Editor’s Note: How does breaking a leg relate to the COVID-19 pandemic? They both result in spending a significant amount of time working from home and adjusting to a different life back in the lab. Discover how Elke Muntjewerff created a positive outcome to her challenging situation in our article.

It’s chaos in the laboratory; donor blood is coming in and my experiments are on hold. Students walking around rudderless and colleagues full of questions. Some of them are nearly panicking, and so am I. Because here I am, at home, bound to the couch with a broken leg…

I love skiing, but my leg didn’t agree this time. While I was recovering from the two surgeries, I tried to keep everything going by setting up calls and meetings (at my house). It was a really chaotic time, which almost drove me crazy… almost. We managed to make it work because many people jumped in to help out! It’s hard to admit, but I can also see some benefits of this period. Since I was forced to sit down (something I usually avoid) my supervisor convinced me it was a good time to read more papers and start writing my own papers. It struck me how much literature there was to read for all my projects… but I also used this time to sign up for conferences (including submitting an acceptable abstract), courses (summer school on Sardinia), a leadership track, and to arrange a work visit to San Diego and Sweden. However, I was relieved when I was finally allowed to get back in the lab.

Elke Muntjewerff

Although I was very happy to be able to get back to my experiments and see my colleagues (whom I really missed), I was also a bit scared. Finding a balance between performing experiments and sitting with my leg up was very hard for me. I came up with so many things that I wanted to do, that it was very hard to force myself to sit down. To help me a bit I got a new spot in the lab, next to our technician. My first spot was at a high lab bench (so if you’re working at your computer you’re sitting on a high stool), but now I have a normal desk! The desk is super nice and so much more comfortable. However, it also means that I switched lab bench, the place where I perform my practical work. As a result, I am constantly walking the wrong way and storing stuff like pipettes and holders in the wrong position (read: my old working spot).

Then my students are confused as well and start to store the things in spots they like, so I constantly switch materials or label new things with my name. Our technician was less happy with my return since suddenly everything started to disappear. Therefore he offered to help me tracing all of my labeled stuff back and to make space to actually store it. I guess as soon as I am used to this spot it will be very nice.
During my recovery period, I had to tell myself a lot of times that I was almost there… Sometimes it was very frustrating because the recovery period seemed to be endless. Not only for the recovery of my surgery, but also for the papers, experiments and grant writing. Due to the support of colleagues, friends and family now, 6 months later, it looks like we are finally getting there! My review is submitted, my students did an amazing job, my abstracts were selected for conferences and I will go to Sweden in two months. For my leg, it means that the last surgery went well (they removed the temporary implant), which makes my life a lot easier. I am now able to walk around like before, we can truly say that I am back on my feet ?

I probably will need the summer to catch up on my experiments, because due to the conferences and an unexpected lab visit to San Diego I am now even more behind on the experimental work. However, the time at home was good and gave me time to think about the direction of my projects and to arrange what was important for me. I now know what to perform first, which actually will save time (I am no longer running around like crazy, doing everything at the same time) and I took more time to develop myself, which will help me handle situations at work. Therefore, I can advise everyone to have some time at home! However, I can’t recommend breaking your leg ?

I would say: break a leg, just don’t do it literally!

If you liked this you can check out more of Elke’s stories on her own blog: Living in a WOOndrous world

WOOndrous world blog