Out walking the first day of vacation in Vermont, I fell on ice and broke my wrist. I knew immediately. At the closest urgent care facility 45 minutes away, I was treated by a hand specialist who performed a “reduction” which I, even in my ignorance, recognized as a euphemism for some procedure that would test the limits of my fragile courage.
First, she numbed the site by injecting Novocain deep into the traumatized area, aiming for the fracture (bones have nerve endings, I learned). When, after some clever manipulation, the bone snapped audibly back into place, the nurse standing to my right gasped. She’d never witnessed a reduction. “That’s a good sound,” the doctor assured her.
After these promising sound effects, I too felt a wash of relief. As she fashioned a cast we chatted, only to discover we’d attended the same small liberal arts school in upstate New York, and also both gone on to Johns Hopkins, she to the medical school, I to Arts and Sciences. By the time we parted, we were like sorority sisters, promising to meet again one day.
It’s been said that life begins where your comfort zone ends. I heard that in a yoga class. Over a decade ago, owing to an earlier injury, I’d found my way into a yoga practice. Often injuries pave the way there; you hear it all the time. For the beginner, there were many practical lessons to be learned, centering advice such as: Look for the good. (Left wrist; new friend; surgery avoided.) Now that I’d been benched for an indefinite period, I understood my practice to be moving off the mat and into the world. Serious yogis practice not to fit in their jeans, but to fit in their lives, no matter what’s coming down the pike.
I reminded myself of this as I headed out into the freezing night, jacket thrown over one shoulder, broken wrist resting safely within the fortress of a mighty cast. In my good hand, I held a prescription for pain meds and a CD of the x-rays for the follow up in Baltimore. Radial fracture notwithstanding, my practice was ramping up just in time for the New Year.
At a cabin high in the bosom of the Cold Hollow Mountains, where many family members had gathered for the holidays, I enjoyed a hero’s welcome. The fondue pot was ready, cheese a-bubbling. Stabbing a hunk of bread with a fondue fork was no problem. With some fondness, I remember this evening as the honeymoon period.
I’ve noticed that people are always interested in the pain meds; that drugs are the de facto consolation prize of any such injury. My eldest, Emily, was already into the cautionary material. “Do you know this doesn’t really treat the pain?” she said. “It just changes your brain chemistry so you don’t care.”
With so much news lately about opioid addiction, and with a gene pool hospitable to substance abuse, I understood her concern. Also, she’d recently witnessed me binge watch seven seasons of Nurse Jackie in a couple of days; this too may have gotten in her head.
I assured her I’d stick to ibuprofen unless it wasn’t cutting it. She said, “Don’t worry, I’m keeping count.”
For all to hear, I disclosed my intention to take one pill the middle of the following day. Emily looked up from her book and shot me a withering look. “But it hurts,” I said, as if that were an excuse.
Soon I forgot about the pain, but by day’s end, I’d grown cranky with my family. It was hard to look for the good. Our little cabin was a mess–dishes piled high, no one taking the initiative on dinner. Within 48 hours, Emily, who’d logged the most time at the sink, was saying things like, “I’m never getting married,” as if marriage is exactly equal to housework. Anyway, it was hardly a wild ride. Later, an in-the-know friend informed me that I hadn’t gotten “the good stuff.”
I’d developed a grave fear of ice and was afraid to leave the cabin without an attendant on each arm. My coat didn’t fit over the cast, hardly anything fit, period. I began to send whining emails to friends back home, complaining about my shiftless family. By the final days of our vacation, my youngest darling, folding laundry, pronounced it the “worst trip ever.” We traveled home a day early.
Freshly landed in Baltimore, I was getting settled at a matinee of the soaring documentary, The Eagle Huntress. I struggled with my outerwear, a woolen cape the color of a bluebird my parents gave me 20 years ago, still with tags, just out for its fledgling flight. A man in the row behind me leaned forward to help. ‘’Looks like you’re one wing down,” he said kindly, freeing me from the folds of the cape. Another early yoga lesson sprang to mind, something about effort and surrender, the two “wings of the heart.” Ah, I thought, surrender. I’d been flapping about on effort alone; it was time to learn to ride the current.
Carl Jung put it this way: “To this day, God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”
Like everyone else, I’d planned to throw myself into work and fitness in the New Year—to redouble my efforts on both fronts. Instead, I’d broken with routine itself—I could not wash dishes, fold laundry, cut an onion, open a jar. Yoga class was out of the question, and I was addressing my keyboard like a chicklet, hunting and pecking with one index finger.
At the follow-up eight days post-accident, X-rays revealed the fracture was in neutral position, “acceptable.” Most likely I’d recover full range of movement, a PA said. On the other hand, she cautioned, if the bone began to slip or migrate, surgery might still be necessary. I wouldn’t be out of the woods for another three weeks and was to exercise caution. No more falls, she said sternly. The next day, hastening to answer the doorbell, I tripped over the dog and came crashing down on the tile floor in the kitchen.
I’m into the third week, and nothing has shifted, bone-wise, though there’s been movement on other fronts—with less yoga I find myself moodier, without a waist, and remembering all the pep talks I’ve given friends who were down and out for one reason or another through the years. I, the endless fount of yogic advice, offer them my belated apologies.
I see that the month of January was always meant for rest, relaxation, and reflection. One-handed, I plant tiny seeds in the pages of my journal and hope they will grow up one day into essays capable of making their way in the world. I see that I have much to learn about patience, forbearance, and compassion, and also about asking for and being able to receive help.
In one area alone, I’ve grown bold to ask. When I stand, surrendered as a child, close to some perfect stranger—security guard, a woman at the bus stop, front desk manager–waiting to have my coat zipped or shoe tied, I savor the intimacy and believe they do too. Looking ahead to the day when I’m fully functional again, I know I’ll miss these tender moments. Maybe this is lesson enough for the month of January.