I’m not one for regrets.
There comes a time in life when you look back at all of your adventures. You think, “That was nice” to some moments, “That was not so nice” to other moments, and some moments just leave you with “Well, that happened.” These are the moments that don’t really fit in with the rest of your story. They appear out of nowhere like flashes of lightning, or bites of ghost pepper, that jolt you rather aggressively out of your daily reality. Still, they don’t have to be regrets.
One of my moments arrived in 2014, when I broke my humerus (the second largest bone in the body)...arm wrestling.
Ironically, several weeks before, I thought: “I wish I had a week or so to just get organized, to write those letters I have been meaning to write, to get things done...” Well, the universe works in mysterious ways. I now had all the time in the world, which was helpful, as everything took me five times as long. Every task, every day, was a process. I had occupational therapy three times a week, which, counting travel time, the long session, and a few errands afterward, consumed three hours. After that, I came home and had lunch before napping for about two hours. Sometime in the early evening, I took a one-armed shower, had another meal, and took my pharmacopeia of pain meds (You think muscle pain is bad? Try nerve pain..) and laxatives – because when you don’t move very much and you take so many pain meds, your system is a hot mess.
The nerve regeneration, which regenerated at a rate of about one millimeter a day, required the greatest patience. Suffice it to say, it was a year of small victories. Brewing a cup of tea by myself, two more inches of mobility, successful self-showering, the day I buttoned my pants all by myself...I almost cried when I was finally capable of slicing an avocado.
I returned to work a few weeks afterward, quickly gaining recognition as the trainer who broke her arm and earning the nickname “G.I Jane.” Unable to demonstrate exercises, I used the injury as an opportunity to hone my cueing skills. I learned as much as I could about exercising with limitations and got certified as a Corrective Exercise Specialist. Several of my clients also had "hardware,” so we formed our own Bionic Club.
Every day, between client sessions, I kneeled on the floor of the bustling gym, my elbow resting on a bench, and willed my thumb to move. And every few weeks, I demonstrated the tiniest twitches of progress with glee. Slowly, but surely, the twitches progressed, one millimeter at a time. I did a thumbs up for the first time in three months. I only had to wear the wrist brace sometimes. The wrist brace came off. My bench exercises shifted to my wrist. Meanwhile, as soon as I had the go ahead, I did lower body weights, right-arm weights, and band exercises with my left arm, determined to regain strength as quickly as possible.
When someone asked me about my progress, I would nearly always respond with something like:
"A little better each week."
"One day at a time."
"Small victories, small setbacks."
"Onward and upward!"
**Quick PSA announcement, everyone: Don’t arm wrestle.**
Apparently arm wrestling is the number one cause of a broken humerus. It takes a tremendous amount of pressure and torque – a “perfect storm” of force, if you will – to break that bone, so the requisite lengthy healing process makes sense.
When simple tasks of daily living take every ounce of strength and persistence, the ease of optimism feels like a blessing. It allowed me to understand my ludicrous injury as nothing more than a somewhat prolonged setback. Plus, it’s impossible to be angry and laugh at the same time. I’ve tried. I’ve tried really hard to stay angry when someone made me laugh, but it’s a remarkable flip of the switch, and it’s hard to go back to anger afterward. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either. So, I chose laughter over misery as much as possible.
There were plenty of moments of crumbled crying, signifying a point when my body and mind simply couldn’t take any more. Catharsis, if you will. However, I knew that I would find solutions in the meantime, and I knew that I would heal.
I thought I had about an 80% chance of full recovery and that most people regain most function within one year. However, that was rather astoundingly off-base – my morphine-induced euphoria sugar-coating the reality of odds that weren’t in my favor. Not by a long shot. I wondered why everyone looked so concerned, when I wasn’t really concerned at all. I was in good shape and in good spirits. Of course I would bounce back! Slowly, but surely.
In all honesty, I never even considered the alternative. It was just a bump in the road, like every other challenge in my life. A rather large bump of a foot-long trail of stitches, a nerve-torn arm with a lifeless hand, and an arm flute holding it all together, but a bump all the same.
The beauty of stones in the road—both insignificant pebbles and staggering boulders – is that they’re the greatest teachers. This stone encouraged me to slow down, to not stress as much, and to recognize the necessary shift in my definition of “productivity.” It improved my ability to surrender and “trust the process,” as we therapists and former therapists like to say.
It also affirmed that I will never arm wrestle again. Once was enough for a lifetime. Luckily, it wasn’t a habit I had to break – just a one shot “Whoops, never again!” type of situation.
It’s very easy to look back and think, “What if…” But I don’t want regrets. Even if things happen “for a reason,” we make conscious choices to take certain steps, to follow certain paths. It’s up to us to explore where we can go from there. So, this story is just one more thread in a tangled ball of life.
I’m not going to say that I’m grateful it happened, but I am grateful for many aspects:
It’s a great story.
I’m now a bionic woman for life with a pretty kick-ass scar that I hope never fades completely and two elbows: a real one, plus a metal one that hurts like hell when I smash it into things, which I do often because I have very little spatial awareness of my gangly, orangutan limbs, but which is daily visual proof of this incredible journey.
It could have been worse. It was my non-dominant arm, and I could still walk – unlike my foot surgery several years before, which had me in a boot, on crutches, in bed for three weeks post-surgery, then on crutches again, then in a boot again. That was also a year-long process, but not being able to walk brings many additional challenges.
I’ve been thinking about strength a lot lately. For most of my life, strength has meant choosing glass half-full as much as possible, because realistic optimism can make things easier. Plus, I’d rather be optimistic at the risk of disappointment than pessimistic at the risk of being proven right and, therefore, even more negative. That doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.
Strength has also meant being tough, thoughtful, and persistent. It has meant being confident, having high expectations, giving it my all, and not letting myself down. It’s hard for me to admit when I’ve let myself down.
Perhaps most of all, strength has meant being resilient – able to move through challenges and emerge stronger than before.
But here’s the thing: strength comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to be strong. We’re all strong, in our own ways. To live and survive in this day and age, no matter your circumstances, requires strength. Even when we don’t feel strong, we’re strong – we’re just moving through emotions and moments that feel really hard.
Fear tells you where your edge is, and it takes courage to not only walk to the edge, but to be grateful for the opportunity. Breaking my arm and healing it was an opportunity, and I grabbed it by the balls.
That’s why, every year, I celebrate my “armiversary.” It’s a rather odd celebration that elicits both pride and PTSD. It embodies a moment that didn’t initially fit in with the rest of my story, that appeared out of nowhere like a flash of lightning, or a bite of ghost pepper, and it jolted me rather aggressively out of my daily reality. But, you know, now it’s an integral part of my story, and I can’t imagine my life without it.
A few nights ago, Dennis proudly prepared his dessert: a hefty bowl of vanilla ice-cream topped with a sliced banana, crumbled pretzels, and generous drizzle of chocolate sauce.
“Next stop, lying on the floor!”
That’s his MO after eating too many snacks. Whether ice-cream or fruit, his eyes are often bigger than his stomach, but he commits to the portion and sees it through.
I nodded in agreement. “Yup, you’ll probably end up on the floor moaning, ‘My belly hurts…’”
He flashed a huge grin. “But between now and then, I’m going to have a party!”
No regrets, my friends. No regrets.