the scooter and says, "Wow! That looks like so much fun! Bet you're having a blast!" I might snap. No part of this is fun. Trust me, you don't want to ever have to be non-weight bearing for six to eight weeks. The novelty of a scooter wears off the minute you struggle to get it into your car or you have to take it "off-roading" or you just want to get up in the middle of the night to pee without wheeling it around.
There you have it- my tips for not getting knocked out by your injured friends. I hope you enjoyed this post and you'll be able to use something here the next time someone you know is injured- which I hope is never :-)