Sunday, February 3, 2013

It'll cost you an arm

I thought I had posted this Jan 18. Looks like I didn't. Here it is, attempt #2:

Garrison Keillor observed that remembering yesterday’s pains makes the sun shine somehow brighter today, because no matter what else may have happened to you, at least no one is about to rip out your cornea.

I broke my leg the day my brother was born
As we took a short walk around the block last night – our first short walk in a long time because of illness – our feet skidded and slipped on the poking pods that fall from the trees on the block. I recalled 20 years before how I was playing a game with my brother and some neighborhood boys his age. I ran to jump across the ivy separating the sidewalk from the street. I planted my foot on a handful of those pods, slid on them, and landed full force on one now-broken arm. That was junior high.

I remember that broken arm most for the day this one short kid with a big mouth annoyed me one time too many and I did something I wouldn’t have if I’d thought for one second: lifted my cast and plonked him one on the head. It wasn’t a hard swing, but it echoed satisfactorily in the cafeteria line. He swore he and his gang would get me. I left school by a different route several times to keep out of trouble until it blew over. I’m even more grateful he never wandered over to the principal’s office about it, just threatened me with gang violence that never materialized (probably in part because he had no gang if I recall).

Of course my best broken arm that we talked about on our walk was the arm I broke on black ice six weeks into my mission in the former East Germany.
I have several fun memories from the first day of that two week hospitalization over Christmas and New Year’s. I remember locals coming out of the apartments to wrap me in aluminum foil to keep the freezing rain off me. I remember writing my parents’ phone number with my left hand to give my mission companion, Benji Harry, before the ambulance doors closed. I remember getting x-rays: the nurse kept trying to turn me so the broken arm faced the machine but I wasn’t understanding her instructions. The doctor finally said, “Speak German. His German is better than your English.” She commanded, “Dreh dich,” and even though I’d never heard the verb drehen, I finally “turned myself” as requested.

My least favorite memory, though, was the electric shock therapy. They wheeled me into an empty corridor with a couple electrodes in my arm and a device in my dead hand. Every few seconds, it sent a jolt into my arm. I hadn’t had any pain killers yet. No one was around to talk to for about 15-20 minutes. It hurt more and more. Then I started feeling nauseous. When an orderly finally walked by to bring in another patient, I tried to tell him how I felt, but he just assured me I had a few more minutes to go and left. When the inevitable happened, a nurse cleaned me up and apologized.

I remembered those experiences while reading a friend’s blog of her hospital stay in Moscow. Adventures in foreign medicine are best relived than lived. No question.

Hopefully you feel a little happier about your life now. I do.