Of fractures, splints and other unpleasantness

My fractured hand

Unless you live with me, work with me or have me as a friend on Facebook you won’t know that I have accidentally fractured a bone in my right hand (as opposed to *intentionally* breaking it I guess).

I knew it was serious pretty much right away but hoped it was just a sprain, but as my hand kept swelling more and more it was quickly obvious that something more serious had happened. I went to the hospital, got an x-ray, and was told I needed a splint. I’ve had a splint to heal a pinky finger before, it was just a metal bar with foam on one side. I wasn’t so lucky this time and this splint was made of a large, heavy piece of plaster covering the outside of my right hand.

Now, I am right-handed. VERY right-handed. I could probably lose my left hand and not have to adjust my life much. I have NO fine motor skills in my left. In fact I remember from my early 20s incidents where I went to a book shop, selected a book, picked it up with my left hand, then realized that I had grabbed the book next to the one I wanted. So, this past 10-11 days have been a real pain in the ass. For those of you who have never temporarily lost the use of your dominant hand, here are a few things this affects:

  1. Writing. I have tried to write with my left. It just doesn’t work. At all. In a pinch, if my signature is required, I can manage to grab a pen with my right thumb and index finger and sign by moving my whole arm, since my wrist is immobilized. Anything more than that and it looks like I fell asleep in the middle of writing a word. It’s completely ridiculous.
  2. Typing. My left hand can carry on typing, but the best I can do with the right is to bend my middle finger down and type with that. This works and is not too uncomfortable, but my typing accuracy has gone to sh*t and I have to look at the keyboard all the time.
  3. Eating. I look like someone who’s never handled utensils before, or perhaps have some sort of tremor issue, but if I take my time I manage, as long as I don’t have to cut anything.
  4. Cooking. Oh boy. I always handle knives with my right hand, so that’s not going so well. My brain knows how I should hold a knife, but that knowledge fades sharply as the command gets to my left arm.
  5. Driving. Good thing I don’t still have my manual transmission A4. Driving an automatic is at least straightforward. Getting into and out of the car is a little arduous.
  6. Hygiene. That one’s tricky. Because I have this plaster splint I can’t just jump into the shower carelessly, I must wear a plastic bag , but that’s not so bad. I can take the splint off for short periods too but it’s a pain getting everything back on so I try not to do it. The more difficult aspect, and no one talks about this because it’s not a comfortable thing to talk about, is that wiping is surprisingly arduous. After all I’ve been doing it for what, 45 years the same way, but suddenly I have to re-develop the skill with a hand that’s extremely *gauche*. It takes a long time everytime, and if you combine this with my mild claustrophobia it usually means that I come out of the washrooms sweaty and somewhat flustered. That’s definitely something that gets taken for granted in normal life.

This is all good and fine, but by far the aspect of life most affected by this is my mood. People think that having this fracture hurts physically, but that’s very minor and more discomfort (from being immobilized) than pain really. Along with the cast it feels like I’m carrying a dark cloud over my head all the time.

It all comes down to having to live the life of a 48 year old, father to two including a rambunctious four-year-old, with a shocking lack of fine motor skills.

While I can still do pretty much everything that was a normal part of my life a mere two weeks ago, it’s like someone’s turned up the difficulty level on every single task. And while the difficuty itself is not insurmountable, but every little thing takes a little toll on my state of mind. I end up at the end of every day frustrated, bitter and angry. My ongoing depression isn’t making things any easier either.

So, what’s the point of all this besides venting? It reminds me of how important it is to be patient with people, because inevitably you have no idea what’s really going on in their lives besides the obvious. All you really know is your own situation, and oftentimes you’re not even fully aware of that. Stop judging and cut others some slack. Someday you’ll realize how much you need that yourself.

The power of a song

You know how sometimes you’re just going about your day in an oddly light-hearted way, and then something innocuous happens that puts you down in the dumps in a way you just can’t shake off?

So this morning I’m driving along to work and things are going fairly well. There have been no irritating slowdowns, and I was just about to turn into work when *that song* came on. It was No Doubt’s It’s My Life. Not the worst song in the world or the best, it was the kind of cover I often feel uneasy about because it’s so close to the Talk Talk original that it seems a bit pointless, a bit like Weezer’s Africa.

In a heartbeat I was taken back to the first time I heard that song. Let me take you on that little journey. Well ok, not so little, in fact this is probably the longest post on this site, but whatever.

The year was 2004, late June. 15 years ago although it feels like a lifetime. I lived in Hoboken NJ at the time. It was league pool night in the square mile (Hoboken is a small place) and my team was having a home match at The Quiet Woman. As I had walked into the bar that night it was obvious that most of the team were ill at ease greeting me. We were mostly a coworkers team, and 6 hours earlier I had gotten fired.

[Rewind noise]

Yes, fired. The saga had started about 3 weeks earlier on a Friday afternoon around 5. I loved those Fridays – me and a bunch of guys from the office would get together downstairs at Dorrian’s and get tipsy, then head over to a bar in Hoboken, typically Mulligan’s Pub. Beer would flow freely and it was generally a great start to the weekend.

I don’t know why I felt like I was in a hurry to get to the pub that day. I’ve replayed that day’s events over and over in my head a million times and there’s no reason besides my eagerness to get drunk with my work buddies like on any other Friday. I had been working on this piece of Javascript (I was a web developer at that place), something stupidly minor. When I checked the code into our SCCS the diff looked wrong, but I decided to ignore it.

Little did I know that this little screw-up would basically tear apart the life I had become accustomed to over the previous 5 years. Even now I feel enraged at myself for it. I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for that day.

What happened was that I had been working on an old, outdated version of the file, so when the new build was tested the UI was broken. I tried to fix it as soon as I was made aware, but the series of events I had set into motion ended up snowballing — for a highly embellished version of the story read this post on The Daily WTF which is loosely based on the story I myself submitted to Alex — and on that aforementioned Wednesday at noon my supervisor took me into a side office and informed me that I now had, er, unlimited vacation and no pay.

So, six hours later, we’re at The Quiet Woman having a drink. At that point I was still experiencing the other-worldliness and “lightness” you feel when the ground has completely disappeared from under your feet. It was the last league night for the season. We played our matches — I don’t have any recollection of them really — then we stuck around and had a few drinks while exploring the jukebox. We were losing two of our team members, man and wife — I so wish I could remember their names now but it’s been many years, and many rough years at that — because she was soon starting a new job in California.

That’s when that song came on. My brain, desperate to find something to occupy it instead of keeping on reminding me of how badly I had fucked myself over, just latched onto it, but I was drunk and 80s music had not yet made a big comeback so I couldn’t replace it. Only when I got home and looked it up on Google was I able to trace back the original, and the lady who was off to California IM’d me the name of the original artist within 5 minutes of that.

The next day I opted to walk around Manhattan. I spent part of the afternoon in Bryant Park, listening to the mp3 of the song over and over again, trying to read but making no progress. 4 weeks later I was moving back to Montreal because $1800 US/month in rent was just too much.

All this was going through my head this morning as I drove onto my current company’s lot and parked my car for the day. It instantly reminded me of how much I have fucked things up for myself, not just that one time, but so many times. It reawakened the bitterness and self-loathing I had put aside and yet so richly deserve. Since that time I have not had a job that paid so well as that, nor has my social life ever recovered from that loss.

And it’s all down to me.