A busy day, some discomfort and what I got from both
Paul curled my left middle finger and pushed.
However, since I’d already been doing that for the last two weeks, using a plastic splint he’d made for me in his physical therapy office, it wasn’t that bad. Still hurt, because we have to push past the comfort point.
Two weeks ago, the splint that had held my left middle finger in an absolutely straight, rigid position came off. It’s been two months since my car wreck.
Here’s what my hand looked like when we started:
And by comparison, here’s what it looks like as of this morning, two months later:
I heal really fast. But it wasn’t just that. When I went to PT and was given work, I did the work. It hurt. Damned right it did. But the car accident that nearly took my life but instead left me with a nasty open fracture and a brand new set of carved canoes on my forehead also left me with some lessons.
Here’s what I learned.
First, my surgeon, who had decided not to reopen this nasty wound to see what was going on, was very clear about what was at stake. We knew that the extensor tendon had been trashed, parts of the bone left in the asphalt. I stood an excellent chance of not only not being able to use that finger again, but even if I could, I’d lose not only some of its ability but also end up with this:
My job? Simple. Splint the finger straight. Let it heal. Six weeks minimum and a great deal of hope. MAYBE just maybe the extensor tendon would regenerate.
Then the PT. My doctor, as do all of them, pointed out that if I’m not willing do the PT, my finger will not be willing to regenerate, learn to bend and give me full use of my hand again.
A hand I have to have to lift weights, ride horses, climb mountains, kayak….you get it. No hand, no lifestyle that I love, or at least at the level I hope to continue to live. It can be hard to write, too. It’s not that you can’t learn to do workarounds, as plenty of my disabled veteran peeps do every day, it’s just that if you can prevent that, why wouldn’t you?
You heal more slowly as you age
I hear a great many folks bark that old saw about how we heal more slowly as we age. Like a lot of ridiculous ageism comments, I don’t buy it. The ability to heal depends on the following, and these are my ever-recurring lessons:
- The shape you’re in. If you’re in excellent shape, your muscles and your heart will efficiently and effectively deliver all the nutrients, oxygen and all the body’s healing abilities to those parts of you which need it. We are magnificently well-designed to be well, and when we’re not, the body rushes in with everything we need. However, the ambulance which is our blood supply cannot possibly drive to the wound site if we have crippled it with flat tires and empty supply drawers, which is another way of saying: lousy life habits.
- What you eat. A well-nourished body can deliver the proper nutrients, but not if your primary meal choice is a breakfast of beer and nuts and last night’s cold pizza. If at all possible, find out what works best for your unique body. You do not have to invest in organic this that or the other and go broke buying pricey broccoli. But chances are most if not all of us could likely do a slightly better job of self-medicating, otherwise known as feeding ourselves. How we do that over time, as I find out like everyone else, likely has to change.
- Your attitude. If you buy into the Well, I’m just getting older, things take longer to heal, you’re right. Just as you’re right if you fully expect your body to heal swiftly. It will, if you take care of business with #1 and 2 above.
- Good medical care. Look, this is a real challenge in America. I was just a moment ago sorting out discharge papers. One urgent care facility had noted that I had injured my right middle finger. NO you idiot. This is the kind of simple, stupid, mindless mistake that costs us insurance coverage, and that you and I have to chase down for weeks on end getting fixed. That is if mindless mistake wasn’t the wrong medication which crippled or outright killed us off. It’s not just that we as a country have spiraled downwards, it’s that if you aren’t white and rich in this country, you can largely kiss decent health care goodbye. That’s in part because so many of those front line health workers are people of color, dying off due to Covid, and they can hardly afford care themselves. So yes: get good care. And YES: I know this is damned challenging. Perhaps above all, do your own due diligence, do NOT expect your caregivers to do the right thing or be accurate. Because they often won’t and they often aren’t. That isn’t always their fault, but kindly, twelve million medical misdiagnoses every single year leading to some 250,000–400,000 deaths isn’t a blip. It’s a blizzard, as well as a grinding, for-profit systems which overwork young, deeply indebted doctors and interns for slave wages for profit. It’s a system set up for failure on a mass scale which of course is precisely what we’re seeing now. Which is why you and I MUST take our healthcare in hand.
- Your body is born to regenerate itself magnificently. At any age, at any time. What get in the way are bad habits, bad food, laziness, and our unwillingness to double down and do the work. Dr. Godfrey, my hand surgeon, commented in passing that the reason I’d healed up so well was because I did what she asked. Paul, yesterday, measured my progress in getting my swiftly-healing finger to bend, and was delighted. I did what he asked and then some. I can almost curl my fingers around a dumbbell, because I am curling my fingers around a dumbbell. I want that hand to work. Now that I can ask it, I do, and yes it hurts. Of course it does.
Every time I injure myself I inevitably come out the other end in better shape. The promise I fulfill is that I am going to care for this aging body, with all its wrinkles and scars and the stories of nearly seven decades of life carved upon it. I keep fulfilling that promise, because, with all due respect to caregivers, they are human, self-focused (as are we all), need to be right, all too often believe they are God incarnate, and are with few exceptions deeply prejudiced against women, aging women and particularly, aging women of color.
If that sounds like an indictment, it kinda is. I’ve written pretty colorfully about this elsewhere, and the responses I get to those articles absolutely underscore my experiences. I don’t in any way believe that all caregivers are inept. I would argue that too many are, in part because they overworked, underpaid, harried, human, and set up to fail by a for-profit system that sucks the blood out of all of us.
You and I cannot, must not expect to age vibrantly if we do not captain the ship that is our skin suit. That means not only learn how to eat and exercise for ourselves but also to advocate and even fight if necessary. We can’t abuse and neglect our bodies and then turn up at our doctors’ offices expecting the Magic Pill to fix what took us decades to fuck up.
So, if I may, a few more lessons (the bonus round, if you will)
- You and I might want to manage our expectations of what modern medicine can and cannot do. You and I are 100% responsible for the care and feeding of our bodies. Caregivers can advise, we heal ourselves.
- You and I are 100% responsible for managing those who manage our healthcare. By that I mean if you have an intuition that your caregiver isn’t listening, is distracted, and their medical notes in your chart (GET THEM) move on.
- You and I are 100% responsible for engaging in healthcare as a partnership, not a top-down directive from your docs. While that most certainly does not mean that you tell the doc what’s wrong because you’ve been on WebMD, it does mean do the work, understand what might be going on, and show up with good questions. Challenge ANY and ALL meds. And before you start taking ANY medication do these:
- Check any and all potential side effects. Check any and all interactions with your current scripts AND any and all over the counter drugs you’re taking. ALL of them. Let me say that again:
ALL OF THEM.
You are the captain. It’s your job to steer the ship, do the nautical research, know where the shoals and glaciers are. YOUR job.
That’s a very powerful attitude, and it allows you to do what you’re designed to do: manage a vibrantly healthy life, with input, on occasion, when you’re dumb enough like I am to injure yourself.
That’s just life. But we might as well go about it with gusto.