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Sultan: What does healing look like?
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Sultan: What does healing look like?

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Fall Colors

Autumn leaves frame up the view of the Meramec river at the top of Lone Wolf trail at Castlewood State Park in Ballwin on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. Photo by Troy Stolt, tstolt@post-dispatch.com

Even before I fell and broke my hand this week, ideas about healing had been top of mind.

My way of dealing with anxiety — both pandemic and political — involves frequent long walks in state and local parks. On one such walk, with my pup, Frankie, and a friend, I had been thinking about President-elect Joe Biden’s call to heal the nation after the most divisive election I’ve ever seen in this country.

We were a mile into a scenic and gravelly trail in Castlewood State Park when I lost my footing and fell onto the rocky path.

Rocks make an unforgiving landing pad.

My friend panicked when she saw me on the ground, head bleeding. I had put my hands out to catch myself and figured something had snapped when I felt the sharp radiating pain in my right hand and wrist.

Two kindly women stopped when they saw me lying on the path and heard my friend asking if she should call 911.

“Do you know where you are?” one of them asked. “Do you know what day it is?”

She said she was relying on her knowledge from having watched many medical dramas on television. As someone who claims my medical license from WebMD, I appreciated her expertise.

I managed to convince these helpers that I likely did not have a serious head injury. An older gentleman walked up to the scene, and the medical drama lady asked him if he had any snacks to give me. He offered trail mix and a Band-Aid for my head. I accepted both.

The last Good Samaritan to arrive turned out to be a nurse (no disrespect to the medical drama watchers, but I was relieved to have someone with nonfictional training chime in). She advised me to get to an orthopedic injury center instead of a regular emergency room, most of which are overrun with COVID cases now.

But before that, I had a daunting, immediate challenge to face: how to get down from the hilly trail. Going back the way we’d come up would be tricky because of steep inclines, but the slightly easier way down would add another two miles to our hike.

We opted to fashion a sling out of my friend’s jacket and take the longer path down. My hand, knees and nose started to swell along the way. My husband, who is still using oxygen while he recovers from a severe COVID infection two months ago, picked me up at the exit and drove me to an injury center.

We had some time to kill while I waited to get X-rays, so I switched from thinking about my personal physical healing to all the other types of healing needed in our country — emotional, relational, economic and racial.

Doctors can put my fractured hand in a cast, and the bone will eventually knit together. But how do we knit together a fractured nation? How do we begin to heal when opposing sides have two completely different versions of reality?

I’ve told my children that repairing bruised relationships requires taking responsibility for mistakes, hurtful words or actions, and then offering sincere apologies.

I am not expecting apologies from the readers who have sent nasty and insulting messages over the past several years. Nor do I expect to have the same kind of relationships with a few friends who revealed starkly different values than mine.

When I’ve asked others what needs to happen to heal the seemingly unbridgeable gaps in our society, I’ve heard suggestions like bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, better regulation of social media platforms that spread destructive misinformation, or a truth and reconciliation commission to put to rest conspiracies designed to destabilize our democracy.

Doctors told me that I might need surgery if the small broken bone behind my thumb gets displaced. I’m praying that a period of quiet and rest after the fall — and a long, painful hike back — will be enough to recover what was broken.

Wishing the same for our country.

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In this impending nightmare, people who desperately need medical care can’t get it because there isn’t enough space, staff or resources. We aren’t just talking about COVID patients; if a hospital is at capacity, it can’t take victims of heart attacks, strokes or car accidents, either.

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