A fear of stairs isn’t something that Rouzalin Hakim ever imagined she’d experience. A self-described “go-getter”, there was nothing that this fitness fanatic could imagine that she couldn’t overcome. She questions that belief right now but knows it’s still in her to lean on.
A fear of stairs isn’t something that Rouzalin Hakim ever imagined she’d experience. A self-described “go-getter” and “adventure seeker” there was nothing that this workaholic and fitness fanatic could imagine that she couldn’t overcome. She questions that belief right now but knows it’s still in her to lean on.
Not many months ago her feet were firmly planted. She knew exactly who she was. But her recent amputation has left her searching to describe herself and find her identity again. “All those things that I felt proud of, and safe in, and looked forward to, have been altered,” Hakim shares. “It’s really hard to plan ahead right now. There are a lot of fears.”
Hakim was born in Egypt and moved to the U.S. when she was five years old. Spending most of her youth in New Jersey she moved to Toronto with her family at 17. A stint in Australia for a couple of adult years notwithstanding, Toronto is home for the 35-year-old. Her father had worked in the U.S. prior to the move and recognized that, being Christian, North America offered more opportunity for his two daughters.
After high school, one of his daughters followed an academic path earning her a PhD. The other, Rouzalin, jumped into the work world right away. “I’m a Jill-of-all-trades,” she laughs. “I’m very versatile but it seems that this type of work has followed me wherever I’ve gone. It’s one of those skills which you have or you don’t.” Today Hakim works for an information technology dispatch firm.
“I’ve found that it’s okay to struggle as much as I need to right now. As long as it’s not consuming me. I am owning it and it’s very personal. The physical and mental changes are hard and scary, but I know I’m not alone. I’m just unique."
Hakim lost her left leg above the knee in a single vehicle accident. Travelling home at night from her gym in Oakville her motorcycle hit debris on the road. It was a highway off-ramp that she had navigated hundreds of times. She collided with the median. “I was an experienced conscientious rider,” she offers, “but motorcycle versus median. Median wins.” That was late August, 2021.
Sunnybrook Hospital would be her destination that night and St. John’s to follow that… eight weeks in total. She had never heard of either place. She describes her two weeks at Sunnybrook as a time of shock, confusion, disbelief, and guilt, which she stills carries with her. “I had a lot of trouble believing that this happened to me. I didn’t know much about the circumstances of the accident at the time except that I caused this myself. It was all on me. My motorcycle and my leg were gone. I find it hard to forgive myself.”
Hakim understands that amputation takes a unique and personal path for everyone. “That’s what life is; life is different for everyone,” she acknowledges. “I’ve found that it’s okay to struggle as much as I need to right now. As long as it’s not consuming me. I am owning it and it’s very personal. But it’s just one part in a long life to come. The physical and mental changes are hard and scary, but I know I’m not alone. I’m just unique.”
She is grateful for so many different perspectives and outlooks that others have shared with her that have been so helpful. “But stairs are terrifying, maybe my greatest fear,” she says. She articulates that fear, as it relates to everything she knew about herself having changed. “You don’t recognize your emotions, or your body. You just don’t know how to do things right now. Even going outside. Running small errands can be difficult to do myself, and scary. The fear of not knowing who you are right now. That’s most paralyzing.”
But Hakim, as she always has, finds joy in life as she lives it. “Having my sister by my side… she’s my one-woman-army. Working out. Friends.” And she’s trying to appreciate small achievements. “I’ve always set very high standards for myself, so it’s hard to appreciate how well I’m doing right now on this new journey. At times it just doesn’t feel very accomplished. But, I’m comparing myself to my pre-accident self. Yes, I’m back to work, but only part-time. I’m back to the gym, but only three days a week. At first though, I didn’t think I was ever going back to the gym. I’m so proud of myself and I know I have to resist seeing the things I can’t do before seeing things I can do right now.”
“When together, I forget that there’s a difference between us… especially because I walk faster than he does.”
To do that she’s taking this recovery time to give time to her hobbies. She’s journaling, painting, reading, cooking and colouring. “I want to get into more drawing and baking.” Hiking and bicycling are targets too. “I’m missing my morning jog. I love running. I love anything outdoors.” And so is wearing heels again. There are also some needs that need addressing. “I need some modifications in my home. Sturdier railings. Modifications to the bathroom and the steps to get into my house are difficult. Another thing I didn’t ever anticipate was financial stress. One of the most stressful things coming out of rehab is money. Your bills don’t stop. They’re waiting for you on the outside but I couldn’t go back to work.”
She knows she needs to reconnect with the outside world too. “I’ve been afraid to leave my home at times,” she admits. Rehab prepared me physically to get back out in the world but I found it [rehab] to be very impersonal. It was a struggle to find the psychological help I needed…. finding someone who could relate to my questions.”
But she also admits she was resistant to peer visits during her recovery. “Everyone around me was a stranger and I didn’t want another one,” she shares. Hakim has yet to share the news of her injury with some of the closest members of her family. While hard for most to understand such a secret, Hakim explains it in this way: “I was the strongest, not just in my family but in any group I was part of. My sister used to come to me for everything. Same with my mother. We’ve never had such a trauma in our family. I was the go-to for the family. I just can’t let my mother see me like this yet. Not yet.”
Yet, a budding new relationship is helping with her struggle to open up. “I’m working hard to not question the relationship. It’s very different this time around. I’m appreciating that someone else is finding beauty in me when I’m wrestling with it. We can be very silly together. We joke about date nights at the grocery store. When together, I forget that there’s a difference between us… especially because I walk faster than he does. I’m starting to feel less insecure. I’m starting to appreciate going out for a walk again. I have insight into where I’m going, just right now it’s not that easy.”