Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hugs and kisses and broken bones

Five weeks into maternity leave and ten days into a broken arm, I was realizing how very much I rely on my left hand, even though I’m right-handed. With the left arm in a sling, I couldn’t carry anything down or upstairs because I needed to grasp the railing with my right hand, and my left hand couldn’t hold any weight. My husband had to cut my meat and butter my bread. And open the child proof lids of my ibuprofen and vitamins. I couldn’t multitask (ie: talk on the phone while feeding my daughter her oatmeal). I couldn’t reach for things on my nightstand because it was on the left side of the bed. I couldn’t take a casserole out of the oven or carry a basket of laundry. I could sit around and feel sorry for myself and my husband, who had changed well over 60 diapers in seven days.
But on day ten, I went back to the doctor’s office and he told me I could take of the sling and move my arm at will. Although his office was just a mile from my house, the idea of my husband winterizing our one and 18 month olds and packing them up in the car for a two minute drive, after another night of 3AM feedings, was too exhausting to contemplate so a co-worker gave me a ride. I walked home, stepping over wet spots like a nervous, frail-boned old lady, but it was a beautiful, sunny winter day and most of the ice had melted long before my appointment had ended.
Shortly after arriving home, I called my mom with the great news. “The sling is stuffed in my winter coat pocket and I can move my arm how I like!”
There was a long pause. My mother, living so far away and feeling the distance painfully because she couldn’t be around to help out, had already made plans to come visit us, three days hence. “He said you could move it? Does that mean it wasn’t broken?” she asked, trying to comprehend this unexpected but good news.
“It was broken, but it’s healed enough to start moving in however I like. In fact, when I asked him what limits I should put on my movements, he said ‘none’ and to demonstrate, he raised my arm up completely over my head.”
My mom gasped. “Did it hurt?”
It had hurt. Quite a lot. Especially on the way down. I’d gasped myself, but the doctor had just said, “So, you’re good. I’ll see you back again in two weeks.”
Another long pause. “Does this doctor know what’s he’s doing?”
“He’s the head of orthopedics,” I said, even though, in my experience, doctors who become administrators aren’t necessarily the best physicians in the practice.
“Well then, I guess you won’t need me. It’s a good thing I waited to talk to you before I bought that airline ticket.” She’d been here when I broke my arm, and had flown home to New York two days later. After so much worry about her daughter home with a newborn and a broken arm, and after so much discussion about how best to help us, and after finally deciding to come stay with us, it was a shock to suddenly have everything be okay. Or soon to be okay. “I have to say I’m a little disappointed,” she said. “I was really looking forward to seeing the kids again. And you guys, too,” she added, as an afterthought.
Shock could have been my primary reaction, too. But instead, after ten gloomy, cold days of grief, pain, and frustration, after warnings from my husband not to get my hopes up about getting the sling off earlier than six weeks, I was sitting in my sundrenched living room, and nothing was holding my arm and shoulder stable. The pain was there, of course, but what is pain except for a challenge to work through?
I wasn’t about to lift my arm up over my head, but I immediately started exercises to increase my range of motion. By day two, I could actually wrap the broken arm around my baby boy while he sat in my lap. I had no strength in that arm, and my right hand had to position it, but an arm wrap, a hug, feels so much better than just holding your child in your lap. For 11 days, I’d held my son, nursed him, sung to him. But the embrace lit me up with love and made me feel like his mother again.
I’d have to wait a little longer to arm wrap my daughter, who was too active to sit in my lap without jostling my arm. But I did let her examine my “owie” arm, which was black and blue all over. I guess because I kiss her owies, after she’d gently touched my arm, she took my face in her hands, leaned in, and gave me a kiss. Moments later, she threw a book that hit my shoulder and set off a teeth-grinding throbbing in my arm. But who cares? I was on the mend. And the pain was nothing that a few kisses and hugs couldn’t fix.

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