Monday, January 19, 2009


Six days ago, I fell stepping over a baby gate. I was holding a large red bowl, so I couldn’t break my fall as I stepped into the pantry to put the bowl away. The bowl was a cherished wedding present from one of my best friends, a beautifully glazed ceramic piece from a pottery studio in Santa Fe that I used to visit when I lived in Albuquerque. The bowl didn’t break, but my arm did.
In the first seconds after the fall, I looked up at the unbroken bowl and thought, “I’m okay, and the bowl is okay.” Then the pain hit. I’d never had a broken bone before: it was excruciating. My husband was home, but outside shoveling snow. It was a cold, ugly day. The high was five degrees. The radio was playing NPR’s On the Media. I’d just had a baby boy who was asleep in his bassinet. If my daughter was a little older, I could have said, “Go get daddy!” and she could have knocked on the window. Instead, my daughter brought me blocks and I waited, listening to the radio and the sound of the shovel scraping our sidewalk.
By the time my husband came in, ten or fifteen minutes later, I had started to wonder if I wasn’t acting like a drama queen. My arm didn’t hurt when I didn’t move it, and yet, I couldn’t bring myself to stand up. I had family in town, visiting. My sister and her husband arrived just as my husband was finishing up outside. When they came in and didn’t immediately find me, I felt ridiculous calling, “I’m back here. I had a fall.”
But standing turned out to be so painful that I almost fainted. At first, we thought that maybe the bone had just popped out of the joint, but the x-ray told a different story. I’d broken the humerus bone clean through at the ball. The break was too high to cast, so the orthopedics’ physician’s assistant gave me a sling that strapped my bad arm to my side, to keep it immobile and told me to come back in two weeks for follow-up.
I was in my third week of maternity leave, still flying high from the birth of a healthy baby and the joy of being home full-time with my family. My mom and step-father, also in town, babysat while we went for the CT scan and doctor appointments. They were leaving the following day, so I put on a positive face, both for them and because I really believed it wasn’t too big of a deal. It took days for the reality of the break to sink in.
Day One: “It could have been a lot worse.”
Day Two: “How could I be sad when I look around and see my beautiful, healthy family?”
Day Three: “It’s hard, but we’ll get through it.”
Day Four dawned gloomy and frigid. It was minus 13 degrees when my husband and I rose, exhausted from night feedings. We were stir crazy from not being able to leave the house. My arm was sore and I needed a shower but was afraid to attempt one. Here’s what I can’t do, with a broken arm:
1. Hold my daughter.
2. Hold my son.
3. Nurse my son without my husband placing him in my lap and helping him latch on.
4. Burp my son.
5. Wash my hair.
6. Soap my underarms.
7. Tie my shoes.
8. Drive.
9. Change diapers.
My son poops about seven times a day. My daughter, a little less. My husband changes every diaper. He comforts our children when they cry. He helps me dress and undress. He lathers up my hair when I’m in the shower. He had to take off from work, unpaid. This is the kind of crisis that Suze Orman warns of when she tells you to have three months of salary, or more, socked away in savings. It will take six weeks for my humerus to heal. Nearly all of my maternity leave. The plans to scrape and re-paint the kitchen, organize the nursery, start weight training, save extra money from my husband working extra shifts, take the kids to the zoo, start painting oil portraits of my two children, all these plans are scraped. On day four, I decided I was entitled to a good cry. The cry was more of a sustained weep that lasted all morning. But then life went on.
If nothing else good comes out of this, I’ll at least always remember the generosity of others. My co-workers immediately organized to bring us bi-weekly meals. The first person came over two days after the fall and brought newborn diapers, too, in case we were running low. She called later in the week to offer to stop by to help out after she got off work. Friends babysat while my husband and I went grocery shopping and out to dinner. A sister brought us a bag of DVDs to watch (we don’t have cable). A sister-in-law babysat for an hour while we did another grocery run. My siblings from out of town all called to check in on me. My mom offered to fly back and stay with us. Also, the sun came out today and it’s 37 degrees. A few more days of warm weather and the ice may melt enough for us to take a walk and get some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.
The unbroken bowl from Santa Fe is sitting on display in my pantry, catching the light. I am, too. I took a nap today and lay with my eyes closed in the sun. I pretended I was on a beach in Mexico. My sense of humor broke, probably on day four, but it’s mending, just in time. When your husband is soaping your underarms for you in the shower, you have to have a sense of humor or you’ll die of mortification. Humor today and humerus tomorrow, or five weeks from now.

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