The cosmic lessons of a broken arm

broken armBuddhist broken arm proverb: What’s the sound of one hand lathering up soap? 

(Hint – It sounds like: grumble, grumble, grumble, why is this taking so long??) 

Thirty days ago, my bike got caught in the infamous Toronto streetcar tracks as I was making a left turn, and the routines of my life came to a thudding halt. 

Not that I recognized it right away. I was shocked, lying in the middle of Queen Street with a useless right arm and a laptop (thankfully unharmed) slung over my shoulder. A Red Cross volunteer and a pregnant lady rushed to help me up. (A bad omen – you know something’s wrong with you when a pregnant lady is helping you up.) 

For a while, I thought I would just go on with my day with a sore arm. “How silly!” I thought. “One little fall can’t be so catastrophic it will affect me for weeks to come, could it?” As the pain got worse, I realized it probably would…

The early days of my broken arm – A.B., after break, Fred jokingly called it – were just a series of dawning realizations about what I could not do. I could not type. I could not floss my teeth. I could not sleep on my side. I could not do the dishes (darn!). I could not eat with chopsticks. I could not go the gym. I could not cook. I could not pull my hair back into a ponytail. 

For someone who often feels rushed, who prizes efficiency, I was suddenly forced to go slow. Showers took an hour, and I usually needed a nap afterward from all the exertion. I had to peck away slowly at my keyboard until I discovered voice dictation. Even lathering up soap to wash my face was an exercise in patience.

Right after my fall, while I leaned against a building waiting to get driven to the emergency room, I actually laughed. Good one, universe. I had all these to-do’s and worries for the afternoon, and you just gave me a slap in the face (or elbow) to get my priorities straight. For the next two weeks, try as I might, I could barely put in two hours of work a day. The God-given painkillers started making me miserably nauseous whenever I tried to read email, and I napped like there was no tomorrow. I couldn’t stray far from my apartment for fear of a sudden attack of exhaustion. I slept fitfully the first 12 days, trying to construct elaborate pillow pyramids to make my fractured elbow comfortable.

But the world carried on. My colleagues graciously stepped in (thank you Will and Camila!), and I didn’t die from not blogging or not finishing that week’s book. My inbox didn’t appreciate the strain, but it’s now (mostly) under control.   

I learned that happiness is all about your attitude – because at first, that’s literally all I had to go on in judging the quality of the day. I track my happiness level every day using AskMeEvery, and the usual things that would make me happy – being productive, or discovering a new cafe – were completely absent. All I had was read, nap, lunch, read, nap, dinner, Survivor – and my attitude. It usually came down to: did I struggle and sigh under my burdens, or stay positive? Did I get frustrated and impatient, or smile at the random strangers who offered me help and the barista who gave me extra chocolates because I looked so pitiable? 

(If you’re wondering, it took me 12 days to recover my usual 7/10 happiness level, after dipping into the 4-6 range. That’s coincidentally the same number of days it took to start sleeping normally…) 

In the end, I leaned on other people to get me through it. Even a nice nurse or a friendly fellow patient – who saw me tearing up in the waiting room and struck up a conversation about the ridiculous wait times – could turn my mood around. When I was in the emergency room, feeling sorry for myself because it was 3 am and I’d been there for 6 hours – all I could focus on was the elderly man across the hall who kept crying out for nurses to bring him water. I heard the doctors mention his nursing home and my heart sunk: he obviously had no one. I, on the other hand, had my long-suffering boyfriend and de facto caretaker holding my hand. I hope that man is okay.

I may forget lots of these details, but I won’t forget the way Fred took care of me. All my grumbles, all my 2 am despair from lack of sleep, all my exhaustion crashed on the shore of his positivity, warmth, and acceptance. Where others might have grumbled themselves, he pushed me to do less: “Nope, you are not independent anymore. Nope, you can’t make your own smoothie. Now get back to bed, broken-arm girl. Your full-time job is healing.” 

IMG_3475Thirty days later, I still can’t put my hair up in a ponytail, or chop apples, or twist a door handle. I’m back to the gym (left hand only), and back to doing dishes occasionally. Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt like a child going through a series of firsts: “Wow, Kira, you can put your clothes on now? You can make your own cereal? You can tie your shoes?” 

And at this point, all I can do is laugh.