December 2016 archive

Crooked fingers

‘What’s your verdict now?’ I’ll ask the pharmacist when I present my arm with its long line of stitches. ‘Is it ready to be uncovered yet, or should I go on with the protective bandages?’

‘Surgeons tend to uncover wounds too early,’ the pharmacist had said to me earlier in the week after the doctor had cut off the cast that held my wrist steady. ‘It might look okay after two or three weeks but underneath the unprotected wound can split open without any warning signs,’

Who wants a wound that splits open when it’s only half way to scar tissue?

As I grow older, it takes longer for skin to heal but I’m not so old that it refuses.

My mother had an ulcer on her leg once that would not stitch together of its own accord. It needed constant care in the form of fresh bandages almost daily before the skin decided it was safe enough to close over.

An ulcer is different from an open wound.

A wrenching open of the skin is not the same as a slow eating away at its surface, which is the way ulcers operate.

 

I’m not sure about Christmas this year. It’s going to be hot.

The newspapers report the police foiled a terrorist plot near St Paul’s Cathedral in the city, I haven’t read the reports. I can’t bear it, but I suspect it would have been planned for Christmas midnight Mass or later on New Years Eve.

What better way to assault and terrorise people than to attack them in numbers during their festivities, when their eyes and minds are turned elsewhere?

But the police had been on the look out for these seven or so self radicalised young men, hell bent on death and destruction, or so the papers report.

But these days I find myself doubting everything I read in the newspapers.

The fake news or the slant so sloped it’s hard to know where the truth lies.

 

I have a photo of my mother on my desktop, the one my husband took on her ninetieth birthday. In it she’s dressed in her new birthday dress, the one in fawn colouring with swirls of white brocade etched on top.

She’s wearing her double layer of pearls round her neck and tear drop pearls in her ears and she holds her left arm across her chest and up to her ear as if she’s checking that her earrings are in place.

I can just make out the shape of her distorted thumb, the one the surgeons botched up or left to heal prematurely after her fall in a supermarket car park, or was it from the time a dog rushed in front of the Chemist shop on Centre Dandenong Road in Cheltenham and tripped her up?

Maybe the bones in my mother’s arm fused badly because there was more than one fall that broke her wrist, or maybe it happened through inadequate treatment.

In any case, the doctors could never give her back the elegant shape of her wrist and the bone jutted out from her hand for her entire later life like some warped thing that would not lie straight.

It reminds me of the shape of the bone in my hand shortly after my fall before the doctors in emergency had  a go at straightening it. It too seemed to be pointing sideways across my hand and up into my thumb rather than in the direction of my fingers.

Our hands are so fragile and precious. We take them for granted.

In future, I must take better care and unlike my mother, not fall twice.

The skeleton of our lives.

When I grizzled to my local pharmacist about the hassles of showering each morning with my arm in a cast, he offered to sell me these rubber bags designed for people with broken bones. Not quite one size fits all, but near enough.

There is a row of indentations at the top of each bag, which you cut off according to the circumference size of your arm or leg – these bags are only designed for such appendages – and then you slide the bag up and across the broken bone in its cast, pull it over the top into the area that’s not covered and fold the topmost layers over one another.

Somehow this folding process creates a seal so that water from the shower stays away from your cast.

No more mad scrambling with rubbish bin bags in the morning as I try one handed to peel off tape and seal the top of the bag against my skin to protect my cast and bandaging.

I was pleased when I read on the box that these bags can also be used on children, arms or legs, and cut to size.

People like me, women past their prime, are not the only ones to break their bones and although I know this already, it’s a relief to read again that even young folks can break their bones.

What is it about broken bones and guilt?

Whenever someone asks what happened to my all too obvious arm, I find I have this impulse to say, ‘It wasn’t my fault’.

As if that makes up for it somehow.

Otherwise people tend to ascribe my broken bone to me and my age or some other factor associated with me, like osteoporosis, which so far I’ve managed to avoid.

Perhaps people want to find a quick solution to the question of why this happened to me. It must have something to do with me.

If it happened, most likely because of something I did, then it’s unlikely to happen to them. A process whereby people can distance themselves from any notion of ‘There but for the grace of god go I.’

This is not the first broken bone of my life.

The first happened when I was a child, though it was perhaps not a complete break.

I had been swinging over the metal bars at the Camberwell swimming pool and in one of my attempts to somersault my body up and over the bar I lost my grip and landed side first on the concrete below.

I hobbled home with my sister reluctant to alert the staff at the pool to the pain coming from my shoulder. I told my mother though and she did the unthinkable. She told my father.

As was typical of my father in those days, he called me to his chair, checked out my pain level by twisting my arm up and down and decided this was proof enough of the need for armrest. He diagnosed a fractured collarbone and set me up for the next couple of weeks in a sling made from a discarded baby nappy held together with a safety pin.

No need for doctors, x-rays or the like. He could be doctor from his army days and, suffice to say, my arm healed well, though my peace of mind did not. Not for me my father handling my body as though I were his object, even as during those ministrations he was kind enough. I feared for more.

The second almost-break happened when I tripped over a curb in the shopping centre. I had just strapped my youngest daughter in the car, the other two were still at school and after she was safely stowed I went back to collect the rest of my shopping from the trolley and fell. I knew instantly I’d hurt my arm but not enough to stop me driving home. A later visit to the doctor and x-ray and he diagnosed a hairline fracture, not enough for plaster but enough to need a sling and several weeks of rest.

The worst of it was I could not drive and needed to enlist the help of a good friend who was then unemployed to ferry me and my children around. T

he doctor also advised me I should wean my then youngest daughter who was little more than one, but I refused. And in the end the arm healed, the baby kept feeding and I developed a close bond over six weeks with this wonderful friend who drove us everywhere.

She died a few years ago of cancer, the saddest of stories given she was not yet fifty.

That next break, the one that happened to me when I almost collided with a car, which did not stop soon enough for a green light at the crossing I hurried through at an angle, is another reason why I reckon, it’s not all my fault.

That break in my leg seven years ago left me in a tailspin of despair about my guilt for letting bad things happen.

‘You put you head down and go for it,’ my husband says. ‘Don’t run.’

He’s right. I can be like a toddler taking her first steps, in a rush to get as far as I can before the inevitable fall.

And every broken bone, this latest one included, reminds me of the fragility of all our bodies, those hard structures inside that hold us together firm but brittle.

When I am dead, before my skeleton has had time to pulverise into dust, there will be signs etched into my dried out cartilage that a trained eye will recognise as a sign of those falls and collisions and slip ups.

The scars of a life well lived, if not on the careless side.

 

 

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