In a few days, I'm scheduled to undergo my 11th orthopedic surgery.
Yes, you read that right: 11 orthopedic surgeries. In 28 years. And that doesn't count the four earlier times that I broke bones but got away with simply wearing a plaster cast for a month or two.
Most people, looking back on their lives, can mark the passing of time by recalling events such as a graduation, a marriage, the birth of a child, a job promotion, etc. I, too, have such markers but I just as often remember a time period by which bone I had broken or which orthopedic surgery I was recovering from at the time.
Let me say at the outset that my bones are no more brittle or breakable than the next person's. The problem is that I'm a bad combination of athletic and accident-prone.
Every time that I have broken a bone (or multiple bones), the injury has been sports-related. I have never snapped a tibia or humerus simply by tripping over a kitchen stool.
My first fracture happened at age six when, wearing single-blade ice skates for the first time, I stumbled on the ice and fell—hard. I broke my left forearm. To this day, when trying to distinguish my left from my right, I still look down and recall which arm had the cast on it.
In subsequent years, I broke my left foot playing soccer barefoot, a knucklebone on my left hand playing squash and my right arm when I got doored while bicycling. Each of those required only a plaster cast to mend.
Then, in my early thirties, while bicycling in rural France on a rainy late afternoon, a car smashed into me. The helmet I was wearing saved my life but the damage was severe: a shattered left leg and right arm.
Those fractures required a total of six operations over two years, including two bone grafts. (The bonus: I learned to say "bedpan" in French—it's "bassain"—during my initial 11-day stay in a hospital there.)
That's when I started joking about being on my then-orthopedic surgeon's frequent fracture program.
I subsequently snapped my right wrist while inline skating and fractured my right elbow in yet another spill from my bicycle. Both required surgery to fix. More recently, I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee to remove loose cartilage and bone that was rattling around in there and yet another procedure for carpel tunnel in my right hand.
Now it's my right shoulder. Apparently, I have a perfect storm in there—hello, geezerdom!—of arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, as well as tears in the rotator cuff and a complete tear of the right biceps.
The shoulder has been painful for a year. A cortisone injection and months and months of physical therapy didn't do the trick, so now it's time to go in there and fix it.
The surgery will again be arthroscopic but I won't be able to use the arm for several weeks after and then will have to do months of physical therapy to get full usage back. Ever tried pulling socks on or fastening a bra with just one hand, much less cutting a loaf of bread or popping a champagne cork?
I shouldn't really complain. Broken bones and other orthopedic travails can be fixed. Often you're as good as new afterward.
Even if you're not, if your bones ache and you don't quite have the range of motion you once did, you still have some impressive scars to show and stories to tell.
And best of all, it's not brain surgery.