Infrequently, I write about things other than beer. This is one of those times.
About six weeks ago, I suffered a fracture of the greater tuberosity of the humerus. That’s the sort of knurl of the bone in your upper arm that attaches your bicep and rotator cuff. I had long wondered, having watched a deal of Sportscentre, exactly what the rotator cuff was. It turns out that it is the part of your arm that allows you a free range of motion. Say you want to get something off a high shelf or take off your jacket without having your face contort into a rictus of agony or lift your arm very, very slightly; that’s part of what the rotator cuff does.
I know what you’re thinking: He’s a beer writer. Probably he was incapacitated with drink at the time of the accident. Possibly it’s the result of a drunken bar room brawl.
There is no such story. The truth of the matter is that it was a fluke accident caused in total sobriety by a patch of black ice. I had recently discovered that I prefer anchovies to bacon on toast for breakfast and was on the way to the store to purchase both. It was six in the morning and I wasn’t even hungover.
I don’t suppose that the majority of people get to 32 without having experienced so much as a hangnail. That was approximately the expected life span in the medieval period. I thought that it might be instructive to share with you some of the things that I have learned as a result of the experience.
There is a portion of the BBC television program Last Chance To See in which Stephen Fry manages to fall rather awkwardly off a gangway in the middle of South America. He was on his way to visit the river dolphins in order to track conservation efforts. It is a program worth seeing if you’re interested in endangered animals, Stephen Fry or sexually frustrated parrots. Objectively, the most unexpected moment in the series is Stephen Fry breaking his arm as a result of his attempt to get on a boat. He is as polite as it is possible to be under the circumstances, and I had always wondered whether, when faced with the sudden catastrophic pain that accompanied the injury, he was playing it down out of either staid Englishness or whether he knew that the cameras were rolling and wanted to avoid profanity so that there would at least be usable pre-watershed footage.
As it turns out, profanity is a vastly overrated thing in these types of situations. While the discovery that you’re out of mustard may provoke a volley of four letter words, and a series of strikeouts from your favorite baseball team might engender new and interesting portmanteau vulgarities, cursing will do you no good as you lie on the ground considering what you have just done to your ankle and shoulder. I am pleased to say that after approximately thirty seconds of consideration, I expressed a hearty “botheration.”
“When the house is on fire one forgets even the dinner–Yes, but one recovers it from among the ashes.” – Nietschze, Beyond Good and Evil
This is to say that despite what would turn out to be a minor debilitating ailment, I went and bought the bread for toast anyway. You can learn a lot about yourself with a broken arm, not the least lesson of which was that I wasn’t going to let the situation be a total loss. For reference, Anchovy tins are difficult to open one-armed.
If you suffer a really painful injury, the doctors in Emerg will prescribe something for the pain. In my case it was Percocet 325/5. Initially, I joked with people that I might do a review of Percocet in the style of a beer review (drying on the palate with a constipatory finish). It turns out that I hate Percocet, but at least the results were predictable. Even a single one would knock me completely out. On the way to approximately four hours of lying there in complete stillness would come the terrible aural hallucinations. I dispensed with the Percocet on day three, discovering that no amount of water or fibre or coffee would relieve their most commonly experienced side effect. Also, since they contain acetaminophen, beer is more or less out of the question. Terrible stuff. If you’re ever in a position where you find yourself taking them, my suggestion is to wean yourself off them as quickly as possible.
4)You will have taken for granted by now that you will be able to perform certain everyday actions indefinitely and without complaint. Without thinking about it, you have probably attributed to one hand or the other various of your day to day tasks. You might lather your hair left handed when shampooing. You might carry your keys in your left pocket despite being a righty. You might well use your left hand to push the buttons for the elevator. It should go without saying that breaking your arm means that you will have, for the first time in years, to think about how you carry out simple actions on a day to day basis.
For instance, if Barry Pletch drops by with a package of St.Ambroise products (Pale Ale now in Cans! Somehow more assertively aromatic! What a triumph for St.Ambroise!) and you put a bottle of Oatmeal Stout in the fridge door for later and completely forget about it whilst going to attempt some other activity easily accomplished while invalided like, oh, I don’t know, breathing gently or staring out the window, you might find very quickly that the situation requires thought. Or, at least it should have done.
What happens in reality is that you open the fridge right handed, reach in left handed, jolt with pain upon realizing that you cannot, in fact, do that, but not before having upset the bottle with the action causing it to shatter on the kitchen floor. You will spend the next thirty minutes painfully re-learning how to use a mop while trying to decide whether to attempt to pick up the broken glass or simply abandon that section of the apartment indefinitely.
Similarly, bath time was a challenge. If you decide that you wish to soak your rather badly sprained ankle with a broken arm, you will need to put more thought into it than usual, with an especial emphasis upon getting into and out of the tub. Of course, it’s likely that you will not plan out such a simple activity, taking for granted that everything will go to plan.
It turns out that gently lowering yourself into the tub is a feat really only made possible by the fact that you usually have two working arms. This doesn’t even begin to cross your mind until gravity has made itself known. It is said that Archimedes yelled Eureka upon entering his bath. I contented myself with an unintentional cannonball, an “oh, bugger”, and the knowledge that the ceiling was probably due for cleaning anyway.
In short, your day to day life will become a sort of Rube Goldberg contraption designed solely with your inconvenience in mind.
5) Having healed up nearly completely, I will say this: I hadn’t used the emergency room in Canada since I had an ear infection on a family holiday in Montreal in about 1993. Encountering it for the first time as an adult, I have to say how marvelous it is that we live in a country where you’re unlikely to go bankrupt if you suffer an accident. I read stories from the United States about the number of people who find themselves suddenly struck with inexorable debt caused by medical services when they are hit by a car or tumble down the stairs. In some parts of the USA, the injury I suffered would probably have cost something like $5,000 dollars without taking follow ups or prescriptions into account.
I know that my experience wasn’t typical. I went to Sunnybrook Emerg at a non peak time and spent maybe 75 minutes there from admission to X-Ray to scheduled fracture clinic follow up. That’s low for the system. I have had three follow up visits with the fracture clinic at Sunnybrook, all of which have been relatively painless (although hospital waiting rooms remain a mostly featureless void where the life cycle of magazines comes to an end). The most expensive part of the entire procedure was the prescription for Percocet, which came out to something less than twenty bucks.
I know that these services are not free. We pay for them through our taxes. We’re lucky to be able to do so. When they argue about Obamacare in the US, you will periodically see Canada pointed out as a negative example because our medical system might require a longer waiting period for conditions with complex diagnoses or long term consequences. We should work on that. The simple fact of the matter is that if you’re in Canada and you suffer a serious, comparatively routine injury or illness, you will be seen to in short order and you will not have to consider upon how to pay for it in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. If that’s not something we can be proud of as a country, I don’t know what is.