Breaking my humerus (which wasn’t nearly as fun as it sounds) nearly 4 weeks ago was a solid reminder of a lot of things (including gratitude – which I had blogged about just before I broke). A surprising number of similarities between training and healing from a break have come up, so I thought I’d share this hard-earned wisdom with you. These are in no particular order because while I recently got cleared to type two-handed cutting and pasting is still pretty awkward as I can’t raise my arm. So … without further ado let’s explore my learnings.
It’s Ok to Not Have All the Answers
People keep asking me “how’s the healing going?” The reality is it hasn’t even started yet. The humerus is a SLOW bone to heal and the doctor believes I won’t start really healing until at least week 8. There is zero hope I’ll be able to do everything I was doing a month ago until after Easter – and even that is optimistic. I don’t know how healing will go and rather than being frustrated by that I am intrigued. Not knowing is liberating in a way. It truly ‘is what it is’. I have no control over the bones actually knitting together even though I am doing everything in my power to set myself up for success.
Training is much the same way. We know what we want, an obedience title, running at excellent level in agility, whatever our goal. We don’t have a road map with all the obstacles we will encounter laid out. That’s probably a good thing, but it can feel frustrating and disheartening.
Keep your eyes on the things you can control and manage whatever appears in front of you. You Got This.
Juggling red light laser, pemf, icing, pain meds and exercise all take time but that isn’t the planning I am referring to. When you break your arm you need to think ahead .. how can you have access to your meds? Where do you need to sit to be able to function and be comfortable? How can you sleep? (In my case it’s sitting up – and yes that’s getting old.) Looking forward, where do you have to go, what do you have to do and what is the least painful and damaging way to do anything becomes a way of life.
There is no just doing whatever, ever.
Training always benefits from a little forethought too. Once it’s a habit it gets a lot easier to think ahead all the time.
What skill makes the most sense to work on this week or today? What do you need to do to accomplish your goals? Is today a good day to do one thing a little differently? Maybe take a skill to a new place to test? Can you get a hand touch out of a crate in a parking lot as nicely as at home? Can you shoulder in down a path on the trail as easily as in the groomed dressage ring? Planning to check all these things will improve your training and skill set.
Take Your Time
I am patient with others. Myself? Not so much. An impatient patient is no exaggeration. Years ago I fell off a horse into a stone wall and flayed my back – I went to work the next day. I took 1.5 days off with shingles when I was 38 and 2 days off a few years later with whooping cough. I had never been sick off work more than 2 consecutive days until this. I tell you this only as evidence of my internal lack of patience. This is not laudable, nor something I am proud of in any way but it is a fact. When the ER doc instantly wrote me a note until the fracture clinic could see me and then the fracture clinic said no physical work you can’t control for MONTHS I was “shook” as the expression goes. Being shook isn’t a bad thing sometimes but learning to take my time is something I have had to learn many many times, in training and in life. Annoying to be here again. A good lesson for training though.
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” Webb Anderson used to tell me crediting John Woods as he did. Useful in agility. Critical to healing; and heeling too I’d posit. When bringing in wood for the fire I can only manage 2-3 pieces in a little tub rather than the 7-9 chunks I am used to carrying. I can no longer bend over to pick something up off the floor, I have to do a long, slow squat down and slowly come back up (or use my feet!) My balance is off so my timing has to be excellent. When I need a break I need a break – I can sit for a few minutes, or come back to something the next day but pushing through is not available to me as an option right now. When I overdo it both arms ache like nothing I have experienced in life to date. I need to stop for a day or two. I have no choice – but it’s something I intend to bring forward out of this experience with me.
Take that to your training. You have more time than you think likely and taking time to be patient and methodical will actually get the results you want – more quickly than rushing would.
When you hit a bump on your journey experiment with “I am” breathing. To do that, breathe in and think “I am” and then exhale thinking what you want: to be “calm”; pausing”, “taking my time”. Whatever you need. Repeat it three times then take some time to make sure you are ready to return to the challenge you were facing. If you need to back up a little there is no shame in that.
Tools Make a Difference
I have many many items that are making living without the use of my right arm easier. A pizza cutter makes a great knife for some things and neutral scissors take care of a lot of other things. I have pemf technology here, a red light laser and many different ways to ice (thanks to years of rehabbing animals). Friends have brought me ponchos, tank tops, spray deodorant, homeopathic remedies, and pain meds. I invested in no-button loose pants. All small things perhaps, but they have added up to a better mental attitude and made it easier to do the bigger things.
If in training someone suggests a touch plate or a pivot bowl or some kind of leash or harness and you can see the purpose and how you would use it; get the tool. . You may not need 15 cato boards in 15 colours but one platform is likely helpful to you in many sports.
Do not think I am suggesting you need the most expensive anything. I am not. You can make your own, borrow it, check out marketplace or other fb groups. But having the right equipment does make a difference. Sometimes the right incentive, say a gorgeous collar from Dog Nerd Designs, is powerful reinforcement too. And, if you can afford it, that’s also worth experimenting with.
Do Things Right From The Start
It’s easier to start the way you want to carry on than change the path halfway. Learning how to dress with one hand was interesting. To put tops ON start with the bad arm .. to take them off finish with the bad arm. Simply pull from the back of your head to take things off if you can. Like I would NEVER have thought of that. But, guess what? It works. I found a video describing it on day two post-fracture and the difference it made to my quality of life was instantaneous. Had I had to change more than once in my wiggle worm unsure way I would have struggled to change methods and hurt myself more than needed.
In training I like my puppies to accept crating even if I know I won’t use it much at home so we start day 1. I want dogs checking in on walks so we reinforce that lots no matter if on lead, long line or off-leash. When you know what you want start expecting it, and paying for it. Everything is easier that way.
Celebrate the Little Things
Life is worthy of celebration. Big things, little things, everything. The day I could open a milk carton with my left hand was fabulous. The day I got my hair washed at the salon was amazing. I am so excited at the thought of brushing my teeth properly and driving. Oh, how I miss some of the most basic things. Tiny things are huge victories right now.
This needs to be true in training too. When you accomplish something, I don’t care if it’s your dream outcome title of World Champion or your puppy understanding the verbal cue for down cleanly the first time (or anything in between), pause and appreciate the victory. The party can be completely personal, nearly instantaneous or it can be a year-end trophy with the horse or dog club. No matter. Enjoy it.
First Listen to Understand
At the ER room the triage nurse learned that I had injured myself about 17 hours prior to coming in (it was overnight) and that I was measuring my pain at that immediate time at a 2. She was compassionate and kind. She got me moving along but was obviously not too concerned. After the resident examined me the nurse brought me some pain meds and noted it was a kicker of a cocktail and shared regret that I was so injured. At the fracture clinic, the doctor walked towards our first meeting quietly complaining that “this one” would take awhile and quite literally the first words out of his mouth were “I have 4 minutes a patient today.” I listened to what he had to say and asked the only two questions I had. If I had not listened to him carefully without thinking that I wanted to understand and started with my questions we would have spent much longer than the 5 minutes we took. I would also have likely felt frustrated with the comment throughout our whole meeting. Instead, I was able to listen to his excellent rundown of the injury, and his warnings about doing too much and get my questions answered.
In training make sure you check in with your learner at the start of the session. Do they need to potty? Are they hungry? Are they sore somewhere? Did they find their workout the day prior challenging? Boring? Pay attention to what they are telling you first and then you will find them much easier to work with.
Reinforcement Makes a Difference
I’m a positive trainer (to the best of my ability anyhow) so I get the importance of good mechanics, great timing, super placement and A++ reinforcers that the learner chooses. I GET it in a whole new way now though. One well-timed comment completely and absolutely keeps me persisting at hard, painful and impossible-seeming things. One tiny bit of help to start a bottle top opening for example or a drive to or from work, people coming to help at the farm. So so many examples of me getting reinforcement and reminded of the incredible difference it makes to learning, and to attitude toward hard things.
USE THIS SUPERPOWER. USE IT WELL!
Use Your Experts
Oh, how I want to absorb everything ever written about humerus fractures. But it’s not all equal advice. I looked up the resident who saw me in the ER and compared her information to info from other medical professionals unfortunate enough to be in my life at the moment (Thanks M team!) and realized I had good advice. I looked up the name of the doctor I was referred to before I met him and despite our brisk introduction, I am quite sure he has my needs in mind – not just his own. I called his office and spent time with his receptionist – got her on my team too. I read lots but focus on scientific pages, hospitals that are well-known, and places that align with my rapidly developing belief system towards healing. I am not spending time hunting for catastrophes or for people who ignore medical advice. I fact-check and check again and do the best I can.
You need to do this with your training too. Collecting information is important but USING information matters more. Decide what experts you will trust and work with. Then do so. At some point adding more variations of ways to do things will only confuse things. When you get stuck, when you have a question – seek expertise. Otherwise, stick with the supports that work for you.
Remember Your Long Game
So when all is said and done this particular break often takes a year to recover from. It’s very exciting that 3.5 weeks in I was told I could type with both hands and the doctor is very pleased with where we are right now. It was also very sobering to hear that very few of these breaks ever “fully recover”, and healing has not started yet. However, it was also a great reminder that just like training, the work I am doing today is benefiting not just tomorrow but a year down the road. The investments made now may not always feel effective or worth the effort but the results will be seen down the road. You don’t need me to tell you that’s the point of training too. Long game people, long game!!
Happy training and don’t you break a leg, or humorous!
Do you want to support the Team Valiant horses? Check out their February fundraiser .. I am writing haikus for everyone who donates $10 or more for the month and having so much fun doing so!