The Broken Finger of Fate

On February 11 at about 3pm in the afternoon my wife and I made a fateful decision that would effect the rest of our lives together. It was a cold afternoon. The temperature was somewhere around 16ºF. The wind made it feel like 7ºF. We had been to visit the Peabody Essex Museum’s Impressionists on the Water. We had lunch at Rocafella’s. I had a chicken breast stuffed with artichoke and coated with maple syrup. The waitress wanted to know what I thought of the coating. I told her I liked it. That was a lie. It was too sweet. But I never tell wait staff what I really think. Why would I want to make them uncomfortable? What are they going to do about it? What could anybody who gets paid $2.13 an hour do about it?

After lunch we walked back to the open-air garage. My car was on the top floor. We entered the building and were immediately presented with a decision.

“Shall we walk up or take the elevator?” Nancy asked.

“Let’s walk,” I said. “It’s better for us.”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I made short work of the five flights. But as soon I stepped through the doorway out onto the roof, fate made its cruel and unexpected move. There was a curb just beyond the doorway. It never occurred to me that one would be there. Why would it? It wasn’t as if there was a sidewalk and a street. The architect wanted that extra step. Who put that idea into his or her head? Who knows how long that curb had been lying there in wait for me?  It doesn’t matter. I missed the curb and instantly lost my balance. I lurched forward. I tried to run in a vain effort to get my legs back under my torso where they belonged. All I succeeded in doing was driving my left arm and shoulder even harder into the concrete floor.

I could feel something warm running across my forehead, behind my ear and into my hair. It turned out to be blood from a gash over my left eye. My left arm was completely numb. I raised it as if I were giving a Nazi salute to the sky, all the while yelling, “My arm. My arm. I can’t feel my arm.”

Three women were just ahead of me. They saw it all happening. I think of them now as Norns. They kept chanting, “Shall we call 911? Shall we call 911?”

Nancy said no, but they called anyway. I could hear one of them say into her cellphone, “I’m a bystander.”

It sounded to my half-working ears like a political statement.

I asked the Norns what I should do about the blood on the floor. They told me not to worry.

“The rain will wash everything away,” they said like good Norns would.

“They don’t think I’m taking this seriously enough,” Nancy said as she drove me to the infirmary at MIT.

Yesterday, I had day surgery at Mt. Auburn Hospital. It turned out I had broken the 3rd metacarpal in my left hand. The hospital staff, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the anesthesia nurses, the operating room techs and surgical nurses, the clerks who took my Medicare and Medicaid numbers—in other words, everybody I came in contact with at that hospital was marvelous. I mean here it is the day after surgery and I’m typing with both hands.

I remember two things about my blood pressure. On the Friday three days before the operation the pre-surgical nurse took my blood pressure. She put the cuff on my left arm, the one that was hurt. She said my BP was a bit high. It was 139 over 86. She seemed a bit concerned. I said I could fix that. She put the cuff on my right arm. I meditated. This time the BP was 120 over 72.

“That was awesome,” she exclaimed. I am pretty sure she was impressed.

“Will I become a hospital legend?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “A lot of people can do that.”

When I was wheeled into the operating room on Tuesday morning, my blood pressure was 200 over something. Nothing awesome I could do then. They weren’t bothered.

As I rolled into the room, I was making small talk to make myself feel better. I said I got the impression from watching Grey's Anatomy on TV that all doctors and nurses in a hospital slept around and that the patients either got better or died. The anesthesiologist said that the program got the medicine wrong, but everything else was accurate.

“Only nobody sleeps with the patients,” I remember saying. Then someone put a mask over my face and then someone said, “It’s all over.”

And, indeed, it was.

Here are the results. You can see the break in the photo on the left. Just click on the picture. Do the same on the right. You can see three screws putting the bone back together. It looks like a solid bone with three screws in it. I mean how good can you get?

Broken 3rd metacarpal on my left hand
Rebuilt 3rd metacarpal

I said at the start that my decision to walk up the steps rather than take the elevator would effect my wife and me for the rest of our lives. What was I thinking of?

Airport metal detectors. What a drag!