You are the patient in R-2, writhing on the moveable metal bed. You are the one just wheeled into the ER, half passed-out from the pain. You are the casualty of a terrible fall, desperately praying for an orthopedic doctor to arrive soon. “That wasn’t so smart,” the nurse says, when you explain how you tripped on the living room rug and fell backwards, landing on your left wrist, trying to cushion the blow.
In the gauzy limbo the IV drip creates, the nurse is speaking to your husband from a tunnel somewhere, far away.
“The x-rays look pretty bad.”
Your head ragdoll rolls.
“The word for this kind of fracture is comminuted.”
Now your eyelids flutter. Close. Flutter open.
“I’m sure the doctor will be arriving soon. Let me page him again.”
Your mind floats to the ceiling, your left arm throbs—but the pain is nothing like the firestorm when you crash landed on that damn ceramic tile. You peek inside the sling and gently try to move your fingers but an inferno explodes up your arm. The vinegary smell of fear swirls your empty stomach.
One hour passes. Then another.
The overhead light floods on and someone buzzes your bed, sitting you up. The nurse’s hands untie the sling and you wince. Exposed to the air, your injured arm becomes kindling for another fire.
The man standing next to your bed says, “I am Doctor Masuda.” Your broken limb rests palm down on a pillow. He says, “Just look at what you’ve done to yourself.” The wrist is so deformed, it’s curved like a dinner fork.
It was an accident, you tell him.
“You’ve suffered a distal radius fracture, here—” He gestures down the length of your arm and then hovers above your hideous wrist.
A memory emerges. You recognize him from a newspaper headline. He’s the Army reservist who mended soldiers’ blasted bones in Afghanistan.
“You’ve smashed your carpal bones to smithereens.” He makes a tsk-tsk sound and his lips twitch a smirk.
“Wrist fractures are a common occurrence…” He pauses and then turns to the nurse, “in the elderly.”
“Of course, your fracture is atypical.”
You’re still working. Making a contribution.
“You’ve destroyed your wrist and there’s very little I can do. You’ve passed a point of no return with such extensive damage.”
Would he be saying this if you weren’t a post-menopausal woman?
He steps back and addresses your husband. “I’m going to perform a manual reduction. Manipulate the bones into place as best I can.”
“But what is her prognosis, doctor?”
“Oh, there’ll be an acceleration of arthritis in the wrist, loss of range of motion, weakness, but I’m sure she’ll learn to cope.”
You are bothered by being so quickly dismissed.
“What about a specialist?” your husband asks.
“I am the specialist.”
“But doesn’t my wife need surgery to reconstruct her wrist?”
“There’s a saying I learned when I served in the Middle East.” He raises his shoulders in a half shrug. “It is written.”
He shifts his head, looks down at you. “Sometimes we need to accept what’s done is done.”
Your bed buzzes backwards until your head points down. As he lifts up your wrist, he applies pressure with his thumbs. You stifle your moaning and flames burst through your skin.
You will cross a flaming desert. It will feel endless at times.
Like Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence, you will fight the whirlwind of fate on the way to Aqaba.
The next morning, still in bed, your elevated arm packed in ice, you will be tempted by the pain to succumb. To relent and accept the damage as an unchangeable fact. Mimic Dr. Masuda’s, Tough luck.
Then you will see your husband’s cell phone photos he took in the ER. Before and after x-rays of your shattered wrist. Before and after photos of Dr. Masuda’s handiwork. The silver and grey images will reveal no discernible difference—in both, the radius badly misaligned, and the wrist bones pulverized into gravel.
A defiant insurgency will rise up your spine.
The calls you make to a great midwestern clinic will connect you to Doctor Kim, who agrees to look at your non-compliant x-ray photos and call you back. He will ask, after a mere ten-minute wait, “How soon can you get here? We’ve got a five-day window to surgically intervene.”
Using the latest in volar plating, wires and screws, a team of three doctors dressed in moon suits will open your wrist on each side and keep your heart beating during a five-hour surgery. Doctor Kim, who says you remind him of his mother, will describe your injury as one he might see on the battlefield.
It will take you nearly three months of agonizing therapy before you are able to bring down the swelling and make a fist. But one day you will crow, a phoenix from the fire, the first time your fingers ball into your palm. Then you will repeat the line that’s helped you through. Peter O’Toole after he rescues Gasim who’s been abandoned in the scorching desert:
“Nothing is written.”
Linda Petrucelli (she/her) is a writer obsessed with short form fiction and CNF. Her latest essays appear in Barren, Minerva Rising and The Twin Bill. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii where she writes and shares a lanai with one husband and ten cats. Find her essays here— http://lindapetrucelli.com