“Oh,” said the doctor on television. “It’s just a strain. Nothing to worry about.”
I always laugh, without much mirth when I hear that and you hear it often. If a bone isn’t broken, if your head hasn’t been bashed in, no one had a heart attack or brain aneurysm, it’s “No big deal.” Most people break.
I do not break. I stretch. I have never broken a bone — not counting my big toe which I broke diving into the water with my toes pointed, something I only did once. Talk about stupid.
I’ve done a ton of damage by stretching, banging, bruising and generally disarranging parts in and around some kind of joint (knees, fingers, feet, ankles, chest, shoulder, wrist, etc.). You non-medical people might be surprised at how many joints we have, many of which are really tiny.
Nonetheless, it’s official. A sprain is no big deal because all the doctors on television said so. We nod like good viewers.
Strains, sprains, and pulls are harder to heal than breaks. Bones usually heal, but cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles may heal and then again, maybe won’t. All those stretchy pieces are in places that can’t be conveniently set. Ribs. Chest walls. Joints. Knees, hips, backs, groins. Ankles, feet, hands. Spines.
You can’t wrap these human parts in plaster or whatever they are using these days because the parts to which they are attached have to move. You break a small bone in your foot — common among hikers, skaters, skiers, runners — and while you can put a boot on the foot or a brace on the knee, you can’t lock it in place. It has to move because there are attached things that need to move.
Your chest needs to move because you need air. When I was just out of the hospital, I asked how long it would take my sternum to heal.
“Three months,” they said.
Five months later I asked, “Really, how long before my chest heals?”
“Six months,” they assured me.
Five years later, it has not healed. The truth is, you can’t make it heal. There’s no magical medical voodoo that will make anything heal. Bones usually heal — but not always. Those stretchy bits are even less cooperative.
When I tore all the ligaments and tendons on my left knee — just about 50 years ago — they wrapped me in plaster from thigh to ankle. I was young and everything healed except the anterior Crucis ligament — which has remained torn. Only surgery will fix it and the surgery doesn’t always work. It was considered a 50-50 bet when I was in my 20s and I turned down the option.
Maybe they’ve improved how they do it now, but since they can’t make my chest heal, I’m betting it’s the same story now. They just work with different equipment. They won’t even try to fix the stretched ligaments in my right shoulder. Healing is slow at my age.
I don’t get repaired. Instead, I am told I have to be more careful.
Exactly how careful can I be beyond how careful I already am? All it takes is a shoe catching on a rug, a damp spot on the floor, a dog underfoot, or getting tangled in my own feet. Garry fell trying to put on his pants and all I did was hit a slightly damp patch on the linoleum floor. We weren’t trying to climb mountains or run the marathon.
Strains may not kill you, but they sure can limit you. It took me years to remember to not fully extend my right arm or it would dislocate the shoulder. More years to remember to put my feet down carefully so my knee wouldn’t slide out from under me. One error, one little fall, and you are back where you were.
It is extremely frustrating, not to mention painful. But really, the pain is less of a problem than the aggravation. There nothing you can do but let that piece of you rest until it decides to feel better.
I’d like to point out that a strain is not less painful than a break or a sprain and is far less likely to heal properly. Strains are like taking the elastic in your pants and stretching it beyond its ability to come back to the correct size. So you either have to replace it (in a human being, that’s called surgery) or throw your luck into the strength of a safety pin.
I often believe we haven’t been strung together with sturdy enough materials. I know I could use a major restringing.