Feeling lonely and bored after the holidays, I jumped at the chance to play volleyball with some work colleagues during lunch. I hadn’t played in years, but it was fun to be out on the court, laughing and trying to get Wilson the Volleyball over the net. I served, the ball was received on the other side and bumped back deep into our court. Running backwards to get under the ball, I lost my footing and fell, putting my arms behind me to break my fall. Piercing pain engulfed both wrists as my head and butt secondarily smacked the ground. It was then I noticed we were playing on a concrete floor.
I curled up on my side and looked at my right wrist. It looked thick, like I’d dislocated something, and I closed my eyes. My colleagues jogged over, laughing and asking if I was okay, even offering me a hand up. Through the nausea and excruciating pain, I said, “No, I’m not okay,” and asked for some ice. My friend Stefanie went up front and got me a sheet of ice in plastic pouches and when I looked at her in confusion, she said it was all they had. Using my elbows and scooting across the floor, I managed to push myself over to sit against the wall, cradling my right wrist in my lap with the sheet of ice as best I could.
It was at this moment I realized I was the only person in the building with any kind of first aid training, and I was going to have to self-advocate for my needs. My colleagues went back to volleyball, standing in a small ring on the opposite side of the court and bumping the ball from one person to another. It felt imperative that I not be sick all over the floor and that I avoid going into shock, or things would get much worse. I asked Stefanie to get me a sling, thinking we could get a ride from campus security over to the health center. She went looking and eventually came back with a piece of fabric, a safety pin, and a gym towel from the lost and found basket. She helped me tie the fabric around my neck, and I used the towel to absorb the dripping ice water, not wanting to create another slip hazard.
The kids at the front desk called campus security, and three men arrived. The most senior among them asked what had happened, and I explained. He suggested I walk to the health center, but I said I couldn’t. Stefanie laughed and said, “This is the first person I’ve seen who has actually turned green. I don’t think she should even be sitting up.” A staff member from the rec center entered and said the health center was closed, as the academic year hadn’t started yet, and I blanched as a wave of pain radiated through my arms.
Self-Advocating in Times of Need
“I will need an ambulance,” I said. The security guard asked if I had hit my head, and I said yes, at which point he agreed that we needed to call an ambulance. It was out of his jurisdiction if there was a potential head injury, even though I knew I didn’t have a concussion. He deployed one of his men to the road to wait for the ambulance, and he waited at the front entrance, while the third man stayed with Stefanie and me. He was young and began to tell a story about the time he’d been injured, but I stopped him. “I can’t handle that right now.” He shrugged and turned around to pick up the basketball that rolled our way, shooting it at the hoop with the two students who had replaced my colleagues on the court.
An hour later, after calling many times to check on their progress, the ambulance service said they weren’t coming. They were overwhelmed with calls, and mine wasn’t a life threatening emergency. I was beginning to shake uncontrollably from the stress hormones raging through my bloodstream and knew I would soon go into shock if I didn’t take action. I asked the head security guard for something sweet to drink, and he refused, saying only a paramedic could give me anything. When the woman from the gym came in to check on me, I quietly demanded some sugar. “If I don’t get some right away, things are going to get a lot worse.” She nodded and stood, asking the security guard to come with her to fill out some paperwork. When she returned alone, she slipped me a couple of Santa chocolates, which I greedily swallowed, and I instantly felt more stable.
The security guard returned and offered to drive me to the urgent care clinic where I could get an x-ray, and once again he asked if I could walk. I said no and requested a wheelchair. They didn’t have one, he explained and I stared at him. Maybe it was my green face, maybe it was the tears in my eyes, but soon after, they’d located a wheelchair for me. I leaned forward onto my knees, and with hands under each arm, I was able to get my feet under me and sit down in the chair.
Finding Humor Where You Can
They wheeled me out the door and to a campus security vehicle, helping me in and buckling my seatbelt across my ice-saturated shorts. Stefanie climbed in the back, and as we drove off, the security guard asked, “Are you comfortable?” I began to laugh hysterically and Stefanie joined in, both of us saying, “No!”
The Road to Recovery
My x-rays showed my right radius had broken into three pieces. The saddle end of the bone had fractured off and split into two parts, then under the tension of my wrist tendons and muscles had slipped out of position behind my wrist, creating the thickened, dislocated look I’d seen prior to the swelling. I had surgery to implant a titanium plate with seven screws the next day. Never one to go halfway, I also managed to fracture my left radius, but it was not dislocated and received an ordinary cast.
For over a month now, I’ve been reliant on other people to help me do every little thing. At first, I couldn’t even feed myself, so they kept me in the hospital for ten days. Whenever my friends came to visit, they’d bring me snacks, cut my food, and even hand feed me my lime Jello with vanilla ice cream (a thing here in New Zealand). The nurses helped me bathe and washed my hair, brushing it out and putting it up into a bun at night for sleeping. They helped me dress for the day and put on my nightgown at night, and they gave me painkillers to keep me stable. One nurse even dressed Wilson the Volleyball on my whiteboard, which made me laugh. At night before bed, I’d walk around the hospital in my hotel slippers, my arms in the air to keep them from throbbing, making laps past the bored front desk receptionist as I circled the silent building.
What I’ve Learned
1. I’ve learned people are really wonderful and that I’m not alone in this world. They visited, brought me clothes, kept me up to date on things at work, delivered flowers, cards, and snacks, provided me audio books, and scratched that annoying itch in the middle of my back. Others, like my daughters, called and texted to keep me from utter boredom. Once I was released, I moved in with my colleague Susan, who took to my house first to gather some clothes and cleaned out the refrigerator, washed the dishes, dumped the trash, and helped me open the door to get out of the bathroom when I couldn’t turn the knob. For another ten days, she cooked for me, prepared my breakfast and lunch before she left for work, brushed my hair and then braided it, and assisted with anything I needed, anytime. Her husband, Colin, gave me ice to sooth my wrist swelling, and a grad student from France living at their home came home with me over the weekend one time so I could have some quiet time in my own space. Now, I’m home full time, and I’ve been able to get back to work, type, take notes (my casts are now lightweight plastic splints I can get wet and remove as needed for physiotherapy, etc.).
2. The other thing I have learned is I love socialized medicine and how the ACC works here in New Zealand. They are a national agency with the motto, “Prevent, Care, Recover,” and they’ve done exactly that for me. If you’re injured in NZ, there is no cost to you—nothing. Not the x-ray, not the ambulance, not the surgery, and not even the follow up care. Everyone gets treated, and their salary and rehabilitation are covered until they’re able to return to work. I have a home care provider that comes in three times a week to help me clean house, grocery shop, and prep meals. I also have a taxi service I can call whenever I need to get to the hospital for my physiotherapy, or to work to try and stay on top of things (but I’m not required to work if I can’t manage it). This has been a huge relief to me and has definitely aided in my recovery, because I’m not stressed. Is it expensive for New Zealand-style healthcare? No, the cost is about the same as what’s provided in other countries because there is no disability insurance, no middleman insurance company, no need to go to the emergency room for routine medical care if you don’t have insurance, and most importantly, no ability to sue. If you want an elective surgery, like a knee replacement, you have to wait, but you have the option to buy private insurance at low cost to skip the queue and get the procedure immediately. It’s up to you.
3. Finally, I’ve learned I’m more loved and less important than I think. The outpouring of love and support I’ve received through social media, especially my Twitter tribe, has been so heartwarming. Literally hundreds of people I’ve never met have wished me well, sent me virtual hugs, and checked back in to see how I’m doing. I was feeling alone and isolated after the joy of the holidays and having my daughters with me, but the truth is I’m surrounded by people who genuinely care about me and want me to be a part of their lives, even if that can only be online. On the flip side, life can and will go on without me. I had a major event I was meant to lead the day after my surgery. Sixty high school girls were coming to my university to learn about engineering, and we had prepared an entire day of design activities for them to do. I couldn’t be present, so Stefanie stepped up and gave the opening address, the graduate students prepared and ran all the activities, yet others welcomed the girls to campus, gave them tours, and participated in the meals, trivia night, and information sessions. It was a huge success and would not have been any better if I had run it myself. When the graduate students came to the hospital and showed me videos and pictures of the event, I was so proud. By letting go, albeit unintentionally, I provided them a rewarding growth opportunity and a chance to really shine.
Back to Normal, Hopefully Wiser
In a few weeks, this will all be behind me. I’ll be driving, traveling, and using my arms to do things again, but I’ve learned a lot from breaking both my wrists, and what I feel right now is gratitude. I wish I could have skipped the painful part of the lesson, but maybe by sharing it forward with you, you can benefit without the downside. Remember that people are good, many people love you, and if you’re ever in need, there are those who will help you.
Leona Olson says
My goodness. That is quite a story. I am so glad you had some wonderful people around you to help. Keep up the good spirit and smile.
I have been to New Zealand and loved it.
Deborah Munro says
I’m still smiling! 🙂 Life improves daily, and although my wrist is weak and stiff, I’m able to do most everything now. If you make it back to NZ, let me know!
Christy M. Courtney says
BIG OUCH!!!! I’m so sorry that you were hut so bad. I’m happy however that so many people were there for you. It definitely helps with the recovery process.
Deborah Munro says
Thanks, Christy. I do feel very fortunate for all the wonderful people out there. You’re one of them :).
Christy M. Courtney says
Too many time people only look out for themselves. You are a very blessed young lady.
Susan Clarkson says
I am so glad you are recovering. Take care of yourself! I can’t imagine not being able to use both of my arms!
Deborah Munro says
Thanks, Susan :). The worst is over, and I’m now on the mend. Life continues to prove I’m tougher than I think I am!
Mara Williams says
March 1, 2019 I just got to your email today and was horrified by all you went through with your fall. I feel better that you are on the way to recovery. We have been on several short trips and have not caught up on my emails.I’m glad to hear about the health care in New Zealand and wished we had some of the same here in U.S.A. Take care dear friend. With love, Mara
Britni Pepper says
I might be an Australian, but New Zealand is more beautiful in every respect. Jacinta Ardern could give lessons to world leaders on how to do the job.
I broke my wrist a few years ago – nothing so bad as yours – and it cost me nothing. Not a red cent for my red cast. And yet, for some Americans, something like your injuries could be the end of the road.
As you note, we as human beings enjoy helping those in need. If something is within our capacity, we do it with love in our hearts. Unless there is some culture or some dogma to the contrary. It is no coincidence that those nations where there is a collective effort to help and support those most in need are those with the happiest populations.
I have many New Zealand friends, and I visit there every year or so. It is a blessed land. The last time I was in Christchurch, I found myself at a memorial to female suffrage. New Zealand was the first to give women the vote, and has always managed to be a few years more socially progressive than most other nations.
Thanks for the story. I think I was turning green along with you for a while there!
Deborah Munro says
Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. New Zealand truly is a great country. I’m blessed to be here, and I’m so proud of Jacinda! She wrested the power away from the perpetrator and focused on the victims. It’s a strategy others need to adopt.
My friend just broke both of her wrists! She lives in CA while I live in FL so I can’t be of much help. Can you think of anything that was helpful to you in your situation that I could send to her? Thank you.
Deborah Munro says
I’m so sorry, Lynn. I didn’t see this request until now. How is your friend doing? Once I got past the worst of it, what helped me was bean bag heat wraps before I stretched. I also used Play-Doh to help improve my grip strength.
Paul j clarges says
Hi Deborah.just read your story about yr broken wrists.I’m glad that your on the mend.My wife Marion broke her wrists two days ago and is going to be dependant on other people to do things for her.she is very independent and its the personal things that will effect her.I got great heart from yr story that people rallied round you.we have had lots of offers from family and friends to help out.our health system is nowhere a good as new Zealand even though the nurses and doctors do excellent work they are totally short staffed.because of these working conditions and been underpaid they are leaving ireland to give there expertise to other countries.Marion will be out of hospital tomorrow and for six weeks at least she will be in plaster.as you know well.maybe someday we will visit new zealand.as I believe it is similar to Ireland very green and friendly people.cheers for now Paul.
Deborah Munro says
How is Marion doing with her recovery? I hope she’s doing well. I loved Ireland when I visit there. You’re right that New Zealand and Ireland look quite similar, very lush and green and surrounded by the sea.
lisa Bates says
My girlfriend just broke both arms and her foot. She fell off a chair in the kitchen! I just got the news. She was released from the hospital yesterday and has a husband (retired) at home to help with some things. Love your advice/suggestions on things she might need. I’ve offered to give her husband breaks away but any suggestions would be welcome.
Deborah Munro says
Ouch! That sounds so terrible! You’re a good friend to be able to help with things. What really helped me (things I wouldn’t want a caregiver or spouse to provide), were help fixing and styling my hair, preparing meals and then cutting it up into bites in advance so I could eat it without assistance, and taking me out on the town to participate in things so I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Just going out for a drink with some friends and listening to music was wonderful, but a book club meeting, craft group chat, or anything else was delightful. Also, my favorite snacks, books from the library, audio books, and movies were most welcome. I was so bored and restless, yet felt helpless, so my friends providing me things without my having to ask each time was really nice. Good luck to your friend and tell her I wish her well!
im so so so sorry that mustive been hard
Peggy Reavely says
I was looking up information on how to get along with 2broken wrists when I came across your blog. I broke my wrists last week. I fell off a ladder decorating my Christmas tree.
I see you recovered well with the help of friends.
I have many friends who have volunteered to help but with covid i don’t know who to let inmy bubble
My spouse has been so good. It would be great to get him a break.
I am lucky friends have dropped off books and meals.
I was looking for ideas on eating with both arms in a cast and not having to ask for help
Deborah Munro says
You poor thing! It is so hard to feel helpless, especially when you also feel like a burden on others. You’re right to be cautious about letting people into your bubble right now with COVID so rampant. What I would suggest is letting your friends help without having them enter your bubble. For instance, grocery shopping, doing laundry, opening jars, pre-cutting vegetables for you to freeze, etc. All of that can be done at the doorstep, with them ringing the bell, leaving the items, and then having your spouse collect them when they’ve stepped away.
To eat on your own, I found the key is to have things precut. It also helps to eat things that are firm enough to spear with a fork. Your spouse could precut your food so that you could pick it up with a fork (or your fingers) to eat. Avoid soups and soft foods that require you to balance a spoon, as that’s really tricky with your arms in a cast. Another idea that might work for you (although it didn’t work for me), is to slide your fork into your cast at the wrist to give it extra support. My occupational therapist recommended it.
Best of luck to you, dear one! I hope your recovery is rapid.
Your story so resonates with me. I headed out (here in Switzerland) to get a train to a movie ch needed massage. Running late, I ran from he train station, tripped and fell into a bus lane with an oncoming bus (who, luckily, stopped and did not flatten me). The humanity of those who stopped to help me was astounding. They wanted to call an ambulance. I kept saying (in French), i had an appointment and gathered my mental (stubborn) resources and after sitting for a few minutes, soldiered on the 6 blocks to my massage therapist. He promptly said, having viewed the strange swelling on my wrist, that we were walking to the ER (not far) and he would stay with me through everything (incl helping my French), until my husband arrived. I split apart my left radius like flower petals, cracked several left ribs and severely bruised my right wrist. I am in immense pain, between my wrist and ribs, but have a husband helping me. I searched on joe i could do things myself, so I am not a burden, and found your post. I have the operation on Monday and am so grateful for your post, as I know what I can fo, but also will gratefully accept the help others offer vs thinking I should do it myself. Thank you so much. all my very best, Tamara
Deborah Munro says
Oh, Tamara, you poor thing! To be going through that and not have your native language to communicate in makes it that much harder. I’m really glad your massage therapist and husband to help you. I can say that these days I feel fine, and I’m able to do everything I enjoy. My physiotherapist emphasized having a pain-free wrist, not one with full strength or range of motion, and that was an excellent strategy. Most days, I completely forget about the plate and screws. Once in a great while, I’ll try to do something and realize my wrist is a little stiffer than it used to be, but it doesn’t impact my daily life. Take care of yourself and let me know how you’re feeling in a few months :). Cheers, Debbie
I too fell & broke both my wrists. Surgeon said I had cracker crumbs & she had a hard time positioning the plates & screws. I was in the hospital for 6 days, then a rehab facility for 7 days. Thankfully instead of casts I have removable braces now. My right hand is still non weight bearing. I can’t drive yet…it’s been a month now. I got a wheel spinner put on my steering wheel so it will be easier.
It is amazing & amusing what I can & can’t do!!!! It’s just plain hard not being able to do stuff!!!! Very thankful for family and friends who’ve reached out to help me. Taped all the door latches so they can’t latch…can’t turn door knobs. Use paper or lightweight plastic dishes and utensils. Figured out how to use can opener. Cook simple meals. Got a chair for my shower.
Daily PT exercises are painful & boring! I get anxious having to watch other people take care of my yard. I care for my hubby but he’s had to do more for himself now. So looking forward to getting past this and being back to “normal”! Happy healing to all of you!!!!
Deborah Munro says
So many clever ideas I wish I’d thought of trying! I really like the idea of taping the door latches, as that twisting motion was the hardest thing. I wasn’t allowed to drive for about 12 weeks, but here in New Zealand they covered my taxi charges, and that made my life really convenient. I hope you get back to normal soon, too.
As grandparents we are on the front end of supporting our daughter who has a supportive husband yet he works. Our daughter is the mom of 4 children and her second oldest, a girl, broke both arms in a sledding accident. As a 12 year old learning and adapting to live with 2 arm casts is an adjustment for an entire family not the least of which is our grand daughter. I was seeking some wisdom online and saw your posts. Your story is an encouragement even though we have many lessons and much learning ahead in how to support and encourage our daughter, her family and especially our sweet grand daughter.
Deborah Munro says
Many thanks for your kind remarks, and I’m so grateful that my post helped you. It heartens me that you’re seeking advice and help to support your sweet granddaughter, and I know she will benefit from having you in her life.
Gabby Karen Metcalfe says
I’m sat here reading your story with both of my wrists in casts. I have broken one bone in my left wrist and both bones in my right wrist and broken a wedge of one of those bones after tripping over my puppy and landing on outstretched arms. 8days after falling and breaking my wrists I started with severe stomach pain cutting a long story short I find myself in emergency surgery for a blocked and twisted bowel. We never do things in short measure do we. I have home care coming in daily with washing/dressing, like in NZ I live in the UK with our health care system its free which I am eternally grateful. Thank You for giving me hope this I shall too survive the endless bordom
Deborah Munro says
You poor thing, Gabby! I can only imagine how awful it must have been to end up with emergency surgery after already having your arms in casts. I wish you a speedy recovery, and if you come up with any good ways to combat boredom, please share :).