Henry Normal’s Big Break
I’ve broken my arm. Not a great career move.
I’d like to say I damaged it snowboarding in the Himalayas or kite-surfing at the Great Barrier Reef or freebasing the Chrysler Building in New York. But I did it falling off a small step ladder in my back garden while trying to fix my pergola. Not as glamourous or as rock ‘n’ roll but equally as painful. Less Led Zeppelin more Lead Balloon. Less Robert Plant more Japanese Knotweed.
STEP LADDER TO HEAVEN
flying too close to the sun
I never should have stood
on that fourth rung
A lack of care
Some might call it hubris
God clearly thought
I was taking the piss
If only my head
had broken my fall
I’d now be dead
in no pain at all
I remember prior to my accident seeing Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer and being impressed. Now he is rock ‘n’ roll. Even though I’m not a DL fan I take my hat off to him, with my good hand. There are so many brilliant people like Ella Fitzgerald, Frida Kahlo, Cole Porter and others who have overcome the loss of a limb or two and met challenges. I feel inspired, but a heady cocktail of drugs is certainly helping in that respect.
What caused my fall were several rookie mistakes. Firstly, I positioned the metal step ladder on gravel. Not the most stable of bases – one notch above custard. Once up the ladder I leant to the side which is never a good idea. It’s like I was seized by some unconscious death wish or had recently undergone a full-scale lobotomy. As the ladders wobbled, rather than run down them I chose to jump to safety but got my arm caught in the rungs. I proceeded in the direction of the ground but the ladders remained standing and, with the full weight of my body and gravity, my arm was pulled from its socket.
I stood dazed for a moment, my limb flailing loose like a broken doll, until I instinctively put it back in the joint where it came from. I began to lose consciousness but, being at the bottom of the garden, I knew I needed to get back to the house. I stood quite still for a minute breathing heavily. Then, holding the damaged arm with my good hand, I started to walk slowly. The bruised flesh was now a dead weight. I managed to scramble into the house. No one was home. I climbed the stairs and lay on the bed, my side throbbing, my head spinning. It all seemed unreal, like a false memory, a bad day-dream or a nightmare I suppose, only I was awake and the sun was shining.
Thirty minutes later my wife, Angela, returned from the shops and insisted on taking me to hospital. Hastings Conquest Hospital Accident and Emergency looks fairly modern. You have to sign in on a screen to see a doctor. Not the easiest task with a broken arm, especially if it’s your writing arm, as was the case with me. How people in wheelchairs or blind people are meant to cope I’ve no idea. Angela sorted out the screen and I sat with the rest of the ‘walking wounded’ as my dad would call anyone injured. I consoled myself by conceding I probably wasn’t the most serious case in the room.
I was lucky. Within two hours I had had X-rays and was sitting in front of a medic. He informed me that I had a spiral fracture to my humerus bone. He asked me to put my arm on the table and then asked me to lift it. He asked me again and I explained that I was trying. Trying with all my might. This is when it really hit home. I couldn’t move my arm even a millimetre. Nothing. I immediately feared the worse. I’ve severed something. I’d never use my arm again. The sickness in my stomach was overwhelming.
The medic reassured me that the use of my arm would come back but would take at least six weeks, possibly two to three months, before I could dress myself, lift a cup to my lips, write with a pen and wave goodbye with my once dominant hand. I couldn’t shake his hand if he twisted my arm – literally.
My immediate concern was pain relief. If I sat perfectly still the only pain was a dull ache like a toothache in my arm. If I moved at all then sharp pains stabbed my upper arm like a knife being twisted. I was given a small packet of Cocodamol. The problem with Cocodamol was, firstly, the Coco start didn’t mean they tasted of chocolate and, secondly, they caused flatulence and constipation – not a winning combination in itself. Added to a broken arm when you are not at your most able, or your most attractive, it added insult to injury.
NO TO ‘DO IT ALL’ – YES TO ‘DO FUCK ALL’
DIY is not for this OAP
DIY is too close to D.I.E.
I’ve no wish to be R.I.P
Even A & E seems OTT .
As an MO – It’s a big N.O. for me
R & R is better by far
I’m recently retired
not keen to be expired
We shouldn’t be climbing creaky ladders
we’ve enough trouble with leaky bladders
A Black ‘n’ Decker
is not worth breaking y’ neck f’
Don’t be a berk mate
put down that Workmate
I now draw a pension
I’m officially unfit
i just need a bench on
which to sit
to enjoy the years
without further tears
so sod home repairs and all that shit
Ban the saw and spanner
from your four year planner
Forget tongue and groove joints
just so long as you can move joints
Park the Pozidriv
concentrate on staying alive
is not my kind of place
Is not where I get my kicks
WICKES – It’s for dicks
THE RANGE – I just find strange
B & Q – FU
Home improvement’s fine if you’re a young buck
but later in life – why be a schmuck?
When no longer spry
DIY spells bad luck
Everything I try
seems to come unstuck
for DIY, I give not a flying fuck
The first night was probably the worst. Getting ready for bed I couldn’t stop shivering. My body rocked and each movement stabbed deeper. I stood half-naked in the bathroom unable to move and cried at how pathetic I now was. As Angela tried her best to help me all I could say was ‘what have I done, what have I done’.
Why I was shivering during the most extensive heatwave for years I don’t know. It may have been shock or my body exacting revenge for its mistreatment. I’ve never been the fittest of people and, approaching my 66th birthday, the sight of my broken body in the mirror reminded me of the scene in 1984 when Winston Smith is confronted with his wasted image and taunted about his representation of humanity. Is this what I’ve become?
For the past three weeks, I’ve slept sitting upright in the spare bedroom so at least Angela can try and get some sleep. She’s not only looking after me every day but, as ever, our autistic son Johnny. I almost added the words ‘single-handedly’ to that last sentence but realised the misleading imagery. Angela, thankfully, has two strong capable arms and the biggest heart in the universe.
WET SHAVING WITH MY WRONG HAND
Removing a new blade from a sealed packet
is difficult enough
Cutting through plastic with scissors
using only one hand
Spraying shaving foam on the side
of the sink makes it easier to apply
Slow and steady with short strokes
is the key no matter how many blades
Understanding the contours of your face
and the elasticity of your skin takes time
Reaching over to the far side of your jaw
angling the razor and keeping a grip
whilst dragging it through the foam
at the right pressure takes practice
I’ve managed to avoid cuts so far
but leave the occasional hair protruding
If only this was my main worry
You can’t put a plaster cast on your upper arm so the hospital has strapped me into a plastic harness to help my bones fuse properly. In this heat it can itch like hell so I sit in bed with a thin wooden stick I can poke down the edge of the harness to help me scratch. It’s a kebab stick. It is my greatest pleasure at this moment.
After a couple of days it became apparent that I couldn’t perform in upcoming gigs at Petworth and Edinburgh. I did consider changing the title of my show to ‘Poet with a Broken Arm – plus Supporting Cast’. I apologise to anyone who had planned to see me at Petworth or Edinburgh. You wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing me in pain for an hour. Perhaps some of you would but it wouldn’t have helped speed recovery.
I’m very much looking forward to Liverpool Philharmonic on Sept 15 and Morecambe Poetry Festival on September 17 with my old friend Lemn Sissay. Lemn came down from London to visit me at my home in Fairlight this week. For a few hours I almost forgot I had a broken arm. Thank goodness it doesn’t now hurt when I laugh.
I’ve started to write some poems about my experience. These were the first poems I wrote. It’s a new hybrid form I’ve been toying with – a Haiku that contains rhyme. I’ve not thought of a name for this form yet. Perhaps ‘RhymeKu’. I’ve broken some words over two lines to emulate my fractured arm.
BROKEN ARM TRILOGY now in 4 parts
Though fractures on my hum
erus are numerous I’m not
My humerus is
cracked but, in fact, my fun
ny bone is intact
Forget the moans and
groans it’s better cracking
jokes than cracking bones
4. This is now – that was Zen
Is there karma with
my arm a-snapping, the sound
of one hand clapping
I do like this form. It’s short and, as I’m typing with my left hand only, that’s very much a bonus. Strange to think ‘left-handedness’ was illegal in Albania even in the last century. There are things you need two hands for.
TYPING WITH ONLY ONE HAND LEAVES MUCH TO QUESTION
I can’t hold down shift
and press a key – Are question
marks now beyond me
It’s the mundane tasks I find I’m missing and that frustrate – loading the dishwasher, folding the washing, pulling up a stray weed. I suspect as a poet you’d expect me to say something more poetic, but being able to tie my own shoelaces is something I long for. The first week my ambition was to get out of bed unaided, which required using my left arm while swinging my legs as a counterweight. It needed the use of stomach muscles I seemed to have squandered recently.
Overdramatising my pain, I looked up the name of the centurion who thrust the lance into the side of Jesus. His name was Longinus and the lance is more widely known as the Spear of Destiny. So my final RhymeKu is something to chew over.
THE SPEARMINT OF DESTINY
Please tell Longinus
to stop sticking his prong in us
it feels wrong in us
I became a pensioner last week and couldn’t open my cards or presents. I never imagined when younger that I wouldn’t be able to dress myself for my 66th birthday and that my food would need to be cut up for me. I was born on the same day as Napoleon, which is apt as I now resemble the famous painting of him with his arm inside his tunic.
DON’T DWELL UPON THIS BROKEN BODY
A solitary oak in an open field
framed in the Georgian window
draws my eye from this sick bed
The church spire and a lattice of hedgerows
compete for attention
Sycamores crowd the foreground
Is it the particular that intrigues
a projection beyond the commonplace
the individual happenstance
There is man made design for sure
built upon consequence
and an allowance to just be
The oak fills its space this late summer
strong in shape and colouring perfect
as though drawn by a child
Don’t dwell upon this broken body
it is already behind me
Being made to slow down certainly forces you to consider your mortality and your choices. Next time I think I’ll choose to stay firmly on the ground. It now takes me five minutes to shuffle down a flight of stairs. Thirty seconds thought before climbing that ladder would have saved so much trouble. I hope you will learn from my mistake without the need to inflict self-harm.
I’ve tried over the past three weeks to write a poem about what I’ve learnt. Like my healing, it is perhaps still a work in progress. Consider this cautionary verse.
My writing hand has become dead weight
lowering my head in humility
Memory twists under lids
Shivering is painful
I’ve become a trainee ghost
travelling in thought and time
Balance is bruised
Confidence an orphan child
I am at the mercy of virtue
A kebab stick is my closest friend
Sleep my chief physician
No longer adroit
I’ve joined the gauche and the sinister
Gravity and trigonometry continue
remembered or not
No need now for a knife
I’m redefined as spoon
The Earth is always open to hugs
This skeleton displays damage
Trust in the left hemisphere is lost
Self determination lies out of reach
I am a man who makes mistakes
Empires rise and fall
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