I am rushing to my appointment at [unnamed/incompetent] Orthopedics when I knock over one of those horrible little porcelain figurines that come in the Red Rose tea boxes. I have knocked it off the front desk at work; the woman at the front desk collects them. It is the one I hate the most, a creepy little trolly guy with outstretched arms. Secretly, I call him “Chucky.”
Irene, the woman at the front desk at the health center today, leans over and picks up a tiny little arm from the floor.
“You broke his arm off,” she accuses me.
“Which arm?” I ask, my suspicions rising. I already know.
“His left one.” Her eyes dart unwillingly to my left arm that she believes is now acting as a war-club on a mission to wipe out all her scary trolls.
I have taken out creepy little Chucky with my left arm that now is sheathed in fiberglass and about 17 pounds of ace bandages, the splint that the soft-spoken PA at Emergent Care put on my broken arm nine days ago. The arm that is supposed to be re-cast in a permanent cast today.
I have an uneasy feeling of foreboding.
“This is weird. I wonder what this is all about,” Irene says as she tries to re-attach Chucky’s arm.
“I know what it means. It’s a premonition of things to come.”
Irene looks at me like now it’s confirmed that I’m nuts.
“No, really,” I continue, “I don’t want a new cast today. I love this splint. It’s comfortable and yummy and I can still work with it on. I don’t have a twinge of pain. As my grandfather always said, ‘If it ain’t broke—don’t fix it.’ Oh…wait…”
I head out the door.
I am supposed to see the Orthopedic Specialist but I never do see him. I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line-up if my life depended on it. Instead, I see his PA, a perky young woman in her mid-thirties (although at my age, all these doctors are starting to look like they are twelve). She is very self-confident and personable. She removes my beloved splint, pokes around for a minute, and then sends me to Radiology—yet again. I’m going to start glowing in the dark.
I sit alone in Radiology for an hour. My left arm lies limply in my lap. I am very protective of it. My arm is like a hermit crab—it is exposed and flaccid and vulnerable to predation. It doesn’t like being out of its shell.
I am trying to read a magazine one-handed without much success. Have you ever tried reading a magazine with one hand? Try it—it sucks. The magazine keeps flopping over to one side. I give up and just stare at the dusty plastic plant in front of me.
Finally someone comes in the room and asks if I’m from “Ortho.” I nod “Yes.” She says no one told them I was there. Effing fabulous.
The x-ray room is surreal in a dim subterranean half-light, with two enormous older women shuffling around, their white scrubs glowing with an otherworldly gloom. The woman with the backside that is two ax-handles wide, tosses me a lead apron to tie around my middle. I struggle to tie it with one hand. I give up and sit down. There is not one possibility in hell that I could be pregnant.
All of a sudden I get a deja vu of working in Moscow. I am back working as a midwife in Radom #23, the maternity hospital in Moscow in 1990—when it was still the Soviet Union. The only thing that’s different is that no one is smoking cigarettes and stubbing the butts out on the floor.
The woman instructs me to straighten my arm out across the table and then twist my elbow 90 degrees. I look up at her, my mouth dropped open. She’s kidding me, right? She repeats her instruction.
I say, as politely as I can muster, “Ma’am, if I could do that little maneuver—I wouldn’t be here.”
The woman roughly grabs my wrist and wrenches my arm out-straight across the table and then presses it down. I see stars. Seriously, I feel like I am going to pass out.
I amend my deja vu. Even the orderlies in Moscow were more warm and fuzzy than these women.
I mutter, “Dasvedanya!” in Ruskie under my breath as I leave.
Back with the hipster PA, I look at the radial head of my elbow on the x-rays. The fracture is clearly visible. It is “displaced” and “stepped-down” as she shows me with a pointer. She states that there is a possibility that I may need to have a pin put in my elbow. I wince. This was not on my screen at all.
Here’s where I believe I made the fateful mistake that changed the course of everything.
“I don’t have any insurance,” I say, “Well, I do, but it’s ‘catastrophic.’ I’ll be paying for all this out-of-pocket.”
Did her demeanor just change subtly—or am I just being paranoid?
“Oh, well, in that case, let’s just re-splint your arm and check it again in two weeks.” With this she steps out of the door.
The door opens again and a young bebopper woman with a blonde ponytail steps in. She is chewing gum.
“Hi, I’m Andrea,” she grins. “I’ll be doing your splint today.”
I peer at her nametag. It has large blue letters after her name. CMA. Certified Medical Assistant.
She pulls out a roll of the splint material that hardens into fiberglass. She fumbles with the closure on the package.
She says, “I may need your help holding this while it hardens.”
I ask, “Do you do a lot of these?”
“No, never,” she giggles.
The CMA has me twist my left hand away from my body and pinch the cast material with my fingers to hold it in place while it hardens.
I swear I hear Chucky’s evil laugh over the intercom.
Later, I leave work early because I just don’t feel “right.” The top of my forearm has a dull ache. I tell Tom that I feel like shit and that I’m going to skip dinner and just go to bed.
I wake at 2:00 AM and know that something is really, really wrong. My arm is screaming, the pain is unbearable. I immediately run to the bathroom and vomit. I tell Tom something is really wrong with the cast—it’s making me sick. Tom gently unwraps the splint and removes the fiberglass. He thinks it’s too tall, too far up under my armpit, and maybe was suppressing my brachial artery that made me feel so nauseous.
I can hear Tom downstairs sawing off the top of the cast with his sawsall. What a guy—what a sweetie—up in the middle of the night sawing off the Iron Maiden to free the old lady. He comes back upstairs and rewraps it. I take 800 mg. of Ibuprofen and try to sleep.
Two hours later I am moaning and writhing in pain. This is worse than natural childbirth! I run and vomit again. I can’t do this. I tell Tom to take it off again—I’ll just keep it off until I can be re-splinted at Emergent Care. I lie with my poor arm draped, useless and throbbing, across my torso. The pain is excruciating. I realize my arm has just been re-broken.
In the morning light we see the culprit. The fiberglass splint is twisted like a spiral pasta. The shape of the cast had been forcing my radius in an abnormal rotation, stressing and re-breaking the fracture. The past ten days of healing have been negated and I have been set back to Day One. I am distraught.
Don’t ever say Chucky didn’t try to warn me.
POSTSCRIPT: Contrary to medical advice, I never did put my cast back on. I signed up for a strength training class for senior women. I worked out gently with 80+-year-old women, doing weights and resistance training with bungee cords with those lovely ladies until I was able to pick my nose with my left hand. My arm was completely healed in less than six weeks thanks to those feisty old gals. (And now I wear YakTraks to get old deaf Gladys out of the compost pile at night.)