It’s 5:36 on the morning of January 31, 2018. I had set an early alarm and am walking out the front door of our house looking at the sky. The security footage shows me linger on the sidewalk in front of the house for several minutes before turning south to climb the hill to the end of our street for a better view of the cloudy sky.
10 minutes later the camera shows my return – carefully walking across the front yard holding my left forearm stiffly in front of me with my right hand. At the front door I try the doorbell three times before finding a way to open the door with my feet.
The inside camera doesn’t catch my entry through the front door but it is activated when I walk through the kitchen and come to rest at the dining room table, forearm on the table. A few minutes later Tina appears and I shuffle out the front door for our trip to the emergency room.
As I watched it for the first time, I was surprised at how little of the pain was visible in those silent images. There is just one moment as I wait for Tina to respond to the doorbell that I throw my head back wailing but the moment passes quickly.
It was a futile quest. Typical Oregon clouds blocked any view of the rare super blue moon eclipse. Even before setting the alarm I knew this was likely but I thought it was worth a try and it was only one hour earlier than I had been waking recently.
As I hiked up the hill I remembered the numerous times this climb had been difficult and now it was easy. When I got to the top, I walked to the next street over and scanned the sky. Nothing. “Where should I be looking?” I wondered as I turned around and began walking back. I pulled up the web browser on my phone as I formulated the Google search phrase in my mind. Before I could type it, I stepped off the sidewalk and into a world of pain.
It was the curb strip and it was landscaped with lava rocks. I was laying face down and my left arm hurt a lot. I lay there moaning and swearing for a bit before attempting to get up. However, when I pushed up with my left arm, I felt no resistance from the ground. Confused, I looked up at my forearm and was surprised to see it was laying at a different angle than it “felt.” Instead of facing the ground, ready to push off, it was laying at a 45° angle the other way and on the other side, a position that is normally not possible because the shoulder won’t rotate far enough. I knew then it was bad.
More swearing and lots of self-recrimination (“Stupid, stupid, stupid!”). My phone was within reach so I called Tina who was still sleeping at home. It was 5:39 when I made the first call and 5:40 when I gave up after the third. I briefly considered a FaceTime call but abandoned that idea when my phone told me I had disabled it for cell data.
I needed to stand and I needed to walk the four blocks back to the house. I needed to keep my arm from flopping while I walked. Once I got to the house, I knew Tina could take over and make the remaining decisions such as whether we should go to urgent care or the emergency room.
I gathered my wits, grasped my left wrist with my right hand and lifted my left arm off the ground. I lurched to my knees, carefully centered my gravity and then stood. “Yes. Good. Ok. Ok.” I muttered as I turned towards home, eyes fixed on the ground immediately in front of me for fear of another misstep.
I had only taken a couple of steps before realizing that my sweat pants had slid down and would be a problem for walking. Except neither hand was free to pull them up. A nearby hedge was just the right height to temporarily rest my bad arm and pull up my pants with the good one.
Half a block later the problem arose again and I looked for a new arm rest. The problem with pulling up pants one-handed is that it is very difficult to pull up the side opposite your hand properly. I managed to get the waistband completely over my left buttock this time and was soon back to walking slowly and muttering encouragement to myself. “Just a little further. Almost there. We got this.” (Yes, I refer to myself as “we” for conversations in my head.)
Halfway home and I realized I was not wearing my glasses. I did not consider turning back to retrieve them. The thought was preposterous.
When got home I knew that I had to be especially careful crossing the yard. If I fell again, it could be disastrous. I walked very slowly and very carefully across the grass, feeling each step fully before shifting my weight forward. I tried the doorbell but Tina was fast asleep so I opened the door with my foot and walked inside yelling Tina’s name.
I went to the bedroom and she still lay in bed undisturbed. I sat on the edge of the bed by her feet, reached over and shook her. I waited for her to rouse and remove her earplugs before saying, “I fell and may have broken my arm. You have to take me to the hospital.” It took her a few seconds to realize what was happening but then she got out of bed and started dressing.
I wandered out to the dining room where I sat at the nearest chair, rested my injured arm on the table and began sobbing uncontrollably. I knew that I had done what was necessary to get help and now I could trust others to take care of me. The entirety of my situation came crashing down and I collapsed underneath the weight. My whole body shook and all my recent failures flooded my consciousness.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breath, a technique used in mindful meditation. Time crawled. Soon I began wailing “What is taking so long?” over and over. The pain was immense and I knew it was not ending any time soon. Aside from the pain, the visceral feeling of danger felt like an existential threat. I was completely in fight-flight-freeze mode and all rationality had been suspended.
Tina came out and began reassuring me. She helped me out the door and into the car. She drove to the scene of the accident to retrieve my glasses and then on to the emergency room. The fifteen minute drive to the hospital seemed to take an eternity but I was calmer by this time and tried intermittently to focus on my breath again. It seemed to work but when I opened my eyes, we were hardly any closer than when I closed them. The swearing and self-deprecation continued throughout. I also came to realize that eventually I might be faced with even more pain while my arm was being put back into place.
Tina parked near the emergency room entrance in a handicap spot and put her placard (which she keeps in her purse) on the dashboard. The waiting room was relatively empty when we arrived and I was admitted immediately. After standing in the admission office for a few minutes (I was afraid you sit because I didn’t know how hard or painful rising from the chair would be), we were walked to a room with a bed on which I sat to be evaluated.
It was quickly determined that x-rays would be needed. I was offered a wheelchair but I declined, still fearing the painful consequences of standing from a low seated position. We walked to the radiology room just outside of the ER where they thankfully had a downward facing projector which allowed me to rest my arm on the detector pad.
The x-rays showed that I had suffered a “simple dislocation” of the elbow which essentially means that there were no fractures. Obviously, that was good news but I knew that the possibility of more and greater pain lay ahead during the reduction maneuver that is used to restore the elbow to normal alignment. When the doctor told me that I would be “under” for the procedure, I immediately told him that I loved him. I was only half-joking.
When I awoke from the anesthesia (propofol), my arm was in a splint and a sling. When we checked out a short time later, the pain was considerably less and the events of the morning already felt like a fading memory.
It is now two weeks later during which time I have worn two splints and a brace but now my arm is free again. Physical therapy starts next week.