On low days, it is possible to see damage and detachment everywhere. The wallpaper that seemed settled enough has begun to peel away. A crack’s appeared in a wall, a fault-line in a floor. A new wrinkle has arrived. I’ve shattered my fair share of plates and glasses, more than one mirror, snapped a key in a door, the spine of a book, chipped cups, teeth, nails….but I’ve never broken a bone before.
In February, the old passport took me to Amsterdam. The first solo trip abroad for years, to boost the Confidence. The usual galleries and museums, then a toxic cocktail: an overheated restaurant, a carafe of wine, an icy pavement, then a fall on an outstretched hand. There was no pain, but the next day it was the left one that dragged the case along the platforms and on to Eurostar.
In London, the arm grew pinker and warmer – a bad sprain, obviously – so I took it to A&E. The consultant was cheerful. “It’s not a clean break.” My wrist was “smashed to pieces”. An operation was mentioned, but a team of three attempted a ‘manual correction’. They pulled and pulled at the poor arm and hand, then set them in plaster. The cast was heavy, a sculptural white.
It could have been worse. I could have fallen into a canal and been called to be an angel. I told a friend or two what might have been true in ’73 – that I’d gone a touch tulip in a cannabis café, but they didn’t believe me. It wasn’t good. I needed my precious right hand more than I knew. Simple actions became obstacles – doing up a zip, opening a tin, washing my hair properly, spreading, cutting… It was disability. An intimation of fragility.
But I was still whole – could make a coffee, walk, talk, operate the remote control… And I had more visitors than usual. My sons told me that wearing slippers on the stairs was now forbidden for ever. A fashionable friend studied the NHS blue arm support and created alternative slings from scarves. The effect was a bit Napoleonic. In the street, people joked about being in the wars, practising my right hook. In the supermarket, a woman in the queue told me that her daughter-in-law had fallen down some steps and never been the same again. “These things happen.” In private, I apologised to the wrist beneath – thanking it for the warning – or just talking to it from time to time, like the Prince to a shrub. New bone laid itself down.
Seven weeks after the fall, the cast, now a dirty grey, was sawn off. The sling gave way to a splint. The pieces of plaster were thrown away. The naked arm was downy, shrunken. From Napoleon to the Kaiser. It isn’t over. There are exercises to do, more appointments to keep. My hand therapist has given me three bright lumps of plasticene to play with. Therapeutic Putty. Wonderful stuff. Towers can be built with it, sausages rolled with it…
So many small parts, such a range of movement. Shelling a boiled egg apparently takes four types of touch sensor to work together. The hand is a marvel. The extra items in the shopping basket this month – cupcakes, Venus blades, floral foam, slug pellets. And something special for my right wrist. A golden and pearl bracelet, with links like a daisy chain. A delicate and intricate design.