Friday, January 3, 2014

What I Learned When I Broke My Hand

I recently broke my hand in a bike accident. A car exiting the freeway, perpendicular to me, made a left turn right across my path. Either the driver ran a red light or I spaced out and thought that it was green. The sudden appearance of a car out of nowhere caused me to slam on the brakes and the loss of momentum made me smash into the pavement.  My hand and face took the most force. I  hobbled home on my bike, dripping blood from my chin and lip, while my hand throbbed. From this experience I learned:

1. My magic immunity that prevented broken bones in falls and bike crashes in the past was illusory. I had never broken anything in my life until now. It wasn’t supposed to ever happen. My fifty-nine and a half  year lucky streak was over . Maybe old age has caught up to me and my bones were more brittle.

2. Hospital emergency rooms were to be avoided at all costs, if possible. It was way too much healthcare. At first, I chose an urgent care place to avoid the hassle and cost of a real emergency room. After hours of waiting, they stitched up my chin and put my hand in a splint. Unfortunately, I peed blood when I got home, so I thought it should be checked out. The real  E.R. did all kinds of blood tests, head and chest CT scans with contrast, and x-rays. At one point, five doctors were in the room with me. The thoroughly uncomfortable experience of needles poked in my arm and  hand; a neck brace that gouged my stitched up chin; and being dizzy as I was wheeled around on a Gurney flat on my back, was not one I ever wish to have in the foreseeable future. Even the heart rate monitor pinched my finger.  The E.R. wanted $23,000 for all this.

3. Not to have any physical or emotional support was scary when I was that injured. My mental state right after the accident was fairly lucid, but a little dazed. I could still drive myself around, walk and feed myself, but I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t. The whole ordeal of waiting alone in the Urgent Care place and emergency room was emotionally difficult. I wanted to cry at some points, because that was my reaction to pain and shock.

4. Every place had to do their own x-rays. The urgent care only did my hand, so of course the E.R. did my hand and my wrist. The place that did the cast had to do their own x-rays, because the E.R. would not share theirs. All this duplication was ridiculous to me.

5. Mending bones took a lot of energy out of the body. The first couple of weeks, I was fatigued , weak and light-headed, even when not doing much.  It would hit me out of nowhere and I would just want to go take a nap.

6. A cast on my hand  was disruptive to my training. No swimming or weight lifting until the cast was off. The first bike ride after the accident made me nauseated. I had to wrap my ribs because they hurt with any movement. The cast felt like a weight on my wrist. To run felt like death march and a race was coming up. I ended up doing the short version and fought the miserable lack of energy and power. A5k run with a cast on was a little bad-ass, though. But  the slow time  disappointed me. Running was what I was good at, but not lately.

7. I felt vulnerable with a cast, especially on my bike. The fear of having another accident was always on my mind, especially when I rode over the same area where it occurred.  I probably wouldn’t be able to fix a flat tire because of a lack of hand strength and could be stranded. To brake was painful and shifting with the left hand was impossible. A rough road that jarred my sore fingers was uncomfortable to ride on.

8. Functioning was inconvenient with a cast. I broke my dominant hand, so writing and typing was awkward. I had to shower with a plastic bag on the cast because it couldn’t get it wet. I showered, soaping and shampooing clumsily with the right hand . No one actually specified what would happen with a wet cast, just that “it would be very bad.” Dressing was difficult and nothing fit that was tight around the wrist, which was most of my jackets. I couldn’t open jars because it hurt and the cast prevented a decent grip. Driving made my hand ache. Vegetables were hard to chop, which made cooking more of a chore.

9. I discovered how inept my right hand is. It just couldn’t seem to perform the same functions as the left. I can’t put in my contacts with my right hand, open a medicine bottle or do various other little tasks that I took for granted with my left.

10. The outside of the cast was easier to keep dry than the inside. I could put a bag over it or avoid putting it in water, but sweat on the inside was inevitable if I wanted to exercise.  I hoped that it didn’t contribute to some skin disease under the cast.

11. A cast was a good conversation starter, but it got old after a while. Not that people cared, they were just nosy. Invariably, I was asked what happened. Sometimes, the question was if anyone stopped, and no they didn’t. That resulted in an expression of shock. Why would a driver stop for someone laying in the road dripping blood? “How did you get home?” I had to ride alone, bleeding all over myself and the bike, annoyed that no one noticed.

12. Despite the frequent ache and annoyances of a broken hand, I functioned fairly well despite the break. Sometimes I barely notice the cast. Other times, I desperately  wanted the alien thing off. The inconvenience was bearable. Most of all, it was temporary. If my leg had broken, it would have been much different. I wouldn’t have had the stamina to wait for that to heal. No exercise would have made me very cranky. I was grateful it wasn’t worse.
I breathlessly await the time when the cast comes off. Will my swimming will be terrible after five weeks off? Will I need physical therapy? Will my skin look fungal with weird colors after five weeks under a cast ?  I don’t care. I just want to be done with it.