Four things I learned by breaking my collarbone.

Earlier this summer I was out for a pretty normal bike ride in the morning before work. As I rode along a paved trail in the early morning quiet, I broke my collarbone. Actually, that’s not entirely true…The ride was interrupted by “something”, then panic, then flight (which was surprisingly peaceful), then landing. I’m pretty sure it was this last part where I broke my collarbone.

Broken Collarbone
Apparently it's not supposed to look like that.

In fact, I did such a thorough job breaking my collarbone that it took a metal plate and 8 screws to put it back together.

That's right, I'm bionic.

I’m a fan of watching the Tour de France on TV every summer. In fact, if I had more vacation time and money, I would have joined a friend we met in Jordan who rode from London to Paris this summer to catch the finish. Inevitably during the course of that ridiculously long race there are crashes, and quite frequently, the result is a broken collarbone. I’d never broken a bone before so I could never understand how the riders, and even the announcers, always seemed to know right away. Well, now I know. When I broke mine, there was little doubt, even before the x-rays.

It also taught me a few things. Now these aren’t life changing lessons. I’ll leave that to religious figures, infomercial stars, and people with lists of habits. These are just things I found interesting:

1) People are generally nice.

I live in a big city. Ok, Toronto’s not New York, London or Tokyo, but it’s big enough, especially by Canadian standards. As the movie Let’s All Hate Toronto points out, this leads some to think that the people here are all cold, rude and self-centred. My crash reminded me that once again – sadly I’ve learned this lesson before – that when you really need help, complete strangers will be there, even in a big city.

I was in Toronto when I crashed, but I was down on the network of trails that run through the city, where getting help isn’t exactly easy. I had my phone with me and was able to call an ambulance and ask for help, but apparently the name of a street I passed 10 minutes earlier and a view of “trees” is not the most helpful directions, so they were having a hard time finding me. Fortunately, within a couple of minutes a woman named Judy, who was out walking with her sister and mother, came along. Judy sat with me to keep me company while her mother and sister walked out to help flag down the ambulance. They weren’t alone either, every person who walked, rode or ran by stopped to ask if they could help in some way.

2) Cultural norms can be really well engrained.

One of the more amusing things I noticed during my recovery was how people reacted to handshakes. I broke my right collarbone which meant that I couldn’t really shake hands with people. People seemed to react in three different ways: panic, avoidance and adaptation.

Panic

Some people just didn’t know what to do and were visibly thrown. Typically they started for the handshake, realized the problem and then just froze, not sure what to do next. Best dealt with by smiling and moving the conversation along before things got really awkward.

Avoidance

Similar to panic, these people recognize the problem, but aren’t as thrown. They just move along themselves so I’d roll with it.

Adaptation

These are my favourites. There is no panic and no avoidance, they just embrace the change. The best examples were those who went for the left hand shake without missing a beat and my personal favourite the immediate high five. (I was less fond of shoulder slappers who chose the right arm, for obvious reasons.)

I’ll definitely be keeping the adaptors in mind the next time I travel to a far off country. As much as you read ahead, there are always little things, like greetings, that sometimes catch you off-guard. Best thing you can do is roll with it and try and have some fun.

3) It’s surprising what you can learn when you have to.

I’m right handed. I broke my right collarbone. It seems I had previously underestimated how much ‘righty’ is my go to arm. I knew that writing, throwing and the various things that we associate “handedness” with would be tough for awhile. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much I depend on ‘righty’ for daily things like shaving, cutting food, and most surprisingly brushing my teeth. Turns out there is a lot more fine motor skill involved in tooth brushing than I knew. Even a simple visit to the toilet can be more difficult. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

I took this as an opportunity to work on being ambidextrous. The highlight was the reaction from some waiters at a local Vietnamese restaurant when they realized I was a righty using chopsticks left-handed. The lesson? Faced with a challenge you can either complain and mope, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn a new skill to impress people.

4) A sense of humour never hurts.

My natural reaction to things is a joke. Not necessarily a good joke, but regardless of the situation I’d rather be trying to laugh or get a laugh. Not everyone thinks this way, and attempts at humour were met with a range of reactions. Some quick examples from the health care system:

  • Paramedics are good for a laugh, I figure it’s the only way they can get through a day that must involve seeing a lot of people in difficult situations without going crazy.
  • Surgeons? Too busy for funny.
  • Hospital reception staff? No sense of humour at all. Maybe the surgeons removed it.
  • Nurses are similar to the paramedics, but they seemed a bit thrown by jokes from someone who is about to go into surgery. Case in point:
Nurse: Hi. I’m Cathy, the IV Nurse. I’ll be setting up your IV for the surgery.
Me: Cathy The IV Nurse? That’s a convenient last name for someone in your field of work.
Nurse: Huh? What… Oh, ha ha, right. [Sympathetic smile.]
 

Look, I said they weren’t necessarily good jokes. The point remains, when you’re faced with a difficult situation, whether it’s someone cutting you open to screw you back together, a lost bag, a missed flight or difficult border official, why get angry and stressed when you could make a bad joke?

Not surprisingly my collarbone’s unexpected decision to try and exit my chest definitely changed the course of my summer. No volleyball on the beach every Tuesday night, no running, no more cycling, and no attempt to survive a triathlon. I couldn’t even drive a car for a few weeks. The important part is, I’m good to travel now and the count down is on for the next big trip.

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4 thoughts on “Four things I learned by breaking my collarbone.

Add yours

  1. Life happens so good to know that there are helpful people around every corner…even on a bike trail somewhere in Toronto on that fateful morning! Your quick recovery will make your next trip even sweeter!

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