Life Lessons from a Broken Finger
I broke my finger three weeks ago and had to have surgery to stabilize the fragments with titanium. (Yes, I flew over the handlebars of my mountain bike. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me!) As someone who had never broken a bone, never been under general anesthesia, and never asked anyone for rides to the hospital and back, this event that might be insignificant for some people definitely rocked my world. It’s been a pretty fun ride, really, fraught with lessons…here are some of them.
1. Your dominant hand index finger does A LOT! Appreciate it.
Really. I never bothered to consider the importance of my right index finger until I tried to put my bra on with my finger immobilized in a cast. Cutting veggies to put in the juicer? Nope. Picking up small objects between your thumb and forefinger. Definitely not. Holding a fork? Ha! And shaving your left armpit? Completely out of the question. I have a whole new sense of gratitude and wonder for all the fine motor skills my right index finger performs, and I have been gently prodded to be a little more ambidextrous in the future by occasionally doing something – anything really – with my left hand.
2. Flexible human bodies and minds can nearly always find a work-around.
Not having the use of a dominant hand index finger is annoying, but you can get by without it. It’s amazing the ways you figure out to hold your toothbrush creatively and hunt and peck on the typewriter keyboard with your remaining digits. And teeth can come to the rescue to hold a lot of things…..
3. You can lose the use of one body part and you still have so much.
The morning after my surgery I got on my mat, because that is what I do, and where I work things out. Much to my surprise, I could do A LOT! Sure, no handstands and arm balances, and I had to do down dog on my forearms. But short of that, I could do just about everything else. I was so very grateful for every single pose that I could do! It was as if I were discovering each of them for the first time again.
4. Slow down.
When one hand is compromised it’s MUCH harder to multi-task. Instead of carrying my computer bag, grocery bags, bike gear bag, phone, water bottle and to-go mug from my car into my kitchen all at the same time, I have had to make several trips. I can’t talk on the phone and type at once. Or play with my Ipod while driving. I should never be doing this many activities simultaneously anyway. But I do — unless I can’t.
5.When you ask for help, you get it.
Okay, so this is not my strength. I’ve spent a lot of energy defining myself as a tough independent woman who can take care of herself. In some weird way I’ve prided myself on NOT asking for help, and as a result, haven’t gotten much – go figure! In the space of one day I had to ask for rides to and from the hospital, help bathing, and assistance dressing. I had to ask someone to prepare my juice and cook meals for me. I needed to ask other people to demo poses for me in some of my yoga classes, and I requested permission to cancel other classes. I’ve had people load my bike atop my car for me, open doors for me, and carry my groceries out of the market. And guess what? Every one of the people I asked for help from was more than pleased to give it. In fact, I think they even enjoyed helping me. Hmm.
6. Pain is temporary.
I know, this sounds like a football team slogan, but it’s true. For the most part, pain passes – especially if you keep breathing through it rather than resisting it. Yoga has so much to teach about this. Long holds in uncomfortable poses that you choose are excellent training grounds for the pain that life doles out to you from time to time. After a while, your brain gets bored and moves onto the next thing. Or, time passes and it just goes away.
7. Time passes.
When I was first told that I could not bear weight on my hand for 3-4 weeks I thought that would feel like an eternity. It’s didn’t. Time passes, and before you know it, the cast is off, the stitches are off, the joint is moving, and you can grab the scissors again. In this case, the passage of time is a blessing. It isn’t always…which is a good reminder for me to go drive out to that trailhead today while the leaves are peaking, rather than spending the time answering more email.
8. Trust the universe; she’s got your back.
I’ve been terrified of general anesthesia for years. I bent over backwards to never get it (including “accidentally” eating before my one other surgery so that they would have to give me a spinal block), fearing that I’d be put out and never come back. I was offered the option of an axial block (a technique where they pull shoulder ligaments out of alignment to access and deaden the main nerve that allows for sensation in the hand) on my arm, which would have allowed me the option to remain awake during my surgery but would have presented a high likelihood of ongoing post-operative pain and numbness in my arm. As my companion put it, “that sounds really invasive!” And not ideal for someone whose arms help her make a living. So I opted for the general anesthesia, and, in doing so, I had to come to terms with trusting a nurse I’d never met to knock me unconscious and bring me back. I had to settle into the belief that if my work was done in the world, I wouldn’t come back, and that if I was meant to come back and give more of what I have to offer I would. That’s a big concept to wrestle with while being wheeled into the OR! I DID come back, and came to looking at the faces of a couple of people I love very much. It’s a treat to be back on the planet when you’re not sure if you going to return….right, every day counts. I think that all the tears shed between the anesthesia decision and awakening in the recovery room have empowered me to trust more and let go of a just a little more control over my life and its plan. It’s on loan after all.