I did it while playing softball. Landed wrong, rolled over, got up and saw that my left wrist was now shaped like a Z. And so began a two-month odyssey that taught me a lot about what it means to be dependent and to be seen as different.
I was in my mid-20s, living in Cincinnati with a friend from college. He was heading off to a job in Columbus the next day. I was going to be living alone for awhile, which was good — until I landed wrong on that wrist.
It was obviously broken. A friend on the team drove me to the emergency room where I expected to get a cast and get sent home. I’d broken bones before, so I figured this would be an inconvenience but nothing I couldn’t handle.
I was so, so wrong.
The emergency room doctor called me over to show me the X-rays. He took a pencil and used the eraser end to point at the grainy, black-and-white image of what had become of my left wrist.
“It’s broken here, here, here …” Oh, and dislocated here and here.
“Do you have an orthopedist?” he asked.
Uh, no. Never needed one before.
They kept me overnight, my first stay in a hospital. (I’ve had one other hospital stay, after being bitten by a three-legged cat. That’s a whole other story.) The next morning, an orthopedist came in and twisted and popped the wrist back into place using his hands; I don’t recommend that experience. When he was finished reassembling my left wrist, he noticed that I was favoring my right one a bit, too.
I’d probably rolled over onto the right one after hurting the other one. Just a mild sprain, no doubt. Didn’t even hurt much. He said we should get an X-ray anyway, just to be sure. Yep, I’d put a hairline crack in that small, round bone that juts out at the base of the thumb. Two broken wrists.
So, what do we do?
“Two casts, two months,” he said.
Oh. My. God. I panicked. I felt like I was going to throw up.
I won’t be able to drive — how will I get around? How will I get to the grocery store? How will I cook? What about work? How will I type? I won’t be able to handle my contact lenses, and all I have is an old pair of glasses with an out-of-date prescription.
How will I do anything with both wrists and forearms in plaster?
I had no choice.
Many of you have dealt with much worse in your lives. Two months in two casts is nothing compared to a year of chemotherapy or the pain of losing a loved one. But my life had never been turned upside-down so suddenly and so totally.
A friend drove me home from the hospital and made sure that I had enough food for a few days. Got my prescription for pain pills filled. And then headed home. And there I was, all by myself with two broken wrists.
I remember going into the bathroom and looking in the mirror and feeling total despair. Only a day earlier, I could take care of myself. Now, I needed other people to help me do the most basic tasks of life. This can’t be. How will I ever get through this?
That moment was overwhelming. The next two months were a real education.
Slowly, I realized that I could do more than I had imagined, even with two forearms in casts. I could still type, though very slowly. I went back to work and my co-workers were gracious and supportive. And they laughed at me, which helped me laugh at myself. That was very, very important.
I took the bus back-and-forth to work everyday. Whenever I’d get on the bus, I was aware of people staring at me. I imagined them wondering, What the $%!#!!@% did he do?” Occasionally someone sitting next to me would ask, and I’d tell the story — embellishing it a bit so I didn’t come off as being so clumsy. Sometimes, people would back away, almost like they were afraid that if they got too close, casts would sprout on their arms, too.
I learned what it’s like to have people stare at you.
Also, what it’s like to be dependent upon people for the most basic needs. Friends took turns driving me to Kroger’s for groceries. I hated having to rely on others so much.
I remember one time when a co-worker arrived to take me shopping. I just needed to put on my belt and I‘d be ready to go. I started threading the belt through the loops SO SLOWLY — with two casts, it was quite a struggle.
She patiently watched this for a while and volunteered to do it for me to speed things up. I got angry. I don’t NEED someone to do this for me. Then I realized I was taking up her time, and I let her do it, feeling defeated.
I hate feeling dependent. But that’s exactly what I was.
The next two months were about getting through each day and getting one day closer to having my arms liberated. Finally, the long-awaited day came. I had my appointment with the doctor to get the casts cut off.
The left wrist — the one so badly mangled — had healed and was freed from the plaster. The right one needed a little more time, so I had a couple more weeks with one arm still captive.
When I got home, I was depressed. I still had one cast — not what I was expecting. I felt sorry for myself all over again. Then, I realized something: I could take a shower again! (This was back in the day when casts were made of plaster and they didn’t react well to water.)
I wrapped the right cast in plastic bags, got in the shower and stood there until all of the hot water was completely used up. Every last drop. To this day, a shower has never felt so good.
With only one cast, I could do a lot more. There were no more strange looks from people on the street. Now, I was just another person with a cast. I could cook again, I could drive again (well, under the law, I wasn’t supposed to drive because I still had a cast, but SHHH!). I no longer needed to ask for so much help.
Two weeks later, the other cast came off. It was tempting to move on and pretend that those weeks had never happened. But many of the things that I experienced have stuck with me all these years.
First, that life can change in an instant. It’s made me appreciate the “little” things a bit more. Long, warm showers. Getting in a car and driving anywhere I want to go. Making my own meals. Putting on my own belt.
August 20th is an annual reminder not to take any of that for granted. Or to take anyone in my life for granted.
It also reminds me that someday, I’ll be more like I was during those two months. I hope to live long enough that someone will have to take away my car keys because it’s no longer safe for me to get behind the wheel. Someone will have to drive me to Kroger’s and walk down the aisle beside me. I’ll need a ride to the doctor. I’ll need help looping up my belt.
Hopefully those days are a long time away, but they’re somewhere over the horizon. That’s just how life works. We start out totally dependent on our parents, gain some measure of independence, and slide gradually back into needing others more.
While I’m still able, I’m trying to pay it forward a bit. Many of you do the same thing: Take a parent shopping or to the doctor, look in on someone who can’t get out themselves, assist those who are limited in some ways.
Great stuff. Keep doing it. And understand how much it’s appreciated, even if the person you are helping is a bit out of sorts about not being able to put on their own belt. Been there, felt that.
And this: Appreciate each moment. Hold those whom you love close. Never pass up any opportunity to love as deeply as you can.
Or to take a long, hot shower.
Or to laugh.
Laughter helped me get through those two incredibly challenging months. Friends who reminded me of the absurdity of my situation helped me deal with it.
They not only took me to the grocery store, they also made me realize how lucky I was to have food. And friends. And laughter. And love. The important stuff.
The stuff that you learn about while wearing two casts.