Sunday, August 2, 2009

Even a Broken Clavicle is Right Twice a Day

If my life were the Chinese Zodiac, this would be the Year of the Physician.

I've been to six different doctors this year, about a dozen different times. And the year is only half over.

But it wasn't until August that I'd made it to the emergency room.


There were only about 10 minutes left in the two-hour tennis workout. We were playing doubles and the old man hit a shot that was short and wide. My first instinct was to just let it go, but then my competitive spirit kicked in. I can get to it! I thought. So I sprinted for the corner of the court. Going full-speed, I stretched out my racket. The ball hit the racket and bounced back from whence it came.

But I couldn't stop. About to lose my balance, heading face first into the pavement, I did what I thought you were supposed to do in this situation: I turned my shoulder and rolled.

I did a somersault on the hard concrete court. It must have looked graceful enough, because after the cursory "Are you okay" from my companions, they asked if I was ready to continue. I wasn't. I knew immediately that something was horribly wrong. I was dizzy and my shoulder felt out of whack. I put my left hand up to my right shoulder and felt a bone sticking out-- under the skin, but definitely not where it's supposed to be.

"You won the point" the old man told me. "Well, that's a consolation," I said, and sat down against the fence trying to get my bearings. I was convinced that I'd dislocated my shoulder. It felt all out of whack. Like literally, whatever whack is, my shoulder was way out of it.

A tennis friend drove me to the emergency room.

They took x-rays and I waited for the diagnosis. While I was sitting on the bed a cute nurse came up to me and said, "What have you done to yourself, my dear?"

I told her, "I hurt my shoulder playing tennis...but I won the point!"

"Was it worth it?" she asked in a motherly voice.


"Well, I can't tell you what's wrong, but I've seen your x-rays and you really did a number on yourself...But we'll get you fixed up."

At this point I was still convinced that my shoulder was dislocated. I'd heard stories about dislocated shoulders, and how popping them back into place hurts like a motherfucker, but after a moment of agonizing pain you feel good as new. So I was bracing myself for someone to pop it back into place.


The doctor came in. He was friendly but didn't waste a lot of time. "You broke your clavicle."

Well, fuck me! I thought. I guess you can't just snap the bone back into place like a Lego piece, can you? He must have read my mind, because he said, "You're looking at 4-6 weeks."

It turns out there's not much they can do for a broken clavicle. It's like a broken toe. It heals on its own and all they can do is make it more comfortable. The bone sticking up would eventually work itself back in place. In very rare cases, they need surgery. He offered me painkillers, told me to take Advil or Tylenol for the pain, and said they'd give me a sling to help support it while it heals. He even said I could play tennis if I wanted (with the heavy implication that I wouldn't want to play tennis for a while.)

But contact sports like football, MMA, and cage wrestling are definitely out.


Although I had a pretty good idea before, I can definitely, unequivocally and with authority say that I do not recommend breaking your clavicle. Since it's my right shoulder, I'm learning to do a lot of things with my left hand. Drive. Brush my teeth. Carry groceries. Wash myself. Dress myself.

Thankfully, I can still type and operate a mouse with no trouble. Four to six weeks without tennis and without playing on the computer? I don't know if I could handle that. But any activity that requires me to raise my right elbow is painful. Getting dressed and showering are the worst. Fortunately I only do those about once or twice a day.

I also have this ugly-ass sling that I have to wear.

(Mine looks exactly like this, right down to the ugly sky blue padding sticking out that clashes with all of my clothes.) Not only is it a form of torture to get into the sling, but once I'm in it it shouts, "Dork! Dork! Dork!" And not just any dork, but clearly a dork looking for attention. Ask me about my injury! it shouts.

I was wearing the sling inside my shirt, but my brother and sister-in-law convinced me that I have to wear it on the outside, as a warning to other people to Handle Me With Care. (Otherwise the cops might rough me up or something.) They have a point, but I still hate wearing it in public. I mean, really, would you ever have sex with the guy in that picture?

Although I don't recommend breaking your clavicle, I have to admit that there are some silver linings to this ugly, blue-padded cloud.

There's never really an optimum time to break your clavicle, but the timing for this break was not terrible. I just finished moving into my house and getting everything unpacked. The very day before I had hung the last of my things on the wall. There's no way I could pound nails into the wall with a broken clavicle.

All three of my summer tennis leagues ended last week. The fall ones don't start until September. Although I'll be missing a tournament next week, this is a pretty optimum time to be missing a month of tennis. Plus, the entry form for the tournament was sitting on my car seat when I got injured. I had planned to turn it in that afternoon. But getting injured when I did, I saved myself the $10 entry fee.

The end of the semester is this week. After Thursday, I'll get two weeks off to devote to my recovery.

But perhaps the best thing about this injury is my obsession with the word clavicle. (Collar bone is the other word for it, but that's not nearly as funny.) As I was driving to the tennis courts the morning of the injury I was listening to NPR, and they had an interview with Harold Ramis about writing comedy. He talked about funny words and mentioned that the "k" sound is funny (Hoboken, kangaroo). Well, clavicle has two "k" sounds.

It's a funny word that I could say over and over again.

On Saturday night, as I was nursing my injury and watching TiVo, I saw the pilot to Parks and Recreation that had aired on Thursday. In it, Amy Poehler falls into a pit and is convinced she broke her clavicle. (The nurse who examines her tells her she's fine, but she still wears a neck brace.) The very same day I break my clavicle, I watch a joke about one? What are the odds? How often do you hear that word on NBC sitcoms?

I called my good friend and asked him, "Hey, how's your clavicle?!"

My dream is that one day Steven Colbert will start wearing a ClavicleStrong! shoulder strap.

I'll leave you with a song that's been in my head the past two days: O Tannenbaum with a few modifications:

O Clavicle, o Clavicle,
Wie treu sind deine Knochen!

(Oh clavicle, oh clavicle,
how loyal are your bones!)

1 comment:

chris said...

i broke my clavicle twice in one week at first it was a fracture then a broke it completly in half it hurt alot! the first time i broke it i was doing parkour, (if u dont know what that is look it up on youtube) the second time i sliped in mud and broke it so i have to wear this gay brace now to but it doesnt have that blue stuff on it though.