Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gravity Sucks

It's been a long weekend, but here are the highlights, if you want to cal them that.

I did something to my right arm this morning and now it hurts like the dickens. What I did isn’t important. Really. What’s really important is that I hurt, enough so that I am a bit concerned about how I will manage life until Leif gets back. I don’t know if I mentioned that he is on an 8 day tour with a bunch of doctors from Michigan and won’t be home till Saturday afternoon.

I used to brag about how I am pretty good at using both my hands. “My left hand,” I often say, “is more than a way to stop myself from falling onto my left side.” A shower and lunch, along with other trivial activities have convinced me that I am right handed. Exclusively right handed.

I have been getting progressively stiffer this afternoon. It wasn’t so bad at first…a little sore but no big deal. My first clue that this was going to be a little more difficult than I thought was when I tried to empty the ice tray.

It’s a perky yellow thing made of soft plastic. I grabbed it with both hands and started to do the twist to release the cubes. But my right hand wasn’t really cooperating. I couldn’t seem to get my wrist to turn, or simply hold that side still while I let my left hand do the work. I quickly ran some cold water over the back side to help release them, but they seemed to want to stick. To be honest, I had no idea who might have filled the ice tray to begin with…there was hoarfrost on the ice. So it’s been there for awhile. I anchored the right side of the tray against the countertop with the dead weight of my right hand and held the palm of my left hand against the tray to warm it. It worked! Tiny cubes shaped like hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades fell onto the cloth I put down. Hey, furnished apartment! It must have been on sale…

Not perfect, but enough to ice my…gosh, what hurts more? My wrist, I thought at first, but then it seemed more like my elbow. With occasional twinges in my shoulder. I started with the wrist and just kept moving the bag up my forearm until I got to the elbow. I think the shoulder is just stiff from holding my arm still.
(This is where I stopped, because typing with one hand is a lot more tiring than one might think. And I had more important things to deal with…oh, my, not that you aren’t important, but…)

TUESDAY MORNINGUmmm, it’s been a tough weekend. I fell on my bike on Thursday morning. The thing I was worried I had hurt (my wrist) is fine, while the thing I didn’t even know I hurt (my elbow) nearly paralyzed me for a day and a half. It swelled up, it wouldn’t unbend or move at all and every muscle in my arm cramped up for the whole day and a half. I slept an hour at a time, using my party ice cubes to ice the elbow in between. They didn’t make my night more festive, but I was grateful for them all the same. I laughed every time I took them out of the freezer. I took Excedrin, because I don’t have ibuprofen. Yeah, I know, pointless.

I suppose I should have gone to a doctor right away, but I have several reasons that seemed really good at the time. 1) I wasn’t sure where to go. It’s a big town and I didn’t want to wander around half-assed looking for a hospital. 2) I wasn’t sure who to call, and I wasn’t comfortable calling brand new friends to say I might be broken and need a little help. 3) I knew I could get out of my apartment but didn’t have the two hands it requires to open the door to get back in. 4) I wasn’t up to trying out my Italian while trying not to pass out. I said they seemed like good reasons “at the time.”

So I decided to wait till Leif came back on Saturday, and it really did begin to improve. By Saturday I was feeling much better, as long as I didn’t hit my elbow on anything or make any sudden moves it hardly hurt at all. My elbow looked normal, just swollen. I could even straighten my arm slightly. I was pretty sure it wasn’t broken, just surprised by the sudden meeting with the cobblestones. I survived on muesli and pasta with oil til Saturday…it is amazing how many things I do that require two hands, or a very dexterous one hand.

We decided to wait till Monday to go to the hospital…there are good reasons! Saturday was Notte Bianca (white night) which is an all night, city wide party. There would be too many party-goers in the emergency room that night. Sunday he had to work. Leaving Monday. And by Monday it was feeling pretty good, for something that was obviously hurt. And off to the emergency room we went, although it wasn’t really an emergency anymore.

After my experience with the Questura on Tuesday, I wasn’t real excited about my first visit to an Italian emergency room. Yes, it’s the oldest hospital in Italy, but there are other sites I’d rather visit. I envisioned a dark waiting room filled with wheelchairs and stretchers inhabited by patients either comatose or moaning in pain. I imagined being ignored for hours as I wasn’t actively bleeding onto the floor or throwing up in a trash can. I knew there would be stacks of paperwork (all in Italian) and that I would have to sign 20 pieces of paper, with my left hand, agreeing to pay huge sums of money for treatment, the outcome of which the hospital could in no way be held responsible for.

The reality was nothing like this, thank goodness. With Leif there to interpret, and the fact that I have a domocilio (yet another classification of residency) I only got four pieces of paper to read and sign, which we dutifully filled out but no one ever asked us for them. We sat in the waiting room with four Americans in their early 20’s. One of them had dropped a scooter on his foot and the rest were there for support. Strange how in an American emergency room everyone sits in silence refusing to make eye contact with others. I do it. It’s quite a different experience when you are in a foreign country. Three hours later we were all still there, and had added a tourist from Florida with a twisted ankle and a strange rash, a girl from Sardenia (we never found out what was wrong with her) and another from Amsterdam who fell down some stairs and may have broken her finger, a guy from Mexico who was studying here and a sweet old Italian lady who was waiting for her husband. The conversation never stopped, and switched from English to Italian as the need arose.

The doctor comes out to the waiting room for the initial exam and asks questions. Scooter fell on your foot? Diagnosis: trauma…wait for men in orange to take you to x-ray. Fell off your bike onto your elbow? Diagnosis: trauma. Wait for someone (no color specified) to take you to x-ray. The lady from Florida mistakenly called the dottoressa (female doctor) a nurse. Diagnosis: trauma. Wait here.

Once they took me to x-ray things moved quickly. Sign one more paper stating that I understand that x-rays are harmful to fetuses and that if I have lied about being pregnant the hospital can’t be blamed for what might happen to my hypothetical unborn child. Then back to the emergency room, but this time to stand in a busy hallway waiting for…I don’t know what, really. They just left us there. So Leif started talking to people and suddenly I was whisked off to a quiet room to be encased in the “Jurrasic Park” model immobility cast. The technician assured me that what he was creating would provide support and protection for my elbow with as little weight as possible. Well, it does weigh less than one fashioned from, say, marble, but to say it is light is just an out and out lie. The sling is cleverly fashioned from some stretchy knit cotton polyester blend about 3 inches wide and tied with a gay knot at the back of my neck. Useless.

Leif and I talked a little while waiting for the dottoressa and agreed that this must be a temporary cast until the visit with the orthopedic guy tomorrow. She came, told me “yes, is broken” and arranged for an appointment tomorrow, as well as giving me three prescriptions. That’s it, a paper with the prescriptions written on it and no further instructions. One for pain (yay, and only three days too late), one for “the stomach” (whatever that means) and one that is injected into my tummy for “blood thrombosis” (again, whatever that means.) I intend to ask the ortho guy tomorrow. One positive note, this visit cost me and my insurance company 0 euros, which at the current rate of exchange is 0 dollars. Take that, American health care system. Of course, tomorrow's visit to the bone guy could be far more expensive than I want to think about.

On our way out we passed the scooter guy being wheeled into an actual room still accompanied by people wearing orange. The girl from Sardenia was just being brought back to be seen and threw us an air high five. The girl who fell down the stairs had a cast that enclosed the hurt finger, the palm of her hand and her arm to the elbow, but she was thankful to be leaving the hospital. The tourist from Florida who offended the dottoressa? When we left she was still waiting for someone to take her to x-ray.

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