Comment & Analysis
Nov 9, 2021

Need to Learn Patience? Get Yourself a Broken Arm

Being one limb down forced me to live as a spectator when I desperately wanted in on the action, writes Jennifer Ní Chiara.

Jennifer Ní ChiaraAssistant Editor
Illustration by Meghan Flood for The University Times

I have always been a woefully impatient patient. When I was younger, being bedridden was my worst nightmare, no matter how ill I felt. I always had to be doing something or talking to someone and I was one of those kids who hated missing school. The inevitability of ineptness when ill or injured was the worst part, particularly as someone who likes to think of themselves as independent.

This summer I was confronted with something that forced me to rethink this outlook. After tubing off the back of a boat with a friend in Baltimore Bay, I broke my arm. To be more precise, from the way I hit the water I fractured my lower humerus (no, it wasn’t very funny) in three places. Since then I’ve had my arm bound in a high arm sling which, I might add, I could not remove to shower or to put on clothes until recently.

I try to downplay it and deflect it with “oh well, it could have been my neck” or “yes, in the water!”. Even on the horrendously bumpy ambulance ride to Cork University Hospital, my main concern while completely out of it on the opioids the paramedic gave me, was that I had an article to write on deadline. And yes certainly, many people sustain far worse life-changing injuries and in no way am I trying to say that I have it just as bad. I don’t. And I am extremely lucky that it wasn’t a worse accident.


But I cannot lie. Returning to college is tough. In primary school, breaking a limb is like becoming a celebrity. Everyone wants to sign your cast, all the grown-ups fawn over you and you get to tell your epic story unashamedly. Even in secondary school it’s not a bad life. There’s a strict timetable to life. You might have to hobble from class to class or write notes with your non-dominant hand (camogie induced broken fingers made me somewhat ambidextrous during the leaving cert). But once you get to college, it’s a different ball game altogether, even more so I would say as we begin to open up again.

In primary school, breaking a limb is like becoming a celebrity. Everyone wants to sign your cast. Even in secondary school it’s not a bad life

I want to throw myself into absolutely everything. Afterall, as a third year, the only real time I’ve had on campus was as a shy first year only beginning to meet people when lockdown hit. I want to make friends with people in my class, to go for coffee, to have those random spontaneous conversations with people after lectures. I want to write more, read more. Instead, even after three months, I still can’t even put my hair up.

But, I can finally push my arm through clothes which make me feel more like myself. Call me vain, but after finding my personal style over last year, it was incredibly disheartening to be wearing unflattering string tops for so long where my slinged arm (comparable to Marvel’s Bucky Barnes) was unflatteringly exposed.

Even though day-to-day tasks are strenuous, sometimes I really just have to laugh. If I didn’t, as I console myself, I’d probably cry. For instance, one of the more comical things I still cannot do is tie my shoelaces. So, every day, mum has to lace up my Docs. Yes, I know how.

Almost even worse, when I’m out for dinner, I often forget that I cannot in fact cut my own food and on more than one occasion someone else has had to cut up my pizza much to my red-faced embarrassment.

And although tote bags are all the rage on campus right now, my poor right shoulder can only handle so many library books before I’m hunched over, my balance akilter.

When I’m out for dinner, I often forget that I cannot in fact cut my own food and on more than one occasion someone else has had to cut up my pizza

As I said, patience was never my forte and it is, quite frankly, a miracle my friends and family haven’t disowned me yet. It’s difficult to watch my friends going out dancing as things reopen. Although I have begun to go out a bit more, I constantly have to hold myself back and mind my arm. My dad likes to remind me however that when he tore his cruciate, he still went clubbing with his crutches in the air. That’s not particularly helpful.

Overall however, I have to accept the fact that I cannot keep up. I can barely keep on top of assignments, I still open cupboard doors with my feet and only recently mastered buttoning up one of my Hawaiian shirts. I’m slow and not very useful around the house (although I like to think I’ve mastered the skills of a waitress when I clean the kitchen and empty the dishwasher. My family might beg to differ).

In contrast to college-life speeding up, my body is frantically telling me to shut down. And, after months of fatigue I’ve realised that I cannot keep up appearances of having it all together when my cells are doing somersaults to fix themselves.

I cannot in fact do everything myself nor should I. Billy Joel’s wise lyrics of Vienna: “You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need” ring true here. It’s ok to ask for the extension. It’s ok to let a friend carry your things for you if they offer. I can’t help having a broken arm. I’d do the same for them. No one is going to give me a medal at the end of this for keeping my pride. Life isn’t quite normal again for me. And maybe it’s a good thing. Amidst the chaos, I need to focus on healing.

And although I am lucky, I still get tired, angry and frustrated. But, hopefully, I’ll be able to come away from this ok, and by the end of recovery I will tie my laces, catch a sliotar, carry library books and finally give my loved ones a two-pronged bear hug. I just need to be patient.

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