SUE BRUNS: An unexpected break: Contemplating and compensating
"Ever break a bone before?" the ortho doc asked before describing the fractures in my right wrist. No, I said. This was a new experience for me, but having grown up in a family with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), I was certain I'd seen as many or more breaks than the young nurse in the exam room.
Growing up with two siblings and several cousins affected by OI, there was rarely a time when one or more family members were not in a cast. By the time he graduated from high school, my brother had broken so many bones, I'd lost count. Throughout her younger years, my cousin Lois had also broken more bones than I could keep track of and had had several operations. She'd spent more than one summer in body casts. Her brothers were also affected; and one time, their parents were dealing with three kids in three different hospitals—all with broken bones. My aunt Annabel, their mother, continued to keep up with all of the obligations and chores of a hard-working farm wife of German extraction. She is now a saint—at least by my standards.
What I contemplate now, as I pluck out words on my keyboard with my left hand, is the way my siblings and cousins handled their breaks, the seemingly matter-of-fact adjustments they made.
I don't recall any of them registering any complaints.
At age 64, my first break is much less serious than any of my siblings' or cousins' or more recent breaks of my great niece or great nephew—breaks that have sent them by ambulance to Gillette Hospital in Minneapolis for surgeries, extended stays, confinements to wheelchairs and walkers, and lengthy recoveries. Incidentally, I don't recall ever hearing complaints from them either.
Recently, I've spent some time recalling my childhood, being the unbroken one—pushing my cousin in her wheelchair to watch parades in the summer, wheeling her through street carnivals where tattoo-armed carnies showed their softer sides, showering her with stuffed animals and Kewpie dolls until she lay in her extended wheelchair, plaster encasing both legs and extending upward to her torso—surrounded by the carnies' gifts and resembling E.T. in that scene where he hides in Elliot's closet, mixed in with Teddy bears and other stuffed critters.
Throughout my childhood, broken bones were more of a norm than an exception for my family; but for me, only as an observer. So my own recent break left me with some pretty high standards to live up to. I confess that compared to my nephew Bo and my niece Grace, I'm pretty much a whiny wimp. What I've come to admire as I nurse my first broken bone is the amazing ways my OI-affected family members continued to remain active and positive in spite of times of traction, body casts and prolonged periods when limbs could bear no weight.
Most of my body is still intact and usable. I can walk, I'm uncomfortable at times but not in pain, and winter is the easiest time of year for me to forego nonessential activities. I'm catching up on episodes of "Stranger Things" and "Big Little Lies" and am getting more sleep than I have since childhood, before my adult years of self-imposed sleep deprivation. I'm eating more wisely or at least consuming fewer unnecessary calories due to the slower rate at which I can shovel food into my mouth with my non-dominant hand.
Initial bouts of frustration at not being able to perform certain tasks simply and quickly—like texting and word processing, brushing my teeth, applying mascara, or using my curling iron to take the straight edge off my hair—are giving way to accepting the challenges to find creative solutions to these relatively insignificant problems and even a sense of accomplishment afterward --for things like dressing myself. (I'm still working at tying my boots with one hand.)
By spring, these weeks of inconvenience and adaptation will, I hope, be all but forgotten. In the meantime, I'll contemplate, compensate, and concentrate on mending. I am in the unique position of having observed and learned from the examples of some of the most amazing, courageous, adaptable, tough and resilient people you can imagine.