The 5 Stages of Grief: Healing a Broken Heart Caused by a Broken Bone

Life truly started to feel like it was on auto-pilot. Everything in 2018 was going off without a hitch–an amazing waitressing job, early graduation from college, a perfect trip to Peru…wrangling at the HF Bar Ranch in northern Wyoming was just the next step in my plan for the year.

Since I was 11 years old, my time as a guest at the HF Bar was usually spent being awe-struck by (and jealous of) the wrangling staff. Everyone who worked for this destination dude ranch had a cool job, whether they were working in the kitchen, the dining room, or keeping grounds and cabins clean. But I wanted the wrangling job on every level. I wanted the early morning gathers, the long rides in the mountains, the clinking spurs, the dirty fingernails, the sore legs and strange tan-lines. When I got the job, I swore to love every dusty, exhausted, wondrous moment of it.

I wasn’t expecting a broken arm when my horse took off across the rocky pasture during a morning wrangle. Part of me knew I was in trouble, but not career-ending trouble. Just a moderate, bruised-up, joke-about-it-in-two-weeks amount of trouble. So on the chilly, post-storm morning of May 23rd, when I hit the wet ground hard and awkward enough to break my left humerus into three pieces and damage the nerves above my left ankle, surprise was definitely the first emotion I consciously remember feeling.

Anger was the second emotion. It settled in around the time that I realized I was significantly structurally damaged, when I unsuccessfully tried to roll myself over and sit up. I learned quickly that my shoulder was not connected to my elbow, and that getting back down the trails to the road would be a treacherously bumpy ride in the ranch’s side by side UTV. Needless to say I ended up covering some of the distance on foot.

The third emotion hit when the ER tech told me I wouldn’t ride a horse for another four months. That one was complete and utter heartbreak, unlike anything else I had ever experienced. The tech didn’t know that those three months were really the only three months I had to ride. She didn’t understand that I didn’t have horses waiting for me at home. She didn’t realize that I wasn’t a resident of arguably my favorite state in the country, and that this accident was taking a large chunk out of what should have been the best summer of my life. I distracted myself with the daunting task of calling my parents and explaining what happened, which they handled in a shockingly calm manner.

The fourth emotion was embarrassment. I was a wrangler for a grand whopping total of 4 days. This one settled in upon my return to the ranch with an armpit-to-wrist splint and sling, a severely bruised ego and the pity of my coworkers. The following three days lacked showers, changes of clothes, and any hopes of a decent sleep. The job had chewed me up and spat me out on my ass. Hard.

The flight home was long and bumpy, the surgery was forgettable, the recovery period was a blur of depression and Netflix, and the stately 10-inch scar was revealed when the stitches were removed (I believe my father’s exact words were “holy s***”). As the swelling went down, I found that if I angled my forearm the right way, the bottom edge of the titanium plate bulged against my skin, creating a questionable little lump hard enough to knock out teeth.

Those two weeks were characterized by pain that wasn’t felt in my arm, but deep in my heart and my gut. I refused meds, almost as a way to punish myself for my foolishness. If I was going to screw up such an incredible opportunity that badly, I was going to feel the sharp pangs of the repercussions until they healed organically, without the reprieve of narcotics.

And then, one day, I could bend my elbow enough to wash my face with two hands again. And then I could wash my hair. Soon after I could extend my left hand just enough to tie my running shoes, and then I could do three or four miles without significant pain. I quickly realized that small successes become celebration-worthy victories when they contrast extreme anger and frustration.

A month had gone by. I wasn’t back to a perfect range of motion yet, and I still had significant limits on what I could lift. But upon return to the HF Bar, they informed me that they needed a new baker. Granted, the extent of my baking experience was comprised of opening boxes of brownie mix and trying to follow the instructions without burning their precious yield, but I was up for the challenge. If it meant salvaging my summer and getting a steady paycheck, I was all in. Flour flew, sugar spilled, and my hands and forearms had new burn marks every week, but I quickly realized how much enjoyment I was going to get out of working in the kitchen.

I forced forgiveness upon myself once I was cleared for all activity in early August. My last doctor’s appointment was on the 3rd, and I was on a horse again on the 5th, 10.5 weeks after the accident. The scar is a deep scarlet color, and it attracts the occasional glance from passing strangers and restaurant patrons. As the Boston weather gets colder, my left elbow is a little slow to wake up on early mornings.

Pride is the fifth and final installment of emotion associated with the wreck. It’s a bold move, being proud of something so jarring for others to look at. It isn’t by accidental forgetfulness that I don’t slather cream on the large uneven line every morning. Mederma has made millions of dollars off of their magical scar-fading ointment, and it even found its way into my CVS shopping basket in my blind, post-operation fury. What keeps the tube sealed is the my 11 year-old self. She cherished her small scar when she split her chin open in 5th grade. If I tried to fade this memory away, she would hate me for it.

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