When my son was younger we occasionally watched a TV show called Zeke and Luther in which a standing character was nicknamed Stinky Cast. His distinguishing feature was his perpetual arm cast, and by nature the cast must have had a noticeable stench. By self-proclamation I have become Stinky Cast. Not because I’ve started acting like a teenage boy but because the cast on my left hand stinks—it smells bad and it stinks to wear a cast.
A month ago I was holding my son’s sweatshirt on the handlebars of my bike and it inadvertently slipped down in between the wheel and bike frame. The wheel stopped moving suddenly, I flipped over the handlebars and landed on my side, sprawled out on my neighborhood street. An orthopedic specialist put me in a cast to heal a torn ligament and bone bruise in my left hand. “But doctor, I’m a writer and a photographer, I need two hands to function,” I say, not holding back the tears. “Sorry,” he says, “If you want it to heal, you can’t use it for four weeks, minimum.”
The extra attention I received from friends and co-workers carried me through the first week. But by the end of the second week the novelty wore off and the inconvenience and the pain were punctuated. I had a temper tantrum when no one in my household wanted to cut the fingernails on my right hand. My son was finally relegated to the task. After hacking his way through it he says, “Eww, your cast stinks.” I wait until he leaves to cry again, this time in silence.
I call my mom. Having lived through much more hardship than me, she says, in her even-keeled voice, “It could have been worse. You weren’t wearing a helmet and you could have hit your head.” That’s not what I wanted to hear but it’s true, of course. I know a guy at work who has hooks instead of hands, I see a child down the street who is physically disabled and has to spend his whole life in a wheelchair, and I have friend who is getting ready to have a cancerous tumor removed from her neck. How can I possibly feel sorry for myself for having a temporarily injured hand and a stinky cast?
And, yet, I do feel sorry for myself—because things could also be better. I could be living pain free with no cast. I could be able to type faster without pecking, keep my photo shoot commitments at the peak of leaf-changing season, cut my own fingernails, pull up my tights, floss my teeth, shave my right arm pit, zip up my jacket and open the container of pain reliever I need to quell the throbbing. I’m conflicted. Life circumstances could always be better or worse depending on your comparisons, and the only real comparison I have is to what my life was like before.
At the end of week three the pain is subsiding and I’m getting used to single-handedly managing my life. I take a lunchtime walk and am fully present. I realize I can walk, see, hear, think and feel the warm sun on my face. If nothing else, my stinky cast has given me a renewed appreciation for my health and my life. I still have my cast, but I also have a newfound habit of recognizing what I do have—especially the smallest of life’s conveniences—on a daily basis. I more clearly understand that life is so very fragile and everything can change at the slip of a sweatshirt.