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  • Writer's pictureJayne Lisbeth

Shouldering On

Throughout my childhood I had always been a tomboy. I played with the boys even though I was often relegated to watching their battles and baseball games from the sidelines. I gained their respect through tree-climbing, something that I had always excelled at. I loved nothing more than to discover branches that were a ladder to attain the highest roost. Trees were my stairway to heaven, each step, each pullup to the next branch was a small victory, laced with adrenaline-spiked fear. Trees have always been a comfort to me. I imagine today I would be called an early tree-hugger. 

I spent the day of my father’s funeral in the crabapple tree in our front yard in Great Neck, Long Island. I was convinced that if my daddy had gone to heaven, as all the adults in my life assured me, certainly I would see him from the uppermost branches of the crabapple tree. I was certain, especially on the day of his funeral, that I would spy him rising to the sky and making himself comfortable on a big fluffy cloud. Throughout the day I watched for his image in the clouds, his smile illuminating my world below. In my eight-year-old brain this made sense. After all, that’s what all the adults told me. Alas, he never appeared. At dusk I made my way down the crabapple tree, feeling completely betrayed.

In New Jersey my favorite tree was a magnolia which held the perfect seat for reading away the hours. The upper branches of this tree came together to form a cradle in the sky. The tree was huge, tricky and frightening to climb. I never failed in my endeavors at tree climbing. I never fell, which most probably would have resulted in a broken a bone or two.  I was proud of my ability to climb trees and later to ice skate, snow ski and snowshoe. Again, my bones remained intact despite many hazardous falls. I don’t believe I ever got off the ground the first day I tried snow skiing, which only made me more determined to succeed.  Eventually, I came to love skiing and spent many a winter day racing down Vermont slopes.

At age 74 I broke my clavicle. I have since learned one’s collar bone is the most frequent bone to be broken. A friend of mine broke his five times due to his avid love of motocross racing. He only went to a doctor once,  after a month, when the pain refused to depart. 

Throughout all my tomboy and athletic days I never broke a bone, until this Christmas day. Looking up and taking photos instead of down at the treacherous metal ring of our firepit I crashed shoulder first into our metal bench on our patio. The pain was excruciating. Over the ensuing weeks since that unexpected Christmas gift I have been forced to adapt myself to the ways in which a broken bone can alter every aspect of my life.

                                   *              *           *

Now, I am itching to write but my shoulder and right hand are unwilling. I am beyond disgusted with my inability to do all my daily tasks. Writing, however, is something I must adapt to as it is so significant to my mental health. 

      Lessons in adaptability: Picking up anything with my right hand is impossible for this right-hand dominant woman.  Lifting, bending, learning to live with a sling, which captures crumbs and parts of every meal I eat is not fun. Or funny. 

     I can no longer sleep on my left side, my favorite method of falling to sleep. My right shoulder immediately complains until I flop back onto my back. The ceiling fan mocks me. “Yup, you really messed up this time, Jayne,” the gentle whir of the fan sings to me.

     I am slowly becoming ambidextrous. There is much one can do with one’s left hand, learning new tricks for one who is right-handed. The biggest challenges: dressing, placing my right arm into clothing, pulling up my undies. Wearing a bra is completely impossible as the straps hit my broken clavicle, torturing me. Putting on make-up, especially mascara on my right lashes with my left hand results in amusing mascara displacement into my eye. To ease my burning cornea I wash out myt eye and repeat the mascara process all over again. Lipstick? I end up looking like the Joker.

     My favorite activities other than writing is cooking, which my faithful readers are aware of. One needs both hands to hold a pot or pan, stir, whisk, beat, even taste. I finally managed one small victory, using my left hand to dump soup contents from the can into a saucepan. This resulted in changing my top which was now decorated with soup splatter. Making bread? Kneading dough is not an option.  

     Brushing my teeth has become easier, but flossing is impossible.  Thank the goddesses for interdental picks.   I won't even trek into the waters of “toileting” as my orthopedic doctor gently questioned me. My ambidextrous talent prevails.

The frustration and the pain never leaves but is lessening. The humility of this small injury which I shall heal from, reminds me that others have far more debilitating problems and diseases. Those brave souls never complain. Those with far more serious health problems soldier on. Who am I to whine about clavicle and shoulder pain? I am shouldering on. 

     Pain makes one humble and teaches me lessons I never imagined learning at age 8, 20, 40, or even 60.  I was invulnerable then. Not now.

     I have been gifted with  a cruel reminder that life and bones are fragile. My first broken bone occurred at age 74. How many more surprises does life have to offer for my future? I hope I am fortunate enough to have a broken collar bone as my most serious setback in life. It has certainly been the most important lesson I am lucky enough to recognize.

Reminder to self: never take photos looking up without looking down and checking for obstacles first.

We still managed to get away to St. Augustine to celebrate our anniversary on the beach where we were married.

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John York
John York

Your unfortunate accident reminded me of the only time I ever broke a bone - my clavicle. I remember it was painful and surprisingly debilitating. I received my injury during a flag football game. I was in my twenties and in the Air Force at the time. My teammates wanted to take me to the base hospital, but assured them that I could soldier through until the football game was over and the keg of beer waiting on the sideline had been consumed.

Jayne Lisbeth
Jayne Lisbeth

Ah, yes, the perfect prescription for a broken clavicle and to assist in soldiering on! I think we're in good company, another friend of mine broke his clavicle 5 times racing motocross bikes! I think men are more stoic than women, dare I say that without offending, however, men break their clavicles more often than women....interesting, huh??!! As always, thanks for reading my words!

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