It’s not all bad.
An injury can be quite sobering, especially if it impacts your well developed routine. It’s very easy to take things, even those that are very important to you, for granted when you’re able-bodied. Stupid things that normally take no cognitive thought become herculean feats of strength. Do you have any idea how hard it is to put on socks with one hand?
It forces your brain out of its comfort zone and tests the very limits of your creative thinking. Healthy limbs and surfaces of your body take on new roles and your manual strength and dexterity is tested at every turn. I’ve found ways to open bottles one-handed, sort the mail one-handed, even apply deodorant, to both armpits, one-handed. Some people may resign themselves to not doing certain things while injured, but I am far too stubborn to be so fatalistic when I still have some capacities.
I may not go to the extreme of driving or playing guitar with my feet, but I have been using them for unorthodox purposes. I can use my left foot in conjunction with my right hand to create a grip with a much wider span, or put my feet together to grasp something while my good hand opens/adjusts it. Years of soccer have given my toes freakish strength, which comes in very handy for picking up assorted items that are out of reach due to the injury.
But beyond forcing a new kind of adaptation, an injury ruins some of your favorite activities. Like the realization that all of your entertainment is electronic during a power outage, I was faced with the realization that all of my favorite hobbies rely heavily on having two free hands. Playing a stringed instrument: two hands. Using a computer efficiently: two hands. Reading a book: two hands. Dressing oneself: two hands. Showering: two hands.
All of your innate learning wants your body to use both hands, but a screaming stop sign of pain quickly reminds you of reality. Your arm becomes a cumbersome dangly part; good for getting in the way or making you look mentally handicapped at best. The easy route would be to lie in bed until cast removal day, but some of us don’t get that kind of time off work.
Instead I began to appreciate what I was missing. I took my left hand for granted, using the most literal definition of the phrase. My mini jam sessions will be all the more sweet from here on out, as I’ve tasted life without my music. I will cherish any feeling in my hands, cold or hot, good or bad, just because I know realize how terrible prolonged numbness feels. I’ve reawakened my appreciation for the little things in my life and all it took was one catastrophic injury!
There are many things I have found joy in, in an otherwise miserable period. I learned that the harmonica is one of the only instruments you can play one handed, and is fun as hell to boot. I rediscovered the joy of classic, turn-based video games that don’t require the frenetic response time of their contemporary brothers. I taught myself to take pride and garner a sense of accomplishment from the perfunctory, because I opened that can of cat food all by myself, dammit. Life becomes simple and your brain goes a little Pennsylvania dutch; it doesn’t matter that you’re not building an HD TV satellite, it just matters that your overalls are clean and that you can wear a sweet beard in public.
I have to mention the one bastion of sanity that an injured person can cling to even in the darkest of times, that I have embraced like a mother: scratching itches. A cast, while protective and stylish, is a hellish prison full of itch-monsters, hell-bent on driving you insane with impossibly placed, difficult to scratch itches. They will wake you up in the night, tickling or poking the hardest to reach areas of your wound, until you maniacally laugh or depressingly cry out of sheer frustration.
I had a theory in high school, that the total pleasure experienced from scratching itches outweighed the total pleasure experienced from sexual gratification over a lifetime, but unfortunately I cannot back it up with anything empirical. Scratches itched inside a cast are the mangum opus of a career featuring thousands of bug bites and the worst poison-plant induced rashes.
When you finally manage to satisfactorily scratch the itch, a euphoria, that I can only assume is like doing a buttload of Ecstasy while watching The Incredibles, washes over you. Your knees quiver and a chorus of angels sing praise hymms in your name. Small, furry animals flock to you and hippie folk musicians sing of your triumph. You may even black out. It it quite possibly one of the most rewarding physical experiences in the scope of human feeling.
Getting to these itches is an art in itself. Some suggest vibrating the cast from the outside with a personal massage tool (nudge nudge wink wink, say no more), but I found this only marginally effective. Others suggest using a can of compressed air to “shoot” air down into your cast. The thought of liquid nitrogen leaking out into my cast and incisions negates the idea. One of my coworkers even suggested dumping talcum powder down my arm, an idea I found difficult to pull off without creating a giant mess.
See below for my weapon of choice, a size 3 (3.25 MM) knitting needle.
(Scissors included for scale)
This is a thin, green, metal stick. A knitting needle is ideal because of its rounded edge and superb length. That curve came naturally from use and is exactly why I didn’t buy the plastic versions; I don’t want to explain to my orthopedist why there is a half of a broken plastic stick stuck in my cast.
Here is an action shot!
(Scissors included because I forgot to move them)
Technically speaking, you’re not really supposed to stick things down your cast. The doctors claim you can cut yourself and get a horrible infection, but I’m pretty sure that is an empty warning. Anyone who has ever experienced the mind-bending bliss of scratching that long sought after itch would completely agree with me.
This has been my life for the past 5 weeks, scratching my way to freedom one day at a time. I’m over the hump now but hopefully I can retain the appreciation for the little things that this elbow has given me the chance to finally notice. Do yourself a favor and try to use just your dominant hand for one day; duct tape the other one to your leg or something. You’ll be surprised how awkward, but ultimately humbled, you feel by the time you go to sleep.