I’ve been thinking a lot about luck lately.
Last Wednesday, in the midst of our cottage vacation, I had a fall. I was stepping off the deck, a deck I have stepped off multiple times in the past 40-something years, didn’t place my foot fully on the concrete step, causing it to slip off and causing me to soar twisting and windmilling in a—as we now know, futile—attempt to right myself.
I think I would have been ok—lucky, even—if I’d landed on the grass, but the final spin took me over to an exposed tree root that met my left elbow with surprising force. The wet-sounding “thunk” I felt more than heard. The pain was immediate and searing and I knew that I was in trouble. Unlucky, then.
When my brother and I were young and running around at the lake, climbing trees and launching ourselves into the water from large rocks, the common refrain from our parents was something to the effect of “If you break a leg, you’ll have to hop to Hagersville!” Hagersville being the closest hospital, of course. I was never sure why they wanted us to hop, and as I got older I took it to mean either, if you’re dumb enough to hurt yourself in a dumb way,well you’re on your own, or that cocktail hour with the neighbours was in full swing and none of the adults were in any shape to drive in case of emergencies.
Whatever the reasoning, neither my brother or I or any of the other kids to my knowledge needed the local ER. Lucky. We did a lot of dumb stuff.
As John buckled me into my seatbelt while I clutched my injured elbow in a death grip with my other hand, I was very glad to have a ride to the hospital. Lucky John was there. Lucky I wasn’t on my own. Lucky to not have to hop to Hagersville.
The ER was quiet at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning. Lucky for me I was seen and given a sling almost immediately. There were xrays and a diagnosis: your elbow is in a very wrong place, the doctor told me. Look, here is what it’s supposed to look like! Lucky it isn’t broken then. Just dislocated. Lucky me.
The doctor told me they would do a relocation and I prepared myself for the worst. Where would they send me? To Hamilton, I hoped.
Fixing a dislocated elbow is called a relocation, I learned.
I waited and the nurse came back with an IV for me. When they relocate your elbow they give you drugs. So no bullet to bite, no length of dowling shoved in my mouth, that’s nice. I don’t think he was impressed by that.
The nurse asked me how are you doing? Ok, I said. You’ll be groggy but it’s done. What’s done? Your elbow. I missed it all, out like a light. Lucky for me.
Can you walk to another room? I think so. Drawers and drawers of splints and bandages and plaster of paris awaited. What’s happening here? I’m giving you a cast, the doctor said. I had hoped for just being wrapped up and taking it easy. Not lucky enough for that.
When I tell the story now I always talk about how lucky I was. How it could have been so much worse. How lucky to have only dislocated it! It’s not broken, right? Whew, so lucky!
And I am and it is, but why the need to explain away a pretty serious injury? Why minimize the trauma just because, well shit it could have been worse?
I have some thoughts and most of them have to do with not wanting to complain. And, if you explain to people “Oh it’s just dislocated haha nothing to worry about!” there’s no room for less-generous people to tell you you’re overreacting.
The truth is that the pain from this injury was the worst pain I have ever experienced. It’s my dominant arm, too, so rarely have I felt more helpless. I can’t drive. Can’t walk the dog. Can’t write or type. (This draft is in a phone note and it’s taking me forever) Can barely shower unassisted. Getting dressed is a challenge so sometimes I just don’t bother. It’s so frustrating and yet there is that voice that continues to remind me how lucky I am, that it’s a temporary situation, remember; that I should be so grateful.
Decades of putting myself in others’ shoes and looking on the bright side and being thankful, so very thankful for everything I have, means that wallowing in self-pity or even just acknowledging that hey, this is really awful right now feels impossible.
And I know that this is, as they say, a “me thing” but I also suspect I’m not alone in these feelings of guilt for wanting to wallow, to complain, to be sad. Even just for a little while.
A lot of us come from long lines of people who regularly thanked their lucky stars, who didn’t want to be seen as a complainers, to whom “grin and bear it” was a constant mantra. And please trust me when I say I do want to be one of those people! I always want to be the person who thinks of others before themselves! It’s who I am and I am very, very good at it! I just wish there was some sort of middle ground. For me. For all of us.
On Friday I will see a specialist who will determine the next steps for my elbow. With luck, it’s healing well under its cast. Perhaps the cast can even come off.
There are other scenarios, of course: potential for surgery if fractures are found; maybe it’s not healing well and more casting is required. I try not to think about those.
Whatever happens I will bear it, of course. And, with a little bit of luck I may learn to grin only part of the time.
Wish me luck.