It IS A Tumor! On Breaking My First Bone And Learning Not To Be A Whiny Baby About Needing Help While It Heals

Did you know you use your hands for EVERYTHING?
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Lesley Kinzel
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Did you know you use your hands for EVERYTHING?

There are few sentences you want to hear less in urgent care than: “There’s something suspicious on your X-ray.”

What probably happened was that you were having a ragefit and grabbed for your phone, which was sitting in one of those car-dashboard cradle things, and in so doing, bent your left ring finger waaaay back further than it is supposed to go, and in the wrong direction, and it hurt, and when you withdraw your hulk-hand you realize -- by feel only, because you cannot bear to look -- that that finger is sort of…wrong now. It doesn’t seem to go with the rest of your hand any longer. It’s like evil gnomes came and stole your regular finger and hapahazardly stuck an unfamiliar one in its place, like you’re not going to notice that.

So, because you’re a solutions-minded individual, you take that finger and force it back into line with the rest of your fingers, and as you do you feel it snap into place like a LEGO brick, and you think, ah, see? I fixed it.

You don’t want to go to the hospital, nope. So you wrap your finger to the one next to it with some gauze from the first aid kit in your dayhike backpack, tie the wrapping securely in a knot, and and go on with your day, which includes plans to go apple-picking.

But then, the next day, it hurts. It hurts a surprising amount! And you think, Yeah, I should probably go to urgent care, but you don’t right away. It’s not just a matter of not wanting to go to the doctor -- you’re not a person who avoids the doctor anymore. But you keep thinking, in the very back of your mind, “I don’t want to go to an unfamiliar medical facility and see a doctor who will maybe possibly be a jerk to me because I’m fat.”

This is absurd! You know it’s absurd! But it’s a thing that sticks in your head anyway, because you’ve had experiences -- urgent and otherwise -- in which this is exactly what happened, and you know you need to consider that as a possibility before you go, just so you’re steeled for it. Because you’re not anxious enough already, what with the pain and all.

After several hours, you finally make up your mind to go. You hit an urgent care clinic not far from home. They are very nice. They assess your injury and take x-rays. Yes, it’s broken! Wow! I’ve never broken a bone before! Oh, and there’s something else. The break happened through a bone which looks suspicious on your X-ray. Wait, what? Suspicious how?

“Moth-eaten.”

A shudder pours over you like a bucket of icy water. You can feel it wash over you in a literal way, starting at the top of your head, sliding over your face, crashing past your shoulders, its frigid shock drenching you to the -- bones. You’ll need to follow up with a specialist. It might be a GOOD thing that this happened! It might have brought light to a much more serious problem you didn’t know you had! 

Wait, what kind of problem?

Well, you know, there’s some kind of lesion in there -- it’s probably just a cyst or something benign, but we need to rule out something much more serious, like myeloma. 

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. 

A couple hours after The Break, really quite sure that EVERYTHING IS NORMAL AND FINE.

A couple hours after The Break, really quite sure that EVERYTHING IS NORMAL AND FINE.

I don’t have cancer. Well, I don’t have cancer in that particular spot. Yet. There’s a very slim chance, as with almost any tumor, that it could turn evil at some point and become fired with new cancerous life. I also suppose I could have cancer elsewhere and just not know it yet. I read somewhere once that elderly dead people are stuffed full of tumors of varied levels of menace, that loads of people are all tumory and just don’t know because they’re asymptomatic. Bodies are terrifying.

My reaction to “There’s something suspicious on your X-ray” was typical for me. I obsessively read everything the Internet has to offer on bone tumors, back to the 20-somethingth page of Google results. Then I broke down the most common tumors and researched them individually. I compared my X-rays -- which I took copies of, of course -- with hundreds of radiology sites. I am probably the patient doctors hate. Everything they say, I’m all, “Oh yeah, I saw that on the Internet.” 

A week later, when I finally received firm confirmation that it was a variety of benign cartilage-freakout-tumor -- an enchondroma, to be precise -- I had already made the same diagnosis. Medical school, pshaw. I don't mean that. My compulsive urge to research my own paranoid hypochondria is a hinderance as often as it is a help. Still, it’s how I manage the anxiety.

Also, can I note that “benign” is a total misnomer? I mean, this thing did contribute to my fractured bone. Benign is a slow-witted dog or a soft blanket or a gentle breeze. Benign doesn’t break fingers.

I’ve handled the experience like a huge whiny depressed baby, for the most part. Did you know you use your hands for EVERYTHING? I watch strangers glibly employing their fingers without a second thought and I seethe with jealousy. Compounding this was the fact that for that first terrible week, I was strapped to a huge and ungainly splint that made doing everything impossible. Also, it hurt a lot. Whine whine whine. Way to take your usual able-bodiedness for granted, Lesley.

The upside, however -- and yes, I find an upside to everything -- is that this problem has forced me to slow down. Strangely, I am less harried and stressed during the day, because I know everything is going to take me twice as long as it usually does. Making tea? A painstaking effort in not burning myself. Showering? An elaborate production of dropping things. Writing this very piece? FOREVER. Merely typing is a zen practice.

I also have an extreme aversion to asking anyone for help, and this has forced me to confront that too. This weekend, I dictated instructions to my husband so he could supply the hands to make Aloo Gobi (one of my most beloved comfort foods, I like the Manjula’s Kitchen recipe here) and I didn’t have to try to endanger myself and the whole household including all my innocent produce by wielding a knife. (I tried to cut up a tomato by myself the first day. The results were tragically murdery to the tomato.) 

In urgent care, when the doctor made that, “This could be a good thing because it will bring attention to MAYBE CANCER!” comment, I was aghast. I couldn’t see how this could possibly be a good thing. A GOOD thing is you don’t have any tumors or cancer and your bones will all be fine. 

But I know that’s not entirely true. We can't avoid bad things forever. And while there has been plenty of frustration and annoyance and self-pity, I’ve also gotten a lot of good out of this experience, in terms of slowing my life (and brain) down and allowing myself to rely on help from other people. And I’ll also probably appreciate my hands a lot more when I have the full use of both back in another month or two. There’s always a silver lining to these things, if you can figure out how to look for it. Although I’ve definitely had a couple of wallowy moments, I see no point to focusing on the unpleasantness when I can find even the tiniest shred of positivity to appreciate.