needles and pins

SQUICK WARNING: This describes my personal experience of trauma injuries. If you don’t like reading about things like this, now would be a good time to stop. Hooray for oversharing.

It’s 11:30 pm and I can’t sleep.

My bike, and with it my usual busy schedule, ground to a halt on Thursday evening on the pavement of Stromlo Road, as I was cycling home from work. The rain had made the road slicker than usual and I really should have been going about half the speed I was going down the steep hill. But as it was, when my bike fishtailed, objects in motion remained in motion, and I tumbled down the hill for a while after being thrown. I didn’t sustain any head injuries, and remained painfully conscious throughout; I remember all too well how it happened.

Thirty seconds afterwards, a white cargo van happened up the hill, driven by a good Samaritan who offered to take me home, or to the hospital. Since I was pretty sure ankles weren’t supposed to make crunching noises I decided the latter option would be the best. He saw me into triage, locked my bike up for me (thanks, bro), and made sure Em was on the way before taking his leave.

A few X-rays and one CT scan later, they decided my left arm wasn’t broken, but merely hurt like hell to move in certain directions. (They said they’d re-evaluate this after hearing my pain report, but I think they’re probably right and I just have to wait for the pain to go away.) The crunchy left ankle, on the other hand, was definitely broken and would have to be surgically reconstructed; I could expect to have more than one screw installed, a full cast on with crutches for at least three months, and potentially all kinds of interesting future complications like arthritis in the injured joint. Awesome.

From a rational scientific standpoint I am actually not too worried. Medical science is amazing these days, and I hear stories of not only athletes but ordinary people walking and doing athletics after worse than what I’ve experienced. The surgeons know what they’re doing, they’ve done things like this thousands of times, and the broken pieces have remained in place so that all they have to do is go in there and screw them together. I’m a scientist, I deal with probability all the time; I’ve been given numbers for complications rates which, while not as near zero as my risk-averse personality would prefer, seem low enough that I have excellent odds of coming out the other side of this being able to do all the things I love to do again. I’ll have to remain aware of how to care for the injured joint so as to avoid injuring it again in the future, but that will hopefully be more a matter of due diligence than a serious setback to my active lifestyle.

No, what gets to me is not any rational expectation that I won’t be repaired to as good a condition as medical science can manage. It’s the feeling, in the moment, of frailty and helplessness: embarrassment with having to press a button just be helped out of bed to use the toilet, and having to be helped into the toilet; frustration at having an entire side of my body without its usual strength, so much so that I can’t even open a sealed bottle of water by myself (needs two hands!); impatience at things I could take for granted now taking ten times as long and sometimes creative thought about moving my damaged body under constraints; abject fear of hearing about a new place they’re going to stick a needle, and having morbid fantasies immediately spring to mind of how big that needle is and what it will feel like as it slides through my skin. (The one I had been worrying about, an injection of blood thinner into my belly fat, actually turned out to be not that bad after all. The IV cannula, however, which was installed in the back of my good hand available to grab stuff, was unexpected and just made me feel more fragile still.)

It’s all a good meditation on impermanence, and to a lesser extent, on conditioned arising: I can say with little doubt that while the physical indignities are bad enough, my anxious baseline cast of mind is making this several times worse than it needs to be. There are people in this ward who have been here for weeks, who are fighting cancer, or who broke many more bones than I did in other, more horrible trauma accidents. This is a transient phase of suffering which will be over soon, and then I’ll be back to normal. At least, for a while; eventually, unless we die quickly, all of us eventually end up back where I am right now.

For reference, I’m getting huge outpourings of sympathy from family and friends; text after text, special delivery of fresh Easter buns (can’t eat them now, fasting for surgery), and generally quite a lot of attention paid which is solicitous of my well-being. So I’m being very well looked after, and that helps. The rest is my own baggage which I am unloading here. Thanks for your best wishes and support, everyone.

Okay, at 12:45 am the drugs are kicking in and knocking me out again, so I’m done for the time being. But I’m very, very keen to get this over with and get the hell out of here. Sorry to be such a downer, folks, I’ll post more travel recollections when I get the chance (there are plenty).

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
This entry was posted in Cycling, Lifestyle, Mindfulness, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to needles and pins

  1. Joshua O'Madadhain says:

    Ouch. I’m glad that you can view this with so much equanimity that you can even contemplate viewing this as a lesson on impermanence, as opposed to being caught up in “OW OW OW (dammit, all my near-term plans just got flushed down the toilet) OW OW”.

    Good luck with your recovery. I hope you’ll be dancing again soon.

    • Richard says:

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of swearing too. :) But I feel like I get more mileage out of the swearing if I can take a step back as well.

      The other frustrating thing is that I don’t know when I’m going to get to the operating theater — partly due to the swelling in my foot and ankle, which is still pretty bad from what I can see, and which is decreasing on a long and uncertain timescale. So they have to prep me every morning until it happens, and that makes me feel a bit like Didi or Gogo. (“I bring a message from Dr. Godot, who says he will not operate today; but come again tomorrow.”)

      Thanks in any event for the good wishes. It’d be good to catch up when you’ve got a moment; I’ve certainly got many moments, sitting around here.

      • Joshua O'Madadhain says:

        Didn’t say you were viewing it as such, just that you were able to contemplate doing so. :)

        The operating delay has got to be obnoxious as hell. I would not deal well with that sort of repeated uncertainty. :/

        I don’t have a great deal of unallocated moments at the moment (and now I have a vocal jazz ensemble rendition of “Stolen Moments” running through my head) but I’d be happy to throw a few in your direction. What is your favored medium for up-catching?

    • Richard says:

      Tried responding in thread, but link wasn’t there…

      In truth, I don’t really care for that sort of uncertainty either. But my life since getting my Ph.D. has been one long trail of coping with not knowing what’s coming next, so I’m as well equipped to handle it as anyone. I have to be on my best patient game here though in order to get them to outline the facts which frame those uncertainties.

      I’ll be online pretty much the whole time. G+ seems like a fine catch-up medium, if you’re keen. :)

  2. I wish there were something more meaningful I could muster other than a simple “I’m sorry that this happened” and “I hope you recover quickly”, but those are the two most immediate thoughts that crossed my mind … and they at least convey the right sentiments. Very good call on asking to be driven to the hospital after hearing the crunching in your ankle. That many bones not fitting together the way they normally should requires prompt medical attention.

    Ten years ago I had my own opportunity to meditate on the frailty of life for a longer period of time than I would have liked. I had to have “infusion therapy” to be able to clot again (among other things), and was put in the chemo ward to get the IV drip. Your thoughts regarding the comparative extent of your injuries very closely resemble mine at the time. I was lounging around, doing some light reading interspersed with the occasional nap during my weekly therapy; others, stricken with cancer of various kinds, were retching violently and clearly suffering far more than anything I had gone through. Tonight, years later, I’m sitting here writing to you, feeling (and doing) much better … yet wondering if any of the people I met in that ward are still alive.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to make this about me … some of your comments just reminded me of my own experiences and I thought I’d share. It’s reassuring to see you have such a strong outpouring of support. If you lived anywhere nearby, I would come visit myself (and would have visited otherwise before now!). Best of luck on your surgery … keep us updated.

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