I broke my elbow on October 22nd. I fell on my bike heading home from a trip planning meeting with friends, where we discussed the likelihood of canyoneering adventures on a much-awaited and anticipated Grand Canyon Permit trip. A dear friend of mine was lucky enough to pull an off-season non-commercial permit back in April when National Park Permits are awarded. Our permit was for a launch date of November 19th, where we would be outfitted with five rafts, paddles, food and provisions through a local company out of Flagstaff, AZ. We were invited to be 2 of her full permit of 16. Jesse was to be a boatman, and I, his lucky counterpart.
Much like any of my fellow un-insured Americans, I waited to see Urgent Care until two days later, where the X-ray tech chided me in my late appointment, and then stared at me like I had antennae coming out of my head when I boastfully explained that I really hoped I wasn't broken, because I was due to be on the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in just barely three weeks. I'm still not sure if he looked at me disaprovingly because it was obvious to everyone but me that I had broken my arm, or if he thought I was insane for thinking I could take a broken wing on a trip of such proportions.
Come to find out, after a few X-rays, and a few moans and groans as I tried to contort my arm so the tech could get clear pictures of my near-ballon-proportions elbow, I had fractured my Olecranon, which required surgery.
Grrrrrrrrreat. So we did that. And it was a fair bit of uneventful drugged-up days of drooling on myself in an L-shaped splint, wondering where my elbow began and bicep ended. I also watched almost every season of Sex and the City. I also worried.
I worried about our long-awaited trip of a lifetime. I worried about missing the opportunity, but I also worried about going. I worried about what other people on the trip thought of packing an injured person in their party, and whether they were just being nice when they were asked what they thought about me going.
I worried about what my surgeon would say.
I worried about what my MOTHER would say.
I worried about whether or not I could be tough enough to be in the backcountry for 24 days, without a shower, or my bed, with a busted elbow. I worried about whether or not that was sanitary, with this recent surgery and incision. I worried about strength, not just of character but also of such a weakened and atrophied left arm. I worried about my attitude, and whether it would be so chipper 15 days into a trip I had no way out of but to keep floating on a boat for another 10. I worried about emergency services, and the plain fact that if shit were to go badly, I would need a (possibly very expensive) helicopter ride out of the canyon. I worried about the incision from surgery, and at the time I didn't even know yet that there were 18 metal staples and a scar running down my elbow that looked something like a filet of fish beaten to death with a stapler.
Oh man did I worry.
I was out of the L-shaped splint cast the Friday before we left, and were slated to leave for Arizona on Monday for our boat launch at Lee's Ferry on Wednesday. I had sat in that stupid mass of ace bandages and smelly plaster for 2 very itchy weeks, and was so anxious to get it off, I started pulling the thing apart as soon as the nurse came in to take my blood pressure. 18 metal staples were plucked out of my arm, and while the nurse flipped the little metal barbs out of my purple-y and greenish bruise of flesh into a petrea dish on the counter next to me, I held my breath while the surgeon walked into the room. I knew it wasn't because of the staples or the splint, but because I really was waiting. I was waiting to see if he remembered my face, my grin after he explained I'd be in a cast for only two weeks, the exuberant hi-five he recieved after that news, and my deflation and grimace after finding out bones take 6 weeks to heal, and NO it was not a good idea to do anything but LOOK at the Grand Canyon.
I needed him for a lot of reasons, the most obvious being for him to confirm this elbow was indeed on it's way to 100% fixed, regardless of the looming river ahead and my need for a quick turnaround time. I needed him to ensure me these skinny pins and figure-eight of wire looped through my humerous could withstand the rigors of more than just couch-potato days. I needed to know at what length it would take to muscle these pins out of where they were so carefully set, and the probability of me doing so by, say, opening an ammo-can filled with food, or lifting an oar to an oar-lock. I needed him to look at everything about this bruised but now more defined corner of bone and joint, with the most grotesque frankenstein scar running it's length, and tell me it would not become infected halfway through a very sandy and silty stretch of desert. I needed him to tell me that it would be okay for me to jump in the truck on Monday. I needed him to tell me I wasn't being selfish or stupid or overly naive. I needed him to fill in the blanks of where hubris and medicine meet.
And of course, he did none of those things. He's a professional. And by no means capable of giving every wanderlusty girl a false sense of security. And I knew that.
He grimaced when I asked about how stupid he thought I was really being, and I tried to make him laugh when I said I figured I wasn't the first stupid patient who did something she probably shouldn't after surgery.. He danced around my river trip like the light of sunset does on a silty Colorado river eddy near the banks of camp. His response was murky, like the muddied waters of the Little Colorado, before it converges with it's big brother. His answers to questions I had rehearsed so many times, on the couch and between netflix binges, were twisted and unforgiving and much like the canyon itself. The medicine I found myself at odds with, and the hopes of procuring a yes or no answer from a doctor who just recently filleted my elbow open to pin and hammer it back together, was fruitless. He bobbed about within this conversation of risk versus reward, and where my elbow sat between the two.
He gave me facts, and did not forget to remind me I was an adult and it was not his place to tell me how to live.
He did, though, tell me he pretty much knew where I'd be for the next 25 days, and to be sure not to schedule the 6 week appointment during a time where I may not be in town.
I figured that's the closest thing to permission I was going to get from a doctor.
Or from anyone for that matter.
So I took it. And ran.
Because, sometimes, you just have to take the best shot at life.
Give it your best guess, with the knowledge you have,
with the power of your people around you,
and the hopes that you have the strength and skills to survive what ill-fate
may be lurking in the corners of your mind,
or the bottom of a river,
or the edges of a canyon.
Sometimes the answers don't come from a professional.
Sometimes the answers don't come from your mother, or your best friend.
Sometimes the question you asked is just too gray to get a solid answer.