One day last fall I came home from work to find my backyard filled with an enormous trampoline. My fifteen-year-old son and a couple of his friends were busy taking turns performing stunts that would impress a circus acrobat – front and back flips, rodeo and misty flips. To make the tricks even more hair-raising, Mark had taken a skateboard, removed the trucks, and added snowboard bindings. "It will help me to perfect my snowboarding moves this winter, Dad," he said.
I watched the show from a distance for several days. Then, like a moth drawn to a flame, I finally made my move. "You know," I said to the boys as I climbed up on the trampoline, "I used to be able to do a back flip too." That this was thirty five years ago when I was their age I neglected to mention.
After bouncing a few times to get the feel of the trampoline, I awkwardly hurled my feet over my head with all my force and landed with a resounding thud. A sharp pain shot through my left arm and neck. "Are you all right, Dad," my son said with concern as I laid stunned on the surprisingly hard black canvass. "I'm okay," I groaned as I crawled off the trampoline, only then noticing the manufacturer's warning printed on the skirt that flips can result in paralysis or even death.
The very next week, as many friends told me, Marketplace ran a short on the dangers of trampolines. Oh well, I wouldn't have watched it anyway. And if I did, I wouldn't have paid any attention. I like to learn things the hard way.
As it turned out, I wasn't really okay. My neck was too stiff to turn for two weeks. And then there was my arm. When it was still too sore to use normally after a month, I reluctantly heeded my wife Jean's urging and went to the doctor. The X-ray revealed that my arm was broken. It had to be put in a cast that extended from up under my armpit down to my fingers. But did I get any sympathy from my son when I came home from the hospital with my arm encased in plaster? Speaking from five years experience playing competitive hockey, he said,"No big deal. People get casts all the time."
Well, the cast certainly was a big deal for me. It drove me absolutely bananas. I felt like an animal whose arm was caught in a trap. The more I thought about it the worse it got. During the day I was able to channel my frustrations into long walks with Jean. She enjoyed the walks but found my daytime restlessness mildly amusing. The nights were a different story. As soon as I hit the bed, I was overcome by an arm-centric claustrophobia. My fingers began to tingle as if their blood supply was being cut off and the feeling that the cast was closing in on me intensified. The only way to stop thinking about the cast was to go downstairs and, mellowed by a few beers, watch late night TV until my mind went blank. Reduced to two or three hours of sporadic sleep, I had to move into the spare bedroom so that Jean could at least get some shut-eye.
Periodically, I was overcome by a terrible and uncontrollable urge to cut the cast off, particularly when I got sleepy. On one such occasion I cut the cast down to just above the elbow. On another, I removed the strip that constrained the palm of my hand. This provided some relief, but still I could not get enough rest.
In response to my plea for something, my general practitioner prescribed sleeping pills. These enabled me to sleep but did not alleviate the anxiety about the cast when awake. When Jean and I went on a trip to Yellowknife, I carelessly left the magic pills behind. Again to my distress the result was no sleep. Instead I passed the night reading John Crosbie's entertaining memoirs in the bathroom of a small hotel room while Jean tried to snooze. The next day, I purchased some over-the counter sleeping pills from the local drugstore. They weren't strong enough and didn't work very well, but at least they were better than nothing. When we stopped in Edmonton to see my oldest daughter, I got a separate hotel room for me and my cast.
Once back in Ottawa, I went for my checkup. The grey-bearded orthopedist, who kindly contained his mirth when he heard how I broke my arm, did not seem put out that I had trimmed the cast down to size. Apparently, it is quite common for patients to take the matter into their own hands. I was given a shiny new fiberglass replacement, which was much harder than plaster and more difficult to do surgery on.
At first, and despite trimming a few millimeters from around the thumb and fingers I felt even more trapped than before. So I snuck out to the hardware store and bought a heavy duty metal cutter. It gave me a feeling of comfort to know that it was nearby and available to cut the cast into bits if my anxiety became too great to stand.
In addition, Jean, a great believer in alternative medical treatments, suggested a homeopathic remedy. By this point I was desperate and ready to try anything. To my surprise not only did a remedy for cast-o-phobia exist, but, more importantly, it seemed to work.
The real turning point came in a telephone conversation with my boyhood friend, Frank, now a California physician. When I complained about my plight, he snorted "The trouble with you is that you've lived a charmed life where nothing really bad has ever happened. That's why you're taking it so hard. And those sleeping pills, don't take them they're going to re-pattern your brain."
Scared by that cryptic admonition, I stopped the sleeping pills cold that very night. While I only managed to get a few brief winks, the next night I was so tired I slept like a baby. And so it was on subsequent nights.
After five weeks I went back to have the arm checked. The two-hour wait at the hospital became worthwhile when my ears were filled with the sweet sound of the orthopedist giving the order to the pretty young technician to take off my cast. Using a special non-invasive buzz saw, she quickly cut away both sides of the cast and pried it off. Handing the remains to me, she asked if I wanted it as a souvenir. In a single fluid motion the cast went from her hand to my hand to the wastebasket across the room.
While my hand and arm hurt even more than when the cast went on, it didn't matter. I was free of the shackles of my cast. Now I could go snowboarding with my son and learn how to get some air.