My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

My big break

I broke my elbow in early June. This was the first time I broke a bone, and the experience was enlightening on many levels.

"Ouch, that must have hurt."

That’s usually what people say when they see the scar. The funny thing is, it didn't. Not really (thank you, shock). When it happened, I felt fine, as long as I didn’t move my arm. Which, I guess, was probably the first sign something was seriously wrong.

The whole point of an accident, of course, is that you seldom see it coming. When I woke up that morning and decided to bike to work, already a bit in a rush, I didn’t think I wouldn’t ever make it there. I didn’t think I'd be having my first real surgery (wisdom teeth don't count) two days later. But here we are, two months and lots of X-rays and physiotherapy and an arm brace later.

"Oh, did you get hit by a car?"

That’s the next question, after I reveal I broke my elbow by falling off my bike. It’s a reasonable guess, given the way a lot of motorists treat cyclists like inconvenient obstacles instead of vehicles sharing a road. But the answer is still no.

I miscalculated, if I want to be generous. I screwed up, is what I say when I want to be hard on myself.

I was moving from the bike path to pavement via a small gap in the curb, something I've done many times before. This time, however, there was a van parked just to the right of the gap, and I didn't want to hit it. So I overcompensated, lost control of my bike, and fell. I landed awkwardly, my left wrist hitting the asphalt. The rest of me was scraped up but fine. But that one miscalculation, that single decision not to dismount and walk my bike to the pavement, reverberates even now through my life.

A split second can change everything.

Luck, and a little help from my friends

Fortunately I am an eternal optimist, for a pessimist would say I've "used up" my luck for a good decade in the past two months. Because, dear reader, I was incredibly lucky in all aspects of this otherwise unfortunate experience.

I was lucky that I crashed myself literally in front of a building on the college campus. People helped me; the nurse-practitioner at the college even saw me despite me not being a student, and she had her receptionist drive me to the ER! I was lucky that my ER visit went smoothly, albeit not auspiciously. I was lucky that I got into surgery two days after my accident.

The whole process of going for surgery was fascinating and surreal. I'd never been under general anaesthesia. I’d been in the pre-op area before, when my dad was going for surgery, so I knew some of what to expect. Being the one in the gown and on the bed, of course, gives you a much different perspective. Oh, and one of the doctors assisting in the surgery pulled out his phone and showed me the 3D model they assembled of my broken radial head from the CT scan and I did not like it but also it was hella cool. Everyone seemed to agree that I had done quite a good job breaking it, so … yay? Go big or go home, I guess.

Apparently, I was never so talkative in my life as I was after the surgery, according to my mom. I was just constantly reassuring her that everything was okay. And it was! I was home eating A&W and watching Netflix that same night, and I didn’t even need my painkillers much past the first night.

I was lucky that it was so close to the end of the school year, and that I have an amazing boss and colleagues who stepped up to cover my absence.

Not to mention I’m lucky to belong to a good union with excellent insurance, and that I’m in a country with a healthcare system that doesn’t bankrupt you.

It sucked not being able to knit. And, because this was my first time breaking a bone and dealing with this kind of recovery, I was very hard on myself in terms of feeling like I’d acted recklessly. I know this kind of thing can happen to anybody, but I felt as if I might have avoided it.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have friends and family who supported me through this. Rebecca and I continued to chat on the phone pretty much every day, and some of those days I would cry, or complain. Amanda’s slow trickle of dissertation chapters to edit turned into more of a deluge as we approached her deadline, and that was a welcome distraction. My mom and some other friends cooked me meals, drove me places. My dad, who has been going through more than his share of health problems lately and whom I've been wanting to help more, did his best to help me out as much as he could.

There were dark moods, of course. Days I would practise my physiotherapy exercises and wonder if I would ever regain my full range of motion (in terms of my arm, almost at 100% now—still working on turning my wrist more). Moments of worrying that the plate and pins expertly manoeuvred into place might somehow slip out of place and land me back on the operating table. I don’t mean to try to pass off this whole process as nothing but good vibes and happy moods.

And yet … looking back at the last two months, all I can really say is that I feel good now. I feel lucky. I feel loved. As someone who will likely always be single and probably never have a kid, sometimes I wonder what will happen as I age and become less independent. Who will take care of me? I have an answer now—at least, I know that the network I have now will help me, and this experience has helped me understand what I should do going forward to continue to nurture that network, to keep it healthy long into my golden years.

This injury was quite literally a bump in the road, and it slowed me down for a few weeks, but it did not derail me in the slightest. I have yet to climb back aboard my bicycle, yet I don’t think this will deter me from cycling in the future—the upside to attributing this to a split-second bad decision on my part is that I feel very much in control of my fate; I can avoid this happening again. I’m back at knitting, back at driving, back at working, back at being the best friend I can be—and the best Ben I can be. It's just, now I have the scar to prove it.

Three photos of me in a cast, brace, and just a bare scar on my elbow, respectively
The three stages post-surgery: cast and sling, a futuristic-looking arm brace, and nothing but bare scar, baby!