This One Time I Broke My Little Arm

February 2, 2012 — 10 Comments

In October of 2008, I broke my left arm.

In retrospect, it’s a good thing I broke that one.  At the time, though, I didn’t think it was such a good thing.

Over the next several posts I’d like to share what I remember about that night and what I learned from the experience.  This first one I wrote in the weeks after surgery, while recovering.  Basically a journal entry.  Oh, and be warned…the pictures are kind of gross.


“F***!”  A pastor’s not supposed to say that, so I apologized to my friend Geoff who heard me.  “It’s cool, dude.”  But, it was not cool…dude.  Seconds before, my feet failed me and I fell down three slick steps onto the pavement.  As a result, I was doing that guy thing where you wander around, moaning and groaning and trying to make yourself think everything’s, well, cool.  While walking across the yard, I felt my left arm.  Apparently that’s what I landed on.  My elbow felt like mush and there was something sticking out where it normally wouldn’t.  “Geoff, you gotta take me to the hospital,” I said.  And he did.

I was so drugged-up, I’m surprised I thought of taking this picture with my phone.

After about two hours in the ER, I got the bad news.  “Ryan,” the doctor said, “You didn’t just break your arm.  You broke the HELL out of it!”  He actually seemed somewhat excited and started drawing on the whiteboard in the room, diagramming my shattered elbow and split humerus.

That doesn't go there.

That doesn’t go there.

The unique wrinkle in all of this is that my left arm, the broken arm, ends just past the elbow.  I was born that way.  I grew up that way.  And unless I experience a miraculous “healing,” I’ll live the rest of my life that way.  I have no problem with that.  But when he was describing the severity of my injuries, I got really scared.  When he told me he wanted me to meet with the orthopedic surgeon the next day to “discuss the options,” I immediately asked, “Do you mean…amputation?”  This coming from someone whose arm is already amputated (congenitally).  Thankfully, amputation was not in the cards, but everything would be different now.  Right?

The surgery was successful, but the next two and a half weeks were a drugged-up blur.  I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything, even though everybody said that recovery itself is accomplishing something.  It was hard to convince myself that that was true.  I had two weeks off of work!  I could have done anything!  At least that’s how I felt.  But every time I opened a book to read, my eyes would close.  Every single thing was exhausting.  I still struggle a little bit with those two weeks, wondering if I could have done more.

I warned you! You gotta admit, that’s pretty hardcore.

Another thing that’s been really hard about all this is that it’s made me even more fearful than I already was.  For example, during the first week of recovery Julie took the kids out to run some errands.  Normal.  At some point I called her and got her voicemail.  I tried again.  Voicemail.  Again…voicemail.  Panic.  Obviously something happened!  Something bad, just like what happened to me!  My heart was racing, as was my mind, but faster.  Were they in an accident?!  It only takes a split second!  I’m living proof of that!  I dialed again.  “Hello?”  “Are you ok??  Why didn’t you answer??”  “Relax,” she said, “We’re fine.  My phone was in my purse on vibrate.”  Then, nearly through tears, I explained how everything’s different.

I don’t like that.  What’s worse is that I know I have nothing to fear.  Let me rephrase: theoretically, I know I have nothing to fear.  Why is it so difficult to believe?  Why am I so afraid of money and being transparent and living with integrity and taking risks and failure and physical harm to me and my family and missing opportunities and being perceived incorrectly and not being liked and having too much to read and not being healthy enough and my job…it’s never ending.

I met with my friend Scott for coffee and he said, “I come from a family of worriers.  I try to look at my anxiety and fear as gauges of my belief.  If I’m that scared, do I really believe that God will be faithful in that situation?”  I think that’s a great way to look at it.  I also think I have a long way to go in trusting in God’s faithfulness to me.  I want to believe 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. (Amplified)”

Sometimes I feel like I’m making too much out of all this.  Lots of people have accidents and surgeries.  Am I being too dramatic?  How can I know?  And how do I know if I’m processing this all correctly?  See?  Stupid fear creeping in again.

I also feel like I should be more motivated; more excited about life.  I should be taking it by the neck and swinging it around like a rag doll.  I should be setting goals and breaking down the barriers to victory.  I should be doing all the things I know I should be doing…but I’m not.  My actions have basically stayed the same.  In fact, if anything it seems that I want to stay in these doldrums.  Today a friend asked me, “How ya doin’” as she nodded toward my arm.  My response?  “Ehhh…ok, I guess.”  Shouldn’t I say, “Every day things are getting better.  I can’t believe how blessed I am to have been able to have surgery to repair my arm and to have incredible friends and family that loved and cared for me through all this.  Sure, my arm will never be the same as it was, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of learning to thrive with it!”

Even writing that is embarrassing.  It’s not me.  Yet.  I’m still scared and angry and sad sometimes.  How will I play piano now?  How will I carry boxes?  Is everything healing correctly?  Should I be doing anything more or less to help?  Just how different will it all be?

Seven screws and a piece of metal. Thanks, doc!

To be honest, given time, it might all go back to normal.  Who knows.

In the meantime, I’m learning.  Learning how to recover, how to cope, how to hope, how to trust, how to process, how to move forward…I need to.  I have to.

I will.


So…it’s been over three years since the accident.  In my next post I’ll look back and tell more of the post-recovery story and share what I learned from it all.


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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

10 responses to This One Time I Broke My Little Arm

  1. do you get weird pains in it when the weather changes? I have broken an elbow before, not as badly as you did, though. No fun.

    • Huh…I never thought to keep track! There are definitely days it’s more sore than others. I’ll have to be more aware of it and see if it’s the weather!

      • Weather typically plays a huge part in post-op pain. It’s all about the barometric pressure changes. I work in PT, have an congenital amputation of my left foot, and have had 4 recent spine surgeries with a ridiculous amount of hardware (cages, screws, artificial disks, etc…) Start paying attention to it. About a day before storms (especially snow,) you will feel a difference around the hardware and be a better weather forecaster than the news, lol!

        Love your post, Ryan. Something I’m learning is there is no “normal” way to react to trauma to our body. It’s something I’ve been struggling with for the last few years. Feeling I should be reacting as they teach us about our patients in the books, and then wondering if there is something wrong with me because I’m not “textbook.” I’ve come to the conclusion we all react differently and it’s okay. We’re all just trying to get through it the best way we know how. And especially trying to protect ourselves from feeling that pain (for me more emotional than physical) again.

        • BTW, love your pics, but then again, I’m the nut who has facebook albums of my films for my friends who work in PT, so maybe I’m a little morbid myself, lol!

  2. Well, your post hits me where I am the last day and a half. My husband and I are in the very tail end of an international adoption of an 18 month old girl born with only 1 hand. There are countless unknowns ahead of us – finances to finish the adoption, which one of us will travel to bring her home and where we will bring her home to (we’re trying to sell our home since last spring). God has been there for us and provided for us every step of the way. Why would I doubt Him now? I don’t want to live in fear of all the unknowns staring at us. I want that calm spirit. Thanks for the reminder!

    • That sounds so hard, but incredibly exciting! I pray everything goes well! 🙂

    • “…it might all go back to normal.” Those words struck me as I read this. I just wrote on Brooke’s blog (hi Brooke!!) or maybe it was on FB…anyway…

      I said something like, it’s not abnormal, just different. Micah’s experiencing some pain in the end of his little arm. We were warned about that; it was explained how his bone may grow faster than the skin/muscles, etc. We were told if that happened, they may have to go in & scrape the end of the bone to slow down the growth. Sounded like nothing to worry about at the time.

      Now, though, we have an appointment for the beginning of March in MN. Perhaps they’ll have to do surgery…my mind immediately goes to “how will this be different. How will it affect what he can do now? Will it change how he’s figured things out?” Worry…something that isn’t pleasing to my Lord.

      Thanks, Ryan, for once again being His tool & encouraging me to “calm my anxious heart.”

  3. Thank you for being so honest!

  4. Elizabeth Stinson February 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing Ryan! I have had 7 surgeries on my little arm to straighten my wrist and lengthen my arm through metal frames in which my mom or I had to turn blots 3x a day, so I would gain 1mm of length a day by separating my broken bone. After each frame on my arm I had a cast. About two months after the last cast was put on I fell going up my wooden stairs. I only have a ulna in my little arm and it snapped like a twig. I placed it in a splint and when they took X-rays it was a hairline fracture. Then, a resident decided he was going to cast my arm and began cutting a hole in the sock for my thumb. I don’t have a thumb… Long story short, instead of a hairline fracture I wound up with a hairline fracture that opened up into a large gap. I am glad you have healed well and shared your story.

  5. Thank you, Ryan .,. it is somehow reassuring that you had those somewhat negative feelings. I “know” precisely how you felt, as I have had surgery and instead of counting my many blessings I have made some neutral remark like “Coping .. will get there I suppose eventually” (reagrding recovery), whilst feeling rather sorry for myself and confused.

    Thanks for being so open and honest with us .. good to know that like Jesus, pastors have the same struggles as a sinner such as myself.

    I praise the Lord for putting me in contact with you, brother .. Amen!

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