The skeleton of our lives.

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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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6 Comments on The skeleton of our lives.

  1. Jim Murdoch
    December 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm (8 months ago)

    As I seem to recall mentioning in a previous comment I’ve only ever had one bone fracture when some paving slabs fell on my hand, my left hand as it happens. I suppose that’s only worth mentioning because I write with my right hand although I use a knife and fork as if I was left-handed for some perverse reason and my parents were never concerned enough to try to break the habit.

    My brother, on the other hand, has broken a number of bones in his life. The most memorable was when he fell off the gate to the factory at the end of our street. The break itself was unremarkable. What’s worth noting is that he had to go back to hospital to have his cast replaced the next day because he’d fallen off the same gate. What he was doing climbing it I’ve no idea because the railings were loose and you could just slip inside the yard.

    Casts are, of course, conversation pieces. It beats discussing the weather that’s for sure. And, yes, you must feel you have to explain yourself to people whose opinions are of little or no importance to you but being the lady you are you do what’s expected, tell your story… again… and again. Wearing a cast’s like walking down the street waving a flag that says, “I’m a prat! Look at me.” And there’s nothing I hate more than being the centre of attention. I’m sure you’re the same. People are so judgemental.

    I get what you’re saying about guilt. And what’s the first thing most guilty people do when they’re found out? Make excuses. Even when they have good reasons for what they’ve done as soon as they open their mouths they sound like they’re making excuses. Not a big fan of guilt, me. For all the good it does it does so much more harm.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm (8 months ago)

      I’m getting over my guilt from this episode, Jim, as my wrist heals. As I said to Karen earlier, I’m out of the cast – yesterday- and now sleeping better and getting back – slowly – into using my left hand. Slowly mind, as the bone takes at least six weeks to heal and we’re only half way there, but the plates and screws keep it in place.
      Have a good Christmas Jim. I know you’re unlikely to celebrate big time but hopefully the change of pace for a day or two might appeal. Thanks.

      Reply
  2. Karen C
    December 21, 2016 at 8:09 am (8 months ago)

    Elisabeth, I feel for you on so many levels. The cause of the injury, the painful, lengthy process to diagnose and treat it and now the horrible inconvenience of the recovery. Not to mention the time of the year which, religious or not, is just another reason to feel the universe is not in our favour.
    What can I wish you other than a speedy, full recovery and someone to help you unwrap your gifts, pull your cracker and cut up your Christmas dinner.
    More importantly, thank you for still posting under difficult circumstances. You are a trooper!
    (FWIW – a very Happy Christmas to you)

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 21, 2016 at 8:44 pm (8 months ago)

      You’re too kind, Karen. It gets better. I’m out of the cast and today drove my car for the first time in over three weeks. I’ve seen the physiotherapist and I’m on the mend, hopefully the last of this burst of bad fortune. Happiest of Christmases to you, too.

      Reply
      • Karen C
        December 23, 2016 at 9:28 am (8 months ago)

        YAY, progress! Looks like you’re going to come through well, Elisabeth. Christmas will definitely be happy for us. We have a new baby in the family. So much joy.

        Reply
        • Elisabeth
          December 26, 2016 at 10:05 pm (8 months ago)

          A new baby is wonderful news, Karen. Congratulations. The joy of kicking into the next generation knows no bounds. And my impulse to ask ‘boy or girl?’ might seem trite, as if it matters, but still it’s almost my first thought. I trust all is well.
          Despite the horrid nature of 2016 on the international world stage, still good things happen. Lovely to hear your good news. Thanks, Karen.

          Reply

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