At 10:34 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18, I slipped on the ice and fractured my left radius at the wrist. I had survived 65 years with no skeletal insult greater than a fractured toe, and now I sat in a hand surgeon’s office being told that my left hand would be in a cast for six weeks. As someone who makes most of his living with a guitar in his hands, this was a nightmare at long last realized.
My left hand. The fretting hand. The brains of the outfit. I had spent a lifetime falling on my knees, my shoulders, my butt—especially my butt—all as a means of avoiding injury to an upper limb, and now I had finally gone and done it.
As the doctor talked, I mentally scanned my professional calendar in a panic: a gig that weekend, a dance after that, the Prairie Home Companion Caribbean cruise the week after that, my annual St. Anthony Park neighborhood concert (already set for April), a seven-country tour of Europe in May, a weekend job in Manitoba in June and, peppered throughout, guitar lessons. I don’t mean to sound chauvinistic, but it’s safe to say that this fracture was more of a crisis for me than for the average person.
I mean, we all need our hands, but . . .
I returned home sporting a purple fiberglass cast and immediately began damage control: I got subs for the imminent gigs; I went to Prairie Home Companion headquarters and held up my cast and asked if I still got to go on the cruise and was told yes; I changed the date of my concert; I developed lesson plans for my students that didn’t involve my playing; and I was assured by my doctor that I would be fine by the time of the European tour. So all in all, amazingly little harm was done to my livelihood. In fact, on the cruise, I was in a songwriting contest wherein we contestants were to compose songs about our experiences aboard ship. Mine was a blues, accompanied by guitar whiz Dean Magraw, entitled Cruisin’ with a Bruisin’. I took first place, the award for which was $500 (which, as I told Garrison Keillor, covered my copay).
Career scheduling taken care of, I was left with the issues with which anyone having an arm in a cast has had to deal. We have two hands because we need two hands. And we tend to be hand-dominant, and I am left-handed. Thus was every waking minute of my day compromised: carrying, lifting, washing, showering, writing, driving, tying used doggie bags, opening cans, unscrewing caps, using a computer and so on. And a smorgasbord of grooming and hygienic activities were affected. One’s spouse will help with some of these tasks, but asking for assistance with certain others will wreck a perfectly good marriage. Let’s just say that, as regards these tasks, I developed dexterity hitherto unmastered.
The worst adjustment for me was the cast itself. Not being able to touch the part of my arm that was underneath the elbow-to-hand casing drove me almost insane, and the thought of having it on for six weeks was out of the question. (I call this condition cast-trophobia—with a hyphen to differentiate it from fear of Fidel and Raoul Castro.) My take-home info cautioned against sticking a coat hanger inside the cast, so I used a long screwdriver instead, to scratch itches, yes, but also just to be able to touch the skin. This was, of course, as bad as a coat hanger, and caused sub-cast scratches which, predictably, wouldn’t heal. It wasn’t until later in the week that I thought of a thin rubber spatula, which worked and felt great. So, on my one-week visit, I begged the doctor for another option, and was given a wonderful plastic appliance, removable via a zipper, after having sworn I would leave it on 99 percent of the time. It saved what was left of my sanity.
As I write this, I am at the five-week mark in my recovery, and by the time this sees print I’ll be playing the guitar again, and I am thanking my lucky stars. Yes, I could have stepped differently or more carefully and not have slipped, but my injury also could have been much worse. I talked to a fellow who, when he was 12, was run over by the school nurse after getting off of the school bus and was laid up for so long he had to learn to walk again, and I heard from lots of people who have post-fracture hardware in their limbs that makes metal detectors squawk.
In my case, there was no dislocation, I needed no surgery, I have no plates or screws, I got a nice removable cast, and I’ll regain 100 percent use of my hand by the time I really need it.
Plus, I got out of doing a bunch of housework and won $500 to boot.
Adam Granger lives in St. Anthony Park with his wife and dog, Molly, and is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.