Fixing my normal

2016-10-17 11:49
‘I had a splint that covered the very tip of my toes till the very top of my thigh. I had more than 30 staples holding my leg in place. That was just my right leg.’

‘I had a splint that covered the very tip of my toes till the very top of my thigh. I had more than 30 staples holding my leg in place. That was just my right leg.’ (Supplied)

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I often pray and sometimes wonder about the beggar who stands in the middle of the street, a few roads away from where I live. His arms are nothing but two stumps and his legs seem far too scrawny to hold all his weight, yet he still stands. Ever since my mother and I were attacked in my car by a beggar, I’m wary of handing out money and food. With this beggar, however, I always keep change or something to offer. It’s not because I feel sorry for him; no, I see him as brave. He’s brave and I’m just lucky.

My life may be nothing like his. I have faced no hardship and I haven’t suffered the brutality of living in poverty but I think sometimes, in my own sort of way I might understand how he feels, where even a part of his body has let him down.

How does he wake up every day? How does he go through his morning routine? How does he live a life without the two limbs which we all take so much for granted? I haven’t seen him in a while. I pray that he’s alright.

I’m not brave like that beggar, where I could face the world without a limb.

I’m lucky. I could be fixed.

I’m learning how to walk properly, for the first time in my 24 years of life. Heel first and toes angled downwards. It’s an odd sensation, a novelty. My left foot feels spongy and my leg is cold from the brace still supporting it. I wear a set of mismatched scars on my legs, long and extremely visible. I don’t care, the scars are not important and I’m smiling. I can walk, without the fear of falling with each step I take. I can walk just like everyone else.

I’ve never been called the pretty one. I’ve never been called the most intelligent one or even the one who was most kind. I’ve always been known as the clumsy one. That was my title, my reference, the one thing that set me apart from everyone else. I was the one whom everyone made little jokes about, nudge-nudge, just wait till she trips over her own feet. She’s hilarious. Watch her walk, no wait, watch her run. I was the one who couldn’t control her feet. I was the one who didn’t ever look where she walked.

When I was little, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I thought I was clumsy too. I accepted what everyone said about me, and smiled with them. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I was just the same as my sister. So, when I fell — I always fell — I simply popped my kneecaps back in place, got up and went back to what everyone else was doing.

Falling became one of my quirks as a teen. “Don’t worry, she’s just clumsy”. I had an endearing trait, so cute, so like a child. By then I realised that I really wasn’t like everyone else. No one else had kneecaps that moved when they ran, no one else walked as funny as I did, like a little duck shuffling away. I couldn’t run as fast like everyone else, I couldn’t swim like everyone else either. I started really to dislike the physical education session that we all had to go to every week. I fell more and more often.

I still wasn’t brave enough to admit that something was wrong. I thought I would grow out of whatever was wrong with me. I had exams, I had books to read. I had other things to worry about. I should be grateful. There may be something odd about them, but I had legs and other people couldn’t say the same.

When I emerged from my teens, I couldn’t hide it any longer. Whenever I walked I would duck my head down, so no one could see who I was. I felt awkward, like everyone knew there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want anyone to remember the girl who didn’t walk right. I fell in all sorts of places, on the pavement, down the stairs, walking across the field. I ripped my pants and gained tiny little scars, purple and swollen. I started carrying a first aid kit in my bag. I always needed plasters to cover up my bleeding knees. I sometimes went limping for days.

I’d officially had enough. I didn’t want to carry on like this.

Visiting any doctor is never comforting. The rooms are either too cold or too warm, either filled with too many people or unnaturally silent. When I went for my X-rays, the nurses checked and triple checked what they were seeing. They couldn’t believe the photos that were being taken. They hadn’t seen anything like it. I was that odd.

Big words were thrown at me. I needed a dictionary, or maybe even a degree to understand the meaning. I could get as far as “osteo”, before my pronunciation failed me. All I knew was, I was going to get a couple of pins in my leg, cut a muscle there, put it together here, place a bone graft in the right place and there we go. I didn’t really need to understand the medical jargon properly. I would have a new leg.

In the beginning, it seems that once you’ve been operated on, then the hard part is over. That isn’t true. Being under and totally asleep, while a paid professional tinkers about your body, that’s the easy part. It’s what comes after that’s hard.

I couldn’t move my whole leg afterwards. I had a splint that covered the very tip of my toes till the very top of my thigh. It was uncomfortable sleeping, uncomfortable walking on crutches, and the weight of the splint heavy and cumbersome. I battled nausea and the pain was unbearable. It felt like someone had opened up my leg, scrambled my insides a bit and decided to sew me back together. I wasn’t even sewn together. I had more than 30 staples holding my leg in place. That was just my right leg.

I wonder if there are people like me, who don’t have the money to fix themselves like I did. What about the people without medical aid? What about those who can’t afford a hospital or a doctor’s consulting fees? Hospitals are expensive. On top of hospital bills, there’s anaesthesiologist bills, and fees for things you don’t expect going into hospital. Then there’s physiotherapy, and believe me that isn’t exactly cheap either.

The unexpected fees were one thing. Being bullied was the other.

It’s funny that when my knees were knocking together and I was falling down, I wasn’t really bullied. I was laughed at a little bit, but that I could handle. It was only while I was made better, “fixed”, that I was bullied. In crutches and a leg brace, I was an easy target. In making myself “normal”, I was laughed at and made fun of online. I lost a couple of friends, I found a couple of more wonderful human beings. I never knew adults could be as cruel as teenagers.

I’ve only managed to do my left leg a couple of months ago. In fact, it’s still a bit swollen and the scar is still tender and pink. I can drive though, with two legs with mismatched scars, so everything is worth it.

There have been some wonderful people who seem to look beyond the hobbling, crutches and scars. There have been car guards who take my trolley, lend me their umbrella and help me to my car. There have been cashiers who help me shop, crutch in hand, and people who stop and make conversation when I sit down on a bench, leg out awkwardly. They don’t stare or laugh. They ask questions and smile at my answers. These are the sort of people who make me want to run a marathon one day, the sort of people who believe that normal is boring.

I may look a little odd and sometimes walk a little bit weirdly. I may have some hardware in my leg, but I could be fixed. I wasn’t brave like everyone said I was, when they visited me in hospital.

I was lucky.

I wish everyone could be as lucky as I am. I know some can’t, so instead of looking at everyone as being normal or a little abnormal, I see those who are a little bit more special and stand in awe of their bravery. They have the courage to be who they are, so I have the courage to be who I am, scars and all.

Emie Govender says she hasn’t lived that long or done very much so there’s not really much to tell. She’s a graduate who is a bit too obsessed with her dog. She loves travelling but hates getting lost and is a bit too impatient for her own good. She’s a bit deficient at social media but is addicted to books, chocolate and coffee, all in that order. She knows what she wants, but right now is taking the scenic route and enjoying everything she can do, after all, she’s too young to have her life planned out.

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