Health: I'd give my right arm for a good old scratch: Life isn't easy when you've broken a wrist, but it helps to carry a skewer in your handbag, as Judy Graham discovered

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I am typing this with one hand, the left one. My right arm is encased in plaster and hoisted up in a sling that looks like a remnant from the Crimean War.

'What did you do?' people ask, expecting a tale of high drama. But I was simply standing in the kitchen getting a banana out of the fruit bowl when I went over on my ankle, fell, and broke my wrist. Just like that.

''Very common in elderly women,' muttered the youthful consultant as he prodded the broken bones. I would have socked him a right-hander had I been in any position to do so. But the fact is that this Colles's fracture, a rather nasty break of the wrist bones, is one of the most common injuries in women over 40. I am 47. It happens when you try to break a fall by putting an arm out and crash on to a hard floor.

Actually breaking your wrist is not too painful. But setting it is the stuff of horror movies. 'We'll have to drain your arm of blood,' the young consultant told me. They do this by blocking off the circulation at the top of your arm with a torturingly tight tourniquet. This is to stop the local anaesthetic getting to your heart.

Your arm slowly turns from a blotchy mottled colour to deathly pale, to the waxy yellow of a cadaver. When it is as limp and lifeless as a rag doll, they put the anaesthetic into your hand. Next comes the bone manipulation to click things back into place. It sounds like someone eating a Crunchy bar.

My arm had now been bloodless for 25 minutes. 'How long can a limb last without blood?' I asked the medical student standing next to me. 'The absolute maximum is about four hours,' he said. Then he added informatively, 'That's why people trapped in earthquakes have to have their limbs amputated on site. Otherwise they get gangrene.'

There was another agonising wait while the X-rays were developed. My arm looked like it should already be in the hospital morgue. The consultant furrowed a brow at the X-ray pictures. 'It'll do,' he said, undoing the tourniquet. The blood rushed downwards and I gave a little scream from the piercing pins and needles as my arm turned pink. 'This is worse than breaking the bone,' I told the medical student. He seemed glad it was all over.

'Just pop your arm on the bed,' said the nurse putting on the plaster. This is a messy business, even though they cover you in plastic sheeting. 'Come back if your fingers turn blue,' she said when it was finished. 'And whatever you do, don't get it wet.'

So how do you have a bath? Not easy, and very slow. You heave yourself in, dangle your plaster cast over the side, lather the soap somehow with your left hand, wash, then precariously heave yourself out.

Daily life is hard without your right hand. It takes ages just to get dressed. And by the time you have fiddled about trying to do up your watchstrap, you notice it is 10 minutes later. 'Never undo your bra,' advised one friend in her fifties who had broken her right wrist in a mild bout of doing the Twist. Good advice. I climb into it in the morning, and climb out of it at night, never attempting to grapple with hook and eye.

It is the same with trousers. I tried a pair with a zip and button. But when I could not do them up in a public toilet and had to walk down the street sure they would fall down, I bought two pairs with elasticated waists. Now I just wriggle in and wriggle out. When doing your hair you must choose between a brush or a hairdryer, not both at the same time; and if you try to put on make-up with your left hand, you end up with squiggly lines round your eyes.

My left-handed handwriting looks like a child's scrawl and I cannot even read what I have written. 'This signature does not match your credit card,' scolded a shop assistant the other day. (I felt like a one-armed bandit.) To make sure that did not happen with cheques, I went to my bank to give another specimen signature. The staff giggled.

Somehow you manage without your right hand and it is amazing what you can do with other bits of your anatomy when you have to. I rip open envelopes with my teeth, grip screw-top bottles between my knees, press light switches with my chin, and lever open door handles with my elbow.

The kitchen is more of a challenge and cooking has taken a definite nosedive. Le Creuset casseroles, heavy enough for two hands, are impossible to lift with one. I use a skewer to pierce open milk cartons - except that milk squirts everywhere. And I avoid things that are antipathetic to cutlery such as avocados. It is advisable not to go out to eat; it is just too embarrassing - mostly because you end up eating with your fingers.

On top of these petty frustrations there is pain, blunted by regular paracetamol. 'Always keep your arm up and supported, otherwise it will swell up,' the nurse had warned me. Itching is something they do not tell you about, but it drives you crazy. 'Try poking a knitting needle down your plaster,' advised my Twisting friend. But I am not the type to own a knitting needle. So I tried the skewer, which did the trick. I keep one in my bag.

'Is it OK to use a skewer to scratch with?' I asked the consultant at my first check-up. He threw his pen into the air in horror. 'I only use the blunt end,' I added meekly, attempting to minimise the sin.

Out on the street you feel a bit of a freak all trussed up in your cast and sling, but not in the hospital fracture clinic. Here you are in the company of the limping and the lame; a hobbling collection of the accident-prone of all ages, young men who have overdone the sports bravado, and fragile-boned ladies who have taken a tumble. We sit there comparing injuries, swapping horror stories and drinking hospital tea.

No one had warned me about how they take the plaster off. You can hear the noise from down the corridor. It sounded like a cross between a food mixer and a hedge cutter. In fact it is a sort of rotary bladed drill which cuts the plaster cast open. 'I've never lost an arm yet,' quipped the nurse and she switched it on. 'Always a first,' I felt like saying, but did not.

My arm still in one piece, five minutes later it was encased in a new white plaster. So was much of my navy jacket. 'Come back if your fingers turn blue,' said the nurse. 'And whatever you do, don't get it wet.' As I walked out into the street, it was raining.

(Photograph omitted)