I broke my arm once. Things could have been worse.
I was changing trash bags in the greenhouse late at night one June when a concrete step crumbled and I went down. In seconds I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I tried to sit up and my arm dangled helplessly. Friends from church helped pick me up off the floor and took me to ER where the triage nurse told me my blood pressure was high, where I said to the receptionist, "just let me lie down in a corner somewhere and die."
They gave me three kinds of painkiller, including a shot of morphine (which I questioned) with dark intimations of surgery that very night. Instead, an elderly orthopedic doctor on call fixed me up with a cast and sent me home.
At the regular orthopedic office they cut off the cast with a scary looking circular saw and put me in a tight, hot, uncomfortable body immobilizer.
At the internal medicine doctor's office they made me step on a scale. I carry around a deeply ingrained image of myself as a thin person. Oops. Reality check.
The doctor started me on meds. The weather was hot, I felt vaguely sick, I had no appetite for anything least of all my new low salt, low fat diet. If I ate a food one day, the next day I couldn't stand to look at it, so one food after another got crossed off my list. Even bananas. Furthermore caffeine and more than one glass of milk per day were off limits. (My calcium level was too high). And yet I knew I had to eat in order for my arm to heal. I choked down egg beater omelets and salt free ezekiel bread. I was told to lose weight.
Except for the kindness of a good friend who came once a week or so to clean me up I was trapped in the same clothes for days on end. Sometimes I smelled pretty bad. I had yeast infections under both arms. Having one arm strapped to my side made me lose my equilibrium. I was having problems with steps. I dreamed repeatedly that I fell again and my arm broke off. Some of it was psychological. When I got my mind off myself I was fine. But then again in the middle of a parking lot I would lose it and become panicky and disoriented.
One day the greeter at WalMart gave me a free pillbox. She said “You need a pillbox when you reach the golden age.” I saw myself through her eyes....hobbling through traffic, slow and uncertain, hanging on to someone's arm, wearing a jacket that belonged to my late mother and large, baggy, balloon-like sweatpants. Minnesota Nice, I thanked her for the pillbox instead of flinging it angrily in her face. I thought about writing a letter of complaint to the store but I let it go.
With injury and healing come introspection....and boredom. I read library books. And watched Ingmar Bergman movies. He is from the same area of Sweden as my ancestors, land of the original goths, gloom and hopelessness. I saw the same blondeness, bald heads, bitterness toward the Church of Sweden in the Bergman movies as in my family. The little boy in Silences resemble pictures of my grandfather when he was a boy......
Speaking of blonde hair, a light patch developed at the crown of my head. It didn't show much due to the fact my natural color leans toward ash blonde but I hated it. Hated it. I got on zoloft now. My doctor assured me I was being treated for anxiety not depression. Wow what a relief. I wouldn't want to be depressed.
My temper flared in the summer heat. One day I said to my brother, "You've got to do something about that car. People are going to think you're a criminal". That old Plymouth was rusty, the gas tank leaked, it had a cracked windshield, doors and windows that wouldn’t open or shut, and a key stuck in the ignition. But no one would ever steal it, not even as a getaway car. They would want one that would actually get away.
The orthopedic doctor showed me fuzzy white bone growth on the xray. My blood pressure was ok. I was getting better. I sent a naughty story into a magazine. I said to myself, “Someday soon I'll get out of these sweatpants.” Golden age indeed. Stuff it, lady.
I wrote that for the newsletter at Trinity in Cass Lake when I was secretary there.
And another essay I wrote about a broken arm:
A friend from church pinned a guardian angel pin to my lapel and gave me a hug. "This is to remind you that there is someone looking out for you", she said. I thanked her politely, but I was too sophisticated to believe in angels.
One night in late May,
it was past midnight and I had dozed off over a novel. A whinny reminded me I had forgotten to fill the horses' watering tank. I ran down the steps of the porch, eager to turn on the pump before the distant rumble of thunder and lightning flashes turned into a full blown storm. A concrete step crumbled underneath me and I went down. Hard.
I struggled to pull myself up. My arm hung limp and useless. I screamed, forgetting that my brother who lived with me was away. No one heard my cries for help
I struggled to my knees. Maneuvering the short distance to the porch railing so I could hoist myself up took forever. The skies opened and pelted me with rain and hail.
I dialed with my injured right arm. Every movement was painful. My friend Ivy from church answered the phone and I whispered, "Help". Ivy and her husband Floyd took me to the emergency room. That is where my house of cards fell apart.
"Do you have insurance?" asked the receptionist.
"No", I replied, sheepishly. I felt ashamed. Only bums and losers went without medical insurance. I hadn't visited a doctor in ages. I had thus been able to hold myself aloof from people like the woman in the next room with her three kids, who used ER for her health care because it was free and because she, and I, had no other choice..
The triage nurse fastened the bp cuff on me. She took her reading and said, "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?"
"Three or four.".
She frowned, "Are you sure? Your blood pressure is dangerously high".
I could have told her so, even without a reading. That explained my headaches.
"You make sure the doctor addresses this issue", she advised me. "You could have a stroke at any time".
The pain had set in, and my spirits sank as all of my worst nightmares unfolded. Accident, no insurance, underlying health conditions. What would happen to me?
X-rays showed that my upper humerus was shattered. The doctor and nurses were surprised I still had movement and feeling in my arm. I heard the dreaded word. Surgery.
I had never been under a general anesthetic. As I sat in the examining room, I regretted the indecision that had caused me to live so cautiously, without drama or risk. We expect to go out with the grand chords of an overture's final movement, a weeping throng around our bedside. I had no one, except my neighbor, the nurse, and a lab tech. Would it end here, in this silent, sterile emergency room?
My passing would not cause keen and exquisite pain to anyone. I was a loner.
Instead of a throng of the heavenly host singing me out of this world, I would be laid on a gurney and wheeled into the operating room.
In my mind's eye, I could see my horses. Son and Sill. The gelding and the mare. I had purchased fancy harnesses and a wagon and was learning to drive. They were a team, and I was the third member. What would happen to my beloved horses?
The nurse, "We're bringing in an orthopedic surgeon. He's an elderly gentleman and he's very meticulous".
I'm sure Dr. Johnson had seen a lot of broken bones in his career. He asked me about my lifestyle, and how having a broken limb would affect my activities. I blurted out something about not being able to wash my hair, and he suggested dry shampoo. I told him I was a writer and a small business owner with an online website and I needed my arm for typing. And, oh yes, I was a church secretary.
"That will be a big help in your recovery", said Dr. Johnson. "You will have people praying for you". The way he said it, I had a feeling the good doctor would be offering his own prayer for me.
My fracture was too close to the shoulder to put in a cast. I got stuck in a body immobilizer and thus began one of the worst summers of my life. I had to sleep sitting up, in record breaking heat and humidity. That arm crunched every time I moved. I developed yeast infections under both arms. A friend who does nursing care helped me bathe. She could spare one hour a week and in the interim I smelled bad. Fear of falling again had taken over, and I could barely cross a parking lot without hanging on to someone's arm.
Worst of all, I was on four medications and a low salt diet, and I had no appetite whatsoever.
Worries abounded. Would I need surgery on my arm? Had my unchecked blood pressure damaged my heart? Would I need heart surgery? What would happen to my horses? I knew my brother would take care of them but might he have to sell them to pay my bills?
Slowly my situation improved. The medications brought my blood pressure back to normal. There was nothing wrong with my heart. I qualified for insurance. My arm healed. One day, I wrenched that body immobilizer off, jumped in the shower and took my own bath. I fixed myself sandwiches that actually tasted good! Swiss on rye with a slice of tomato! Mmmmm!
Best of all, I could open the gate to the horse pasture. Son and Sill came running to meet me.
The summer heat abated and before I knew it, the holiday season had arrived. I decided to check on my supply of greeting cards.
Religious ones from previous years were left over. Nativities, shepherds, wise men and angels. Not my favorites. I had doubts. I reasoned it out that since there was a creation, there had to be a Creator. But nothing in the news headlines inspired faith in either humanity or a supreme being. Nothing but crime, violence, and cruelty. And where was He the night that I fell? Watching sparrows? I wondered if God hadn’t started the world as something of a mad scientist’s experiment and then let it go to see what would happen.
Try as I might, I couldn’t summon up any joy or seasonal cheer. As I struggled with another false start to my message, I heard the doorbell. Something about the sound bothered me, but I arose from the office chair and hurried to the front door.
Through the window, I could see a tall stranger with gray-streaked black hair and a cowboy hat. “Are those your horses, ma’am?”, he asked.
Sure enough. There were Son and Sill, out on the road again. I grabbed my jacket and headed out to fetch them, thanking the man for alerting me. “I’m not very good with horses”, I admitted.
“At your service, ma’am. I’ve had horses since I was a young ‘un”. The man took charge and brought Son back to the pasture on the lead rope. Sill followed meekly. Behind the closed gate, the two were safe once again!
“I don’t know what I would have done without your help”. My voice shook. “I-I really should offer you.... a cup of coffee?”
The man tipped his hat. “I’ll take you up on that another day. I’m your new neighbor. Name’s Bill”. His big hand engulfed mine.
“Thank God you came along”, I blurted out.
I hadn’t meant to mention God. I really hadn’t.
Later, back at my computer, I pondered the situation. That man had appeared just in time! But how had I known he was standing there on my doorstep? My office was deep in the recesses of the old farmhouse and I very seldom heard knocks at the door. “Oh, now I remember”, I said to myself. “It was the doorbell”.
That doorbell hadn’t worked in years!
The angel cards still lay on my desk. A little voice said to me, "Maybe you should take a second look at these". I had survived the worst summer of my life. At every turn, someone had stepped forward to help me. My friend Ivy and her husband Floyd who took me to ER. The nurse who warned me about my blood pressure. The elderly doctor. My brother, who encouraged me to eat. The friend who bathed me. Another friend, who sent me a box of books and movies to distract me while I healed. All of the friends at church who offered me advice, encouragement, and good humor, who sent me cards, brought me food and gifts, prayed for me. And now, this stranger appeared at my door, rang that defunct doorbell, and rescued my horses.
Talk about a heavenly host!
My hands returned to the keyboard. “Dear friends and family”, I typed. “Do you believe in guardian angels? I sure do!”.
I wrote this for Guideposts, didn't enclose an SASE, so I don't know what happened to it. But here it is.