When We Listen To Our Injuries

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, but not because I didn’t have enough material to write about, but because we had a lot of events during the last couple of months, including my father’s 90th birthday and my granddaughter’s first birthday. That and I found myself feeling very lazy. But after a slight miscalculation this morning that allowed my pinky toe to fail to navigate a piece of furniture, resulting in a blinding pain, followed by swelling and redness, I decided today to talk about some of my work related injuries.

In no particular order, I’ll start in the middle of my career. During training, I was practicing a forward roll, something that I used to do with some frequency when I took Karate lessons, so I was very comfortable with them. Maybe too comfortable. I rolled forward and realized immediately that I had done something wrong, my shoulder struck incorrectly and I felt a significant pressure near the socket. I popped up and looked around, embarrassed at my failure and checked to see if anyone had been watching me. No one looking. Okay, I’m good. And then I checked in with my Acromioclavicular Joint, because it was telling me, “No. We are NOT good.”

I took a deep breath and thought, well, can I make it through the rest of training, then go home and Motrin up to take care of it? I thought maybe I could, but then my Acromioclavicular Joint said, “Fuck No! We can’t do that. We need help, now.”

I told the instructor, one of my junior officers, that I had hurt myself and gave him the information he needed to fill out the Workers Comp forms, embarrassed the whole time. Then I gathered my things and asked dispatch over the phone to send me a student assistant in a Cushman cart to bring me to the Student Health Center, where we were supposed to go for work related injuries, unless it was an emergency. And I was still telling myself that this was not an emergency.  

I had to wait for about 40 minutes for my ride, because someone else on campus was having a real medical emergency and the fire department and county paramedics needed to be flagged in. While I was waiting, I continued to argue with my Acromioclavicular Joint about whether or not I should have had dispatch call the fire department and county paramedics for me and the amazing and building pain in my shoulder. Instead I persevered, and went to the Student Health Center where they told me that I needed an Xray, but that they didn’t have a technician, so I drove myself to the emergency room at my regular hospital.

At the emergency room, I received (in this order) an Xray, opioids, an opportunity to call a family member to come pick me up, a slight adjustment to the ligaments in my shoulder (Thank God for the opioids), and an arm sling.

I should have just called for an ambulance.

But when I was a young officer, back when skateboarding was a crime (is it still?), I was on bicycle patrol on midnight shift. I had noticed early on in the shift that one of my brake cables had slipped from the bracket that held it in place and so I just put it back, like nothing. Then I continued with my shift. Several hours later, I warned some skateboarders that skateboarding was not allowed on campus and that they had to go elsewhere. I rode away, but when I circled back about twenty minutes later, they were still in the same place, SKATEBOARDING.

Please keep in mind that I was young then, and Contempt of Cop was a serious violation. The older I got, the less serious that particular violation became (as I became smarter). So anyway, I had only seen one young man who was still skateboarding so I rode over to stop and detain him and probably write him a citation. But instead of stopping, he committed another violation of Contempt of Cop and he began to run away (remember that this was what I wanted in the first place). So like any good greyhound, when the rabbit runs, I chased.

The skateboarder ran in circles, jumped a hedge, crossed a busy street, and ran through an apartment complex parking lot. And I kept right up with him, until the parking lot. I saw that I was going to hit one of those little concrete stops at the top of the parking space, so I hit the brakes. At that moment, I realized that the brake cable had slipped the bracket again, and therefore, could not compress the brakes on the front tire. I was going to crash.

I hit the parking stop and flew over my handlebars, but kept a hold on my grips. The bicycle and I rolled ass over teakettle and when I got back onto my feet, I popped up and started chasing my suspect on foot. But after taking a few steps, I realized that I was probably injured and that I should really check on that. I called my sergeant and he picked me up and brought me and my now broken bicycle back to the police station.

We locked up my gun belt and other gear and then checked out how the dirt on my arms and shoulders showed how I had perfectly rolled, never hitting my head. (See I did know how to do it properly at one time). But my left leg was swelling and in some reasonable pain, so the sergeant made the decision that I would go to the emergency room.

At the emergency room, I learned that I had ruptured my saphenous vein, the largest vein returning blood to the heart from the leg. Doctors monitored me for several hours before they decided that the vein was repairing itself and I didn’t need emergency surgery to prevent me from bleeding out. Oh, and also, based on the location of the injury, the doctor also evaluated whether or not I had injured my scrotum. That wasn’t embarrassing at all.

But this wasn’t just bad for me, because this was in the days before cell phones. The sergeant asked the dispatcher to call my wife and let her know what was happening. Not only did no one have cell phones, this was still early in my marriage, and we could only afford one car, and it was parked in front of the police station. Lee, the dispatcher, was all business and calling my wife was just a thing on his checklist. He called my wife, at just after midnight, waking her up, and said, “Mia, this is Lee at UPD. Wes was in a bicycle accident and had to be taken to the emergency room. He’ll call you when he’s done.”

And then he hung up.

And I was off work for six weeks.

But once I had an injury that I refused to acknowledge was a work injury. The injury occurred on campus, during my shift, while I was in uniform, but my stupidity was so great that I didn’t want anyone to know about it. Beyond the witnesses that I had no choice but to trust.

At this time, I was a patrol supervisor, nearing fifty, and retirement, but I liked to show the young officers that I could keep up with them. On one particular shift, as we neared the end of our day, two of my young officers decided to see who was a faster runner and were going to have a quick sprint in the auto bay where the police cars were parked. I told these two young officers that I wanted to show them that they were both slow. We walked to one end of the auto bay while a dispatcher stood at our starting line.

And when the dispatcher said, “Go,” we ran.

I immediately passed one of the young officers and was gaining on the other, pumping my legs hard, when my right leg simply stopped functioning. I tried to bring my right leg forward to put it underneath me as I rushed ahead, but it wasn’t there, and so I fell. I landed hard on my knees and elbows on the concrete, tearing holes in my uniform shirt and pants, and I slid to a stop. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help out the old guy who had just fallen down and couldn’t get up. Embarrassed, I stood up and realized by the swelling and pain in the back of my right thigh, that I had pulled a hamstring and my knees were bleeding.

My senior officer asked if I wanted her to get the Workers Comp forms for a workplace injury. No way! I will not make a written record of this lunacy. (Well, I have now, but we are well past that now.)

I told her that I was not going to tell my bosses that I had seriously injured myself by horsing around with my younger officers, although I hoped that my example would caution them about engaging in such activity in the future. (What a good supervisor I was.) I told her that I was going to wait for the next shift’s briefing to start, then go up to the locker room and change, and then go home. I would see a doctor in the morning.

The next day, sitting in the minor injury clinic, the doctor evaluated my injury and then asked me, “Was this a work related injury?”

“My injury had nothing to do with my actual work.” There we go.

And speaking of funny doctors, there was a time when I injured my calf responding to a call on foot. The doctor explained that this kind of injury was common for people in my line of work who are sedentary for a significant amount of time and then suddenly get up and engage in rigorous activity.

I smiled. “That’s great,” I said. “I thought it was going to be a sign that I am woefully out of shape.”

“Oh, no,” he said, straight-faced. Then he pointed at my middle and said, “That gut is a sign that you are woefully out of shape.”

Thank you, thank you very much.

I’m still not sure if I’m actually listening.