CONTENT WARNING: Implications of domestic violence
The bone had healed wrong, or so the doctor said. I’d squinted real hard at the x-ray and couldn’t see what he saw. Everything looked perfectly aligned along my cream-white, transparent and floating collarbone.
How did bones connect, I wondered while squeezing my cold hands together, nodding indifferently to the garble of medical terminology slipping between his perfectly white, straight, smiling teeth.
Malunion fracture of the clavicle. Not an uncommon abnormality when considering the extent of blunt force trauma impressed upon the glenohumeral and sternoclavicular joints.
I felt fine, had for about a month now. The sling and my cramped arm stretched back out just fine. The bruising had disappeared. Swelling diminished. I could push, pull, shove, swing, throw just fine.
But still, a malunion fracture of the clavicle.
The doctor clamped another x-ray next to the malunion, to compare the two, he said. Just so I could see the difference, since apparently I couldn’t.
The same light filtered through my right collarbone as my left. Then he pointed a manicured finger at those joints and traced the bridge between the two. Still cream white, transparent, and floating, but smooth and straight.
I looked at both and saw the difference. One was stacked atop the next. The bone was not one but two.
I sat on my cold hands then, unsure of myself. My toes clenched and unclenched, and I became viscerally aware of the joints in my feet. Those bones weren’t stacked but perfectly aligned, still floating and held by joints, folding and unfolding, clenching and unclenching.
They had, of course, tried to straighten the bone. I’d come in after the fall, you know the fall, where you tumble and spiral and slam and lose sense of everything, dizzied and lost.
First at the top of the stairs, then at the bottom, wondering how in the world had we gotten here. They asked questions, they did. The receptionist, the L.P., the R.N., the M.D..
How did you get there?
That’s the same question I was asking, how funny, and then I would laugh nervously, each time the same. And I’d squeeze my cold hands together and shrug.
The shrugging hurt, it sure did. So they gently pushed and prodded, a closed reduction, and said ice and rest and therapy – of any kind, a nurse interjected – would fix the fall and the bone.
But now a malunion of the bone splayed out on the x-ray with light blasting through the joints and the cracks and the bones and the seams.
Two options, he said.
Realignment to improve upper extremity function. Re-break to realign the fracture. A trimming to re-orient. Insertion of pins and a bone graft, possible.
Or, of course, to leave the malunion as is, since it was, as I said, hardly noticeable.
I felt that spinning sense again, the re-tumble, the flail, the stairs all over.
Now that he mentioned it, I could feel a little prick of pain between the fusion of the two parts, and if I closed my eyes I could trace the seam of pain to both joints on either side of the malunion. And if I thought hard enough, I could feel the pain puddle in the joints and leak into the other bones, whatever those are called, and drip into the marrow and seep into the tissue and the muscle and the heart.
Since he mentioned it, I think my heart hurt most. Maybe those aortas hadn’t fused right, either.
Stress cardiomyopathy for sudden, acute stress.
Made sense, considering the fall.
He leaned in then, just enough to make me freeze. No, he said, not just one fall could do that, no, but many, many falls, repeated, could.
Maybe it had been more than once, I couldn’t remember. All the dizziness left a person wondering if they could remember anything at all.
My choice, though. He left it up to me.
I sat there on my hands, waiting for me to decide, knowing perfectly well I hadn’t yet and probably wouldn’t still.
A knock, just then. A nurse popped in, just her head around the door, floating against the white. The reports, she had them for the doctor at station nine.
She saw the x-rays, anyone could. Cocked her head, compared the two. I must have looked as white and transparent and fragile as my bones. She stepped inside and shut the door.
You have options, you know, she said. Real nice and slow. She came in close, not like the doctor who made me freeze, but warm and soft. She reached for my good hand, the right one, where everything was in place. She squeezed, gentle-like, and whispered real quiet, happened to me, once, too.
She offered her two cents: a clean break through. Blast that malunion apart and realign. It’d probably need a screw or two to hold it altogether, but you’ll be okay, she said. She meant it, too.
I heard her voice and nodded clear. No fuzziness, dizziness, I knew exactly what to do. I took my hands, warmed now, and pointed at the bone, not on the screen, but on me, right above my heart.
I’ll take the break, a clean break this time, right here. Thank you.
MAL-UNION by Meckenna Holman won third place in Saint Paul Almanac’s Break Through Writing Contest in the category of flash fiction.