by Ann Chrapkiewicz
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I have learned a dozen lessons and received a thousand blessings from my back injury on March 17, 2004.
But before getting to those, let me finish telling you about that day. If you missed the first part of the story, you might want to read that first.
Maybe you should get an X-Ray.
After I moved like a snail through that initial 6:00 am class with Lora, I moved like a snail back to my house, where most of my housemates were still sleeping. A few were stirring though. I was visibly moving strangely, so I could not avoid sharing that I fell that morning…. and it hurt pretty badly… and could you please help me get my shoes off because I can’t even reach my knees-let-alone-my-feet, and the like…
In the early afternoon I was to have my weekly 3-hour seminar with one of my most influential and favorite professors, Jennifer Robertson. That semester I was taking her graduate course on ethnographic practice and writing. I hung on every word in her classes, and it was she who inspired me to fall in love with the field of Cultural Anthropology. She also had the biggest impact on my ability to write coherently. She tolerated none of the fluff, distraction, or wandering that was initially present in my academic papers, and I am so thankful for that!
All this is to say that I really looked forward to Wednesdays, mostly because of her class. I did not want to miss it.
However, at the rate I was moving, it seemed like the usually-20-minute walk to West Hall would probably take me about 2 hours, and putting my backpack on really did not seem like an option. So I emailed Professor Robertson and told her what had happened.
She suggested that I go to the ER and get an x-ray, just to make sure it was nothing too serious. I still remember the tone of her email; her genuine care for my well-being was as impressive and impactful in my life as her anthropological brilliance.
Off we go to the hospital
At the time, one of my dearest, life-long friends, A, was also living at Black Elk. We had found each other in Japan in 2002, initially making each others’ acquaintance over a political disagreement. Or perhaps it was a semantic one.
In any case, upon meeting, we quickly bonded in an existential, academic, artistic way that lasts to this day. There were times when I wanted nothing more in life than to pick his brain and share my poetry. If there is such a thing as a soul brother, he is definitely that for me. We have often challenged each other, and it has not always been pleasant on the outside.
So, partly out of the obligation that a brother might feel when woken up by a sister in advance of his desired wake-up time, A drove me up to the University of Michigan hospital and dropped me off. Or maybe he sat with me for a bit in the waiting room. To tell you the truth, there are parts of this day that I don’t remember.
By the time we got to the hospital, it was around noon, and A had to be at work later that afternoon. This was before cell phones (or at least it was before I caved); somehow it was acceptable to be left somewhere without a personally dedicated walkie-talkie to our friends and family.
The doctor said that everything looks fine
I do not know how much time passed before I was in the x-ray room, but I remember the immense pain and struggle I had, trying to follow the instructions to get in position for the camera. It was interesting being 26 years old and moving in a way that I thought belonged to the realm of people in their 90s and up.
I do recall being in a room sometime in the mid-afternoon when someone brought me the x-ray results. Nothing broken, she said.
I did not know what to make of that; the pain was still excruciating even after a hospital dose of ibuprofen. Someone caring for me gave me some morphine to see if that would help.
A half hour or so later, they checked on my pain levels.
I recall that I felt a little more spacey and relaxed, but the pain had not diminished at all.
The doctors then were the ones who were not sure what to make of it.
Maybe you fractured your kidney
Luckily, I wasn’t sent home with prescription painkillers to treat the mystery injury.
Someone on staff suggested that I might have fractured my kidney. All I could think was, “You can FRACTURE your KIDNEY?!?! I thought they were soft. You can break one?”
Anyways, they ordered a CT scan to rule that out. So I drank the liquid that makes certain things glow, apparently, and was pretty disgusted. My somewhat snobby veganism at the time could hardly imagine what chemicals I was ingesting, but I somehow managed to get it all down.
Later, in the CT machine, I remember feeling my whole body sort-of buzzing, and I felt like I was going to pass out and hyperventilate at the same time. But I made it through.
The one who cared enough
By this time, it was getting on in the evening. Much past dinner time and probably getting dark outside – although I was sufficiently in the innards of the hospital that daylight or sundown were pretty much irrelevant.
I just remembered that at one point quite late in the day, I was notified that I was being transferred to a different room. I was taken to what seemed like an entirely different department.
It turned out that the main nurse who had started out seeing me really cared. In a purely caring sense, but also in a detective sense. She was so interested to find out what was going on with my pain that she had me moved along with her at her shift change at 8 pm. It was a nice feeling to encounter someone so attentive to their work and to me. I do not remember her name, but I will always remember that warm feeling.
Sometime in the 8:00-9:00 range my nurse caretaker announced to me that they finally figured it out! This makes so much sense, she said. You actually do have broken bones. That would explain the intense pain. I am so glad we found it.
The transverse processes on L1 and L2 were completely fractured. Separated from the body of the vertebrae.
Tiny bones that connect to everything
The transverse processes in the lumbar spine come out of the body of the vertebrae at both sides of the main body. Here is a You Tube video I just found, showing the anatomy of these very tiny bits of bone, and noting that is usually not possible to diagnose these fractures in an x-ray. (Cheesy music, but good visuals.)
The main scientific – and I mean science via direct experience – conclusion I reached by the end of the evening in the ER was that these little bones apparently connect to everything. There was literally nothing I could do that did not trigger movement of the transverse processes. Breathing, coughing, sneezing, sitting down, standing up, rolling over in bed, turning my head, picking up a light object, putting on a shirt.
Everything is connected in there. It is just that we usually do not feel it.