A couple of years ago, during one of the covid winters when our family was together non-stop, my husband and daughter undertook a drastic pruning of the ancient azaleas in front of our house. They’d grown long, leggy, unruly and generally unattractive. Several rejuvenated nicely. Others did not. We replaced some of the shrubs, but a grouping of the biggest, barest stumps remained.
This spring, we bought four new azaleas to fill in some of the last empty spaces. I advised on positioning, but my husband did the hard work of digging and planting the first three. The final shrub was destined for the spot occupied by the largest and boniest of the stumps.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and H had had enough gardening. Other home-improvement projects required his attention. In and around our old house, and my mother’s next door, there is always something to be fixed.
I eyed the dead plants. They looked like old bones protruding from the ground. Unsightly. It was really time for them to go. I could dig, right? So I dug. And dug, and dug. I successfully extracted two of the stubborn clumps. I was working on the third, almost finished. I tugged hard on one of the thick branches near the base. It broke, and I pitched forward suddenly. To prevent possible impalement on the remaining branches, I caught myself as I fell, landing hard on my right hand, stretched wide.
Ow! Ow! Ow! Gosh, that hurt. But my hand seemed intact. My thumb, though throbbing with pain, wasn’t loose and dangling. Probably just a sprain, I assumed. And the stump, that offensive thing, still sat smugly in the ground. I would not leave this job unfinished. I continued digging until I could lift it from the soil. With my left hand, of course.
I iced my hand and avoided using it. Which made the most basic activities awkward, of course. A couple of days later, my husband expressed concern that the thumb could be broken. He thought it looked alarmingly swollen. I thought he was overreacting. But I made an appointment with an orthopedic group for later in the week. By that time the swelling had lessened considerably. I’d get it checked out, I expected, and would be potting my extensive array of annuals by the afternoon.
Much to my surprise, x-rays showed a small, wedge-shaped fragment at the base of the thumb that had cracked away from the rest of the bone. I was even more surprised when the doctor said “We would cast this.”
“Cast it? As what?,” I thought, not yet comprehending. Then it hit me: Oh. Put it in a cast. Wow. I’d never had a cast. And I didn’t expect to be getting one last Thursday.
I was given the option of a waterproof cast, which I readily chose. I recalled the difficulties involved in keeping our dog Kiko’s splint dry when he injured his leg as a two-year old. We were advised to cover the splint with an IV bag adhered with duct tape. This method was inadequate, to say the least, and led to much frustration, both canine and human. See here. Last week, during the casting process, several young technicians gathered around to watch. Evidently broken thumbs had been rarely seen recently in the practice. “Where are you going that you need a waterproof cast?,” asked one of the group, likely imagining some tropical paradise.
“Well. . . home,” I replied, envisioning the kitchen sink. “I’m just thinking about how to manage cooking, cleaning, the usual household stuff. Washing my hair.”
Especially since my thumb is wrapped up right to the tip, I thought, watching as the technician set it at a prominent angle relative to the rest of my hand. Before the cast, I could manage some movement in my thumb. Now, there would be absolutely none. I guess that’s the point.
I know I’ve been fortunate never to have broken a bone before. I know I’m lucky that in my fall, I broke only my thumb. Not several fingers, not my wrist, or worse. But still, what would I be able to do, and not do, with only one working thumb?
I realized that I wouldn’t know until I tried.