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.

 

 

Pills too bitter to swallow

My mother had a fall three weeks ago and broke her
arm.
 
I did not realize that a broken arm could result in such
bruising but my mother’s arm is still purple with spilled blood.  She has been in hospital since the
fall, and despite early concerns about internal bleeding she’s doing well and
will soon be transferred to a place where they offer transitional care, not so
much rehabilitation but care that’s aimed at getting her back onto her feet
before she can return to her retirement village.
 
Without two good arms, my mother cannot push her walker
and without a walker it’s not safe for her to walk. 
When I was fifteen years old my mother asked the priest at
our local church, Our Lady of the Assumption, to offer suggestions about how
she might best help her daughters to adjust to the difficulties of our life at home with our drunk father. 
The priest suggested visits to the elderly as an
antidote.
 
Every weekend I visited Mrs White at the old people’s
home.  
White-haired Mrs White who
smelled of age and lavender sat beside her bed in bedclothes covered by a
matinee jacket of pale pink nylon. 
She was a gruff old thing but mellowed over the time of my visits into
someone who seemed to look forward to them.
 
She never said as much but I knew I had broken through
when she asked me one day to buy her something for her indigestion.
‘Terrible, dear. 
It puts me off my food.’
Mrs White gave me a handful of coins and full instructions.   She wanted De Witte’s antacid in
a blue roll, each piece shaped like a lolly, or preferably in powder form which
was easier to swallow.
My mother now has a terrible time swallowing the multiple
pills the nurses feed her every day. 
To watch the struggle is agony. 
My mother cannot get the pills past her throat without a battle.  She swishes them around her mouth and
sometimes chews on them to make them smaller.  She barely grimaces but it’s easy to see she does not enjoy
them.  I can only imagine the
taste. 
If the nurses are not careful my mother has developed a
strategy whereby she tucks a pill into the side of her mouth and waits till the
nurse is out of sight then spits it onto the ground. 
My older sister finds these pills on the floor.  My older sister is attentive to these
things and complains to the staff. 
I reckon my mother does not realize that these pills help to keep her
alive.  She sees them as a nuisance,
only to be tolerated in the presence of others.
 
Similarly with food. 
The nurses have told my mother she ought to cut down on her sugar.  She takes at least two spoons in every
cup of tea and coffee.
‘At my age,’ my mother says. ‘I don’t care.  Why should I?’
The nurse explains to my mother that the sugar gives her a
quick energy hit that does not leave room for  any hunger for the more sustaining
nutrients, the protein and vitamins from meat and vegetables.
 
At the moment my mother prefers anything sweet, small tubs
of ice cream, stewed fruit, custard, but for the rest she cannot be
bothered. 
 ‘I’m 94,’ she
says.  ‘I can do as I please.’
If only her body would let her.  And her mind.
There is something willful about my mother in her old age,
something that is a contrast to the strictures of the past, her concern about sin
and the need to do good, which brings me back to my do-gooding days of visiting
Mrs White at the old people’s home.
 
In the end I arrived one day and Mrs White was gone.  She had died, quietly just like that, and
I could not bring myself to form another relationship with another old person,
knowing that there was such a likelihood of death.
Those were the days when I had decided I would like to die
at sixty; sixty seemed a decent age to go. 
Then two days ago I played ball with my six year old
grandson in our backyard and rejoiced at my stamina despite reaching
sixty.
 
Once with the arrogance of my youth I could be cavalier
about the notion that there is a good age at which to die, but not any more.