Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Pain

As the old adage goes, it wasn't the fall that hurt, it was hitting the ground.

My brother the war hero helicopter pilot from Desert Storm says that when helicopters crash it's never one thing. There are always enough safe guards to catch any single mistake. Crashes only happen after a string of failures. (Same thing with revolutions and elections, but that's for discussion on another day.)

In my case, I decided to clean the gutters but it was raining so (1) the paved driveway was slippery wet. The ladder was an old (2) piece-of-crap extension ladder that, if I remember correctly, I picked up for free when I bought an old piece-of-crap house to rehab. I weigh (3) about 250 pounds. I went in to get my 16 year old son to hold the ladder, but he had fallen asleep in front of the TV and looked very peaceful. So (4) I let him sleep. I was only up about four or five rungs, I guess, holding on to the ladder (5) with one hand and (6) trying to stretch the hose up off the ground with the other. I, of course, have been known once or twice (7) not to listen to my wife who suggested once, maybe twice in the past that we should hire cheap immigrant labor to do this, guys who generally weigh only about 140 or 150 pounds and do this sort of thing every day. I, however, too often am (8) a little tight with a penny.

So down I went. A string of little things resulting in complete system failure.

Two broken wrists and a compression fracture of the L-1 vertebrae (tho, that may have been a fracture from an old high school injury that was merely aggravated).

And boy did it hurt. For two days, oxycontin wasn't even good enough to dim the pain.

But I surprised myself. Good Taoist that I guess I've become, it has been somewhat of an adventure in a very odd way. It's all about attitude, taking the bad with the good. I've been pretty lucky in life as far as the health goes. A concussion here and there, the back injury when wrestling in high school, sore knees now and again, and a heel problem for a while. But nothing like this. It really hurt.

For some reason I kept thinking of those who suffered in the Hanoi Hilton. James Stockdale and John McCain are the two whose accounts I've read. I could not imagine the will it took for them to endure years of this sort of pain--broken bones, separated shoulders, hours of beatings, the manipulation of injuries for added effect. Medical treatment withheld and for years. I was up and around in a couple days. But these guys. . . . what horror. Lucky me, I had oxycontin, then vicodin, and the comfort of knowing my doctor was a phone call away. I knew it would be over soon. Stockdale, McCain, and company faced, at the time, a less certain future. Hard to imagine.

So, while it did hurt, it was, like I say, an odd sort of adventure. Learning how to get out of bed. How to brush the teeth, button the pants, eventually how to turn the cars keys to start the car and how to open a jar. Shaking hands was real painful for a while but it seemed that every time I went to shake, it was too late before I remembered it was going to hurt and then I had to be too manly to show in any way that it hurt once I did shake.

The funniest thing? It gave me great satisfaction in an odd way to let people help me. Wifey was up all night one night waiting for me to get out of surgery and then home from work for three days. Middle son actually drove me to the hospital (after I woke him from his nap) and he and number three son were very sweet and caring during my recovery, helpful and with never a complaint. Dad was here for a couple days and then the in-laws for a few more. I got lots of cards, calls from two different minsters, a flurry of concerned emails, and more hugs than ever. It's just one of those things, one of those really good things: they were all happy to help. And I know that they know that, had the shoe been on the other foot, I'd have been happy to help them--and downright angry if not given the opportunity to help.

That's what it's all about, folks.

So thanks go out to all. I coulda really broken my back, coulda cracked my head like a three day old jack-o-lantern. Economically, I could be in a position where laid up means out of work, where the bills would be devastating, where there is not this wonderful family-and-beyond network of support. Yes, yes, it could have been worse.


  1. I'd sort of heard about this from your 16-year-old but hadn't realized the extent of it until I ran into you later.

    Glad you're doing better.

  2. Your perspective on all of this had to be helpful, too. Glad you were not hurt even more seriously. Given the situation, you were lucky.