I’ve never been a big fan of Greek mythology, but circumstances have forced me to become intimately familiar with Achilles.
Recall that Achilles was a powerful hero in Homer’s Iliad and the greatest warrior on the battlefield in Troy. When Achilles was an infant, his mother immersed him in the river Styx to make him immortal and invincible in battle, as the myth goes.
But she made a grave error by holding Achilles by his left heel when immersing him in the river, leaving the warrior with one weak and vulnerable spot — his Achilles heel. In the final battle of the Trojan War as the Greeks sacked Troy, some sharpshooter fatally shot Achilles in the heel with a poison arrow. Thus the term Achilles heel came to mean a person’s principal weakness.
Now I have myriad faults and weaknesses, I’m no warrior and the only Styx I know is the band that rocked the song “The Best of Times” in the ’80s. But like everyone else, I have two Achilles heels, and years of sports and jogging have taken their toll on them and left them tender. Early last month, I was unfortunate enough to rupture my right Achilles heel playing basketball. One moment I was scrambling for a rebound, the next moment I was on the floor in pain wondering who clubbed me in the back of the leg with a baseball bat.
The rupture represented several firsts in my simple life: My first major injury, my first surgery, my first (and ongoing) extensive recovery. The rupture also signaled that, at soon to be 42 years old, I’m now increasingly susceptible to injuries and health issues that come with age. Like Achilles the hero, we’re not invincible or impervious to harm. Despite being part of family and friends’ own health experiences, it seems to take a personal injury for that reality to truly sink in.
Still, I have to admit that the injury has reminded me daily of the wealth of positives in our life. My family has provided unwavering support, even when I’ve had some cranky days without my usual mobility and active pace. In particular, my wife has been nothing short of a saint, jokingly calling me “Miss Daisy” while driving me around town. Even my sons have cut me slack and showed maturity and patience waiting for their now hobbling Dad to keep up with them.
Friends have come by the house, some just to visit, others to provide comfort with a book. Some friends have taken me up on the offer to buy lunch or coffee if they pick me up for a date. The phone, e-mail and Facebook accounts have also been active. When you’re laid up and your usual routine is upended, the support is appreciated.
The injury has provided me moments of humility crawling up stairs and into the shower on my knees. It has increased my empathy and understanding for family and friends battling their own illnesses and injuries. It started as an unwanted interruption that has served as a powerful reminder of all that is valuable in our lives.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.