Photo by Ben Konfrst on Unsplash

Up & Down

February 7, 2019  |  Blog

After having mulled over a name, domain name, and theme for this blog, I finally have an excuse to get started. I fractured my right ankle.

Yesterday while bouldering at the climbing gym, I slipped and fell in the way you’re not supposed to, which is unexpectedly and straight down on your feet, with the right foot snapping inwards at a ninety degree angle. It’s really too bad because I thoroughly enjoy walking on that foot, almost as much, if not equally as much, as the other one.

Anyways, I was climbing up, then I fell down. It’s very clever and ties in neatly with the domain name. And that may as well be the theme: stuff goes up, stuff goes down, around and around, shit happens, and then it keeps on happening. Not much of a theme, but I’m rolling with it, since the other name I had was even more on the nose.

So anyways, I thought yesterday was an enough interesting experience to write it down.

It’s quite the talent to not think of pain as a purely negative thing, but while in the thick of it, it’s harder to be philosophical.

I started climbing last year and I’m not very good at it. I liked to think that I was being safe. Yesterday the route setters had walled off the main boulder so I decided to try the boulder wall in the other room. It’s taller than the other one, which I didn’t fully process at the time, so that’s the first thing. After having recently done a few wall climbs in a harness, I was still in a bit of a “safely harnessed” thinking mode, where going for a bad hold isn’t that significant a risk. So that’s the second thing. The third and worst thing is that I slipped and fell unexpectedly, from a purely vertical wall, without having the time, ability, or proper reflex to fall rolling backwards, on my legs, then ass, then back.

That cracking sound is the stuff of nightmare, and it’s one of those moments where you instantly know that in a very short amount of time you’ve steered yourself onto a track which is going to take you to unpleasant places for a while.

The ambulance ride was not as fun as I thought it would be. I thought that if I ever went into an ambulance, I would take the opportunity to look at the equipment they have and see what the paramedics do. I’m a curious and nosy person. But at the time I didn’t exactly give a fuck, so the best I could do was to speak with the paramedic while look outside the window trying to pinpoint where I was in relation to the hospital. She said she didn’t know of a medical reason why a person in my state shouldn’t have a beer, but she also said she didn’t have any on hand to offer me. She did give me an Advil and a Tylenol before we went for a ride, but those are not very happy drugs.

I think I’ve always felt thankful towards medical professionals, who do one of the most important and difficult job, but you feel a whole other level of gratitude when it’s you they’re helping. And I kept thinking how glad I was that I didn’t fall off a cliff in a forest by myself 10,000 years ago, where the same injury would have thoroughly screwed me over. Though I also thought it was a bummer that we don’t yet have one of those machines that cure all illnesses instantly.

I was soon gifted with about 5 hours of waiting in a bed with a fractured ankle in a very busy hospital, a perfect opportunity to meditate on pain and misfortune. Trying to distract yourself by looking for your calm and peaceful center, browsing reddit, looking at medical equipment, or thinking good thoughts about patients that are worse off than you only works for so long. I suspect that it’s because hidden in the attempt at distraction is the implicit belief that pain is there, is real, and needs to be escaped from. Surrendering to pain does actually work, to the extent that you no longer have to fight it and losing yourself in a mild delirium of fever and shaking is an interesting sensation, but again, that only works for a while.

The only true relief came from laughter. It’s a perfect “fuck you” to pain. Because it is hilarious that I fractured an important bone by doing something that is not at all useful for my survival, and that by doing so I’m using up the precious time of people who have much better things to do, like literally helping a baby not die in the adjacent room. It’s also funny that the nurse who stuck several sticky heart monitoring things to my chest took pleasure in explaining to me how ripping off sticky things off of hairy men’s bodies is one of the best things about her job. And holy hell, she can have it. Humour is how you deal with working, or just being, in an emergency room.

My partner deals with being in an emergency room by fainting. She’s my emergency contact, and I was beyond thankful when she showed up to my bed, before looking at my ankle, looking back up at me shaking, requesting a chair, sitting down, and promptly fainting. The key to fainting is to stay on one’s chair long enough to give nearby people enough time to notice you’re fainting and keep you from falling down and banging your head on the floor, adding to the pile of injured humans. And she executed that like a pro, turning green, rolling her eyes backwards, and staying firmly in her chair the required seconds. You could tell she’d done this before. It gave us all more to laugh about.

Then finally came the people who were going to put a cast on me, and the people who numb you while that’s happening. One of them asked me if I wanted a sedative while they put the cast on; he said it looked like I was in a lot of pain. It was a very astute observation and I’m glad all those years in med school don’t go to waste. The bones shifted unpleasantly during the x-rays and I can only swear loudly so much in a day.

When a doctor asks you if you want happy drugs, you say “yes”. That’s a lesson I want to hand down to my kids some day: if someone, anyone, in a white coat, or any coat really, offers you “happy drugs”, and free ones at that, you say: “Uhh yes, sure, you’re the expert here.”

But he tricked me. He talked the whole thing up by asking where I wanted to go on a trip, and I said, confused, “I don’t know, Peru?”. Then he said, “Well just concentrate on Peru, and you’ll have a nice trip there.” And I was expecting to go there and have a fun trip. I was looking forward to experiencing a new drug, especially that newfangled Fentanyl we keep hearing about. But I didn’t go to Peru at all. I didn’t go anywhere. I stayed right in my hospital bed, feeling only a little bit drunk and saying moronic things like “Your voice sounds exactly like the voice of my building maintenance guy.” I think it’s smart not to unnecessarily give highly addictive one drugs to patients, especially to patients who, relatively speaking, aren’t in that much pain. Maybe part of me just expected to be offered a tray of pills to pick from, which was naive. Maybe I just feel cheated out of a good psychedelic hike. But for the record, I don’t think that emergency rooms make for good holiday destinations.

The drugs wore off in about 5 minutes, then they gave me brand new crutches and set me on my way. An orthopedic surgeon is supposed to call me later to do a follow up, and I expect the ambulance ride and the crutches will cost me $150 tops. Oh, Canada.

Stuff goes up and down in unceasingly turning wheels. Chasing good and avoiding bad will only land you in a world of trouble. Terrible experiences can be seen as interesting rather than merely awful. Stay close to the axle and let it roll, not too sticky and not too loose. And fall backwards, on your ass.

“Everything happens for a reason”, like my mom usually says in those situations, and did say in this specific situation. It reminds me of the story of the chinese farmer, beautifully told below by Alan Watts.