It’s taken a while to write this post for reasons that shall become obvious but better late than never.
On 17th December 2023 I fractured my wrist. How did I do it? Earlier in the day, I had been at my big birthday lunch that I had organised for my family. It was an important weekend because everyone expects you to celebrate a milestone birthday well. My birthday proper was (and is) on 18th December and I was going to celebrate with a tea at the Ritz with girlfriends. Since my birthday falls so close to Christmas, my relatives gave me birthday presents and Christmas presents. One of the Christmas presents was a poinsettia plant.
On returning home, I decided to put the poinsettia plant into a nice vase which was sitting on top of one of my kitchen cupboards. To get there I used a chair and stood on the kitchen counter to retrieve the vase. I usually am barefooted when I do that but, on this occasion, I was wearing woolly socks. Big mistake! Once I put the vase on the counter, I turned to step down on the chair. However, I misjudged how much space there was behind me on the counter. My woolly socks made me slip and lose my footing. I must have only flown through six-seven feet of air but it was clearly enough to harm me. I landed on my left side, with my left forearm taking the brunt of the fall. My wrist snapped on impact.
Initially, I thought that I had hurt my tendons and not broken any bones, although I could see that my wrist was not straight. I think that I was in shock because I stood up and put the poinsettia plant in the vase, as if nothing had happened! However, doing that minor task was so excruciatingly painful that I realised it wasn’t muscular pain, so I telephoned the National Health Service’s telephone helpline. They sent me to a small, local hospital but its x- ray department was closed, so I was bounced to a large, local hospital with a 24-hour x-ray department. There, I was triaged and x-rayed. Sure enough, I had fractured both bones at the wrist.
Unfortunately, because my birthday loomed so large in my mind, I didn’t have medical thoughts nor did I contemplate my injury’s implications on my translation work. All I could think about was my social life. Would I be able to make tea at the Ritz with my friends the next day and would the sling’s colour clash with my party dress?
We have two bones in our forearm: the ulna and the radius. The ulna is wider at the elbow than it is at the wrist. It is a bit cylindrical in shape and comes to a tip just below our wrist. Well, I fractured the tip of my ulna. The radius is slimmer than the ulna at the elbow but when it reaches the bottom of your hand, it becomes quite bulbous and chunky. I managed to break that completely. The doctor, Marco, who showed me the x-rays was very transparent, if you’ll excuse the pun. He showed me exactly what I had fractured. I could see a wavy, horizontal line across the width of my radius. He said that I had a distal ulna and radial fracture. He was satisfied that I wouldn’t need an operation. That hadn’t even occurred to me. He was satisfied that plates wouldn’t need to be fitted. I hadn’t conceived of that idea either. He felt that the factures could be healed by realigning the displaced bones and putting them in a cast for at least six weeks.
I didn’t realise it at the time but realigning displaced bones is quite a skill. Doctors and nurses don’t have the benefit of a camera in your arm to guide them nor a live x-ray to guide them either. They do it by touch and sight. Before the realignment, I was given an anaesthetic in the form of an inhaler. Marco injected very little liquid into it as far as I’m concerned. Marco turned to the nurse and asked her, “Are you ready?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, I know he was asking her if she was ready to manipulate my displaced bones and realign them. She was and they began.
There’s an English expression, “I saw stars”. It usually describes people who have been concussed but it also covers eye-watering pain. During the realignment I not only saw stars but the entire constellation in the night sky. I swore so much! Nevertheless, I had the presence of mind to ask Marco to stop. I said, “Stop. This is extremely painful” twice but the nurse said, “Keep puffing”, so I puffed as if I were giving birth!
Then, I had to have the cast put on. That was made of plaster of Paris. On the one hand, it is brilliant. It is a simple, cheap and low-tech method for immobilising bones that’s been used for decades. On the other hand, because plaster of Paris comes in the form of a wet bandage that needs to be applied not too loosely and not too tightly when Marco applied it I saw the Milky Way! After the anaesthetic had kicked in, Marco returned to check the plaster of Paris cast was rock hard and that my wrist had been immobilised. My pain level dropped markedly, thankfully. He sent me off to the x-ray department and when I returned, he was very happy with the x-ray. The bones had been realigned into their original, neutral position. He gave me a letter for my follow-up appointment, all the self-care instructions that I needed and mostly importantly his blessing for tea at the Ritz. My sling was navy-blue and my party dress was pink.
A few weeks ago, when I was discussing my accident with a friend, she asked me, “What have you learnt?” I have learnt two things. Firstly, the human body is absolutely amazing! As soon as a bone breaks, stem cells from the surrounding tissue, bone marrow and blood migrate to the fracture. The cells start to grow on the edges of the fractured bones and in the direction of the void to form a bridge of soft cartilage. This is replaced by a hard, bone-like callus and that, in turn, is replaced by new, mature bone. The immediacy of this healing process means that it is crucial to reset fractured bones as soon as possible. I’m very impressed that it only takes six weeks for bones to heal. I’m grateful that my arm wasn’t in a cast for longer. The day that my cast came off the doctor, Toby, said that the condition of my bones’ repair was “excellent”.
I saw a physiotherapist for the first time yesterday. Of the ten physiotherapy exercises that Toby said I could do, the physiotherapist retained one, modified two and jettisoned the remaining seven. He didn’t want to irritate the wrist. Therefore, instead of doing ten exercises three times a day, now I must do three exercises every two hours. It’s quite demanding to do them during a working day. I do what I can. I do feel that I am making incremental improvements for which I am grateful.
Secondly, I have been reminded how wonderful people are. In a situation like this, I would expect my family, friends and neighbours to rally round. They have and I have felt loved and cared for. However, it’s been the kindness of complete strangers that has been touching and heart-warming. On the night of the fracture, two taxi-drivers volunteered to tie up my shoe laces for me. A few days later, on the way to the pharmacy, when I asked a newsagent for help, he couldn’t tie up my shoe laces quickly enough for me. On the trains, lots of passengers have given up their seats for me and offered to carry my drag bag upstairs. At work, one barrister ferried my bag and coat between the courtroom and consultation room. Another barrister opened doors for me for the entire two weeks that we worked on the same trial. I could go on. So many people have been so kind. Now, it’s not the first time that I have been ill. Unfortunately, in the past I have been taken very ill in public and it was complete strangers’ knowledge of first aid that saved my bacon. This recent wave of compassion has just served to consolidate my view on the fundamental goodness of human nature and people.