Recovering from a broken bone in a holistic way (and keeping a positive attitude) can be a definite challenge! Hilary Wardle is a holistic nutritionist and is the founder of The Green Hil, a place for sharing, inspiring and cultivating a positive community celebrating whole foods. During an anniversary weekend getaway with her husband and dog, she slipped and fell on the stairs and broke her fibula and tibia in two places and needed surgery to repair and rebuild her ankle. While she was at the doctor she got some unexpected but very exciting news.
We chatted with Hilary about big news, some of the most impactful things that she’s done to help recover and what she’s learned along the road to recovery.
WEHL: Tell us a little about yourself and why you became interested in holistic wellness.
HW: Growing up I was always sick – constant stomach aches, colds, infections. I had a ‘weak immune system’. In university while studying Radio and Television Arts, I was hit with chronic strep throat and was on and off antibiotics for months. I felt terrible, weak and my not-so-solid digestion was worse than ever. I went from doctor to doctor trying to get answers and was put on a 9-month waitlist to see a gastroenterologist. When I finally saw him, without any testing, I was told (within 10mins) I had IBS and was prescribed a medication. I left that appointment in tears feeling unheard, overlooked and dismissed. Taking another medication didn’t feel right to me and since the only ‘help’ I was getting came in the form of another prescription, I started looking at natural approaches to heal. As soon as I started reading and doing my own research into holistic health and nutrition it was like a light went on – it just made sense! I made changes to my diet and saw major improvements in my health and overall life. What began as a way to relieve some pain, quickly evolved into a passion. I felt inspired and empowered and years later, I still do.
WEHL: What is your philosophy on wellness?
HW: I like to say that wellness is a journey. Often times we think of health as a destination. If I do X,Y,Z then I will be healthy and happy. If I lose 10 pounds, if my acne clears, if I go to spin class everyday, etc. But I believe wellness is a constant practice, that evolves and changes as we do. Our bodies change, our environments change, our hormones change and we must continue to adapt and grow. In order for real healing to take place, it must happen inside. Developing a positive relationship with yourself, your body, your environment, your food – is so important to how you feel and move through life. You can drink all the green juices and do all the yoga but if you are not in tune with yourself, what’s it all for? I think wellness is more about having an ongoing conversation with yourself and honouring what that is.
WEHL: Why did you decide to become a holistic nutritionist?
HW: To be honest, for me it wasn’t about becoming a holistic nutritionist in practice, I just wanted to learn! I was on my own healing journey, working closely with a holistic nutritionist while I worked full-time in television marketing. I spent hours at work reading about nutrition, putting things into practice in my own life and sometimes preaching it to others. I saw my body change and heal and noticed huge shifts in my own mind and spirit too. It was like I had awoken another part of myself. I wanted to learn more and found a program that sounded really interesting. I was nervous to share the news with my family and Dave, but everyone was extremely supportive, having seen how passionate about natural health I had become. A few months later, I left my job and started a full-time 11-month program in Toronto.
WEHL: What happened to your leg/foot?
HW: My husband, pups and I went up to our favourite little cabin on Lake Superior at the end of August to celebrate our anniversary and spend some time alone together. On the last night there was a terrible storm and I slipped on some stairs and fell. Dave re-set my ankle which had been dangling off to the left of my leg and since we were out of cell range and totally secluded in the woods, he packed Winnie and I up in the car and started driving to the hospital – a little over an hour away. I don’t really remember much from the pain and going in and out of shock, but Dave blasted some 90’s/00’s pop and made me sing along (I remember TLC’s No Scrubs playing repeatedly). I was immediately administered pain meds and sent off for x-rays.
I had broken my fibula and tibia in two places and needed surgery to repair and rebuild my ankle. I spent the weekend in the ER with a temporary plaster cast waiting for surgery, hooked up to IV’s receiving strong meds for pain consistently. Surgery went well, pins/plates/screws were installed in my new ankle and more X-rays were taken to check things out (I also had badly sprained my right ankle, which they thought could also be fractured so it was X-rayed as well). I remember mentioning there was a chance I could be pregnant since Dave and I had been trying, but it was too early for testing and my leg took priority. About a week and a half later, it was confirmed, I was in fact pregnant! The last few months have been a bit of a rollercoaster recovering from the accident while being pregnant. It’s a pretty uncommon situation, so there have been some complications and unforeseen challenges.
WEHL: It must be very difficult living and working with a broken foot; how have you adapted?
HW: It definitely hasn’t been easy but I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of support and help. Our situation is a bit complicated. Dave is currently completing an 8-month work placement at a hospital 3 hours away from our home. The plan was for me to continue to work and live with Winnie at our home and commute on the weekends but the accident changed all that! I’m not able to live alone right now since I can’t drive and I can’t walk. During the first two months (my first trimester), I needed a lot more help and stayed with Dave’s parents up north (where his placement is) and then spent time in southern Ontario with my parents. Recovering from surgery with an additional sprained ankle, without pain medication and while experiencing some of those not-so-pleasant first trimester symptoms (specifically, exhaustion and nausea), was not easy and I needed ALL the help.
Thankfully, I’m a lot more mobile and feeling stronger now that I’m in my second trimester, but I’m still not living at home, driving or able to work. I’ve been focusing most of my energy on healing, recovering and getting back on my feet. I’ve made that my job. Being pregnant throughout all of this, has really made me focus on myself and my healing. I love to work. I love my jobs. As a bit of a busy-body, along with The Green Hil, I also work as the holistic nutritionist at an incredible organic store and as a baker at a vegan bakery and coffee shop that has been like my second home. Being away and unable to help out has been difficult. I miss the people and the work, but my health and the health of babe takes priority and I’m really fortunate that I am able to focus on that alone. I’m hoping that in the new year, I’ll be getting back on my feet and able to take on more, but I’m taking it day by day, remembering not to put that kind of pressure on myself. For now, I’m happy to be sharing my experience online and connecting through my blog and Instagram.
WEHL: What do you think has been the most impactful thing that you’ve done to help recover?
HW: Taking care of myself mentally and spiritually has been HUGE. Like any type of healing – there’s no quick fix and it can be a slow process, so having a positive attitude has been incredibly helpful. Celebrating the small improvements, speaking kindly to myself, expressing gratitude. Even through all the trauma and pain, my body is creating a life! It’s the most magical thing and every day I feel so blessed. Having something so incredible to focus on, has in a way made this journey easier. There have been set-backs in my recovery, most recently the diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a chronic pain disorder. Of course I get upset and discouraged but I’ve learned it’s OK to feel that way and cry and let it out, and then I pick myself up and get back to work. Journaling, meditating and confiding in people, has all really helped. Of course, regular physiotherapy, eating well and getting lots of sleep and rest have been super important too!
WEHL: We are learning that our minds can help our bodies heal. What are some things that you are doing to keep yourself happy and positive?
HW: I couldn’t agree more! Having a positive attitude has been so vital on this journey. Honestly, this babe has been my light through this. Every positive blood test, ultrasound, seeing my belly grow, feeling those first kicks, hearing the heartbeat – has been a reminder of the most magical gift. Immediately my mood is lifted. When I’m feeling down or discouraged, I reach for my journal or phone to call my mom or sister. Venting, writing and talking helps release the fear, stress and negativity. Creating a gratitude list – literally writing down every single thing you are thankful for, can help put things in perspective too. And laughter!!! A good book, frivolous TV show, or a date with friends that lift you up. Surrounding yourself with things/people that make you smile is so important and can help soften the times that feel really hard.
WEHL: What are some activities/exercises that you are doing to help?
HW: I’ve been trying just about everything to help speed up my recovery and get back on my feet since it’s not going to get any easier as time goes by. With the increase in blood volume, weight gain and reduced circulation (hello swollen ankles), the pregnancy definitely complicates things. I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist twice a week, which has been really helpful. Our main goal is to get my range of motion back in my ankle – it’s key to being able to walk/bend/squat again. There are a selection of exercises that I practice multiple times a day, strengthening and stretching the leg and ankle.
With the more recent diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, we’ve also been working on pain desensitization that includes manual manipulation and hot + cold therapy – neither of which are pleasant, but have certainly been helping. We’ve also done some cupping to reduce swelling and improve circulation and most recently have been using a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine to stimulate the nerves and help with pain. I’ve been using a cryotherapy cuff (looks like a boot hooked up to a cooler that circulates ice/cold water) two-three times a day for a few weeks now and that has definitely been helping. At night before bed I have a little routine where I rub my growing belly with shea butter and then massage an essential oil blend on my leg and foot – it smells amazing and is supposed to help with pain and muscle/joint/bone healing.
And thank goodness for movement!!! Being unable to work out, let alone walk, has been extremely challenging for me. As soon as I was feeling well enough, I got Dave to put some light weights beside my bed/couch so I could start strengthening my arms/shoulders/back. And once I could crawl around, I dragged a yoga mat beside me so I could lay on the floor and stretch. Once my sprained ankle got stronger, I was able to crutch around more. I would do “laps” from the kitchen to the couch, trying to get my heart rate up and blood flowing.
Over time I’ve been able to do more and extend my workouts. I usually spend 20-30 mins crutching/walking followed by 30 minutes of either an upper body strength training workout or a pilates style mat routine. Now that I’m in my second trimester, I’m having to re-evaluate and adapt what I’m doing since typical core strengthening exercises are not recommended. I’m learning as I go and listening to my body as it changes.
WEHL: Have you done any mindfulness or meditation? Have you found that has helped?
HW: I used to have a pretty regular meditation practice at home. Nothing super formal but first thing in the morning I would have some warm water, burn some palo santo or sage and just spend 10-20mins of uninterrupted thoughtful breathing on my mat followed by some journaling. It’s a nice way to start the day and helps calm my sometimes busy mind.
Although I haven’t kept up with that daily practice, I do still journal regularly and take time to consciously focus on my breath, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed. At times when I can’t sleep or am feeling anxious with my mind racing, I sit or lay still, close my eyes and focus on breathing deeply, eventually settling into a square breath. I inhale for a count of four, hold the air in for four, exhale for four, hold for four and repeat. I find the pace and sequence very calming and centring. I also love meditating with a mantra – it can help me focus and give me strength when I need it.
WEHL: Overall, what are you learning through this difficult time in your life?
HW: Oh my goodness – SO many things. Patience for one! Learning that some things take time and there’s nothing you can do to rush or force it into being. Along the same lines, I’m learning I can’t control everything. I’m a fairly easy-going person, but in my own day-to-day life I can be pretty controlling. This experience has really shown me that I am definitely not in control and I’m continually learning to trust in the process/universe/plan. More importantly, I’ve been reminded of the incredible support and love I have surrounding me. I think sometimes we get so busy or caught up in our own stuff and feel alone. The last few months I have been shown such incredible kindness, love, strength, and support from family, friends and even strangers. It’s a reminder that there is help when we need it. It’s been truly incredible and I am so grateful for it.
WEHL: Tell us about the coconut milk hot chocolate that you’ve been making. Can you share the recipe?
HW: This time of year my body wants all the warming things! The cold weather always has my body craving more fat and richer foods and this pregnant body is no different – except that it also wants chocolate, like A LOT. As soon as the snow fell, all I wanted was a hot chocolate. I grew up drinking the packaged stuff – tasty but ALL processed sugar and additives. I wanted to make a hot cacao that still tasted delicious but was going to nourish my growing body and babe, so using some of my favourite foods I blended up this frothy, rich and satisfying recipe.
- Gently simmer 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, 1 pitted medjool date and 1 tbsp coconut butter for 10mins.
- Pour into a high speed blender with 1 tbsp raw cacao powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, pinch of pink salt, cayenne (optional) and collagen (optional).
- Blend on high and enjoy!
- If you want an extra boost add in your favourite potion – I love adding chaga, maca, cordyceps, he shou wu, and tocos.
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