Accidents are by their very nature accidental. And you never know when something that might change your life is around the corner. Our vacation was almost over, our flight back home from San Francisco to Los Angeles just hours away. After visiting the cable car museum, we drifted down to nearby Chinatown.
It was about noon, February 13.
For some reason, my 3-year-old son was fascinated by the Peking ducks hanging in the windows. It had just rained, and the sidewalk was wet and gritty. My son darted back toward the butcher shop and it made me nervous, him running like that a few feet ahead near the busy street. I turned to go after.
The minimal treads of my Prada sneakers flew out from under me on the slick cement. I went down hard on my butt, instinctively, I put my left hand out to break my fall. The slightly loose stainless steel band of my watch slid down to my wrist. I felt it bite into the skin on impact.
Hard. Real hard.
“Shit!” I say, a wave of pain ripples up my arm. That was hard.
Clutching my wrist, I look.
Damn! wrists aren’t supposed to do that. Thoughts flash through my head. “That has to be broken. I’ve never broken anything, but that has to be broken. That means hospital. The car is like a blocks away. Uphill. Will I make it? Do I hail a cab and have my wife and son meet me? Will we miss our flight?”
We start walking. I’m holding my wrist. The pain isn’t that bad yet, but I feel funny. There are no cabs. I don’t know how long I’ll last. I pound up the steep hill. The car is near the top, on Nob hill. Our son is lagging. He’s not one to hurry and I’m shouting back. “Pick him up!”
As we reach the car, the pain really mounts. Getting the kid buckled into the car seat takes an eternity. My wife fumbles and drops the GPS. There are like 30 hospitals. We call a friend, a bay area radiologist, she tells us to go to UCSF. The pleasantries are like stabs of agony. We key the GPS. 3.2 miles.
It takes 30 minutes. Agonizing minutes.
I don’t wait to deal with the car, but stagger into the emergency room. My wife follows after. They triage me fast through the paperwork stage. Spelling out your name and address is never fun — 1000x less so at pain level 8 and rising. The guy helps me get the watch over my hand and my Mark Jacob slate leather jacket off. This makes me feel better. I wouldn’t want them to cut it.
I’m in a room within 15-20 min. And waiting. Maybe another 30 before someone authorized to prescribe something takes a look. “Broken arm,” I say.
“We can’t know that until the x-ray. Distorted left wrist,” she says.
My sister-in-law and son find us. I rattle off instructions about making sure the camera is in the trunk. Anything to keep my mind off the rats gnawing on my bones.
The nurse fits me with an IV and gives me a shot of morphine. It takes the edge off, but less than I would’ve thought.
By about an hour and a half in, they wheel me to xray. This only takes 10 minutes. 3 images. Flat, 45 degrees, and sideways. The latter two hurt more.
We wait. I think about what I did wrong. Nothing really. I pushed to walk around Chinatown. My wife didn’t really want to (Chinese food isn’t her thing). Was that stupid? I chose to turn on the street where it happened. I almost look a different watch on the trip, one with a leather band. We almost went to Muir Woods instead, but it was raining. I’d have preferred the mud!
It’s clear the 4pm flight is a bust. We call the airline. They want $250 a ticket (x4) to change it. LOL. We can write a letter and ask for a refund.
Someone is coding in the hall. Staff swarm. I hear “clear!” and the beepy noise. It could be worse.
A doctor finally shows. She looks at the wrist for 3 minutes. “We have to wait for ortho,” she says.
“You saw the x-ray? It’s broken?” I ask. You’d think she’d volunteer.
“It’s broken.” She does up my pain meds. IV Dilaudid. It works better, I start spinning and feel queasy. They give me a shot for that too.
Ortho takes about four hours to show. The staff apologizes. He’s in surgery. By the time he arrives, with a plastic surgeon in tow, I’ve had time to practice my story so it goes fast. They want to try a “reduction” which is doctor code for setting the bone. First they have to numb me up.
Plastics does that. Lidocaine. He explains to an intern as he does. “Wait until you feel the needle slide along the bone.”
Actually, it doesn’t hurt that bad, and after, even when they hang my hand in traction, I’m in the least pain since this started. But I am very hungry and thirsty and they don’t let me have a thing in case they need to operate.
Ortho finally tries to set it at around 8pm. The good news is that he’s a Harvard/MIT MD/PhD. We bond. The bad is that he wrenches my shattered wrist around for 20 minutes. Then he takes a break to get someone “stronger” to help. I take him up on the offer of a shot of Fentanyl in between. Good thing too. That stuff hits hard and fast but I actually hear the bone snap as he works.
And he can’t get it back in place, so surgery for me. No flying either, so we have to drive back LA in the morning and find a surgeon there. In the meanwhile he throws on a cast the size and shape of Massachusetts.
It takes until 11pm to get discharged and another hour to pick up the pain meds (Vicodin). My sister-in-law had taken the boy back to our hotel a few hours earlier. We eat some room service, and I pop two pain pills. Five minutes later I’m breaking my 21 year “no puke” record. But you get used to the narcotics and that was the only time.
Surprisingly, with my throbbing arm floating on a mountain of pillows, I do sleep.
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