i'm typing with one hand tonight because i broke my collarbone in a bike accident late this morning.
i was on my way into boston to meet up with a craig's list seller to buy an apple magic trackpad. it was pretty routine until i got to the set of lights on broadway and 3rd street, just a few hundred yards from the longfellow bridge. i stopped for pedestrians before the lights had a chance to turn green, i gave myself a standing headstart. that's when the chain slipped. the bike slowed down while my body was still moving forward and i ended up flipping over the handlebars and landing hard on my left shoulder. i quickly scrambled off the road onto the sidewalk, 2 guys helping me move my bike. i sat on one of the benches at the main-broadway plaza, wincing at the pain. i thanked my samaritans and told them i was okay, probably sprained my shoulder or something.
feeling my collarbone, i suddenly realized something was definitely wrong. something was sticking out. it didn't poke through the skin, but the middle of my left collarbone was protruding out at an unnatural angle. this probably isn't a good thing.
when i broke my foot a few years ago i didn't realize it was broken because i'd never broken a bone before. sure, it was pretty painful, but i figured the pain from a broken bone would be even worse. with that experience in mind, it was easier for me to accept that i broke something. besides, the evidence was overwhelming.
the bike itself seemed fine. the left brake lever was bent once more, but nothing i couldn't bend back. i figured the chain had snapped but it was fine as well, just on the smaller crank cog.
the first person i called surprisingly was my craig's list seller, whom i've yet to meet. "brad, hi, this tony, i'm coming to pick up the trackpad, but i just got into a bike accident at kendall square and i think i broke my collarbone." i locked up my bike figuring i wasn't going to be riding it anymore today. that was pretty painful, with my collarbone tenting from underneath my shoulder.
then i called my parents, to get their advice. i told my mother what happened (i tried to downplay it as much as possible, but i knew she was going to freak out), asked her if i should call an ambulance or try to walk across the longfellow bridge to MGH across the river. i already knew the answer though: there was no way i could walk it with so much pain. i even began to feel light-headed, and was afraid there might be some internal bleeding. she said my father could come and give me a ride to the hospital but i told her that wasn't necessary, that i'd call an ambulance.
so i dialed 911. i told the dispatch what happened, the dispatched patched me to the cambridge department and i told the woman on the phone again. i gave her my location, my name, my age, said she an ambulance would be coming, and asked if i needed her to stay on the line. i said i was fine.
less than 2 minutes later i heard sirens. oh the perks of city living! near instant access to emergency services! instead of an ambulance though, it was the cambridge fire department. i felt bad because they completely blocked the inbound side of main street. i waved to them to get their attention, in too much pain to stand up. 3 guys came out, asking me questions. about a minute later the ambulance came. the firefighters handed me over to the EMT's. i climbed gingerly into the ambulance. i'd never been in one before.
we went across the bridge to MGH. the young EMT's asked my name and my birthday, one of them writing it down on his gloved hand with a pen. he asked if i hit my head and took my blood pressure (normally i don't wear a helmet but i did today, which probably saved me from a lecture about bike safety, even though it wouldn't have done me any good in this case). they felt my collarbone. i asked one of them if he thought it was either dislocated or broken. he said he couldn't tell, but the other EMT said he felt some grinding (which meant broken). colin was the one asking me questions, and i found out later he was just in training, while his partner seth was the veteran. seth told me i was doing pretty well for somebody who just broke a collarbone. "i'm seen bikers with broken collarbones in so much pain they're crying on the ground and can't even get up," he told me.
at the hospital (i didn't know which entrance since i wasn't really able to see outside from the back of the ambulance, it looked like an empty parking garage), the ambulance driver went inside and brought out a wheelchair. i'd never been in a wheelchair before either. normally i'd elect to walk, but it was just too painful so i was glad for the assistance. seth was joking about how i should get some shoulder pads next time, or maybe ride around in a wheelchair.
inside, a pregnant woman at a computer station took down my info. or actually, colin gave her the info he wrote down in the ambulance, before the woman realized she could just ask me directly. they all seemed to know each other and were catching up while she entered my data. another woman asked if the address in their database was mine. i said yes, and that my primary care doctor was here at MGH, so they have all my records already. "on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain would you say you're in?" the first woman asked me. this was no time to be macho; i gave it some thought and told her 8. i mean, i could barely walk i was in so much pain, despite being in good spirits. she designated me as a fast track patient and the 2 EMT's wheeled me further inside, following the green fast track line on the floor (one of several rainbow colors, for different severity). they then put me on a gurney bed. a nurse (middle-aged with faded tattoos on her ams) came out and strapped an id bracelet on my wrist. i said good bye to seth and colin. the nurse then pushed me into one of the rooms.
the hospital emergency room was surprisingly quiet. there we a few people in the nearby waiting room, but none seemed to be patients, and all looked bored and sleepy, watching CNN's broadcast of the supreme court's hearing of the legality of california's proposition 8 banning gay marriage.
a doctor came in and briefly examined my collarbone. they helped me take off my shirt, which was a painful affair since i couldn't really move my left arm without it hurting. he told me i'd get some x-rays done and then he can figure out the next step. he said if it is broken, treatment would be just a sling and some pain medication. i learned that the collarbone is the most often broken bone in the body.
the nurse helped me put on a smock so i wouldn't be cold, but then gave me an ice pack for my shoulder. the gown was pretty ugly, garishly patterned, one-size-fits-all, faded like ire's been washed repeatedly, but was effective in keeping me warm. while waiting in the exam room, i called my parents with an update. my mother insisted my father come to the hospital, i told her it wasn't necessary, i'd call again afterwards to get a ride. a short time later the nurse came back with a pill and some water. "what did i just take?" i asked her. "oxycontin," she informed me. i laid back, steading myself for my first oxy experience.
the oxycontin didn't really do anything. in fact, my collarbone began to hurt even more that i took off the ice pack since it seemed like it was making it worse. growing impatient, a lab technician finally came to take me to the x-ray room. she asked if i could walk, i told her i could try, but it'd be better if i could be wheeled there. so she ended up pushing me on the bed through hallways cluttered with hospital equipment, and now a steady stream of new patients i didn't see earlier. i'm pretty lucky to get my own room because everyone had else just sat out in the hallways. she put me in the special x-ray waiting area for gurneyed patients.
a few minutes later another technician wheeled me into the x-ray room. i was immediately impressed with the high tech design of this lab. i've had other tests done here at MGH and i've been disappointed with their antiquated equipment, but this particular room was definitely living up to the hype of MGH being a world famous hospital. she had a good sense of humor and we joked about all the swanky blue led's which made the place look like an 80's bar. i had to stand up for the x-rays and i got the technician to pull me out of the gurney because i couldn't easily get off myself. 3 shoulders (to check dislocation) and 3 collarbones, the final collarbone photo taken with me lying back down holding a metal tray against my head with the x-ray machine poking up into my armpit. with that the technician wheeled me into the waiting room, where another tech brought me back to my room.
the technician attached a call switch to my bed. that should've been a clue. i ended up waiting for more than 30 minutes, staring at the ceiling, trying to take a nap out of boredom. during that time i finally started to feel the oxycontin. my shoulder still hurt, but it was more of an ache instead of a sharp pain. i also began to feel light-headed, but it could be because i didn't have anything to eat yet all day and it was already 1pm. when the doctor finally came to tell me the results of my x-rays, it wasn't anything i didn't already know. yes, my clavicle was broken, yes, i'll need to wear a sling. there wasn't a computer in the room so i climbed out of bed and walked outside so he could show me my x-rays on a hallway computer. he told me a nurse would come by to fit me with a sling. i got the feeling from him my injury was pretty minor on the spectrum of broken bones. the fact that he didn't really assure me that i'll be fine makes me think these sorts of injuries are pretty routine and heal without too much intervention.
i ended up waiting almost another 30 minutes. since it was such a pain to get up, i decided to stand, pacing around my room in my gown. i wanted to at least get dressed but i couldn't do it without help so i waited. i overheard conversations in the hallway, now busy with patients. a nurse was interviewing a mother who brought in her son: "what's your birthday? 9-9-92." this was a terrible mother who then co-opted her son's treatment by suddenly asking the nurse a whole bunch of questions about her own conditions suffered during a car crash a month ago and currently in litigation.
looking out into the hallway i saw 2 people i thought i recognized. it took me a few seconds to realize it was my parents. they had my 2nd aunt look after the cafe while they came to visit me in the hospital, even though i told them it wasn't necessary.1 my mother brought food, which i was thankful for, but after eating half a sandwich, i felt nauseous. i felt a bit better having getting something to drink. i think the nausea was a side effect of taking oxycontin on an empty stomach.
finally at 2pm the nurse arrived with a sling. she told me to call orthopedics and make an appointment for next week to check up on the status of the collarbone. she gave me some informational printouts, a 4-day prescription for oxycodone, and had me sign a discharge form.
with that i followed my parents to the parking garage, where they paid for parking ($9 for a half hour stay) before we left. we stopped by kendall square so we could pick up my bike.
we went to the somerville rite aid to get my prescription. there was a 15 minute wait, so while mother did some shopping, my father waited in the car. i felt even more nauseous and had to go outside, afraid i might throw up. my mouth filled up with sour-tasting saliva as i spat into the snow a few times but no vomit. being out in the fresh air did help, and when i went back inside the store my prescription was ready ($6.75).
my parents dropped me off at my place. my father helped me put the bike in the basement while my mother used the bathroom before they left.
i finished the other half of the sandwich my mother brought me. i also snacked on some jellybeans. the nausea came back with a slight headache so i decided to go take a nap. i woke up a bit after 6pm. sleep was painless, but getting out of bed was an unpleasant experience.
breaking bones make me better appreciate all my body parts. like when i broke my foot 5 years ago, how i treasured the use of my feet! and likewise now, with my entire left shoulder immobilized, how i yearn for the ability to lift up my left arm! without 2 hands, it's hard to get dressed. i definitely can't lift anything. or cut anything for cooking. or wash dishes. or blow my nose. or tie my shoelaces. i also can't floss (i'm have those flossing toothpicks, but they're hard to use). for dinner i heated some canned soup. thank goodness it came in an easy-flip top, because not sure if i can use a can opener.
i'm going to take a shower before bed, not sure how that's going to go. i'm still meeting my craig's list person tomorrow, i'll have to wake up earlier than usual to get dressed with just one arm.
1 my original plan was after getting discharged, to walk across the longfellow bridge back to kendall square to call my father for a pickup and to retrieve my bicycle. although i'm sort of embarrassed that my parents came to the hospital to see me, i'm glad i wouldn't have to walk back since it's still painful to do so.