Falling down

I have always been a bit accident prone, probably because I sometimes do things too quickly and/or impulsively, but this tendency has improved markedly in recent years — and then came roaring back with a vengeance two nights ago. Thus, my absence over the past 48 hours from this site.

Looking back at it now, it seems so unlikely, so ridiculous and funny, but while it was going on it was anything but funny. And I am still in a lot of pain today.

Wednesday night started like any other. It’s still cold at night here, so I wear flannel pajamas to bed and keep a big steel space heater a few feet away. I was sleeping soundly when, at about 3 in the morning, I awoke from uneasy dreams into a full-fledged nightmare.

Have you ever been asleep when the telephone started to ring and the ringing actually played a part in your dream before you realized the ringing was real? That’s similar to the way my calamity started. I was dreaming and a character in the dream began shouting, “I have a terrible cramp in my foot,” and suddenly that’s what the other characters in the dream were talking about. Suddenly, I bolted upright and realized I really did have an excruciating cramp in my left foot, which obviously my dream was trying to tell me. The pain was intense, and I immediately tried to jump out of bed so I could press down on it.

But something went wrong — my feet got caught in the bedding, and I slipped, totally losing my balance in the pitch-blackness. I came crashing down; the back of my head smashed into the steel heater, and the cramp was still there. But that was nothing. I had crashed at the perfect angle to do maximum damage to my right shoulder, which struck the hardwood floor with a vengeance. This was one of those moments where you really know what pain is. It shot through me with such a ferocity that I had to keep saying to myself, “Pain is only in the mind, it can only hurt as much as you allow it to.” Honestly, that didn’t help much, and I was generally quite miserable as I lay there wondering what I had done to myself.

I tried to stay calm. I realized that the slightest movement of my right arm caused pain to come shooting out of my shoulder, so I just tried to keep the arm utterly motionless. With the other hand I managed at least to get the cramped foot under control. And I knew the bump on my head from the radiator would stop hurting soon enough. I inched back onto the bed and tried to convince myself it was nothing, but soon enough I realized the pain was more than I could bear. I got dressed, which must have been a hilarious scene had their been an onlooker — just try putting your socks on with one hand, and you will forever empathize with the handicapped. (I kept thinking of the movie My Left Foot.) This took quite a long time; my right arm was basically dangling useless. I took a taxi to the only 24-hour Western-style hospital in Beijing where I was told I had a ruptured tendon. (As I mentioned once before, I have had a problem with tendonitis of the right shoulder for a long time.) I still need to see whether it requires surgery; for now I have my arm in a sling and can only use my left hand.

The pain all day yesterday was as close to unbearable as pain can be. I could not eat, I could not move. Then, just as the doctor told me, it began to ease up this moring and now I can at least slowly put my shirt on. But it’s going to take a few weeks and physical therapy, the doctor says, before I am in one piece again.

There’s never a “good time” for shit like this to happen. Still, better now than in three weeks, when my friend from Arizona will be visiting me and we take a trip down to Yunnan (if SARS is considerate enough to keep out of Southwest China). Okay, back to bed and my painkillers and bags of ice. Nightmare.

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