I’m not one for remembering dates of my anniversaries and such — the practice doesn’t fit well with a live-in-the-moment attitude, and besides, I seldom know what day it is anyway, and it’s almost impossible to remember what you never knew in the first place. For example, I have no idea what day I met Jeff, and even though I knew at the moment that he would be important to me (I just didn’t know how important), it never occurred to me to mark the date. Years later, when I did want to know, I could only remember that it was the first or second Saturday of August that year. (I wonder if it ever occurred to me before now to make the connection — he came into my life on a Saturday, and left it on a Saturday.)
Still, with my penchant for not paying attention to dates, there are some things so stunningly ghastly that the date can never be forgotten. Jeff’s death, of course. And also the destruction of my arm.
A year ago today, at this time, I was perfectly perfect (in my own overweight way), but by the end of the day, I would have sustained such a devastating injury that from one minute to the next, my life would never be the same.
If there is such a thing as a miracle that brings horror rather than joy, this particular event would have to qualify.
It started in dance class a month or so before the date. The class was going to perform a couple of dances as part of the local college end of semester dance concert, and I did not want to be a part of it. For days, weeks, the class members badgered me to change my mind, and I remember almost crying when I finally told them to leave me alone. “If I do it,” I said, “Something awful will happen.” I did finally agree to be understudy for one particular dance since if any of the principal dancers couldn’t do it, they would be in big trouble.
They finally left me alone, but then a whole string of events occurred. First of all, instead of being at the beginning of December as it always is, the program was scheduled for the middle of November. Second, a major wildfire destroyed the venue of my teacher’s grandson’s wedding, causing the wedding to be changed to the same day as the performance. And one of the best dancers had been absent for a couple of months due to an illness that threatened her grandson’s life.
And so, there I was on that fateful night.
Even then, all would have been well, but just as I turned to cross the parking lot between two cars, the motion-activated lights went out. (I guess from the lights’ perspective, I had disappeared.) Next thing I knew, I was on the ground, screaming in utter pain. When I finally was able to look to see what had happened, I discovered I had tripped over a parking berm. Instead of the parking lines lining up with the berm, they lines forced the cars to park in the space. (Utter idiocy!!)
Well, I finally stopped screaming in pain, and started screaming for help. And not a single person came, not even the security guards who were supposed to be patrolling the area. I considered going back inside to get one of my friends to help me, but after going through all the aggravation to make sure the class could perform, it seemed contraindicative to get them riled up. (And anyway, I didn’t want to trudge that long distance back to the performing arts center — what if there was another unseen obstruction waiting to trip me up?) I considered calling an ambulance, but since it was a Saturday night (Saturdays are sure fateful for me!!) with sirens already sounding in the background, I feared it would be a long time before I could get help. So I wrapped my destroyed wrist (with the bone sticking out) in my veils from the dance and drove myself to the hospital. (At the time, it seemed logical, but now I shudder at the thought.)
And events still conspired to exacerbate this “miraculous” event. For one, the surgeon on call at the hospital told me my elbow wasn’t broken, and as it turns out, it was broken in so many places I eventually had to have the elbow replaced. For another, the surgeon only put on an external fixator without fixing the bones, so that when I finally had the necessary surgery, scar tissue had already began forming. Luckily, this on-call surgeon didn’t want to perform the follow-up surgery, so he sent me to a specialist. That surgeon didn’t want to perform the surgery, either, so he tried to pawn me off on a specialist’s specialist, but when he couldn’t find anyone else to do it, he reluctantly agreed to do the surgery.
At my final follow-up appointment with the surgeon, I thanked him for taking care of me, mentioning that I knew he didn’t want to do the surgery, so I especially appreciated his fixing my elbow/wrist/arm. He laughed and said, “I really, really, really didn’t want to do it.” He went on the explain the difficulty — with a normal wrist fracture, the radius is still connected to the elbow, but with my injury (a pulverized wrist, a shattered elbow, and more than a dozen breaks in the radius due to all my weight landing on the wrist), the radius was unconnected to any other bone (not even to the ulna, since those connecting tendons had also been destroyed in the fall), which made the surgery horrendously difficult. And then, there was the problem of it being an “old” injury. (Even injuries a couple of weeks old apparently cause problems for the surgeon because of the necessity to scrape the scar tissue from fragmented bones.)
Although he told me it would take two years to get back partial use of my hand, wrist, and elbow, I didn’t believe him. But today I do. After a year, I can do many of the things he didn’t think I’d ever be able to do, such as open a door with my left hand. He’d also said I “should” be able to type and drive again, but the tone of his voice expressed doubt. He also said I’d have chronic pain in the ulna (which hadn’t been broken) and the fingers (which hadn’t been broken but which had been pushed out of line) and he was right about that. He also promised arthritis, which is apparently nothing I can avoid. But that won’t come for awhile.
Meantime, after the fear of never being able to use my hand/arm/wrist/fingers, and despite pain and a deformity that apparently only I notice, I am grateful to be able to type, open doors and bottles, drive, carry sort-of-heavy items, and oh, so many things.
In the end, it wasn’t the fall that was miraculous. In a strange sort of way, it was inevitable. The miracle is that I am doing as well as I am.
So as it turns out, this is not a day to remember horrendous event and mourn the loss of some mobility, but a day to give thanks for being able to use my left hand/wrist/elbow/fingers at all.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.