The brokenness of things: 5

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

The nurse affixes
a sling
for my left arm
in its heavy
Z-shaped cast

she helps me
from the hospital bed
into the wheelchair

she wheels me
across the hall
to see the little boy
with the crushed foot
who’s five
who’s been screaming
almost
non-stop

there he is
very small
in his bed
with crib rails

his foot
big with bandages
is suspended in the air
on a tall sling

I see
the surprise
on his tear-streaked face
when he sees
me

This is the girl
from across the hall

says the nurse
She has a broken arm
look

but she’s okay
the doctors have fixed her arm
so it can get well

Hi
I say
because
I can’t think
of anything else

he stares at me
this little boy
with the crushed foot
who is five

but he’s stopped screaming

Hi
he says
at last

he doesn’t smile
exactly

I don’t know
if his foot
is going to be
okay

I just know
as look at him
and he looks at me
that somehow
he
will be

because
I am

Get Well Soontsbl2000.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The brokenness of things: 4

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

The pediatric wing
of the hospital
is quiet
in the gray-blueness
of a June afternoon
easing into dusk

muffled sounds and voices
from the nurse’s station
down the hall

alone in my room
my newly-casted arm
is heavy
and awkward
bent in a Z-shape
so the bones
will knot back together
nicely

on the bedside table
two dozen handmade cards
crayon-decorated
by my fourth-grade classmates
brighten the sterile room
Hope you are feeling better SOON!
I’m sorry about your arm
We miss you

I am feeling
surprisingly loved
in these
long and lonely
moments
of nothingness

until a scream
shatters the
gray-blue stillness

a jolt
of electricity
shoots through
my heart

another child
nearby

the scream rises
and falls
into loud sobbing

it goes on
and on

when the nurse comes
to take my vitals
I ask
Who‘s that, screaming

she replies
while taking my pulse
Another patient
across the hall
he’s five

What’s the matter with him
Why is he screaming
like that

she looks at me
I can see
she’s thinking

His foot was crushed
by a lawnmower
He is frightened
and he has a rough road
ahead of him

would you like
to go see him

it might help him
to not be so
afraid

I’m imagining
a little foot
full of crushed bones
how can doctors
ever put all the pieces
back together

it frightens me

I don’t want
to see

but his screams
are terrible
to hear

Okay
I say
I will go

although my heart
is beating
no
no
no

Pediatrics exam roomStanford Medical History Center. CC BY-NC-S

Mending

I had my first check-up for my broken foot.

“Ah,” said the orthopedist, displaying the X-rays, “this is excellent progress.”

I breathed a little more freely.

I knew it was better. I’d walked on it a little at home—just a little—without the boot, without pain, even though I wasn’t supposed to.

What concerned me most was … well … I am growing older. All I did was fall off of three garage steps and the bone just snapped.

Are my bones becoming fragile?

“It’s a common break,” said the tech. “What’s not common is the complete break. Usually it’s a fracture. Yours is a hurty one.”

“Yeah, it hurt plenty in the beginning,” I replied, “but not now. This progress means my bones are good and healthy, right?” Translation: I’m not decrepit, yet?

“They’re very good,” smiled the orthopedist. Who looks about fifteen.

He graduated me to an orthopedic shoe. But still no driving for four more weeks. State law says not while I require “medical equipment” on my gas foot.

<sigh>

But, I have good bones.

I examined them up on the screen. Marveled at how much the broken one had already knitted itself back together in just three weeks. Amazing how bones can even do that.

“That’s the best part of this particular field,” said the orthopedist. “Getting to watch people heal. Oh, and you can walk some in the house without the shoe. Movement stimulates bone growth.”

He looked at me knowingly.

I just smiled.

Walk to knit, knit to walk …

Rather meta of us, don’t you think, my little metatarsal.

Twist of fate

For all the clear memories I have of moments and conversations in years past, I cannot quite recall how this happened two days ago…

Early Sunday morning. Tote bag with Bible and Sunday School lesson, studied and ready to teach. Annotated cantata book for Easter drama practice, ready for first rehearsal and casting. So much to do. So much to think about. Mind full of minutiae to remember. Let me put all this in the car, lest I forget something… wait, the sweet pickles for lunch. I forgot to take them to church with the sandwich stuff for rehearsal. Let me put the jar in my bag. There. Ready…

Opening door. Garage steps, red brick. Car is right there, I will put everything in the backseat floor…

—Falling. Fast.

Everything in my hands scatters across the cement floor; I watch the music book and all my papers sliding away with remarkable speed.

I cry out. I don’t know if it’s during that split-second fall, or on impact.

A snap.

Sharp pain in my right foot… I am only wearing socks, no shoes.

My son, Cadillac Man, is there in an instant. He heard me fall.

I am clutching my foot. It’s bad.

—Mom, is that blood dripping down your bag?

No. Pickle juiceget my Bible out of there.

And get your father.

His father tries to help me up but I can’t stand and he can’t be pulling on me; he is still healing from bypass surgery.

Don’t touch me, I tell them. I don’t know how to move. I have to figure it out.

I crawl back in the house. I take off my sock.

My foot looks intact.

I will try to stand…

Knife-like stab.

No.

My husband and son do not know what to do. It is Sunday morning; one is a pastor, the other, a music director. They each have church services waiting,

Go, I say. I have to figure this out. Maybe it will be better by the time you get back. If not, you can take me to an urgent care. Just go.

They go.

I wait until they’re gone to crawl down the hall and, sitting in the floor, change from pajamas to street clothes, for I know I’ll be going somewhere about this foot.

Suddenly everything is exponentially harder than it was.

That’s when I cry.

*******

X-rays reveal that I broke the fifth metatarsal on my right foot. The tech tells me I snapped it and I say yeah, I heard it. Now I am in a boot for six, eight, ten weeks; who knows? These things are slow to heal, says the orthopedist.

And no driving with the boot, she adds.

So now my husband and son must take me to and from work, every day for weeks on end.

I cannot do this, I say to myself.

But I walk, lopsided, imperfect, maddeningly slow in my Frankenstein boot, out of the office. My husband takes me home.

I watch the countryside whizzing past the passenger window. I know what this is shaping up to be. A hard lesson in dependence, at the least. It’s not like I haven’t lived this before. Seventeen years ago, just after my father died, I broke my foot—the same foot, different bone—while preparing to direct a church play. This second time occurs just after my husband’s brother died. Déjà vu. A curious twist of fate. None curious-er. I am seventeen years older; this is going to be harder.

—Well. It’s just going to have to be one deliberate step at a time.

Oh, how much I take for granted.

Today, back to work.

Just a good bit slower than before.