The agony and the…nah, just the agony of physical therapy

I have not been writing as much about the great outdoors in the past month because 1) the snow, up until last weekend, has been practically non-existent (I keep thinking of that line from Dexter where our hero is unwittingly exchanging text messages with a cocaine dealer who texts, “Lifts are open. Where’s my snow?”), and 2) because the absolute worst part of a broken wrist was not the surgery, the week I spent with my wrist practically immobile prior to the surgery, nor the awkward and hard-to-work-around bandages most of my hand was encased in for the week following the surgery, but the recovery. And by recovery, I specifically refer to physical therapy.

You see (warning: major digression ahead, but I promise, it relates), when I was a student, I was used to advancing quickly. I was upset, nay, enraged when I discovered prior to my senior year of high school that (Cherry Creek School District credit requirements being what they were) I could’ve graduated a year early if I’d just doubled up on English classes during my junior year. I was pleased when I pursued a course of study during college that would allow me to graduate in three years, and I was a little miffed that I couldn’t work four classes per semester into my graduate school schedule at Georgetown, allowing me to complete the program in a year and a half instead of two.

I hadn’t been a straight-A student since the third grade, but even with all this self-imposed pressure to get shit done, I still made the high school honor roll, graduated cum laude from college, and got a respectable 3.67 GPA from a graduate program at Georgetown University (yes, I’m going to be bandying that one about a lot. Make whatever snide pop-psychology remarks about compensation you wish). In short, I’m used to getting pretty good results with snappy turnaround times. Hence why PT has sucked more dick than a Republican Congressman in an airport bathroom for me.

I thought PT was going to be like every other challenge I’ve taken on. I was confident that I’d find the shortcuts. I read that full recovery for a broken wrist could take two to three months and sneered, “I’ll have this puppy back to normal in eight weeks at the latest.” I was encouraged by my first meeting with my physical therapist, who admired the range of motion I’d already regained on my own after a week out of the bandages. He told me my insurance company had approved seven visits, and that he’d see about squeezing another seven out of them after we’d made some progress. I nodded and smiled, all the while thinking, “Pssh. I’m only going to need the first seven.”

Needless to say, at some point this week, I will be coming up on visit ten or eleven (I’ve lost count) of the twelve the surgeon originally prescribed. My range of motion is slowly improving from where it was after that first visit, but as it turns out, you can’t push protesting muscles as far as you can apparently push your brain during a horrible semester of taking nineteen credits, six of which were for seminars. Your mind will accept caffeine as a bribe for lost sleep. Your wrist won’t accept any sort of begging, bartering, or bribery at all.

So even though it’s coming up on two months since I broke the wrist, I still have to trudge desolately to my physical therapist’s office once a week (at least I get some exercise. Also, living this close to this many hospitals is somewhat reassuring when your boyfriend cooks Paula Deen-style foods and you have a condition that leaves you prone to heart disease). I grimace my way through stretches that my hand stubbornly refuses to relax into, and I stare at the therapist’s notes on my progress, wondering why he had to go and use my dominant hand, which obviously has more flexibility to it, for comparison.

I can’t say as I’ve finally come to accept that there won’t be the celebratory air surrounding the end of PT that there was surrounding my graduation ceremonies (although I was so grouchy about having to attend commencement at both the high school and college levels that this could be a blessing). Sure, every time I go a full two minutes on the strengthening machine at the therapist’s office, there’s a little burst of pre-recorded applause. But it only seems to mock me; not so deep down, I know that there’s still more to come.

I also know that there won’t be any sense of completion when I finish PT. Either the therapist will say, “You’ve still got a ways to go, but your insurance only allows twenty PT visits a year. Since you might need some for another injury, keep working on this at home. Good luck.” Or, more likely, I’ll forget to call his office, or they won’t be able to pencil me in that week, and thus my official recovery will end not with a bang, but a whimper.

I furthermore know that even telling myself that I’ve had enough won’t give me any sense of accomplishment. Unlike the suggested message of commencement ceremonies–it’s a new start! New opportunities! More chances afforded to you than to your peers!–there’s only the promise of being solidly average once again, of being able to do dishes and take out the trash without too much creaking from the affected joint. Where’s the achievement in hearing, “Yay! You sucked before, but now you’re AVERAGE!”–especially when average seems to entail detested household chores?

But trudge away I must, because I want to enjoy the snow we are finally receiving without worrying about injuring my wrist all over again. Although I feel very badly for anyone who now has to hear me inject a completely irrelevant anecdote beginning, “When I was at Geoooorgetoooowwwn…” into conversations.

Breaking bones is hard to do

The snow sucked on Monday, but that was no surprise. I’d already decided to practice the boarding skills I’d acquired during adult ski school on Friday. Really, bad conditions were my primary reason for picking up boarding; there’s only so much excitement to be gained from skiing the groomers after you’ve passed that level. Staying home, I decided, wasn’t an option. I needed the exercise, and I’d already paid for the pass, which was kind of like investing in a seasonal gym membership. Dammit, I was going to enjoy whatever Loveland Valley, the raw beginner area, had to offer.

I was doing pretty well at first. The only time I ate shit getting off the lift was when some idiot decided to put his ski back on right in the drop zone, and I didn’t have the dexterity to avoid him. Otherwise, I showed great improvement, in my humble estimation.

On my planned penultimate run, I determined that I would buckle down and try a toe-side turn. There was no reason not to, I thought; I was on the bunny slope and would be going slowly enough that I couldn’t possibly hurt myself. Besides, I’d done one on Friday, under my instructor’s guidance, and I hadn’t even fallen. Granted, he’d come down to catch me when I started to tip over, but still. I readied myself at the flatter section near the bottom and made my turn.

I thought I was going to fall forward. Instead, I somehow wound up careening backwards. My tailbone and right wrist exploded. I gathered myself and waited for the initial wave of pain to subside so I could get on with it. The pain in my ass did. The one in my wrist did not.

I sat there for a few minutes, head in my good hand. Nausea now joined pain.

There was no snap, I told myself sternly. You’re overreacting. It’s just sprained.

Still the pain wouldn’t leave. I scanned the run for a ski patroller.

Okay, this is truly ridiculous, my logical side barked. You’ve got two good feet. Sack up and walk down this slope.

I forced my left hand to unbuckle my bindings. To combat the dizziness overtaking me as I carried my board to the base, I examined the buildings for the first aid clinic.

No luck. The lady in the rental shop smiled brightly. “How are you today?” she asked.

I stammered out something involving the words “wrist” and “clinic.” The other tech must not have had confidence in my ability to avoid passing out on his floor, because he personally escorted me over there.

The patroller on duty removed my jacket and looked at my wrist. He shook his head. “Looks deformed,” he said.

I looked for the first time, confident that if the sight did make me toss my cookies, I’d at least be near a toilet. Nothing was poking through the skin, but there was a bit of swelling and a strange bump.

I held my cookies and got Ethan on the phone to let him know he’d get to drive back to Denver, and not to just any location, but to an emergency room. Then I called my dad, the MD.

He sounded so cheerful when he answered the phone, an unusual trait for someone stuck in snowy, dark northwestern Wyoming for a week. I hated opening up the conversation with, “I broke my wrist. Can you recommend a hospital?”

After a few cheery obscenities, he recommended Rose Medical. The patroller put my arm in a jury-rigged sling made of bubble wrap, cardboard, and gauze.

You really gotta admire the iPhone's ability to capture the nuances of subtle motion.

Ethan retrieved me. I screamed, yelled, and backseat-drove the whole way down to the hospital.

“Where’d you learn to park, New Mexico School for the Blind?” I grumbled after he spent ten minutes aligning the car with the painted lines. He chose to chalk it up to pain and accompanied me inside.

It took two hours before the x-rays could be uploaded and interpreted to mean I had a fractured radius. It took another half-hour before I was told to lie down in a bed so my bone could be reset. Once that happened, it only took two minutes for the doctor to come in, followed by a resident, a first-year med student, a nurse, and three MAs.

Before a live studio audience, the doctor explained what to look for as she injected my wrist with Lidocaine to numb it up.

“See that little flash there? That’s marrow. Usually that’s a bad sign, but in this case, we want to see that.” She then offered the med student the opportunity to try injecting a little deeper into the bone. I stared steadfastly at the ceiling and kept my mouth closed, afraid of puking on the hot first-year if I looked.

Then came the setting. Perhaps because I hadn’t shrieked in agony (the nurse later said that I was among their more stoic patients; I was glad he was impressed because he, too, was fine to behold), she offered the resident the first shot at setting it.

“First of how many?” I croaked.

The resident was unable to set it successfully. Fortunately, the doctor decided to give her a demonstration rather than another try. There was no pain since I couldn’t feel anything, but if she’d continued to narrate what needed to happen, I doubt I would have been able to retain my stomach contents any longer.

The crew of my own personal reality show left. I looked at Ethan.

“How nice! You got to be a teachable moment,” he crooned. I rolled my eyes.

“Whatever. Can you take a picture for my blog?”

Notice anything unusual about me in this picture? You guessed it--Ethan braided my hair.

Soon, armed with a Vicodin prescription and a soft cast, we left the hospital. I will undergo surgery to put a titanium plate in my wrist on Monday, which should hopefully restore me to full use of both hands after only a week of not being able to open bottles, wash my left arm, or pull back my hair by myself. Ethan, who has been my bitch for the past few days, looks forward to my sooner-than-expected recovery; we both thought I would be in a cast for weeks. We’re both happy that I’m ambidextrous. I’m sure one or both of us would have jumped off the top of the Cash Register building if I’d been unable to use my dominant hand.

I do kind of regret that I won’t be able to follow the Loveland ski patroller’s example. When I shakily asked if I’d still be able to ski with a bum wrist, he chuckled.

“I went up to Snowmass and broke my wrist in my second day,” he said. “But I paid for two weeks of lodging, and I wasn’t about to let that go to waste. So I taped a ski pole to my cast and kept going.”

Then again, I can’t get much over my cast. Long sleeves are out, and I don’t think I can ram it through the sleeve of my parka. So it’s just as well this ordeal will be over only a week after it started, even if I will have to undergo anesthesia. It’ll be great. I’ll spend the day yelling at Ethan to get me a freshly-killed unicorn sandwich. After what he’s had to put up with already, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch.