Three years ago today I thought I could hang onto a zipline without a harness and manage quite well since my then 10 year old son could do that with no problem. I failed to consider I have considerably more body mass and far less upper body strength than a wiry 10 year old boy. Gravity drove that lesson home quite emphatically when I plummeted to earth and completely demolished my left arm from the elbow to the fingers. If you'd like the gory details with a drug addled twist feel free to peruse them. The faint of heart need not worry, no pictures of the gore are included. If you want to chuckle over what I look liked stoned out of my mind on the remnants of anesthesia and lots of Percoset go here.
It was a complex enough injury (smashed head of the radius, compound fracture of same, dislocation of the elbow by several inches, shredded ligaments and tendons) that my surgeon gave a fairly grave report when he spoke to me the first time after reassembly humpty dumpty. At that time he wasn't sure if I had also sustained nerve damage or how much. He kept repeating that I may not ever regain full use. He described in detail the various repairs he had done the limitations I would notice once the cast was off...basically, expect it to be a useless appendage dangling off me. (Oh hey, bonus! After the other repairs my surgical punch card was full so he added in carpal tunnel surgery while he was at it.). At that time I also could not feel the three middle fingers on my left hand and finally looked him in the eye when he was done and said, "So what you're saying is when I can intentionally flip you the bird I will know I have recovered?" My surgeon finally let his mouth curl into a smile and said, "You're going to be just fine. It will be a long road, but you'll do well even if you don't get full use back."
My occupational therapist took one look at me during my first appointment with her and I caught a fleeting glimpse of sheer astonishment and total bewilderment on her face before she regained a professional calm. My arm and hand were completely useless. No strength, no range of motion to speak of, and I couldn't even touch thumb to finger, much less make a fist (the surgeon had not lied about the uselessness). When I was finally discharged from her care after 6 and a half months of therapy 3 times a week she admitted that on my first day she was a bit panicked. She just didn't even know where to begin because I was such a train wreck. She also added she was glad to see who my surgeon had been because she knew at least I had been put back together skillfully. I earned bonus points for using my bad hand (dubbed Janita by Lecram) to do things she didn't ask me to do like cleaning up various torture devices she used on me. I also asked innumerable questions about the anatomy and function of my hand and I truly celebrated each tiny increment of improvement. She and my other therapist celebrated with me just as much. The two of them were truly wonderful people who made a long and painful process something I did not dread.
There were a LOT of things I couldn't do for a long time. Even when I was discharged there were still several things I still was not quite able to do and I was still dealing with a certain low level of pain even when at rest. I was thankful for what I had gained though, no doubt about that. Winter was not at all pleasant because the cold and damp made Janita ache and throb. I figured that would certainly not improve with passing years since x-rays revealed a lot of post traumatic arthritis in the joint that first year already. I am pleased to report this past winter, harsh as it was weatherwise, was really not a bad year for Janita.
All that to say, three years out and I am still profoundly grateful for the things I can do again. I still find myself smiling and whispering a prayer of thanks when I can unstick a stubborn jar lid (although I have a slightly unorthodox method these days) or carry a bunch of grocery bags. I do not take for granted being able to gather up my hair into a ponytail when it's hot. I was actually thrilled to be the official "french braider" of the marching band last year. (The girls are not allowed to have their hair loose. It all has to be neatly tucked up under their hats.) That was a major accomplishment of manual dexterity in my book. I am so glad to be able to give decent back rubs again (but just for the record I am every bit as glad to be on the receiving end of those too!) I have done tons of tie dyeing in the last year which also requires a certain dexterity. I am sure I would have been able to figure out how to do that one handed, but being able to use both my hands to do it is a gift. This year I started the big job of making a quilt. I wasn't sure how well Janita would hold up for the demand of cutting out 900 blocks of fabric. She done good and I was again very thankful. There are a hundred little things I can do that I continue to be amazed by 3 years later, things I never thought twice about before. At the same time, I rather like that I learned how to do certain things one handed. You guys out there may think it's pretty impressive to release your dates from their brassieres using only one hand but I can get a bra ON myself and hooked properly with only one hand. Ok, I realize none of the men are impressed by that because it defeats their purpose but dat's mad skillz, baby.
I have come to realize I am never going to be able to do a proper push-up. Then again I couldn't do them before I mangled my arm. Janita just will not bend that way AND bear weight at the same time. Ain't gonna happen. No great loss. In fact, I am rather glad to have a justifiable excuse for NOT doing push-ups. I am not sure I will ever do a cartwheel off a diving board again. Yes, that I did every summer until I broke myself. One must celebrate the commencement of pool season. I shall have to celebrate in alternate ways now. Waves sweetly to the crowd, gently brushes the hair out of my face, smiles demurely, and.....CANNONBALL!!!!!
Janita may never be 100% but she has done so much better than anyone expected. So this week, a couple of days early, I am offering up a count of the myriad skills I have regained and those I learned anew. I just don't take any of them for granted any more.