As a youngest child (aka “spoiled brat”) I have never been particularly teachable. I think, having watched a world full of older, obviously competent individuals, I came to believe that it was downright shameful to not know stuff.
Maybe I should put a trigger warning in here. There’s some hospital stuff. And a photo of an X-ray. Proceed with caution if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.
For instance, I feel I should know how to walk. After sixty-plus years of perfectly able-bodied practice, walking across a street I have crossed hundreds of times should be quite manageable. Especially at 9:30 on a lovely SoCal June morning, dead sober and in a great mood. So don’t tell me I should be more careful on a walk!
Two months out, I can finally recount the experience without a visceral recollection of how hard that fall was, how merciless the concrete. How I knew as soon as I stood up, dizzy and nauseated, that Mary and I were going to spend the morning not walking through a charming part of the neighborhood I’d discovered the day before, but in the ER.
We were supposed to walk up the hilly streets to where I’d seen the sweetest sign
and a few minutes later nearly jumped out of my skin when someone above me and to my right let out an unholy death-shriek.
It was going to be a lovely morning, doubtless culminating in many calories. You can’t tell me that a good long walk isn’t excellent exercise.
“Usually when I break a bone” seems like an odd thing to say, especially since I don’t see myself as particularly accident-prone. But usually when I break a bone it doesn’t hurt until many hours later. Not this time.
This is completely tmi, but while we were in the ER waiting to be called in, a poor older lady came in with a basin in her lap. I begged the universe, Please don’t let her puke! Because that would have made at least two of us. That wrist hurt, I’m telling you. And right away.
The ER people were wonderful, as they so often are. Comforting, good humored, generous with warm blankets, unbelievably gentle as they moved my arm this way and that for the X-rays, unstinting with pain medication. (Yeah, especially that part.)
Well, you did it again, announced the nurse as he delivered the orthopedic resident’s news. I’m pretty sure the cab driver who’d brought that poor sick lady to the ER door could have seen that my right wrist – broken the first time back in high school, shortly after a horse threw me – was, yup, broken again.
Another nurse splinted and wrapped the offended limb in plaster up beyond the elbow; fixed me up with a sling, a sheaf of paperwork, and a shot of morphine; and Mary and I headed out into the beautiful morning. I was glad her house is only a few blocks away. I was also very glad to have a good job with excellent insurance – a true privilege, and I know it.
The last three days of my SoCal vacation were all about pain pills, Mary spoiling me even worse than usual, some excellent walks (including the one we’d planned back in happier days), and even the delivery of Mary’s new car. Nights were all about pillows and worse sleep than usual. A new cast is a heavy thing, and I’m not very good at sleeping on my back with my right hand straight up in the air to reduce swelling.
I was slightly apprehensive about the flight home, but reduced my carry-on luggage to a bare minimum and took advantage of modern pharmaceuticals. A curly-topped three-year-old who’d had a broken arm told me I should get a yellow cast. As she and her parents left the California Pizza Kitchen in the airport where I was building up the strength and the numbness to make it back to Austin, she stopped by my table and looked at me seriously.
It WILL get better, she said. I’m sure she was right, but it’s been a hella trip. (Did I even write that?)
Through a friend I made an appointment with a hand surgeon of outstanding repute. I couldn’t imagine surgery would be needed, but I had to start somewhere. I was pretty sure he would chide me for wasting his time.
Nothing by mouth after midnight tomorrow, he said. See you Thursday morning.
The new Dell Medical Center, affiliated with UT’s new medical school, is beautiful and it is state of the art. Its people are wonderful and even the cafeteria food smelled fantastic. Of course I couldn’t have any going in and didn’t want any going out, but any food lover is going to bookmark such data against future need.
I went home the day of the surgery of course, splinted and plaster-casted and wired up to a nerve-blocking drip that would deliver medication from a plastic ball borne in a sack around my neck to my poor sad right arm for 48 hours or so. Throughout that first afternoon and evening, the sensation was of a completely numb, completely paralyzed limb that weighed approximately 200 pounds. I couldn’t look away or it would fall over and damage itself. Don’t leave that arm unsupervised, the recovery room nurse had warned – meaning, obviously, that 3rd-degree burns can easily be inflicted on a body part that can’t feel the flame.
Even as I write about this part of the experience, I’m glad to place it in the increasingly distant past. My daughter had done an ace job setting up my recovery space in our guest room and bath, anchoring the ironing board to the bed frame to serve as a conveniently high table. She even thought to improvise a left-handed toilet paper holder. In the ensuing weeks I would develop what remains a delicious habit of spending all unoccupied time in a high soft bed in a very pleasant room.
Meanwhile, day by day, I returned to increasingly normal functioning out in the world. And about a hundred times a day I gave a nod to able-bodied privilege and wondered how people who lose a limb learn to cope with even a scintilla of good grace. Or how people forced to live with chronic pain make the decision to go on. I don’t know how they do it.
There were many things I could not do/open/cut/slice/fix/turn on/turn off/arrange/pick up. Combine that with a pathological aversion to asking for help and you have a very Terrible Me. I don’t know how poor Floyd stood it, let alone how he continued to take up all the slack and carry out chores, tasks, and favors so unstintingly. With only mild frustration and occasional apprehension (like when he watched me cut into a block of cheddar with the big knife in my left hand and my right elbow pressing down on the blade).
OK. So here are some things I will not sit still for when you try to teach me, even though I should.
1.) You shouldn’t open things with your teeth.
Floyd has said this at least twice a day since I’ve been home. Look, I once worked in a grocery store with a guy who opened beer bottles with his teeth. Opening a bag of frozen peas, pulling off my Fitbit strap, chomping down on a toothpaste cap so I can twist the thing open with my usable hand – these things don’t count. No one will be happier than I when I am finally able to perform these actions the “right” way, and in the meantime you really don’t want me calling for help every time I open a pill bottle. Broken bones involve a lot of pills.
2.) You shouldn’t be so sensitive.
Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every time this little gem has been lobbed at me. Would you really want to work with a psychologist who isn’t sensitive?
But this one goes out to the people at the hand-fixing place who weren’t so sure I knew what I was talking about when I told them my spiffy purple fiberglass cast was too tight. I can look back in my diary a few pages and see documentation of what that hand felt like, and recall the sensation that it was going to bust out of its casing like Popeye. My fingers were swollen enough to have peeled off several layers of skin; we were down to the pale pink translucent layer now.
Some swelling is normal. And it’s normal to have pain after surgery, the nurse announced. Well, stop the presses. Who would ever have imagined it?
I was on the brink of fleeing for home in a wash of shame for being a whiner. You should call the doctor is probably tops on my list of things you shouldn’t even try to tell me, because I hate calling the doctor, going to the doctor, waiting for the doctor, and enduring the things the doctor wants to do in the rare event that I haven’t bothered the doctor for nothing. Like have me wheeled into a very clean room with bright lights and people in masks.
But I am a senior woman. I could find my voice. I’ve had casts before, and this is NOT normal, I stated flatly.
Fortunately, the hand therapist heard me, and a new purple fiberglass cast was applied. The difference was immediate. Night and day. Now healing could proceed apace. Not my pace, of course; but this is reality.
3.) Slow down
I keep thinking this one must be a good idea. Who needs ulcers? I think I’ve spent 92% of my life in one kind of hurry or another, and for what? Moving slowly is graceful! You mess things up less! It’s good practice for Austin driving!
But an out-of-commission limb, no matter how wonderfully temporary, will force home the point that no matter how hard some of us may try to slow down, it won’t be enough to keep the gravity-controlled world in which we live from driving us very quickly out of our minds.
For nearly eight weeks now, I have dropped virtually everything I’ve touched; unplugged electronics whose power source resides under the bed at a location I cannot reach; strewn coffee beans, chopped pecans, rice I was oh-so-carefully measuring; sent soap bottles crashing to my feet in a pool of slipperiness…I could go on. I’ve thought multiple times each day of all the people who’ve had to learn to live with real, permanent disabilities and doubt I should ever find the patience to manage it.
And it’s not only dropping things. My proprioceptive skills must have broken apart in the fall: I could hardly open a door without slamming it into myself, walk from one side of a room to another without banging into furniture, or get myself into my car without yowling in pain or closing some piece of clothing into the door.
4.) Ask for help.
I’ve told you before that my mother always said my first words were, I’ll do it myself, and I can believe it. Like most personality characteristics, this one is a mixed blessing. I like my independence and I also push it way past helpfulness into the realm of “lucky you weren’t killed.”
Maybe I’m afraid that if I didn’t push myself hard, I really would take to this high soft bed permanently, a call bell at my elbow and meals arriving on a pretty wooden tray with feet. I’d spend my time like Lucy, running around when I felt like it and sleeping the rest of the time, trusting the universe to provide.
Maybe next year.
Meanwhile, I’m just grateful it’s August in Texas and there isn’t much to be done in the garden anyway. I’m giving the sidewalk garden some water because that bright patch of color out beyond the guest room window is so cheering. I can see the swallowtails from here.