Lucky Break

Camille's bruised handThe universe whispered in my ear the other day while my head was buzzing from pain. “Don’t be so heavy handed” she hissed, with her hand on her hip. “And while you’re at it, maybe you ought to think about slowing down.”

It was one of those beautiful winter days, uncharacteristically warm but with enough bite in the air to make the horses dance along the trails. It was our first ride after the end of hunting season and we were feeling free to roam the woods at will.

Everyone but Sharon’s Mingo was acting up. I was riding Peg’s Hailey and she was uncharacteristically antsy. Hailey kept telling me I’d picked the wrong day to try and call the shots. I continued to push my luck, reining her back when she’d break into a trot or canter, asking her to make circles when she threatened to buck. Peg and Simon were having similar conversations as were Barbara and Joker.

Two hours into our ride, Barbara rode up alongside us and without any warning, Hailey kicked at Joker. I felt the kick, we all heard the crack of hoof on bone and I instantly smacked her. With my fist. It all happened so fast that it wasn’t clear whether it was poor judgment or poor aim that caused my fist to connect with the bone of her head.

As it turned out, Hailey had missed Joker and hit Barbara’s shin but luckily didn’t break her leg. At this point, we decided to turn back and ride the last hour to Peg’s place. Peg fetched two bags of ice from her freezer and Sharon used a roll of vet wrap to secure one against Barbara’s leg and the other around my hand. We hugged goodbyes and drove off.

A couple of days later I wrote Peg an apology for hitting Hailey in the head. I felt bad, not because my hand still hurt like hell or because I was afraid I’d hurt her horse, but because hitting a horse in the head is really bad form.

I was hoping that I really meant to punch her in the neck and she turned her head but that seemed unlikely. I wanted to think I was simply disciplining her without any anger but that probably wasn’t the case, either.

Brawler's FractureNo one thought I’d broken my hand. Sure it was swollen and bruised but I could still wiggle my fingers. After two weeks of ice and ibuprofen I decided to get an x-ray taken.

Up to now, the fear of having to spend a lot of money as an uninsured patient had kept me from going to a doctor. But after two weeks, my hand was still multi-colored and painfully swollen. I’ve broken enough bones over the years to know what it feels like and this felt more like the ache of bone than bruising. I needed to know whether I should be using the hand or babying it.

My brother Michael tipped me off  that chiropractors have x-ray machines so I made an appointment with Dr. Jacqulyn Nygren, an angel of a woman who hummed while she worked and put me at ease immediately. She examined my hand and said she didn’t think it was broken, took two x-rays and went to develop them.

When she returned, she had a smile on her face. “Well, you broke it.” she said. Dr. Nygren told me that this particular break is often referred to as a bar room fracture or brawler’s fracture because it is the sign of an inexperienced boxer to land a pinky-first punch.

After only two weeks, the bone was already heavily calcified, thanks to the high calcium content in our well water. The same reason Peg and many other Chatham County residents suffer from kidney stones, I might add. From what I’ve read, the bone should be totally healed in 6 to 12 weeks –  sometime between Valentine’s Day and April Fools day.

It was too late for a cast and we don’t have the kind of money it would take to have the hand re-broken and reset anyhow. The good doctor worked the bones as best she could, pulling the fingers straight and smoothing everything out. I won’t say it didn’t hurt but that evening after icing, my hand felt the best it had in weeks. It appears the bone suffered only minor angulation. Not enough to impede functionality but I may live with a permanent bump on my hand to remind me not to punch horses in the head.

There is good news here. This break represents an opportunity for change. With my right hand in the air most of the time, I’ve had to slow my day down to three quarter time. While I’ve vowed in the past to slow down, this time I don’t have much of a choice. Meanwhile, I’m getting loads of practice in asking for help and standing back while younger backs do the heavy lifting.

I’ve noticed that as I slow down,  I’m more tolerant of others. As I ask less of myself, I find I’ve lowered the bar for those around me. I’m beginning to see that everything will get done, especially if I take on less. My new mantra is “they will work it out themselves” when I see problems I would otherwise rush in to fix. Running the world is not my responsibility. Keeping my own world intact is.

As frightened as I am that my hand will never look or behave the same as it once did, I consider this a lucky break. The message is clear. I can hear it now – that insistent voice urging me to lighten up and slow down.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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