About two months ago, I broke my arm. Not coincidentally, this corresponded with my not posting an entry for about… two months. More on this later.
It was a skiing accident where, in trying to avoid colliding with zig-zagging kids crossing a mid-slope traverse at Sunday River in Maine, I zipped up a hill they’d made by piling up some of the fresh man-made snow. I landed the first jump, telling myself what a hero I was. By the time the word “hero” had entered my brain however, I had started up the second and taller hill and realized that I wouldn’t be landing the second one. I didn’t. Instead I fell and broke my humerus.
I contemplated an entry about recovering from injury at 46 compared to doing so at 26. There’s not a lot of suspense in that though — it’s also not particularly relevant to the Sandwich Generation. What is more relevant is disability.
In particular, because of this injury I suddenly had a great deal of difficulty completing some of the most basic tasks of life. The accident happened on a Friday afternoon, and when I pulled off my sling and tried to peel off my ski clothes on Sunday morning, it quickly became 5 of the most difficult minutes of my life. Putting on a shirt was nearly impossible. Showering when it hurts to move your arm even an inch is a trying experience. Toweling off is worse.
Eating was a challenge as well. Without a functioning left arm hand, I couldn’t cut food. Or really use a knife as a counterbalance to a fork. My most prized kitchen possession is a large Pasquini espresso maker, which I now know requires 2 hands to operate. So do most corkscrews. And bottle openers.
I mention all of this on a blog about being a Sandwich Generation father because it gave me a small taste of my father’s daily struggles with pant zippers, scissors, unopened jars, shirt buttons, slipping on shoes, getting into cars, and the million or so items of basic everyday living that challenge him. I used to get angry when he failed to change his shirt after spilling soup on it. Now I understand better why he doesn’t bother – it’s a lot of work. More than that, it’s frustrating. You struggle to reach the buttons and remember that it used to be an afterthought to slip them into the buttonholes. You have trouble simply crossing the room and flicker back for a moment to playing tennis on the street in front of your house with your sons.
I visited him one evening a few weeks ago to help with a television emergency. Yes, there is such a thing. He was in bed when I arrived and while I spent about 15 minutes diagnosing and fixing the issue, he was barely able to get out of bed, slip on his robe, put his dentures back in, and wander outside to the living room. I realize now how much time and energy he’s invested before I come on the weekends to shower, dress and shave.
There’s more than one reason that I haven’t written for a while, but with my left arm in a sling, I found it difficult to type. This also made it difficult to work since a large part of my living depends on how effectively I can tap at a keyboard. Truth be told, I did not adapt quickly. Adapting also takes a lot of energy and because of the pain, I was tired a lot. The pain was constant, but almost more important: it was draining. I suspect that my energy level was more like someone who is 86, not 46. Of course, my father hasn’t been 86 for some years now, so even with this experience, I can only imagine what that must feel like.
On the bright side, my children – the other side of the sandwich, if you will – took responsibility and helped tremendously, especially with dishes. And, in a moment of which I am particularly and perversely proud, they also helped with a bottle opener. Perhaps no beer has ever tasted as delicious as that one. Another small victory for a Sandwich Generation dad with a broken arm and a long recovery ahead of him.