A Cautionary Tale about Vanity
My Involuntary Acquisition of a Bionic Arm
Going roller skating in my late 30s was another one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” things. I led (and still mostly do) a mostly sedentary lifestyle at both work and home, and my boyfriend and some co-workers and I thought it would be a hoot to spend a few hours in denial of our respective ages and hit the local roller rink on a Saturday night.
Turns out, we should have done the usual and gone drinking instead.
I’d always loved roller skating in my youth. Those blurs of kids with feathered hair going ‘round and ‘round the floor to ELO and Abba under a shiny mirror ball and bouncing flecks of colored lights is fondly and forever burned in my memory. The Couples Skate. Girls Only Skate. The Limbo! And “Clear the Floor!” warbling out of the PA system while the middle-aged ladies behind the booth sorted their 45 rpm singles or went to the bathroom. Now, I was no skating virtuoso, but I could hold my own on the four-on-the-floor roller skates as a child and teen. Even though I was the chubby, clumsy kid with glasses always picked last for the team in PE, I could do a few twirls, go pretty fast, and rarely fell down. So I figured this evening out would provide some sentimental grins and some exercise to boot.
I should have worn wrist guards.
I always wore them a bazillion years previous when I younger and bolder and went roller blading from time to time. And that was primarily because, in addition to admitting to myself that I was clumsy and ungainly, that everyone wore wrist guards because everyone knew someone that had broken one or both wrists after planting themselves into the pavement as a result of running over an acorn or dead worm. But indoor roller skating with the old fashioned skates? Come on – it was going to be like riding a bike. After a couple of minutes it would be like I never quit. I was too cool for wrist guards, right?
After getting my skates laced up and, once the vertigo from the neon squiggly carpet surrounding the rink passed, I wobbled my way on the shiny floor. Okay – so maybe not quite like riding a bike. I was a lot shakier than I’d expected to be, even after about half an hour, and WHY was everyone on the floor going so bloody FAST? Sheesh. And there was no Rod Stewart or Commodores crackling over the speakers - I think they were playing Christina Aguilera. I was clearly out of my element.
What I remember next is this: I was coasting my way around a wide corner when I saw a very small child sailing and flailing perpendicular to the line of traffic passing right in front of me. I knew my fat *ss would kill this poor kid if I landed on him, and I did what I could to swing out of the way. I slammed straight on into the half-wall between the rink and snack shop, bounced off said half wall, and then crashed bum down onto the floor, simultaneously and reflexively putting my arms out behind me to break my fall. Oh, I broke something, all right.
I don’t remember which horrified me more: the pain or the faint pop I heard coming from my wrist when I hit the floor. My first thought was, “Oh sh*t – I think I just did something bad that’s going to have consequences in the future.” I didn’t know the half of it.
I think I sat there stunned for a couple of minutes until my boyfriend and co-workers started to trickle over and see what was up. Or down, rather. I don’t remember who directed me to not look at my left arm. Just don’t look, okay? The cooperative efforts of all of them got my skates off, my rings removed, shoes and purse gathered up, and the ambulance summoned.
While waiting for the EMTs, I sneaked a peak at my wrist and quickly wished I’d followed my instructions. Oh. My. Gawd. My wrist was in an S-shape, and my hand appeared to be dangling from my forearm. I remember a couple of people at the skating rink catching a glimpse of my wrist and puking instantly. For probably the first time in my life, I appreciated being overweight, because if I hadn’t had that extra flesh, the jagged bone would have broken through the skin and looked like something out of Saw.
They started pumping me full of morphine in the ambulance. I guess I don’t understand all the hoopla about morphine, because all it did was make me queasy and spacey, and didn’t seem to do a thing to take the edge off the pain or panic. I don’t remember arriving at the ER or getting X-rays, just magically being deposited in some kind of triage center and a doctor coming in to shoot me full of some kind of local anesthetic. He kept mentioning surgery, and I said no way. With all due respect, Doctor, please just reset the bone and put it in a splint until I can get a cast on it Monday. No surgery – I don’t play that. He smiled and nodded and I thought that was the end of it. So he injected me again with some sort of magic potion and told me not to look while he reset the bone. I didn’t watch, but my boyfriend did. He’s always been kind of a sick b*stard. He said my arm looked like a Stretch Armstrong – that rubber doll with limbs you could pull out like 2 feet and wrap around the furniture.
So they sent home with the report and a scrip for a few painkillers and told me they’d call me tomorrow to set up a time with an orthopedist to get a cast on. I had a distal radial fracture with an “obvious deformity.” No sh*t.
That night I was pretty sure I was going to die. My wrist aside, I was convinced my pulsing thumb on that hand was going to explode. It was a long, long night.
An orthopedist’s office called me early the next day and said they had me scheduled for surgery the following morning. I politely told them that the emergency room doctor said I wouldn’t necessary need surgery because the bone reset nicely and a cast will do me just fine, thank you. Please hold. A surgeon gets on the phone and says he was sent the x-rays about 4 minutes after they were taken because it was such a bad break and needed to be moved to the front of the line. He said I would only regain a maximum of 20 percent use of that wrist and hand if I don’t have surgery within 24 hours, and that he’ll see me in the morning. Well, then.
The wrist is comprised of two separate bones: the radius and the ulna. The radius is the larger bone below the thumb, and I broke mine in two jagged pieces. I got a brief consultation with the doctor before the surgery, and he showed me my x-ray. He said he was going to use it in the future to show his interns an example of what a really bad break looks like. That’s great, Doc – glad to be of help during your PowerPoint presentations. They were going to screw the bone into a surgical steel plate to keep everything in place so that it would heal.
So then I got prepped for the anesthesia. Since I’d never “gone under” before and was scared to be knocked out, I opted for something known as a “block,” where you’re apparently mildly sedated and completely numbed where the procedure is to take place. I vaguely remember getting an injection in the armpit area for the block, and then I woke up and it was done. The doctor told me the block apparently didn’t “take,“ as he said I started twitching and cursing when they started the incision. Sadly, I remember none of this entertainment.
Then I was wrapped and bandaged and sent home with post-op instructions and another prescription for the good stuff. I spent about a week washing down narcotic painkillers with beer every 4 hours. I was becoming distinctly worried about becoming addicted to those pain pills, because I would be counting down the minutes until I could gobble another one, because the pain was so bad it would literally make my hair stand on end.
Pain aside, then there was life with the use of only one hand. Washing your hair with one hand while holding the injured one outside the shower curtain wrapped in a plastic grocery sack is a real barrel o’ monkeys, let me tell ya. You want to open that jar of spaghetti sauce? How bad do you want that spaghetti? Looks like it’s toast or fast food again. Or try putting on pants with only one hand, especially if you’ve gained weight from fluid retention and inactivity. Wish to change the pillowcases? Good luck with that.
Work? For about a month, I couldn’t hit the keyboard for more than an hour or two, so I got pretty good at hunt-and-peck using one hand and/or a pencil. It wasn’t pretty or efficient, but it got the job done most days and people were patient with me, especially right before I was due for my next dose of hydrocodone.
But I really shouldn’t complain. At least the break was on my non-dominant side and I could still wipe myself.
After several weeks of physical therapy spent playing with fluorescent Silly Putty and steadily decreasing episodes of sharp pain, I was more or less functional again. But I’ll always be reminded of the decision to not wear wrist guards. I can always tell 36 hours before it’s going to rain or snow, because those metal pieces in there start singing a tune, and it ain’t a happy one. If I turn the steering wheel of my car just right on a cold day, I can actually see that plate shift on the underside of my wrist. Yes, it’s pretty gross and it hurts. The surgical scar, which over the years has shrunk to about 3 inches long, is still numb. While no longer very obvious, a casual observer who noticed it would likely think I’d had a bad day at some point in the past, if you know what I mean. I’ve never set off a metal detector or airport scanner, in case you’re wondering.
The bottom line here is, especially after a certain age, forgo the vanity and take the recommended precautions if you’re doing something even moderately risky, even if it means a colorful crash helmet and mouth guard. At this point in life, I’d rather be temporarily embarrassed than forever injured. May peace and safety equipment be with you always.