Back when I was actively learning to ride and then riding as often as I could cough up the money, I also fell off horses. I don’t mean I was bucked off. No, it was the more embarrassing thing. Trying to jump a little tree limb on the path, I was positioned wrong and just fell off. Once, I fell off because a couple of German Shepherds came out of a backyard and did a lot of loud barking and the horse kicked back at them. I slid half off, then hit a tree … and I was down.
I remembered the most important thing for a falling rider: hang onto the reins. If you let go, the horse will go home to his or her barn, leaving you on the trail. You may not even know the way back because it wasn’t uncommon to send people out on the trail alone and when you said: “How do I know where I’m going?” you were told: “The horse knows.”
I was never entirely happy with that answer. Horses love their stables. That’s where the food and the water trough are located. Mostly, they didn’t want to leave it in the first place, so if there’s a shortcut, they will use it. Several times, I had a horse go a couple of hundred feet, make a u-turn and trot joyfully back to the stable.
The horse knew the way. It merely wasn’t the way I wanted to go.
In the course of falling off horses while hanging onto the reins (or if that didn’t work, the stirrup), I damaged the ligaments in my right shoulder. I was young and it only bothered me when the arm was fully extended and the elbow was locked straight, so I figured, “One of these days, I’ll have it repaired.”
It was a simple repair. Other — more urgent — stuff came up through the years. My spine (falling off horses didn’t do my back much good, either) and a growth on my right leg that required a replacement of a big piece of bone and six months on crutches. I became a really good hopper. At 15, hopping was faster than crutches. My mother said I was ruining the carpeting.
Then there was a ruptured ovary from an ignored ovarian cyst … and the next thing I knew, I graduated college and I was having a baby. Then, there was work.
So for all these years, I have had a bad right shoulder. It didn’t get worse over time, but it didn’t get better either.
In November, I bought bird feeders and not long after that, I got a great long lens to take pictures of the birds. All of which has involved holding still with the heavy camera supported mainly by my right arm and trying to stay focused on one small area — the one where I’m sure the birds will show up.
A few weeks ago, that shoulder started to really hurt. Not while I was shooting, but at night when I was trying to sleep. I got a cortisone shot in that shoulder which helped calm it down, but I still have to prop it up on a pillow or the weight of my arm pulls on that old, damaged ligament.
I went to a bone and joint doctor and asked if I could get it fixed. He agreed it needed fixing but as to actually fixing it?
I double and triple checked his opinion and the answer didn’t change. It turns out there really is a finite amount of time during which you can fix broken pieces of yourself. In my case, that ligament had lost its elasticity and of course, arthritis had invaded the joint, so no one wanted to mess with it.
Add to that the number of major surgeries I’ve already had and no doctor wants to mess with me unless it’s a matter of life or death.
The shoulder was damaged while I was in my late teens, so I have had sufficient time to get it fixed. There have been too many other medical emergencies, so it never seemed critical. Now, using a heavier camera and a pretty big lens, that shoulder and I are having a rough time. My right arm really hurts. I have spent the week not taking pictures because my shoulder needs to rest. It’s frustrating and there’s nothing I can do about it … except give it a rest.
About 15 years ago, Garry had his shoulder fixed. Tommy John surgery for you baseball fans and for everyone else, tendons, rotator cuff, ligaments et al. It was a big surgery. His pitching arm went all to hell and I don’t see another Major League Baseball contract in the future. Meanwhile, his other shoulder has punked out too, but no one is willing to fix it. He’s at an age where soft connective tissues don’t heal well. Predictions for the outcome of the surgery aren’t great.
Pieces of us are finite. There’s a limit to how long you can wait to fix something and if you wait too long, oops. I was surprised. I always figured I’d deal with that shoulder “one of these days.”
I ran out of days.
Finite. Not infinity.