— Mikhail Baryshnikov
Russian dancer and actor
(b. Jan. 27, 1948)
It is Day 3 of my recovery.
As I sit at my office desk on a Tuesday confronting this sometimes cantankerous computer in an afternoon showdown to determine who writes and who wrongs, I am jolted back into reality by the sharp pain in my right side. To be specific, it is rib No. 11.
Medical publications, and the doctors who write them, sometimes call it a “false rib.”
Some of the same medicine men, and women for the politically correct, also know it as a “floating rib.”
For those who yearn to know why, it’s because rib No. 11 has no anterior connection to the sternum. Nor does No. 12. Anatomically speaking, I suppose they are homeless when viewing the rib cage and its surrounding fleet of cartilage as a house.
Whether No. 11 is false or floating is of little concern to me. By any other name, mine still hurts. To those who would call it a rose, I would say, “My rose hurts.”
Three days ago, after spending the latter end of a Saturday afternoon working in the yard, my body performed a south Cleveland impersonation of Nik Wallenda. The difference is Nik successfully traversed a quarter-of-a-mile worth of steel cable across a 1,500-foot-deep Grand Canyon gorge. On the same weekend, I couldn’t even walk down the front steps of our home.
Here’s what happened.
Having finished watering three hanging baskets of ferns on the front porch, me and the water hose turned to descend the same set of wooden steps that we had just climbed.
The porch steps were wet, a result of my watering.
I was tired, a result of a long afternoon in the hot sun.
I was late finishing the day, a result of being late starting the day.
Planting my right foot on what was supposed to be the top step, I soon regretted the action. The step was not where I thought I had left it. The foot plunged into thin air before landing near the front edge of the second step ... which, as I said, was wet ... thereby causing my dirty yard shoes (the same ones from last week) to slip. As the foot slid forward and upward, the leg, buttocks, shoulders and back followed.
Acting as a team, all affected body parts went airborne. Despite the absence of video surveillance tapes for verification, I am pretty sure most of me briefly levitated before crashing to the angular steps below, compliments of carelessness and gravity.
Multiple parts of my being tested the worthiness of the steps. True to belief, they were solid. Making unconditional contact with wood at different points were my head, shoulder, right elbow, hip, upper thigh ... and rib No. 11.
Stunned like a featherweight from a George Foreman right hook, I howled a select descriptive. I’m pretty sure all in the rural neighborhood heard the scream, even the animals.
Cows in the pasture across the way looked up, but didn’t lose a beat in their rhythmic chewing of the cud. Squirrels stopped their scurry but only for a flitter. And two crows in the distance heckled in a call of the wild.
All returned to their routines upon seeing it was only me.
Amid the crash, the cry and the clamor, I still held the water hose.
On Monday morning, I visited the doctor. Bruised, battered, walking like a man thrown under the bus, I gave him my story. He wasn’t my regular doctor in this respected practice of five. Mine was out of the office that week on a medical recovery of his own.
But this one was just as talented, professional in his way and dry in his wit. He had last treated me years earlier for a common cold. At the time, I was approaching a vacation and didn’t want to be hampered with sneezes and sniffles while having fun on the Florida beach. So, in the examination room I asked, “Doc, you got any miracle drugs that will knock this stuff out before I leave town?”
With a perplexed frown, he turned to a lower cabinet, opened it, peered in and then closed it. He then pulled out a drawer above the cabinet, sorted through a few medical utensils, shook his head and closed it back.
Turning to me on his swivel stool, he offered, “We’re out.”
Like I said, he’s a man of few words and rare insight.
During Monday’s visit, I told him of my latest plight, of the sad misstep and my subsequent journey into unplanned pain. I should point out here I will not identify the doctor by name. If word got out that he passed on the chance to oversee my euthanasia, his career would face more medical review boards than Jack Kevorkian.
After listening in silence to the narrative of my front porch spill, his first question was, “Did you say a dirty word?”
“Not during flight,” I answered. “That didn’t come until impact ... but it was a doozy!”
“Well, that shouldn’t delay the healing process ... too much,” he offered calmly.
Granted, I hadn’t considered its influence on my healing when opining about the fall. I was too concerned about the hereafter and how many points the expletive had cost me. At this age, I can ill afford the loss of too many more.
After exiting the examination room to read the X-ray, and seeking the opinion of a second doctor (I could hear them talking out in the hall), he returned. With trained hands but cold fingers, he poked around on the damaged rib cage. Seconds later I flinched and assured him he had found the sore spot. So he poked it again. I repeated the caution and he poked once more. I think this time he was smiling.
That’s when he told me about rib No. 11.
The X-ray was inconclusive, he advised. No. 11 might be cracked. Might not be. Floating ribs are tough nuts to crack, but stranger things have happened. Especially to me.
He prescribed a few days worth of anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs. We parted with a friendly handshake, a courteous “nice to see you again” and the precautionary, “Watch that first step. It’s a doozy, too.”
I can’t recall which of us said it. But it seemed appropriate.
In closing, he told me he reads most of my columns. He didn’t say whether or not he likes them.
I guess we’ll find out.
Until then, it’s time to go home and ice down No. 11.