Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Give Me a Hand

One fine day at the beginning of summer, I broke fingers on both of my hands. 

And I know I look happy in the pictures, but that’s the tequila. The tequila was used as a painkiller after the accident, I swear. I became Edward Scissorhands Junior while completely sober. Flying off of the back of a jet ski. But that’s another story.  

After the tequila wore off I remembered I had a race in three days. Lawyers Have Heart 10k in my home city, Washington DC. Plus I had a friend coming to town to race as well.

I went to the Doctor. “You’ll need to see a hand specialist,” he said. “Surgery will likely be the best option.”

Surgery for broken fingers? I laughed and ignored him. How bad could they be? Don't they say you can’t really do anything besides wrap up broken toes and fingers? (Turns out they really just say that about toes but I was hopped up on a lot of painkillers and recalled the saying incorrectly).  Plus, I had a race. “I would advise against racing,” he said.

What? Who needs fingers to run? (Turns out you really do need to be able to curl your fingers to run comfortably, but I was hopped up on a lot of painkillers and really wasn’t thinking too well). 

Luckily lawyers really do have heart, because everyone at the race took good care of me and didn’t make fun of me in front of my face when I attempted to run, in pain and on drugs. And I did finish! I wouldn’t call it a race for me. It was more like a walk in the park, a sort-of-run-and-walk 6.2 miles with throbbing fingers while on massive drugs. But I think I needed to do it. I was a lot more worried about my fingers than I wanted to believe (“Surgery will likely be the best option.”) and I wanted to just not think about my hands. To try to be normal for a couple more days. As if I seemed normal with big braces on my fingers hopped up on massive drugs. But mentally, I needed it. I think I knew I wasn't going to be running much over the summer. That surgery probably really was the best option. I needed one last race. My finishing time was awful (Or a PR for First 10k on Vicodin depending on how you look at it) but I was glad to be with my friends, and to finish the race so I could then get to the business of figuring out how to fix my hands.  

The surgery was scheduled for two days after my birthday. During the prep, the nurse said to me, “Luckily the worst one is your left hand,” and then she looked at me for confirmation and when she didn’t receive it, she said, “Uh, unless you're left handed.” I am.

The week after the surgery, when I mentioned to my surgeon that I was going to Cambodia in a month, he was not super psyched. “I can get the plaster cast off of you by then, but keeping your hands clean is going to be really important. You'll still have pins in your fingers. You’ll have to keep your hands completely clean. You do not want to get sick in Cambodia.”

“Um. Is it ok to ride my bike? I’m going on a cycling trip in Cambodia.”   

“I would advise against that.”

"But I ran a race when they were still broken!"

"Clythie, I really don't want you riding a bike around Cambodia while you're injured."

Who needs ring fingers to ride a bike?

As the trip got closer I convinced (begged) my surgeon to change his mind. In the end we made a plan together. He would take the cast off and give me a removable splint and I would promise to wash my hands 1,000X per day, changing the gauze and applying Neosporin every. single. time.  “Be careful. You do not want to get sick in Cambodia,” he reminded me. 

The summer flew by in a haze of healing and as the end approached, I flew to Cambodia. When you arrive in Cambodia you receive a pamphlet that says, “When you become ill in Cambodia, only go to the following health clinics…” I tucked the paper into my bag and hopped a cab to a beautiful hotel in Phnom Penh and forgot all about it.

Cambodia is clean and dirty and smells wonderful and terrible, and it’s filled with lovely people who have lived through unimaginable atrocities who welcome Americans with kindness and love. It’s a place that overloads all of your senses with sights that you cannot believe exist outside of pictures. There are foods that make your tongue melt with joy and ones that make you scream with horror. But that's another story. 

Cambodia is all the things, and all the feelings and all the noises and all the sights and sounds and emotions all of the time.  It’s beautiful and ugly and happy and rip your heart out sad and there is laughter and kindness everywhere.

I felt so fortunate to find myself in this dream land, on a bicycle, headed out into city streets in traffic that can only be described as psychotic slow motion chaos, making my way with the bike from the city into the country onto and off of countless ferries and riding trails through farms and onto islands, stopping for amazing meals and to visit beautiful temples. 

At one point I was coming off of a ferry, climbing up the hill from the river, trying to make the bike work for me and I realized that I needed my fingers to get myself and the bike up the hill. I had to get off the bike and walk it over the crest of the hill.  I realized it was the first time that I had even thought of my fingers while on the bike.  I knew that it was ok, that I was going to be fine, that my hands were going to continue to heal. That sometimes having to walk when you're running is ok. Sometimes having to hop off the bike is ok. That the life experiences that surround these moments are what's really important. 

When I came home, I spent a few more weeks in the little finger brace, remembering the accident, and the fog of Lawyers Have Heart, the life changing experience of all that is Cambodia, and I knew my fingers weren't really ever going to be the same, but that was ok because I wasn't ever going to be the same either. 

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