I Believe Now

I arrived on May 23, 2010 to a small rural community in Costa Rica and found out that the best integration strategy was to join the women's soccer team.   Although I was a disaster - play better now - I decided to learn and practice soccer with the team more than twice a week until I couldn’t do that anymore.

It was a Sunday evening on mid-June of last year and by that time I already had soccer cleats.  I was still new to this sport so I didn't know I was supposed to wear certain gear that would protect my feet from falls or knee from being twisted as I learned it’s one of the most dangerous sports in the field.  For this game, we had match with the kids' team but it was like we played with the men's team - they were fast (er), lighter, slicker and handled the ball better than we did although we had to be careful since they were smaller and could get hurt easily.  In my town, soccer is one of the most important sports so age differences were no exceptions.

It's second half, game is about to finish.  The women's team has the ball, I receive a pass but my opponent steals it from me.  We play.  Moments later, I am on the side of the soccer field, playing forward left-field, I see the ball in the air coming to my direction.  As my opponent and I try to jump as high as possible to do a front header, I'm able to hit the ball but I fall.  Not any fall.  I fall and all my body weight falls on my left ankle and twists.  I yell, "ahhhhhhhh".  I'm in pain.  But game continues. I get up before I am smashed and jump one-legged towards the side of the field. I cry.  Take off my socks. I cry.  Take off my cleats. I cry even more.  And there it was.  A big bump right on my left ankle that got bigger and bigger as timed passed.  Game ends.  People see me in pain.  The guys from the men's soccer team carry me to a soda (small restaurant) as quickly as possible so I can sit.  They see my ankle and start to worry.  I can't walk.  Ankle is swollen.  Next thing I know the entire town is near me.  The kids were worried.

Community members were worried.  I was worried.  They put ice on it. Pain.  They wanted to take me to the hospital but that violated Peace Corps protocol. 

After I called Peace Corps medical duty phone, I was in a private clinic in San Jose the next morning.  X-rays showed I had a grade-2 sprained ankle and was giving crutches that would enable me to mobilize until my ankle got better in two months.  I was given strong pain medicine that helped me a lot but not enough.

I returned home to what were the most depressing, painful, and humiliating two months of my life.   I couldn't work in the field. I couldn’t help at fundraisers or attend or facilitate meetings.  I couldn't leave the house since I had to walk on crutches in unpaved roads.  My host family had to help me make my bed and clean up my room.  I couldn't do the dishes.  I once tried to take the plates on my own from the table to the sink and fell. I cried.  My host brother had to carry me to the bathroom every time I had to shower.  The person that couldn't stay still had to stay still for days and it hurt: me.

Community members came to visit me.  Some brought goodies which broke my heart.  They truly cared.  I was touched they cared for a stranger that just arrived a month ago.

August arrived and I still couldn’t walk.  There were nights where I a friend of mine held my hand and said, “ok, let’s try and see if you can put that foot down.”  I said, “ok but don’t let go; if you let go I will fall.” So I put my crutches away and held his hands. I slowly lower my leg and attempt to make one step with my left foot.  I failed.  The pain I felt when I attempted to walk with that foot was so strong I started to cry.  But in reality I cried because I didn’t get better.  I still wasn’t able to walk and I was already tired of waiting, of feeling useless.

In Costa Rica there is this thing called sobar and it’s used for all kinds of pain: stomach pain, muscle pain, etc.  Sobar is when a massage is giving to someone repeatedly in certain parts of the body depending on the source of the pain.  It’s done by people that are not doctors although nowadays people that are ‘sobadores’ have become physical therapists.  In my town, sobar is a very popular way of curing pain without having to go travel 20 kilometers to find a doctor and it’s cheap too.  Since my accident, I was told several times, “Elisa, deberias de ir a sobarte y veras que vuelves a caminar”.  For two months, I refused to go to a sobador because I was scared I’d get hurt and instead of curing me, my pain would prolong.

By the end of August I was so desperate I decided to go to a sobador.  My host family suggested I call a lady that lived in Nicoya to schedule an appointment and I did.  A week later, not sure of what I was doing, I hopped into my host brother’s car and 30 minutes later we were at her house.  Still with my crutches, I struggled to climb her entrance stairs but the guys that were with me helped me up and said, “this will be the last time you will use these crutches, we promise”.  Tears.   

"knock, knock”. 

"Doña Melania, ya llegamos!”.  

And she looks at me and says, “when did you hurt yourself?”

In July.

Why are you still using this? pointing at the crutches”

I haven’t been able to walk.

"sit”

There was a tall chair and a small chair.  I sat on the tall one as she needed to be lower than me to look at the leg.  She examines the leg. Looks at the sprained ankle. 

Ah, ja!. You feel this right here, touching the back of my leg, there’s a ligament that is misplaced and hasn’t been able to adjust. As I try to ask her questions, she puts lotion on her hands and says, “you will feel pain four times”

You mean now or later?

She takes my entire leg and massages the back from my knee to my ankle with such an amazing strength I….

PRAHHH-PRAHHH

I cry.

Ok now two more. She takes my foot and does some weird massages to it until I…”

PRAHHH-PRAHH.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

"Done. Now try to walk without the crutches. And stop crying”

I refused.  I tried it before and it was very painful.  I was scared.  Scared of trying again and failing.  Tyring again and not walking. My friends held my hands and told me to try, that I must try.  I got up, still with my leg hanging like I had it while using my crutches.  I slowly put my leg down.  Scared.  Slowing placing my leg to press my foot against floor to make my first step.  Step, left foot. Step, right foot.  The pain wasn’t there anymore.  Step, left foot. Step, right foot. Until I see myself walking inside her living room.  I smile.  I cry.  I thank her.  My friends are happy.  I am happy and now I believe. 

"Great. You see.  You could've been walking  and playing a long time ago.  Now, $10 please."

I arrived home and everyone was happy to see I was walking without the crutches.  “you see, we told you; you didn’t want to believe,” my host mom said. 

All I was able to say is that now I do believe.  Now I do. 


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