04 October 2014

The cracked metacarpal

I'm quite good at acquiring physical injuries. My gracelessness (social and physical) is deeply embedded in my genetic code. Last night, though, through no fault of my own, my hand was broken after being crushed by the door of the tram.

Once out of the tram, I cradle my wounded appendage in eye-watering agony. As soon as I get through the door of my apartment, I call one of my best friends, who immediately agrees to accompany me to the emergency room.

At the bus stop, my friend inspects my swollen hand. "They're going to put a cast on you," she says in dismay.

"That's ridiculous," I answer dismissively. "At worst, it's dislocated. They'll pop it right back into place and that'll be the end of it."

Silly notion.

Despite having chosen a lesser-known suburban hospital, we find a semi-full waiting room. Between a bag of frozen peas from my freezer, a hospital ice pack, 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, and my friend's soothing presence, the pain in my hand becomes less bothersome than watching the hours go by.

By 1:00 am, I'm finally called by a cute young intern, who painfully tests my fingers before passing me along to the radiologist. In the imaging room, he positions my hand carefully on the X-ray machine. I cringe every time he nudges one of my fingers, never having been one for stoicism.

I watch him go into the glass-paneled control room to take the picture. He looks at his computer screen, and after a few seconds, his face turns grim. My stomach sinks.

"It's not fractured," I say when he reemerges, a statement rather than a question.

"I'll let you know after the second image," he says, leaving me dissatisfied and anxious.

After the second X-ray, I say again, more insistently, "It's not fractured."

"Come look," he replies simply.

In the image, a curiously clean break runs diagonally across the middle of my third metacarpal. "Oh, that's nothing," I say firmly. "That'll take, what, a week to heal?"

Sensing the futility of arguing with me, he simply says, "The doctor will let you know."

He sends me back to the room to wait for the intern. As I wait, I examine a chart with photos of various braces and try to guess which one I might need.

When the cute intern returns, he looks at me quite seriously and says, "Your hand is fractured. I'm going to put a cast on it tonight, but you'll need to come back to find out if the surgeon thinks it's necessary to operate."

"Which one will I have?" I ask urgently, pointing to the chart of braces.

"Ah, no," he says. "You're not getting one of those. You need a cast. You'll have one in plaster until you get the resin cast next week."

Wordless, I stare at him in horror. He tells me to come back the next day at some point to see if I'll need surgery, and that no, in fact, it won't interfere with my working schedule, because I absolutely cannot work as a cashier with a broken hand.

My mouth goes dry. I think of my dwindling savings, my upcoming expenses, my multiple unpaid American student loan debts. I tell myself to breathe, but when I open my mouth to respond, I begin sobbing uncontrollably. When overwhelmed, I do not even try to speak French. Rather, I blubber in English.

So there we are in the emergency room at 3:00 am, a hysterical American girl crying and speaking rapid-fire English at this exhausted but perfectly composed French intern. He, to his eternal credit, remains calm, kind, and sympathetic in the face of my mental breakdown. He even tries to speak English in response to my sudden monolingualism.

He tells me, "This isn't the U.S. You work, you have social security. They'll give you money while you recuperate."

"But that's only after the first three days!"

The intern shakes his head. "You'll need more than three days. I'm giving you an arrĂȘt de travail for three weeks. Minimum."

I feel I might have a panic attack as he begins preparing my arm for the cast. One cracked metacarpal and the whole forearm gets punished. I think resentfully of my friend, still in the waiting room. She'd be so smug when she saw it.

I can't resist pointing out that while this accident would have run thousands of dollars in the States, where I'm a citizen, none of it cost me a single centime in France. Point for the Froggies.