Revelations 1: Looking Back

Bear with me. This one begins with a broken ring finger. To be precise, it begins with the aftermath of the broken finger. The breaking itself is a different story. (a boring one, I assure you.)

At 10 AM on a Saturday my broken finger and I made a visit to a random orthopedist assigned by emergency room staff at 2AM. Random Doctor Ortho examined my x-rays and my sausage-like digit, and he promptly recommended surgery the next day to install tiny pins, screws, and a plate. Surgery: as in hospital overnight, full anesthesia, the works.

My first reaction?  Internally it went like this: “Oh, hell, no. Are you serious? Go under general anesthetic  for a minor appendage helps balance my tea mug and push around my mouse? No. Deal with metal bits in a bone thinner than a pencil forever?  Why? I’m not a painter or a musician or a surgeon.  Can’t it just be splinted?”

For Doc Ortho’s benefit I self-censored a bit. What came out of my mouth was more like, “What happens without surgery?”

Doc Ortho pointed out the splintery bone mush on my x-ray and gave me the odds from perfect healing to gnarly, useless, permanent hurtiness. Both possibilities were outliers. Some degree of stiffness and gnarling was guaranteed without surgery, which was strongly recommended again. I emphasized my disinterest again. Firmly.

Looking back, (check the post title) I realize what a lucky draw I made in the health insurance/medical establishment lottery. Doc Ortho treated me as a partner in my own care from the first. Now that I’ve had to fight for that same respect a few times with other doctors I know how rare it was. I appreciated it then. I have added respect now.

I asked for non-surgical alternatives and their likely outcomes. Doc Ortho offered options. Discussion ensued, and I left with a custom removable cast that hugged my left forearm and enveloped my poor, abused hand.  The next day, Spouseman drove me, my cast, my pain meds, lots of stretch bandage, and RICE instructions to the airport at ridiculous-early o’clock, and we flew to the Emerald City together.

Yup. I basically refused surgery because I wanted to go on vacation.

Above and beyond my “WTF, it’s only a finger?” reaction, I also had non-refundable airline tickets. Our Big Visit with the Spouseman family had been in the works for months. Unless Doc Ortho had insisted the finger would fall off without surgery, I would’ve vetoed it. I was not giving up the multiple-day excursion train trip, a day cruise, and assorted niece&nephew visitations because of a little injury.

That was my thinking. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as they say.

Looking back, I can see that any injury normally addressed with surgery cannot reasonably called little. Back then, I was determined to go have my fun. The whole finger experience taught me how much the depth of a desire influences not only my choices but also my perceptions.

“I’m fine,” I said a dozen times that first day of vacation, between arrival embraces and shared family meals, during conversations and as Spouseman and I were trundled off to guest beds. Awaking the second day, I knew I’d been jet-lagged, exhausted, dehydrated, and in serious pain the day before.  Now I was fine. My pain levels were lower, my energy better, and my excitement higher. Sure, I got queasy when I took off the cast so I could slide my arm into a sleeve while trying on clothes, sure, I got dizzy easily and had to sit down a lot and had no appetite, but I was having fun.

The next day? I woke feeling better and realized I’d been stupid the previous day and I hadn’t been fine at all. That my body resorted to nausea to stop me from stupidity because pain messages weren’t getting through. That I’d still been exhausted and in pain. So I resolved to take it easier, and I knew it would be easy because I felt much better today. I was fine now.

Are you seeing a trend? It took me almost a month to catch on. I was not fine in any objective sense until several weeks into the healing process.** And yet at the time I could not judge that reality accurately, and I would’ve argued if told otherwise. I’m fine, I would say, and I believed it when I said it. That didn’t make it so.

Denial is a talent I have honed to a dangerously sharp edge. Hidden behind a veil of desire, it can cut me until I bleed. The Summer of My Broken Finger wasn’t the first time I learned that lesson. It wasn’t the last. It’s a truth I seem incapable of retaining long term.  Every so often, I need reminding that I can only recognize many of my hurts in retrospect.

I‘m fine, we all say sometimes, and we believe it when we say it. That doesn’t make it true. We are none of us our own best advocates every day.

That’s where trust comes into the picture. I look back every day and am thankful for the friends and family who steer me away from cliff edges and sit me down when I won’t rest.  And I hope I see clearly enough for my friends and speak strongly enough to be there for them in my turn.

Trusting the wrong person is costly. But that’s a tale for another time.

**I’ve made light of the injury, but it was pretty disgusting. I don’t bruise easily, but the trauma left swelling and bruising from fingertip to elbow. Wrestler’s break, it’s called, and despite Doc Ortho being as supremely pleased with the results of the casting job as I was, I couldn’t move all the fingers on that hand properly for almost a year and still have nerve lag and a slight twist in that finger.

Refusing surgery was the right decision, despite making it for odd reasons. Having screws and bits inside my skin…ew, no. I would’ve worried at the damned thing night and day.