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The Silver Linings of Downtime

I have been sidelined with an injury.

I would like to tell you that I wrestled with a badger and lost. I would like to tell you that I was chasing a coyote, stepped in a hole and wrecked my knee. I would like to tell you that while wade fishing, I was reeling in the biggest fish of my life, lost my balance and twisted my knee.

None of which would be true. Not by a long shot.

The truth is a spilled dog water dish, new tile floor in the kitchen and a couple of stairway steps got me. Yes, I slipped and went airborne. My knee went one way and I went the other way. To the emergency room I went!

This pic is from my emergency room visit. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Diagnosis by the orthopedic surgeon at Nebraska Medicine: Torn right quadriceps tendon above the knee and required surgery a.s.a.p.

Ouch! Bummer!

Within days, surgery takes place.

Now, the long, painful recovery process and physical therapy.

A view of the right leg bandaged, wrapped and in a straight brace after surgery in recovery/healing mode. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

I have to admit; being unable to participate in my favorite summer outdoor activities has been and continues to be tough on the body and the mind. Those of us who are avid outdoor enthusiasts have a reputation in the medical community as particularly bad patients because we often get too restless to allow proper healing time.

Trust me; I plan to be a completely compliant patient. Pushing my injury, I am told, may mean additional surgery and a much longer recovery time.

Therefore, here I am. House bound. Living solely on the main level of our 1 1/2-story home in the Metcalfe Park neighborhood area of Omaha with the help of my lovely wife, Polly. Seriously, I could not be functioning without her tremendous assistance. I am forever indebted.

My wife would be quick to let you know that her ‘outdoorsy’ husband is a difficult one to keep down.

She would say his primary outlet for fun, fresh air and fitness is shut down temporarily but has reverberated further than the actual injury.

For me, a Type A personality always on-the-go, the challenge of coping with day-to-day limitations, pain and discomfort is heightened by the loss of overall well-being. But I have discovered there can be silver linings to experiencing downtime beyond the Internet, social media and streaming services.

Here are some of the ways I have chosen to slow down, ‘smell the flowers’ and engage my outdoor lifestyle in a positive manner while being out of commission for a while. These may help you!

Choose a positive attitude. When we face large life setbacks, our minds can get clouded with negative thoughts. It is easy to get frustrated and filled with despair.

So I kept a handwritten mantra or positive statement written on pieces of scratch paper several places in the house. I would read and repeat it to myself multiple times per day when venturing from room to room as doubts would arise. My mantra: “I am getting healthier and stronger!”

One of my handwritten mantras placed around the house during my recovery from surgery to repair a torn right quadriceps tendon. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Be thankful for caregivers. The number one thing that helped me during my recovery was my wife, Polly, of 36 years, my caregiver. She helped me take a step back and find things in the moment to enjoy. Some kept me laughing and joking, but others were direct and honest. There were times where I’d feel angry and sometimes act out selfishly, and that was not good. Polly would react: “I know you’re mad, but you can’t let this injury beat you down. We’ll work through it together. You’ve got this, Greg.”

The bottom line: Caregivers are the lifeblood of recuperation. Be sure to express gratitude to those serving as your your caregivers if you become impaired!

My great caregiver. My lovely wife Polly Wagner of 36 years. Thank you for everything! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The opportunity to eat right. The double-whammy of injury comes in the form of consuming comfort foods. Chips, French fries, candy bars, ice cream, etc. all are too easy to grab when it comes to feeling sorry for yourself and your predicament.  Add to that being lethargic and having an overload of calories and increased inflammation from sugar, and you have the recipe for problems. Dietary discipline to refrain from junk foods has been important for me. I have done my best to ingest the good stuff and have been pretty good about passing on the foods I could get away with when I was more active.

I read somewhere that an injured person must think of this when they’re down for the count: “The you of the future will thank the you of the present when it doesn’t take months to return to your fitness shape before you endured the injury.”

Some of the healthier foods I have eaten during my recovery process from leg surgery. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Spend time outside when possible. Warm sunshine, calm breezes, refreshing rain, blooming flowers, towering trees, colorful birds and interesting insects. Just being outside in nature around your home is a wonderful thing, and crucial, I believe, to deal with a serious physical injury. There are an array of scientific studies that show nature possesses strong healing powers like improving your mood, boosting your immune system and increasing anti-cancer proteins in your body. All true! With my leg injury, stepping outdoors has proven beneficial for the body and mind.

Whether I am at rest sitting on the porch or harvesting zucchini in my wife’s vegetable garden, being outdoors amid nature has offered a calming effect and helped me to combat depression and anxiety.

Here I am enjoying the ‘sit outside’ perched on our porch. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE (Notice her reflection in the glass door taking the pic).
Checking my wife’s linear vegetable garden to harvest ripe zucchini. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Go through your gear. With the injury that has hampered me from getting outdoors to fish, boat, camp and hike, the recovery period has afforded me a good time to go through some of my outdoor gear (clutter, my wife says). As avid outdoor enthusiasts, we all have accumulated stuff that needs to be sorted and organized or even cleaned and fixed, don’t we?

Just think, by going through your outdoor equipment now, dividends will be paid in the future when you are able to take to your woods and waters. You will more easily find items before your trip and things will be fully functional.

An old box of outdoor gear I had before sorting and organizing. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Quiet reflection and visualization. By utilizing quiet reflection and visualization (meditation, if you will) of a favorite outdoor place, you can actually strengthen the same neural pathways in your brain without having to be there. Frequent quiet reflection and visualization helps to focus your mind on something that is pleasurable and soothing. Do not underestimate the power of quiet reflection and visualization.

Research has shown when we put ourselves in a beautiful, tranquil setting with our mind, we stimulate our brains. If you are recovering from an injury that drastically reduces mobility, such as mine, quietly reflect and visualize yourself with two healthy, fully functioning feet beneath you performing your favorite outdoor activity. In my case, this would be summer wade fishing the cool, clear, spring-fed trout waters of Nebraska’s East Verdigre Creek.

The picturesque waters of Nebraska’s East Verdigre Creek trout stream. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Set an outdoors-related goal. When injured, goal setting directly affects performance by increasing motivation and focuses attention towards a goal-relevant outdoor activity. Writing down your goal within the physician’s instructions for you, sharing it with a friend and having an accountability partner or two can greatly increase the possibility of meeting that benchmark.

My personal goal: To actively engage in Nebraska’s 2022 firearm deer hunting season with my brother, Steve Wagner and cousin, Mark Hintz. Opening day for it is Nov. 12.

A white-tailed deer doe feeds in grassy cover on a mild afternoon during a recent Nebraska Firearm Deer Hunting Season. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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