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Q&A with Nathaniel
JS: First of all, we want to get the official “foot stuff” out of the way.
NM: Okay, I was in
I went across a couple of times, seemed safe enough. The end of the night, it was May, so the sky got dark, it got a little misty and I was saying good-bye and going back across, not being careful because I felt comfortable. One foot slipped over and then I just started falling. It’s all healed now, but I ripped this hand open because I tried to grab the [edge] as I was falling. I straightened myself out so I was falling straight down. Hit the ground, this [right] foot first obviously, second foot, then folded over at the half. I shattered my calcaneal, which is your heel. I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped on a pebble really hard barefooted?
NM: Take that and multiply it by a million. I fractured the vertebrae; the L2 vertebrae and I also had some hairline fracturing in the other foot, the left foot. But I had a really great doctor, this guy who’s an unbelievable podiatric surgeon. He’s a whiz … this is a guy whose job it is to look at broken feet, he does athletes, he’s seen it all. He opened up the splint that I had going from the hospital in
So I started crying then, I cried for a little while and he was like “Listen, I’m going to do everything I can to restore your foot. It’s really bad; I’m not going to lie to you. It’s one of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen to a foot, I mean it’s really, really, really bad.” He went over the different things I could do. At first I was going to have pins sticking out of my leg with an adjuster to move the bones closer and farther apart, external pins and it was going to be really involved. He just took everything and he made a splint and he took my heel and he stuck this stuff on, it gets hot and then it hardens and grabbed my heel and he smushed everything together, I mean just bent it up, and he said “I’m smushing everything together to see what sticks together and what doesn’t. We’ll give it two weeks, three weeks, see what happens.”
Waited a while, let the swelling go down. I was eating a lot of calcium, my mom was feeding me so I was eating well, started exercising again, my back was broken so I had to be careful, but I started doing what exercise I could. The next time I went in he was like “You know this is looking a lot better. This looks way better.” Then when he was x-raying it he said, “I can see so much but there’s a lot of fluid and a lot of loose pieces of bone and cartilage and shrapnel inside, so we’ve just got to open it up.” He still wasn’t sure if he was going to have to put the outside pins on. So he consulted some of his friends, some of his professors, people who taught him and said, “Okay, we figured it out.”
Did the surgery, I mean the guy’s amazing. A large plate runs down the side of my foot. They cut almost from the top of the toes all the way down and then up to the ankle, they pulled all that back. They put in a large plate with eyeholes, this titanium plate that runs the length of my foot with very large bolts. Pulled out all the cartilage, stuffed it with bone paste. Fused the ankle joint so the foot goes up and down but no side to side and no rolling over, no twisting your ankle. But on the last x-ray that I took it looks… like a foot! I mean it just looks beautiful. The doctor was like “Look, you can be a foot model!” I have almost no scar. He was saying it was one of the best surgeries he’s ever done. It was a 4-and-a-half, five-hour surgery, and he came out and he was dripping in sweat and he looked at my mom and said, “Yeah, I nailed this one!”
KN: This is the one you had after the softball game?
NM: Yes, after the softball game. And that’s the only one. He did everything all at once, so it doesn’t look like I’ll have to have any more surgery, just lots of physical therapy. My back is basically healed, it’s just a matter of physical therapy and like stretching it out and stuff, but I do one day for my back then my regular workout routine. My physical therapist is like “You’re in shape, you know what to do. Go work on your foot.”
KN: I mean, that was obviously a big help.
NM: Yeah, the doctor was saying one of the only reasons I’m not paralyzed was because I had so much muscle mass along my spine that when I folded over it had enough tension to hold everything together. Small disc popped out that way, you know like a little piece of the bone [makes popping noise] from the pressure. So that pulled itself back in. The spinal column that runs up the middle … it’s usually about that thick, I broke it down to there. So, it was pretty close.
My back healed really, really fast. It’s my foot that’s really being a pain. Now my calf is much smaller around. Just starting to get it moving and stuff, it’s painful. No, it’s nasty. I walked around with a shoe the other day and I was going to go outside with it and I thought “You know, I think I’m going to put the boot on because my leg looks really weird.” It’s like [comparing his legs] starving guy/fat guy, starving guy/fat guy.
JS: So you won’t be wearing shorts any time soon?
NM: No, no I won’t be wearing any shorts for a while. Good thing winter’s coming.
JS: So let’s talk about the last year.
NM: The last year? It’s been crazy. Losing my job, getting my job back, injuring myself.
JS: How are you different than you were a year ago?
NM: I’m a little less affected by all of it. I’m getting to the point where, things come, things go, stuff happens. You can get really upset about stuff and jump up and down, scream and yell or you can chalk it up to that’s just what happens when you live a life. I think that’s the main change. It’s not that I don’t care as much, I’m just more effective and less affected.
JS: In what way?
NM: You’re more effective when you’re not affected by things. When I don’t have to get all freaked out before an audition I can just go “Okay, I’m just gonna go on this audition, if I get it I get it, if I don’t, I don’t.” There will be more. It’s like at work, you have a day, you’re working and something may not be exactly as good as you wanted it to be… always tomorrow. Not to say that your work is not good and to the best of your abilities at all times, but when I was younger, I used to walk out of the studio sometimes and it was like “Man, I could have rewritten this or changed that. Made this better.” At the end of the day that just makes my day longer, and me more frustrated, and I don’t necessarily know that it really makes that much better product. So, I’m better at taking the good with the bad.
JS: Is that a product, you think of…you’ve mentioned several times in several interviews that you’ve really reconnected to your Buddhist faith?
NM: Yeah, I think that definitely has a lot to do with it. Being able to take myself back with meditation. Understanding the relation, cause and effect in the world that, everything you do, every action you take, every thought you have, has an effect. Simple. Just simple physics. So, in understanding that you become a better, more conscious person, completely unconsciously. I’m going to give you an analogy. I was at the gym the other day, right, ‘cause I go to the gym…
KN: Never would have guessed.
NM: When you go to use a machine, you walk over and there are three or four people standing in the general vicinity you can sort of look at them and you go “Are you using this? Are you using this? Are you using this?” Well, that’s just like my way of explaining it. If you can adopt that sort of philosophy in everything you do, just that tiny bit of courtesy. You don’t have to kiss up to anybody, you don’t have to be falsely nice, but you can take 10 seconds to genuinely see what’s going on and try to understand a situation before reacting to it, makes your trip in life so much easier. Like, if I can’t find my keys, and I flip out and I scream and yell and tear the house apart, well at the end of that, not only do I still not have my keys, but I have to clean up my house. And so it’s thinking of those things and saying “Okay, well I don’t really feel like cleaning my house any more than I feel like not being able to find my keys.” I’m going to sit down, think for a little while, maybe I’ll get a glass of water and stop thinking about my keys altogether and maybe they’ll pop up in front of me.
JS: Within Buddhism there’s the belief that nothing is totally bad…
NM: Nothing is bad, no.
JS: So what gifts have come to you from all this?
NM: What gifts?
JS: I don’t mean material gifts…
NM: No, but there are gifts. And the least tangible, most precious gift is the understanding that all things are interconnected, and that what you do today, and what you say today and think today will affect yourself, and pretty much everybody you come into contact with tomorrow.
Fan club members can read more of our conversation with Nathaniel in the first of our bi-annual newsletters, coming in 2005.