On the second night of February, I’d been working late and was walking home in the dark at 8:30. I was excited about having wrapped up a writing class, and was oblivious to how the temperature had dropped drastically after the day’s rain. That meant there was smooth ice on our gravel path and before I knew what was happening, my feet shot out from under me.
On my back on the ice, I thought to myself that usually when one falls, it hurts their knee or shoulder or head. But nothing hurt except my wrist, with a blinding pain I’d never felt before. I howled and rolled around in pain on the snow beside the path and found a way to get back on my feet. My housemate was gone for the weekend. The house was dark and when I walked in, my wrist had an egg-bump. I cried and googled what to do for a sprain and found frozen cranberries to put on it. Surely it was just badly sprained.
I wanted to call my neighbor friend to come help me but she was gone for the weekend too, so I cried more, not sure if the tears were from pain or from being alone. I knew I needed to sleep more than I needed to spend the night in the ER. So I managed the shower, pain pills, a pillow to elevate my arm while I sleep. (Managed became the operative word for the next months.) I slept decently, which seems like a miracle.
The next morning, I managed to walk to work in a winter wonderland. My coworkers said I need to get the wrist checked out. My doctor said she’d call the x-ray order in to the medical center because she doesn’t want to ask me to drive to see her first. It was one of the blowiest, snowiest mornings of the year and my friend took me in her car and we crept into town on bad, hilly, snow-covered roads. It was a nightmare. But we were kept safe.
In the waiting room, I bumped into sweet Omani friends, which was a lovely distraction. Waiting for the results, I asked the receptionist where I could get a drink of water, and she brought me this tall glass of cold water–well beyond her line of duty, I’m sure. And my coworker friend went beyond her duty to stay with me the whole morning, plus hand me a package of salted dark chocolate on the way home.
In the waiting room. I deeply feel the irony of the book title in this context!When the x-rays and CT scans were read, I learned there were two diagonal breaks at the tip of the radius. Maybe that explained the terrible pain. Maybe it was double the pain of one break. It was too late to go to ortho for a cast, and because it was Friday, I had to come back Monday for that. I spent Saturday chasing the sun in my house, studying to lead prison Bible study, and playing big, sweeping Christopher Tin music from the next room so I wouldn’t feel so alone. I cried because I had to cancel the next months of piano lessons and was excited to pack an overnight bag to celebrate a cousin’s 30th birthday party. The harrowing weekend was the beginning of months of paradox: managing so much pain AND being given so much goodness on every side.
At ortho, the specialist didn’t seem super confident or competent. I need my wrist and I was terrified he’d miss something and I’d have to live with a damaged wrist. He said I’m not out of the woods for possibly needing surgery, which terrified me more. The first day with my cast, I wrote Bible study notes on my fingers to take into jail. The notes didn’t work great but the motherly Jehovah Witness lady who always goes in with us helped drape my coat around my shoulder because my arm didn’t fit into my sleeve.
The rest of February blurs into memories of pain pills, a cold arm, voice-dictated emails and Word documents or typing with one hand, working extra hard all day to get less done than normal. I couldn’t even do Ctl+C or any other shortcuts with my left hand so I got used to doing them with my right. I didn’t do anything for Lent because my cast was enough suffering. I’d collapse on the couch in the evening and manage to get back to work every morning. And I drank lots and lots of tea. And I was very thankful that I’m right-handed, even though that hand got so, so tired doing all the things. Sweet cards from friends came in the mail, wishing me quick healing. One friend sent a box with all kinds of treasures squished into it. My housemate tied my shoes for me until I learned how, and did all the house chores that required two strong hands.
After two weeks, the specialist I was dubious about said I didn’t need surgery, which seems like an enormous miracle, the way the breaks slanted.
There were sweet moments of beautiful reprieve sprinkled throughout the month. Two nights a week, I joined a writing class on Zoom with a teacher in Thailand. We crossed 12 time zones and bonded over beautiful words and still stay in touch. The classes helped to keep putting words on paper instead of spiraling down into pain and boredom. At the end, our teacher wrote verses about each of us, and mine seems to say more than she knew.
I got to go to Lancaster to a writers and artists’ conference and met one of my favorite poets. I don’t have words for how special it was to love Malcolm Guite’s poetry, and then to hear him recite his own poems and give some of their backstory. He was uncommonly gracious and accommodating. “And you hurt your arm,” he commented after we posed. I’m proud of this picture, except for the plastic bag. Hearing him speak about the way he respects words and lets them do their work was a concept I want to keep. The warm experiences of my old and new friends sharing that rich weekend still gives me deep joy.
After three weeks in a cast, my wrist swelled and my fingers got tingly, and I was terrified about nerve damage. Orthopedics assessed it and after a technician sawed off the cast, she motioned to a sink and told me I could wash my hand, and then she left the room. I washed and washed, and wiped and wiped the weak, wrinkled hand and arm for a long, long time. It felt like something rubbery that could maybe come alive again. They sent me to an occupational therapist who fitted me carefully with a removable brace. The therapist was the most delightful, positive, helpful person I’d met in that department. She made my whole month better.
I had the brace for five weeks with instructions for no weight-bearing. The tingling went away, and the daily exercises went better every day. I’d sit on Zoom or in classes practicing my stretches and fists. And I could type with two hands! I could get so much work done with so little effort! I kept the arm elevated as much as possible every day and every night. It made for many praise sessions in the car as I drove. If your hand is raised anyhow, it’s a good time to pray and praise.
But the body remembers, and many times as I walked home on the gravel path and across the little dip where the ice had been, my gut felt shivery and shaky, remembering the spot where the trauma happened.
The day the specialist signed off on me and said I’m good to go, I got a large Coke to celebrate. I wanted to cheer for my brave little wrist that was able to hold a whole full glass all by itself. The golden arches in the mirror was a happy accident.
Gradually, I wore the brace less and less. My wrist still catches me by surprise: my left hand can open a whole heavy door all by itself! I can carry a laundry basket in one hand and a laundry rack in the other. This is a remarkably efficient way to do laundry. I can wash dishes and sweep the floor again, and my hand does what I ask it to even though it’s stiff and aches every day.
One of the first weeks free from the brace, I was washing dishes at a friend’s house and broke THREE cups with my uncoordinated left hand that crashed things. I still feel awful about it. I kept thinking about stroke victims and others who have to build a life around a dysfunctional limb. I had learned ways to manage my handicap, but it took enormous energy, focus, and creativity to compensate. Plus, after that first terrible weekend alone, I had willing people around me to help with anything I couldn’t manage.
I hesitated putting this story out there because it could seem too much like a great-aunt’s organ recital. But the nice thing about a blog is that no one has to read it and no one is watching you delete it from your inbox. But for those still reading: I haven’t come to profound conclusions and life lessons about this story. For now, I’m acknowledging the crazy mix of hard and good, loss and gifts poured out, privilege and disappointment.
Apparently, life is never all one or the other.