By MARSHA MERCER
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said in a lecture the earliest sign of civilization is not a clay pot, iron, tools or agriculture.
To her, the earliest evidence of true civilization was a healed femur, the long bone in the leg. A healed femur showed that someone took care of the injured person – hunted on his behalf, brought him food and served him at a personal sacrifice, she said.
“Savage societies could not afford such pity,” surgeon and Christian author Dr. Paul Brand and co-author Philip Yancey wrote in the 1980 book “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.” Other authors over the years have also cited the story, although when and where Mead gave the lecture remains unknown. She died in 1978.
The story may be apocryphal, but it rings true to me.
A year ago on Oct. 23, I was out for my morning walk when I slipped and fell hard on a charming, but treacherous, brick sidewalk in Old Town Alexandria.
I got my first ride in an ambulance that day. An x-ray at the hospital revealed I had fractured my right femur in three places. I had never before broken a bone.
The orthopedic surgeon said more than once it was a shame the break hadn’t been an inch or so higher. Then, I could have had a hip replacement, which, he assured me, would have been a speedier, easier recovery than I faced. I never dreamed I’d wish I qualified for hip replacement.
The surgeon put me back together with a long steel screw, a plate and four pins and said it would be a year before I felt like my old self. I spent a couple of days in the hospital and a week at a hospital rehab center, learning to coax my right leg to move. At first, lying in bed, I couldn’t raise my leg at all.
I learned how to get in a car by sitting first and then picking up and moving my right leg. I reversed the procedure to get out.
A couple of weeks after it happened, I wrote in this space about my mishap. After covering health care policy as a reporter, it was eye-opening to be on the receiving end of care. I was, and am, impressed by the dedication of health care professionals.
An anniversary is a good time to reflect on what’s happened and what we’ve learned. My mishap, as disruptive as it was, helped prepare me for life during a pandemic.
When the novel coronavirus hit in March, I already knew what it felt like to be plucked from the reality I knew and dropped into a world I did not know.
I could not drive for eight weeks and learned to rely on other people. My mishap made me grateful for not only for medical personnel but for family and friends who cheered me on.
I arrived home with a walker and in a few weeks graduated to a cane. The cane, though, became a crutch and I gave it up months later only because the surgeon said it was time.
At first, a nurse, physical therapist and home health aide came to my house. For a couple of weeks, I felt uncomfortable taking a shower unless someone stood right outside the door, in case I needed help. Fortunately, I never needed any.
Life during a pandemic also makes you aware that risks lurk everywhere. Health officials continue to insist we’re safer at home. I already worked at home, but sometimes we have to go out.
I’d never feared falling before, but danger loomed large.
In my three-story townhouse, stairs were a challenge. For the longest time, I held onto the banister tightly and took the stairs one careful step at a time.
In December, once I was cleared to drive, I went to out-patient physical therapy. After the pandemic hit, I moved to online PT and then to exercise videos.
After a year, I’m glad to say my femur has healed and I’m practically my old self. I’m back to walking four miles a day. I take the stairs without holding on. I even walk on brick sidewalks.
©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.