8 Mar 2018

It’s (Not) A Zero

WORDS & PHOTOS x Tommy Mulvoy

Although my wife had every reason to be frustrated with me after I broke my shoulder in two places on a recent mountain bike ride, she didn’t show any initial signs of annoyance. When I told her that I needed to see a doctor, Vicky laughed and quickly found our friend, who speaks German, so he could call the local clinic. She then arranged for transportation and joked about the baseball sized lump sticking out of my upper back.

Within an hour, I was diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade and told to get a CT scan as soon as possible. We decided to delay the scan until we returned back to Basel the next day and enjoyed a night out with our friends where my wife had no qualms making me drink my pain away and laughing at my inability to zip my pants after I went to the bathroom.

At the time Vicky was five months pregnant and was told that she shouldn’t lift anything heavy or exert herself too much, so as she spent the next morning getting me dressed, lifting my bike into the car, and carrying my bags, I figured it wasn’t long before I got a lecture. However, on the drive home, Vicky was still joking about my sad state and getting excited about all of the anti- inflammatory foods she could cook over the next few weeks.

While I thought I was out of the woods apropos Vicky’s irritation with me hurting myself, our visit to the emergency room the next day proved otherwise. When the registration nurse asked me my pain level, I quickly answered 0. With the doctor out of ear shot, Vicky turned to me, glared, and angrily whispered, “who the heck tells a doctor in an emergency room that their pain level is 0? Now we are going to be in the back of the line.” I told her that my shoulder wasn’t too painful and only hurt if I breathed too deep or moved it. This did nothing to assuage her annoyance. Almost on cue, a middle-aged gentleman came in with his shoulder hanging out of its socket and an older woman was wheeled by with some cuts on her face. Vicky turned to me and asked, rhetorically, “do you think they said their pain level was 0?” I looked at the ground and shook my head.

Sure enough, the man and woman were wheeled right in to the emergency room bays for immediate care. Thirty minutes later, the man with the dislocated shoulder walked out with a sling and a smile on his face. Vicky and I sat in the waiting room for another hour.

After being called into the care area, Vicky not so subtly reminded me that if we wanted to make it home tonight, I should raise my pain level. Almost immediately after sitting on the bed, a nurse came in and asked how much pain I was in. I sheepishly looked at Vicky, who raised her eye- brows, and told the nurse that it was around a 3 when I moved it or breathed deeply. I didn’t mention that when I sat still, it wasn’t too painful. One CT scan later, I was diagnosed with a broken scapula and coracoid process, two bones that I learned are rarely broken, and was told to return in ten days for a follow up X-ray and meeting with the doctor. Instructions from the attending physician were to not use my left arm for anything, including unscrewing a bottle top, opening a door, or holding a bar of soap.

Vicky’s next six weeks just became incredibly more burdensome, but as we sat on the tram back to our house, the only thing she muttered was “I seriously can’t believe you told them your pain level was 0!”