I’ve mentioned my clumsiness, right? I know I have. It’s legendary. I can’t even impress upon you how clumsy I am. In high school, I fell down some stairs at my boyfriend’s house and lost the ring he’d just given me (and banged myself up pretty severely in the process.) I once fell on my ass so badly I bruised my tailbone and had trouble sitting for two weeks. I think I needed one of those doughnut pillows but I was way too embarrassed to even go to the doctor and explain that I’d fallen so badly I had a sore rear, let alone get a prescription for an ass doughnut.
The best example of this clumsiness leading to injury was my senior year of college. I was moving out of my apartment and into a new one (transitioning between undergrad and grad school, and my current roommates were moving away) and was in the new apartment, puttering around and decorating a little. We weren’t officially moving in for another week, but we’d gotten the keys early so we could have the space in advance. My summer roommate was in her room, I was in mine, and we had planned a trip to the mattress store later in the afternoon to get a new bed for her. I decided a good use of my time would be to hang glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. (I know. That’s not a good use of anyone’s time. I was obsessed with glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling for years. I don’t know why, exactly. I thought it would be like camping without the mosquitoes or bears or cold-water showers? Still not sure on that one.)
We were in the midst of moving in, so we didn’t have much in the way of furniture there yet. I poked around, found an old kitchen chair on the back porch, and stood on it to put the stars on my ceiling. I didn’t look at it too closely. It was a chair. There were four legs. It was made of wood. What more do you want?
Well, rungs. Rungs are what you want. Because I stood on it, and it was already missing two rungs, and the third rung was just popped into one of the holes in the leg, and one of the legs just broke clean off. I was reaching up to the ceiling at the time, and went down. Hard. I landed on my hipbone and my elbow, mostly.
My roommate came running in to see what the noise was, and I just sat there laughing, because seriously, who but me stands on a chair missing rungs that she pulled from a random back porch because she could not wait to put up glow-in-the-dark stars before she even had a bed to enjoy them from? We tossed the chair in the garbage and went to run errands.
That’s when I started to realize that something might be seriously wrong.
I’d banged my elbow pretty badly, but I fall a lot, so it wasn’t a new thing. I mean, who hasn’t banged their elbow? Elbows hurt like a son of a bitch. They even have an ironic nickname. “Funnybone.” Because they’re not! Funny to injure, I mean! Ha!
My roommate drove, and I realized I’d started cradling my arm. I told myself to stop being a baby. It would stop hurting soon. I’d just banged the damn thing. It was nothing. I’d fallen worse than this before.
We got to the mattress store and she asked if I wanted to stay in the car, but I told her no, I was fine to come in. She walked around, talking to the salesperson, and I sat on the edge of a mattress, gingerly, holding my arm very, very steadily to my chest with the other. The next thing I knew, she and the salesperson were standing over me. “Are you ok? You’re really pale,” she said. But her voice sounded like it was coming from a million miles away. My ears were ringing. There were huge black spots in front of my eyes. I couldn’t talk.
“Um, yeah, we’re going to the ER. You broke your arm, dummy,” she said, and bustled me off to the car and brought me to the ER as quick as she could, me weakly protesting I’d be fine, I just banged my arm, I fell all the time. “Do you pass out in mattress stores all the time, too? We’re going,” she said. She was very practical in a crisis.
We got to the ER and waited. And waited. And waited. As long as I didn’t move, I was fine. If I moved, I was either going to pass out or throw up again, one or the other. When we were signing in, I’d asked the nurse if I could take a painkiller. She looked at me like I’d just mentioned, offhandedly, I liked to murder puppies and feed their corpses to toddlers on my time off. “No, because we don’t know what’s wrong yet,” she said. “That could be very dangerous, until we know your condition.”
I’m fairly sure downing a couple of store-brand ibuprofen wouldn’t have killed me if falling off of a chair onto a hardwood floor didn’t, but I figured since she worked in the medical profession, she knew better than I did.
They finally got me in and told me they needed to take an x-ray to see if I’d actually broken a bone. I was alright with that until I realized they’d need to straighten out my arm to do so. I actually got up to leave, until I almost passed out from the movement. The nurse tried to hold me down and straighten out my arm. I actually struggled with her.
Her actual words to me? “Don’t be a baby.”
Don’t be a BABY? Um, this is hurting me to the point of PASSING OUT? So “don’t be a baby” really isn’t the most constructive thing you could say to me right now?
Then – THEN! – she brought in two “orderlies” who I think were actually “professional wrestlers” because one held me down and the other straightened out my arm. I passed out on the table. I only know this because when I came to, the nurse (I like to call her Nurse Ratched) told me, “Well, that was a lot easier when you weren’t struggling.”
Um, thanks? I – I aim to please?
She sent me back out into the waiting room to wait for the results. At this point, I was really angry. Wrestlers had been called in to straighten out my broken arm; a sadistic evil nurse had called me a baby; and no one would allow me to take linty ibuprofen from the bottom of my purse. And my arm hurt. Seriously HURT.
About an hour later (what were they DOING back there? Playing strip POKER? There was no one else even in the waiting room for them to see!) a doctor came out and said, very condescendingly, “There’s nothing wrong. No break. You just bumped it in your fall. Go home and put an ice pack on it. You’ll be fine.”
I got up, livid (and almost passed out, so my roommate had to hold me up) and said, “I am LEAVING. There is OBVIOUSLY something wrong, but you can’t FIND IT.” Then I stomped out (only, I didn’t as much “stomp” as “tried not to throw up on my roommate’s shoes”) and we got three-fourths of the way to her car (this took a very, very long time) when ANOTHER doctor ran out of the side door of the hospital, panting.
“Stop! STOP! YOUR ELBOW IS BROKEN!” he yelled across the parking lot.
This did not inspire confidence.
There was a hairline fracture in my elbow, which apparently a number of people didn’t see, but this guy did. Do you know what they do for broken elbows? Me, either, but for this one, nothing. They gave me a sling made of muslin (seriously, theatrical muslin, I recognized it from school) and a prescription for codeine and told me it should be better in 6-8 weeks.
This seemed a little Keystone Cops to me.
I walked around with a sling that looked like I cobbled it together myself in scene shop at the theater for 6-8 weeks. Classy! That didn’t get dirty at all! My reaction to codeine – well, let’s just say we don’t play well together. I pass out about half an hour after taking it. Even codeine cough syrup does this to me. Over the next week, friends found me passed out on the floor of my closet (I’d gone in to clean it in preparation for the move – easy, with only one arm you could use) and on an acquaintance’s shoulder, drooling down her top (she’d come over to watch a movie; I’d popped a pill, and off to dreamland I went – her shoulder was apparently the nearest pillow my unconscious head found. Embarrassing. I didn’t even know her that well.) My parents came up to help me move and we went to dinner and my father had to help me cut up my food. He was struck by how adorable this was; I was distressed by how I felt like a weirdo cripple. I half-expected people to start calling me Blue Roses and comparing me to a glass figurine.
The follow-up doctor told me I’d probably feel the weather in my elbow for the rest of my life (um, thank you, now I am a barometer?) but I don’t, so mixed blessing, I guess? That’d kind of be a nice superpower, so not even getting a superpower out of the whole thing seems like a raw deal. However, he also predicted I would never be able to straighten out my arm again, and I can. Um, now that I look back on it, this doctor sort of sucked? Hmm. Probably not a good idea when your followup is in the back of a van. Yeah, I’m here all week, tip your waiters. Just keep your feet and hands to yourself, otherwise I could trip, and you know I’ll bring your ass down with me.