About a month ago a very unexpected thing happened in my Krav Maga class and now that I’ve confirmed that I’ll live and I’m nearly recovered I’ll share this mostly humorous story with you.
Soon after New Years’s Eve here in Germany, also know as the black day when hundreds of women were attacked near train stations at New Year’s Eve celebrations, I was feeling concerned, frustrated and angry about the situation. I decided that it was high time I used my muscles and fitness for more than being fit and turn my body into a defensible fortress. To be a successful fortress you need a stout wall (check) with weapons and soldiers in the ready for defense (room for improvement). So, I opened my iPad and searched for self defense courses. This is a bit tough since, especially at that time, I knew very little German and wasn’t so adept at using website translators.
During my quest, I came across a Krav Maga studio. Now, I’d been considering training in Krav Maga for about a year but I hadn’t taken it up yet. I maintain many fitness type hobbies and sometimes it feels like I just don’t need one more – boot camp, yoga, hot yoga, bicycling, running, hiking, sometimes swimming. Although when I moved to Germany, I found the cold, wet, short days in winter to be a bit limiting for outdoor training and I’d switched nearly completely to a gym routine and some yoga. I figured I might as well give it a shot and see what I thought.
Krav Maga is hard, physically and mentally challenging, and incredibly awesome! Also, my instructors teach in German so my language teacher started to drill me on the parts of the body. The other students and instructors are nice enough to translate for me when needed. But, I love that I see a physical action and hear the instruction in German, before I get the English version. It’s really accelerating my ability to speak German. I train a couple of nights a week for an hour and a half. The class is a mix of jumping, push ups, defensive maneuvers, boxing, and here’s where the fun began a month ago, kicking…
The theme of the course varies from class to class and I like that it’s always a surprise. On April 29 the theme was boxing and kicking, all sorts of interesting kicks. Up to this point I hadn’t been properly trained to use the hips during a kick. I was progressing quickly, bringing quite a bit more power into the kick. My training partner even commented that I’d quickly become “the best girl kicker in the studio”, which of course caused me to “bring it” even more into training.
We were all warmed up and I was feeling good when Guenther said, “now we learn the flying kick”. Ok, he said something in German, but I’m pretty sure he said flying kick and I watched the demonstration and then I laughed. I instantly had a flash of the karate kid and his epic kick move at the end of the movie. Seriously, me, a women in her mid-thirties (I won’t say which side of mid) was going to execute a flying kick. I even thought, hmmm, maybe I should sit this one out. But, here’s the problem, I was the only girl at class that night, and like I said I was killing it. Endorphins were flooding my system, we’d been training for more than an hour and I was warmed up and still feeling strong.
So, I started to learn the flying kick. It actually came much more naturally than I expected. The objective is the push off with one leg and knee your attacker with your other leg, targeting the chest area. Thus, the flying element, the moment you lift off the ground and propel through the air toward your attacker. After learning the basic technique, I began to practice the move with increasing force until one time, when I began to enter the kick, pushing off on my left leg and I felt a pop on the back of my calf. I actually thought someone had thrown a racquetball or maybe one of the fake knives at me as a joke. Which would have been very strange because we’re serious about safety and people don’t joke around in class. It’s a very respectful environment.
I wasn’t immediately in pain, but I knew something might be wrong so I went to sit down and elevate my leg on a stack of blocking pads. After a few minutes it started to tighten up and hurt a little. Guenther applied some freezing spray to my calf, and I figured I better get home since I was done training for the night. Here’s when it got really interesting… I stood up and went to stand on my leg, the same one I’d been leaping off of moments before, and it wouldn’t hold any weight. Nothing. I could not walk.
Now, this has happened to me once in my life when I was training for a marathon and my knee basically froze up exactly halfway through a 10 mile run. That time I was with my husband and we found a nice lady to give us a ride home. This time was quite different. My husband was in North Carolina, my mode of transportation was a bike, and I suddenly realized I’d left my wallet at home. Oh, and it was 9:30 at night… I have to admit I haven’t felt quite that perplexed and alone in a very long time.
I started to assess my options. The good thing is I had my iPhone and the number of my fiend Tilghman. We’re both over here as expats away from our families and we’ve basically become family. I suddenly realized she’s my person here in Germany. I was so happy when she answered the phone and then together we went into problem solving mode. My classmates encouraged me to order an ambulance. In Germany everyone is entitled to care, with or without insurance, so they reassured me they’d pick me up even without ID. Ok, which number to call…but Guenther took care of ordering the ambulance.
The next thing was to figure out how to get my wallet which was locked in my apartment. Tilghman offered to pick it up and my neighbors had a key from watching my cat. So, I called Thomas and asked him to let in my friend Tilghman to grab my wallet. I’m so glad I’ve met my neighbors and they’re wonderful, helpful people.
This is when I was reminded that the next morning I needed to drive to Frankfurt to pick up my parents who were in Seattle waiting to catch a ten hour plane ride across the ocean. Now, how was that going to work if I couldn’t walk??? I decided to figure that out later. At this point I just needed to wait for the ambulance. My class-mates were kind enough to put all my gear in my bag for me. I commenced my self diagnosis quest on Google to figure out what had happened to my calf. I googled “I was jumping and it felt like a ball hit my calf”. I quickly found link after link on calf muscle tears. One of them was so kind to point out it was a “common injury in men in their 40s to 50s”. Now, that really made me feel so much better (insert sarcasm here).
At this point, I’ll admit, I started to feel pretty bad for myself and I was on the verge of tears. But I was at a fighting studio, no place to cry, and I fought to hold it together. I thought, what the heck am I doing at a Krav Maga studio in Germany, alone, injured and in pain. Of course these thoughts don’t help, so I pushed them away and kept googling. Guenther was kind enough to stay with me and after about 20 minutes the ambulance arrived.
The driver and his assistant walked in to assess the situation. The conversation began in German and when I responded in English the first question was…you guessed it… “Do you speak German?”. Followed by the warning, “otherwise this will be difficult”.
So, picture the scene, I’m sitting in the lobby of the sports studio with my leg propped up on a chair, in a lot of pain, sweaty and unable to walk, and I’m expected to muster all my command of German to get some help. Surprisingly, I pulled it together, switched on the German side of my brain and described what happened in my best attempt at Danglish (Deutsch + English). I confirmed that “Ich Kann nicht Laufen”. At which time they brought in the German version of a wheelchair. Quite a funny contraption. I hopped over to the chair on my right leg and carefully settled in. Then they secured the five point harness, I’m not kidding, and we proceeded to the ambulance. I flash back now on much more pleasant occasions when I wore a five point harness – riding shotgun in a stock car on the Nascar track in Vegas, for instance. This was not such an occasion. Just for posterity, I asked Guenther to take a picture, because this was too comical to miss.
I was lifted into the ambulance and then strapped in for the five minute journey to the hospital in my neighborhood. I often walk or jog by this place, particularly because there is a fine collection of yarn bombing on the parking poles. Now, I had the chance to go inside. But first, I had the exhilarating experience of trying to text my friend the name of the hospital. Sounds simple, not so much when you’re typing on an English phone in German. Autocorrect is not helpful. After 5 attempts I got it right and off we went.
A few minutes into the ride the seriousness of my situation and the uncertainty around the seriousness of my injury started to hit me. I also remembered again that I needed to pick up my parents at the Frankfurt airport in the morning. And, I’ll admit it, I started to cry. The attendant became concerned, was I hurt? No, I responded, I’m just being a crazy girl. To which there was much relief and laughter. The forms were completed and then we arrived at the emergency room.
By now, I was really speaking almost exclusively in German, explaining my living situation and that I was originally from California, to which I got the typical question: “can you surf?”. For a moment I was distracted from my situation as I responded that yes, I can surf and ironically, I’d learned to surf in Surf City, North Carolina. I don’t know if they got it, but it made me happy to remember learning to surf.
As we chatted about surfing and California, the check in guy walked down the hall, looking for all the world like a California surfer dude. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. He confirmed that California was awesome and I was instantly cool in his book. No insurance card, no problem, just wait in the lobby and we’ll get you a doctor. I settled in for what I expected to be an hour or two of waiting. A guy in athletic gear hopped by on one foot, he had severed his Achilles’ tendon. Yikes! That gave me some perspective.
After about ten minutes I was called in to the examining room. Mercifully, the doctor was fluent in English. He had also trained some in Krav Maga at the same studio as me. I described to him what happened and he was a bit puzzled by my lack of obvious physical swelling to accompany the severe pain. So he sent me off for an ultrasound. By this time, Tilghman had joined me with my wallet. That was a relief. We laughed together at the absurdity of my situation. It also turned out to be handy to have a wheelchair pusher because they sent us out to navigate the empty halls ourself. The sweet ultrasound technician asked me the innocent question, “why are you in Germany”, which at that moment became a philosophical debate in my head as I lay in an emergency room…in Germany…with a useless leg. Hey, what doesn’t kill you, you know the rest…
Nothing was found obviously damaged and I was pretty much told that I should be able to walk out. No crutches, no brace, no muscle relaxers. This was old school! With the confirmation that there didn’t appear to be serious damage, I tenderly put weight on my foot. Slowly, carefully, with great pain, I was able to hobble. Clutching my prescriptions for pain meds and ibuprofen we went off in search of a 24 hour pharmacy. Mercifully we found one that was open. I borrowed Tilghman’s wanderen pole to hobble up to the window and buy my meds and some ice packs. Yeah, we’re back the ice shortage challenge. Instant ice was not possible, I had to tough it out for the night.
All the sudden I was hungry, not surprising considering it was 11 pm at night. So, where else to go but McDonald’s?! Just what we needed at that time of the night. Bonus: they have a drive thru, no walking required. Now, I’m nearly recovered and I’m pretty sure that what I had was a type 2 calf muscle tear. I took away from this a strong desire to restart my yoga practice, warm up and stretch to be a little more careful with my aging muscles. I hope to be up and kicking again soon.