Sparked by Words

We’re all just one small step from disaster.

Four years ago I attended Astronomy Night at my grandchildren’s elementary school. The outside lights were left off so the Orange County Astronomers who graciously set up their scopes in a field could count on enough darkness to view the constellated sky.

And see we did – our cratered moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades, and constellations even I could name. Through telescopes big as sewer pipes (but clean and shiny) and hooked up to computers, we peered at the glitter of the night, wondering which of the stars still beamed and which had already burned out. What a thrill to see the Milky Way in such radiance.

I decided to return to the activity room where most of the kids had gone to make planet mobiles and glitter paintings of Saturn’s rings. Across the campus, the lit room directed where I wanted to go but not how to get there. So I trod in the dark and stepped onto the lunch quad. But the elevation of the quad was two inches lower than the sidewalk, a change I couldn’t see. I moved out, the expected tarmac wasn’t there, my body continued forward, my foot resisted. I heard a snap. A crack. I knew – I’d sprained my ankle.

Someone helped me hobble into the activity room, someone else got an ice pack. I sat in a chair as my leg swelled and hurt. The next day, Kaiser told me the good news – my ankle wasn’t sprained. It was broken, both bones in fact – tibia and fibula. A hairline fracture in one, a fingernail sized chip in the other, and the reason that my ankle now looked as big as a fish bowl, and I hurt.

The orthopedic physician offered me a choice: a cast (ugh!) or a clunky brace from toes to knees (OK) Three weeks of galumphing around with my brace and taking Advil on a regular schedule, then another six months or so of aches, and I was ready to go back to the gymnastics team. (Oh sure.) Note of comfort: a big brace with internal metal reinforcement gets you through a special airport security entrance and early boarding on the plane. (Yay!)

Two years later I walked out of the building where my mom lived. Late afternoon the parking lot was shady – until I stepped off a shallow curb and the sun, hiding behind a hill only milliseconds before, now played peek a boo and shined right in my eyes – as I was mid-step.

I will never forget pitching forward, knowing exactly how awkwardly my body leaned, knowing there was nothing to hold on to, nothing to catch my fall but the street. Which it finally did. I landed on my right elbow. I realized I could wait splayed on the ground in that long driveway, that someone would eventually come along and help. I could also tell I was going into shock, and I’d better help myself. It’s possible to lift yourself from supine to standing with only one good arm, the other one screaming in distress. I know because I did it, then struggled to stay upright to get to the door.

As soon as I entered I knew – I was in big trouble. I was soaked with sweat, trembling, near to fainting, and in pain, the kind that sends tsunami crests of agony surging through your body. I knew it wasn’t serious – not like a heart attack or a stroke. It wasn’t enough of an injury to let me go to the head of the emergency line at the hospital once I got there. But I scared everyone at the facility – I could tell by the anxiety on their faces that I looked like I’d been dragged off the pavement after an accident. Well, yes.

They called an ambulance – no, I couldn’t drive myself. Lucky for me (I’m such a lucky girl even if I am a klutz,) Kaiser has a first rate hospital only twenty minutes from where I was. The ambulance ride, however, took me over unpaved outback to get there, and every bump and jiggle, every damned bump and jiggle, reminded me that I hurt. Even though we drove on the newly paved freeway. Poor ambulance attendant kept apologizing. (BTW, is it a rule that paramedics must be adorably handsome?)

Once in emergency, my arm swelled to the size of a football. No, this part I’m not exaggerating. A slew of X-rays, me just about landing on the floor – good grief, how could I stand and hold my arm in so many positions when it was broken and the only position I could hold it in was OWIE? – proved what everyone suspected. I’d dislocated my elbow. It was supposed to hang by my side but it was poking out to Nevada in a million little pieces and one giant hump. A camel’s back on my arm.

My sweet nurse told me she didn’t believe anyone should suffer with pain no matter how much of a klutz she’d been. Along with a flu shot (how handy!) and enough pain meds to make me mumble word fluff, everything began to get woozy. Suddenly my little emergency bay was full of smiling folks who gathered around and grabbed me from every limb and held me down. They popped the elbow back into place. Sorta close, anyway. Remember the smiling faces? And the sweet nurse with her pain meds? I didn’t feel them pop it back so I smiled too. Loose-mouthed goofily, I’m sure.

They wrapped me in gauze from fingers to shoulder and sent me home with my son (my husband was out of town.) They gave me lots of narcotics, (took fewer than I should have) antibiotics, and pain meds. I struggled to bathe, wash my hair (went every three days to a salon) to do all the things we should do – but I mostly didn’t. For months I couldn’t sleep lying down, so my husband thrust two enormous sofa pillows under the bed and I slept half sitting up.

Exactly one week later, a hand surgeon (Dr. Lee is an amazing orthopedic surgeon) spent four hours, first slicing my arm open seven inches to reach the damage: humerus, radius, ulna, all of them crushed, some bits floating, as well as two torn ligaments, don’t know how many tendons, and a torn nerve. (Good grief!)  Dr. Lee put this Humpty egg back together –and popped in a three-inch-long stainless steel plate butting up to my elbow and a titanium plug to hold me altogether. Still there. You can see them poking under my skin. Dr. Lee told me I would regain about 90% of my arm use.

He didn’t know me.

I was diligent about the physical therapy, started two weeks after my surgery. Every single day for the next three months I did three rounds of specific exercises followed by ice packs and then warm wraps. One round took one and a half or two hours. Physical therapy is all I did – and watched The Golden Girls as I worked out. (Lost fourteen pounds – yay!)

After six weeks when Dr. Lee saw me again, he exclaimed about where my cast was  because I hadn’t brought it. I still couldn’t drive but I’d ditched the cast for a thick removable brace to support my arm. And then I showed him what a truly outstanding surgeon he is – I had about 97% use of my arm and only a dull ache. Today, I have 99% arm use.

It was more than a year before I could sleep without being cradled by five pillows or function without any pain. I’ve regained nearly all of my flexibility, can paint and type again. At neither slip off the curbs did I hit my head, suffer a back or neck injury, lose consciousness (came close, though) or knock out my teeth. I don’t have a chronic debilitating condition or a terminal illness. I don’t walk with a limp or write left handed anymore (had to do that for about eight weeks) even though I’m a righty.

I succumbed to the dark, then was blinded by the light. The moment of blackness that should have explained the mysteries of the universe, the instance of illumination that should have let me see everything in my path, caused two injuries. I have been just one small step from disaster but now I am fine – and very, very lucky.

Today I watch very carefully where I walk.

 

Detail of The Starry Night, 1889, by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on: "A Little Break Here and There" (33)

  1. honoured to be let in to a little of your life – written with lovely reclining humour; reminded me, sort of, of my deciding I could carry the table I wanted to buy from a furniture shop … down three flights of steps … myself – I am a man, after all; I made it to the bottom of the first flight but there was one further step than I thought: left heel caught on it, left foot folded violently forward, as yourself, I knew I was going to fall, I wrenched the table upward (as if to save it from the fall?) and the edge of the table met my mouth on the way down as the finale held its fanfare; but I was lucky, a ripped ankle, a wrenched shoulder, a chipped tooth, a broken table (which I still bought – mended it myself) but one hell of a dose of feeling stupid, stood me in good stead for the next time I felt like proving I am more than I am through sheer dint of gender

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an awful fall – I think the worst is knowing you’re falling and being able to do nothing at all to stop it. I’ve relived that moment, especially when I pitched over on my elbow, too many times. It’s always that one more step that does it. You suffered so many injuries from that single incident, a battery of bruises. Hope you’re fully healed and functional now. And that the table was worth it.

      Like

  2. My goodness, you have been unfortunate and lucky at the same time. So glad your arm is back to 99 per cent. I, too, watch every step.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are a diligent healer. I broke my arm and dislocated my elbow too and had to have emergency surgery on the night of a big NFL playoff game. The surgeon wasn’t all that happy to come in. LOL. I did it trying to save a hen from a rough rooster on the only piece of ice in the yard. My father taught us to laugh through pain I guess so we didn’t put others out–but that pain was brutal!

    Isn’t it so eye-opening when you can’t use a limb?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You must have really had a terrible accident to have surgery the day you were injured. I think they like to wait till the swelling goes down, but maybe that’s a tale for physician convenience. Have you fully recovered, or do you have limited movement?

      Like

      • The break was cutting off circulation so it was emergency surgery. I have a plate in my arm and you can see the screws through my skin which is kinda gross but the doctor was shocked at my recovery of movement. The pain in recovery was excruciating though especially at night.

        Like

      • Your injury sounds exactly like mine – stainless steel plate holds my elbow together along with titanium plug, visible through skin – a little bump. Couldn’t sleep except nearly sitting up for more than a year. Still aches sometimes, but I’m basically fine. Only someone who’s been through this really understands. I’m glad for your recovery as well. Let us make a vow: WE AIN’T DOING THIS AGAIN!

        Like

  4. Good f**** grief, Shari. You need a guardian angel. This was a lot more fun to read than experience, I suspect. I liked the link, “the only position I could hold it in was OWIE?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • You notice I wrote about the accident two years after it happened. Needed some distance to face reliving it so fully – and it did seem a little funny this time around.
      If you can send that guardian angel, please let her be an agent. An editor would be even better.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jenna Barwin said:

    So glad nothing worse happened, and that you’ve mended so well.

    And you tell a great tale, Sharon. Nicely tied together with the dark and light. Enjoyed reading about it, even as I cringed at the pain you felt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot the pain – at least I can’t recall the physical experience of the pain itself – but I remember falling – toppling into space without a tether and knowing the landing would be hard.
      Thank you for the kind comment about my writing, Jenna.

      Like

  6. Sharon, you had a few bad accidents and it sure isn’t fun. You were lucky in your
    accidents as you managed to protect your head. It is a wonder how you got such professional help so quick. That makes a lot of difference. As does the patients – your – diligence with exercises.
    Bless and may your days of falling be over. Checking where you put the foot is wise.

    miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sharon!!!!!!!! I’m at a loss for words at your misfortunes. I’m relieved it’s well behind you but be careful, Girl! The only time I was in a boot for my cracked ankle, I got bored and wrote my first book. But I did not suffer the pain you did or I probably would have added in a lot more murders to the plot line!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, Shari! I’m so sorry you had to go through this! The falls, the pain, the surgery, the recovery process – reading this puts me back to those dreadful days after my mum’s accident where she broke her arm and shoulder. She also has a steel plate and screws. The doctor said they could remove it after a year but then she would have to go through all that pain and recovery again. So it stays in.
    And I’m si glad you’ve got nearly full function back in your arm and can do what you love doing so much – painting and writing. 😊❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Shari, your inner strength is remarkable. I know we all have our crosses to bear but you handle yours with such finesse.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. i often think about that.. how close to disaster we often come. It was very hard to read this post because of how descriptive it was and how much I could imagine the pain. oh boy, am sure glad to hear that you are fully recovered. I think we all have our “achilles heel” and then that is the thing that keeps haunting us but hopefully your run is behind you.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So now I know what happened to you and why you can’t do some of the exercise you’ve wanted! Sorry late to the party, got busy with school. Sorry to read about both of these injuries, Shari, but you were well-taken care of and seemed to heal and rehab quickly, although it probably felt like an eternity! After my fall last year and broken right hand, I am always very careful and purposeful in my movements around the house and yard. I have stepped wrong off a few steps myself (stupid bifocals) and wrecked my knee, but even that has mostly healed over time! When I walk down stairs now I pull my glasses off so I don’t miss that last step. I’m glad you can approach your missteps with humor, but it’s certainly no fun while in the midst of it all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Terri, in your field you must maintain your physical health. Stairs seem to be very dangerous as people often place only part of their foot on each step, and it’s so easy to lose your balance or move incorrectly. Good to know that your injuries healed and you’re able to continue the active lifestyle you enjoy. I’m getting back into walking again, but it’s taking a while to build up my stamina.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Sharon, I’m glad you ended up doing so well after all that. Falling is something I’m constantly on guard for…. terrifying to think what could happen. I already deal with chronic pain everywhere and don’t think I could survive any additional from breaks or sprains.
    Take good care, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Betty, I’m so sorry to hear about your pain. Sadly, I have a number of friends who deal with chronic pain for a number of reasons, all of it deeply uncomfortable for them and worrisome. And most of my friends who are my age watch our steps all the time. To think I spent much of my childhood and youth leaping all over the place, never considering I could land wrong and get hurt. Take care of yourself as well. No more breaks for either of us.

      Like

  13. & we suffered too — you weren’t able to post for a long time — so glad you’re well now ❤

    Like

  14. Blimey! Sharon, my face has gone through a variety of grimaces whilst reading your post! I feel so for you and your injuries. Your patience, perseverance and forbearance shine out as you’ve stoically and with humour seen your way to recovery. I’m glad you can walk and use your arm as normal but that is a long time of healing … please step very very safely in future! ❤️ One Christmas I took a flying step off my brother’s shiny wooden stairs (inside). I had the sense to twist around to save my head whacking the wall at the bottom and just sprained my ankle … worse almost was the shock … the feeling of vulnerability and fear. Now I hold onto banisters and tread with more care. Hugs to my dear friend. Xx

    Like

    • Yay for banisters and railings but accidents never announce themselves beforehand. I still consider myself very lucky – no long term disabilities. Sorry for putting you through so many expressions, Annika. And thank you for your sympathy.

      Liked by 1 person

I would love to know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.