Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fall Down Go Boom

Valerie says: I recently took a tumble while standing on two(!) stacked chairs and broke my right wrist. Inquiring minds want to know, so I'm here to set the story straight. (Yes, that's me behind the arm.)

Jean says: They always used to say the criminal returns to the scene of the crime. Here's a shot of the two stacked chairs from which Valerie did her Flying Wallenda imitation, working without a net. People of a certain age may remember Karl Wallenda, founder of the daredevil circus act famous for performing death-defying stunts without a safety net.

Jean continues: I have a weird connection with the Wallendas. As a small child in my pre-PETA, pre-vegetarian days, I loved the circus, especially the high wire acts and the Wallendas were my favorites. They were famous for a five-person pyramid on the wire which was the stunt they were performing in the late 1960s when four fell off the pyramid, two clung to the wire. Two fell to the ground, one of whom was paralyzed and the other of whom died. I was in San Juan on March 22, 1978, when Karl Wallenda, at the age of 73, attempted to walk a wire between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in the heart of the tourist section -- without a net.

The wire was 37 meters above the roadway (about 121-123 feet). Half way across, a sudden wind gust literally blew Karl from his perch and he crashed into the roof of a taxicab. He died shortly after.

I always loved Karl's famous quote: "Being on a tightrope is living; everything else is waiting." I was in Newark, NJ on October 15, 2008, when Nik Wallenda rode his bike across a twelve story high wire at the Prudential Center. Luckily, I didn't jinx it and Nik set the Guiness world record for longest and highest bicycle ride on a highwire.

In the ER, when Valerie explained the circumstances surrounding her fall to Dr. M, the lovely young female resident, I really hoped she'd admonish Valerie for her foolishness. Alas. Dr. M's conspiratorial response: "I do that all the time too!"

Valerie says: Before common sense got the better of her (it seldom gets the better of me), Jean took two pics of me in the ER. In the 1960s movie Blow Up, in which elfin fashion photographer David Hemmings (unrecognizable 40 years later in Gladiator) takes thousands of photos of his models, I thought him awfully wasteful. Now, after 18 months of blogging, Jean and I both understand that you take a thousand shots so that you'll always come away with ONE you can use. Well, Jean took TWO, not a thousand, neither of which exactly shows me at my best. (Not her fault - consider what she had to work with.) And I gotta tell you, it's really HARD to voluntarily upload a bad picture. (You don't see Nick Nolte telling interviewers "Hey, how 'bout you reprint that mug shot they took of me that time I got arrested? You know, the one where my hair's going in five different directions?", do you?)

I do it, hesitantly, in hopes of engendering more conversation on things like this. As a compromise, I've tweaked myself almost beyond recognition. I covered my face for fun, but now I see that was a good move. Also, it gives me a chance to compare myself to Hellboy (above). We both have one arm much larger than the other. (hilarious movie, btw)

(Oh, and I'd also like to say I've lost count of all the admonishers crawling out of the woodwork NOW. Where were they, say, 16 days ago? Sheesh. Monday morning quarterbacks.)

Here is a photo of the intriguing finger traps and hand traction device the doctor straightened me out with. (Stock photo - that skinny arm is not mine.) The finger traps work exactly like the so-called Chinese handcuffs we had as kids - narrow tubes maybe six inches in length, and woven of dyed reeds. You stick one index finger in each end and pull. The harder you pull, the more the diagonally woven tube clasps your fingers. In the ER, I was given a muscle relaxant and a HUGE shot of anaesthetic in my wrist. Dr. O pulled on me the way (as I remember) Rutger Hauer pulled on Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. I may be embellishing, but it seems to me there was lots of grunting and sweating and trembling in gargantuan effort as Dr. O tried to realign me. (Jean and I agreed realignment is definitely a job for someone with upper body stregth.) Looking at all that effort - most of which looked counter-intuitive to me - had me feeling kind of anxious. To distract me, Jean waved at me and made funny faces. That didn't work somehow, but her next idea was fantastically successful: she tickled my ankles, which were easily accessible to her on the gurney (or Guernsey, as I called it to distract myself). My ankles are not ticklish, but they are among the least-touched parts of my body, so it seemed the merest touch to my ankle was stunningly successful in refocusing my attention away from the grimacing doctor. When Jean stopped, thinking her mission accomplished, I asked her to continue. Funny what works.

Preening, as much as someone can preen with a newly broken wrist. At one early-ish point in the ER, at a moment when we had been left to our own devices, I bemoaned the fact that Jean had her camera, and there I was without my lipstick. Idea flash! I still had my bag with me, I can apply lipstick with my left hand, and figured I could do a passable smear without a mirror. I did it, but just then Dr. O. reappeared. He commented somewhat incredulously about the lipstick (which was the whole point, really - how else can one amuse oneself?) - and we told him it would make a great pic for our blog. (We gave him our card as proof.) Without ever changing his always warm tone of voice, he told us it "probably" wasn't allowed to take pictures in the ER. Well, I would have done it anyway (surreptitiously), but Jean is the responsible member of this party, and wisely resisted the temptation to be a bad girl. As we both knew, it was probably wiser for us to refrain just this once than to get kicked out of the ER in the name of lipstick. In an abundance of caution, I also felt it important to reassure the doctor that I am not a cougar. The doctor was VERY restrained in his reception of our humor (which we dispensed primarily for our own benefit anyway), and I realize this is a good thing. One wants a champion at realignment in the ER, not a champion audience. On the bed here you can see my cat, Clementine. Bless her for being great and patient company.

Jean says: Sprinkled among the dramatic moments of our ER visit were some humorous (or should I say humerus, since we're in an orthopedic frame of mind?) interludes, which I attribute to the painkillers. As Dr. O, the dashing orthopedic resident, was fitting Valerie with her blue sling, she groggily asked "Don't you have any in black?" He patiently explained that the ER focuses on emergency medicine, not color coordination. Here is Valerie in the black and white makeshift sling she wore to the ER -- which worked suspiciously well with her black bustier and black pants!

Jean says: Necessity is the mother of invention. Valerie's chic makeshift sling was actually her zebra leggings put to another use. Who knew? Valerie says: here I have to thank my neighbor, Mac. Knowing I was headed to the emergency room, I rang Mac's doorbell to ask him to open a jar of baby food for toothless Clementine, knowing I was likely to be away for a while and couldn't open the jar myself. (The things one thinks of!) After opening the jar, Mac suggested making a sling for my arm. What did I have available, he asked. I offered him a towel, which he rejected as too thick. I offered scissors for him to cut it with, but he said no, I just needed thinner cloth than terry. Light flash! Got out my leggings, which were already bifurcated, and Mac tied a knot at my neck. The crotch of the leggings was wide enough (oh, dear!) to cradle my arm in.


Jean says: After Valerie was released from the ER at around 11:15 PM, I found an all-night drug store to fill her prescription. Since neither of us had eaten for hours, I stopped for sandwiches and sodas. It never occurred to me to ask for a non-child proof bottle. Here's Valerie ape-wrestling it open for a fix.

Valerie: FIRST, let me say that Jean absolutely dazzled me with her generosity of spirit that evening. Given her medical expertise, I called her right after my fall to ask her to recommend the best ER to go to. She not only did that, she told me she would meet me there, and was waitng for me on my arrival. At one point, after maybe an hour, they separated us for at least 30 minutes, and I assumed she might go home, since I had been admitted. Lovely Dr. M. kindly dialed Jean for me on her own cell phone, and found that Jean had used that interval to get snacks for both of us. (My first experience with trail mix - and not too much of that, as I was admonished by a nurse, in case I should need surgery.) For her to stay with me for the whole eight-hour ordeal was above and beyond the call of duty. I don't think I can even imagine what a nightmare it might be - even under the best of circumstances - to be in the emergency room on your own while in some degree of shock (and disbelief).

SECOND, if you're not looking too carefully, the above photo shows me holding the pill bottle down with my feet, and pressing and twisting the durn cap with my one good hand.

Jean says: Valerie rediscovered in her medicine cabinet a teeny, tiny container of teeny, tiny Arnica Montana pellets for bruising. Grace Slick singing "White Rabbit" played in my head: "One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all..." I myself am not a big fan of home remedies, but must admit that her huge bruises are receding nicely.

Valerie says: you have to twist the mouth of the container at least 180 degrees for each pill to come out, and the package prescribes six pills, three times daily. Think how much fun that is - with one hand, and the wrong hand, at that. The container twists with great reluctance, and one can get tired of pressing into the ridges that are meant to provide traction. And I found the container because it fortuitously fell out of the cabinet while I was looking for something else entirely. Of course.

Wait about ten minutes till you've got a little thaw going, then anchor your sorbet between your knees and pry up the container lid with your fingernails.

Jean says: Thank goodness Valerie still has her priorities straight -- medication and sorbet!

Valerie says: But forget about the nice round shapes the ice cream scoop makes. This sorbet will look sloppy for many weeks to come, but will always taste great.

Valerie says: I also hit my head in that narrow space. Before I realized I'd broken anything, I worried that I might have given myself a concussion. Bruised temple, bruised ego.

As you can see from this photo, not only did I break my wrist, I also bruised my knuckles.

My left elbow, before I also started putting Traumeel gel on it. (Traumeel contains arnica.) Applying the gel to the working arm with the nonworking hand was Chaplinesque. Today, my elbow looks and feels almost normal.

An old map of Europe? An octopus in camouflage mode?

Just brushing my teeth requires planning. Hold paste in feeble right hand; uncap with mobile left hand; put down both; pick up tooth brush and put down on edge of sink; pick up tooth paste again with left hand; apply tooth paste; put tooth paste down; pick up tooth brush with left hand; brush utterly without grace and coordination. All things I would usually complete in the blink of an eye now seem like a strategic military mission.

I had always viewed these as environmentally irresponsible. Now that I can't use my right hand, these are the only way I can floss.

The only thing I couldn't figure out at first was how to open the baby food jars for Clemmy. My doorman, Jens, very kindly offered to change the lightbulb that occasioned this major (though hopefully tempoary) shift in my life. Taking advantage, I also imposed on him to open a jar for Clemmy.

Still wanting to be independent, I tried this wonderful grip device. I'd gotten it as swag from a Cooper Hewitt opening. When I received it, I thought it fabulous marketing, what with its red color and repeated Target logo as an integral part of the design. (Target is a Cooper Hewitt sponsor.) Now I also think it's a fabulous product. I put the flat grip between my knees, place the jar on the grip, hold the jar and the grip between my knees, and twist the cap with my working hand. It's a godsend.

To shower, I have to cover my cast in a plastic bag. Everything else has been challenging, but doable, including shaving my underarms (both with my left hand). I do have to soap up my right arm in order to slather foam on my left arm. Any cat can teach you that trick: they lick their paw clean, then run the clean paw over the spot they can't lick.

Some of the best advice I can give you if you lose the use of one hand: buy a little net bag for your soap. I've had and loved this for ages because it makes the soap last so much longer. (How does it do that???) But now I can also recommend it because it's so much easier for a compromised hand to hold. Bar soap will slip out of your hand, then on to the floor. Then you have to bend down, and you might step on the slippery spot where the soap hit the bottom of the tub. Bummer. I got the bag at The Container Store. And put in patchouli soap, or lavender. (Copa brand soap is great.) A little aromatherapy never hurt anyone.

Your cast WILL itch at some point, so get a blunt metal knife or letter opener that you can slide uder the cast. Don't use anything plastic - what will you do if it snaps off inside the cast?

I wanted to buy a cup of my favorite coffee and bring it home. (I can shop if I only buy what one hand can hold.) Knowing that that store does not offer bags, I took a wide bottomed bag, put a cup in it, wrapped tear-off masking tape around it, and then took out the cup. Voila! A take-home coffee cup that runneth not over. Ugly, but functional and washable.

Clemmie also likes this food that comes in a ziploc bag. Takes a bit of doing, but I can pull it open with my good hand and my teeth. To rezip, I lay it on the counter, hold it captive with my cast, and zip it shut with my left hand.

As of today (fifteen days after the event), three different doctors have given me three different casts and three different opinions. At the time Jean took this photo of me, I was feeling pretty cocky. I had mastered my hair and the zipping of my bustier (thanks to the shorter second cast). The photo shows me sitting (triumphantly?) on one of the two miscreant chairs, showing off my bruised elbows, the bustier I happened to be wearing when I fell and rushed to the ER, and wearing the leggings I'd used as a sling. Now that surgery is being proposed and I'm in a more confining cast, I would pose differently for a portrait.

Jean and I took a short trip out to replenish our business card supply. I'm wearing a shirt I found at a local thrift shop with arms big enough to accommodate my cast. (Dressing for plaster casts should be a blog topic of its own! "But" (to quote Djimon Hounsou, in yet another reference to Gladiator), "...not yet. Not yet." I look here like I'm preparing to become La Mome Bijou for the 21st century. (photo at left by the inimitable Jean; photo at right of La Mome Bijou by the inimitable Brassai, circa 1933.)

(For the record, Valerie would like to note: 1. she has changed the house lights using the above-mentioned chairs without incident for more than 14 years [although the chairs have now been dismissed from their respective positions as ladders, while maintaining ther role as Clemmy's window seats and scratching posts]; 2. she typed [and photoshopped] her portion of the blog with her left hand, bringing her typing speed down from about 70 wpm to about 20 wpm.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


a fictional re-enactment of the first moments after the accident

Moments after The Fall.

Nurse Jean arrives in three shakes of a lamb's tail and sizes things up.

Nurse Jean, smiling wickedly, checks Valerie's heart.

The nurse gives Valerie an injection. Hey, wait. Why is the syringe the color of antifreeze?

Despite having minimal upper body strength, Nurse Jean heroically drags Valerie to the hospital.

Slow fade out as Nurse Jean does the impossible.


Cut to credits...

Jean's medical credentials. Jean is wearing stethoscope from the Deluxe Doctor kit from the 99 cent store and nurse's cap from Blue Door XXX-Video store.

Although inspired in part by a true incident, Three Shakes of a Limb's Tale is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event. Certain characters may have been combined to increase dramatic effect.

No lambs were actually shaken in the production of this story.


  1. What a hoot! Hope your arm heals up soon.

  2. Good Lord! This injury has brought out all your resourcefulness. Did you manage to actually change the bulb? And is this something more than a little bakelite might cure?

  3. LOLROF, how hilarious are these epic pics! Your Three Shakes tale reminds me of the nurse scenes in "Celine And Julie Go Boating"; Jean, you are delightfully villainous.
    PS.> like your art deco hallway Valerie. You so do not look like La Mome Bijou! Get better soon!