A Christmas Surprise

Today is Christmas. Waking up with a newly broken left wrist, I’m feeling my vulnerability. I’m also feeling gratitude for the excellent care I received from my spouse Andrea and from the professional and caring staff at Shady Grove hospital yesterday.

I was on a beautiful solo hike in the woods yesterday morning. It was warm and sunny and I was enjoying a relaxing walk along Mill Run Creek in our nearby woods. I was returning home in good spirits as I threaded my way through a narrow footpath that skirts a ravine. My thoughts were on the holiday and last-minute preparations. I was also considering the possibility of a major life change. Andrea and I had toured a nearby retirement community the day before. We liked what we saw— the social and cultural elements of the community, and the large nature preserve that was part of the property. We’d gotten as far as revisiting a lovely two-bedroom apartment overlooking the nature preserve there.

I’m a careful hiker most of the time. I knew to be particularly vigilant on the return footpath along the ravine. But yesterday morning I was not vigilant enough. With my thoughts elsewhere, my left foot slipped slightly off the path, enough for me to lose my balance and tumble head over heels down the steep bank of the ravine.

I yelled out as I tumbled uncontrollably down the twenty-foot drop into the little brook below. Hitting bottom, face down in the shallow brook, I was immobilized for some minutes, stunned by my instantaneous reversal of fortune. I was wet and scared and disturbed by throbbing pain in my left wrist. Gazing up at the steep bank, I was overwhelmed at the challenge of climbing out.

Slowly, some equilibrium emerged as I turned to evaluate possible routes up and out of the ravine. My throbbing wrist made the climb seem daunting. I realized I needed help and desperately reached into my coat pocket. There it was — my phone — miraculously intact after the freefall.

My favored left hand was useless but I carefully used my clumsy right forefinger to select Andrea’s number and call. Thankfully, she was home and able to make the short drive down our street to the trailhead. In about ten minutes, I could see her approaching.

Those ten minutes gave me an opportunity to regain equilibrium. Studying my situation, I spotted a small tree whose roots descended into the edge of the ravine. I pictured myself using my legs and good right hand to push and pull myself up and out of the ravine.

Seeing Andrea approaching gave me the determination to attempt that climb. When she arrived, I showed her my idea and she concurred. I was able to pull myself up along that tree root more than halfway up. At that point, l needed my left hand to get me further. The hand cooperated but the pain within the wrist was excruciating. With Andrea’s helping hand, I slowly and gratefully pulled myself up to the footpath.

The subsequent events have slowly brought me back to a sense of normalcy after the trauma of the fall and broken bone. Remarkably, the only other injuries were minor cuts and abrasions. My clothes were wet and muddy from my time in the brook, but that was soon remedied. I was going to say “easily remedied” except for experiencing the challenging handicap of dressing and undressing with one hand. The repercussions of the injury are becoming all too apparent.

Andrea drove me to the ER after a video call with our beloved nurse-friend Edie. Andrea had actually been talking with Edie when my emergency call came in. Edie saw the ugly hematoma bump on my wrist and my hand’s immobility and urged immediate medical attention with x-rays.

Andrea made sandwiches for lunch and I had the appetite to eat one. She then drove us the four miles to Shady Grove Hospital where she is currently receiving cancer treatment. She was able to enter and fill out the needed forms for me at the entrance to the ER, but then had to leave – only patients are allowed under current Covid restrictions.

I expected a Christmas Covid overflow there but that wasn’t the case. Still, a staffer made sure that the dozen or so of us there in the waiting room were seated far apart. After a half hour wait, my name was called and I was ushered into a treatment area. Within another half hour, a technician entered with a portable x-ray machine.

The ER X-rays showed a “non-displaced” break in my left distal ulna. That means a clean break with no bone obtrusion. A capable young man took great care to make a custom splint out of thick gauze and ace wraps. A kind Physician Assistant expressed relief that there were no apparent complications. I’m to see an orthopedic doc next week for evaluation and full cast.

Projected healing time is 4-6 weeks plus physical therapy. All in all, I’m grateful that my injury is no worse than it is. During my hours in the ER, I overheard gruesome stories of unrelieved hip pain and and dire heart palpitations. My broken wrist likely qualifies as a garden variety ER ailment. I have a lot more empathy for all those experiencing much worse hardship on this day that celebrates Peace, Joy and Love. The spirit of Christmas persists.