My Broken Arm: A Short Study in Foundations

We never care about what goes on inside machines until they stop working.

We don’t care about what goes on under the hood of a car until the oil light comes on. We don’t care about the inside of computers until the graphics card dies. It’s at that point we undo long forgotten screws and locks, sighing as we brush away the dust.

Me, I never cared about how my arm worked until I broke it, after falling off a bike in Poland.

After sitting in a German hospital for hours, I was poked and prodded, then led to an X-ray room. They handed me a device to rest over my pelvis, to protect my ovaries from the radiation. The nurse then twisted my arm palm up so ferociously that I screamed and cried louder than I ever have in my adult life.

I screamed so loudly, another nurse came in. Neither spoke English, and I begged them to stop, panicking, fearful that how my arm was broken was lost in translation. They pleaded back in German, forcing my arm palm up as gently as they could, but still causing me to scream and sob. I arched my back and pitifully wept while the nurses used foam to twist my arm.

They finally got it in a position they could work with, and the device protecting my ovaries fell to the floor as they scuttled behind a screen to take the X-ray.

I rate that as one of the more traumatic experiences of my life.

The nurses handed me tissues and led me to an empty office, where I sat crying. I was in so much pain, and so upset and afraid, that I felt like an animal.

I didn’t have to wait long. The doctor came in, and I was handed a black and white printout of a picture of my right forearm, one bone majestically snapped in two just below my elbow. The painkillers I had been given had started to set in, and I looked at this picture of my arm through blank, swollen eyes.

My bones.

How strange it was. A machine that could see through skin and muscle and blood to show me the scaffolding of my body. A part of me I’ll never see. A part of the broken machine.

A woman who also spoke no English put my cast together, measuring my arm, cutting the plaster, wetting it, placing it, wrapping it.

“Art,” I said softly.

She looked at me questioningly with big blue German eyes.

I thought for a second.

“Michelangelo,” I offered.

The woman smiled and chuckled, shaking her head.

A woman vomited loudly in an adjacent room.


I’ve spent the four weeks since researching how bones mend, desperate to understand what’s happening inside my arm. Bones knit back together, and I love that term – “knitting”. It implies a complexity of process, an art. It takes at least 1000 calories a day to mend a bone, up to 6000 in some cases. I don’t think mine is that bad, but it does explain my tiredness and 4kg weight loss.

I’ve done all this, but I keep looking back at the picture of my bones.

All good things are built on foundations, and this foundation is mine. A failed one. A broken one. One that has required time and energy to rebuild.

I think about Berlin, I think about moving around the world in the hope of being fulfilled, I think about people I’ve loved and let go, I think about falling in love – I think about THAT foundation, that rebuilding.

You have to shatter foundations to start again. 
Debris from the old remains. 
You can either hold onto that debris, 
hold onto the memories,
or throw it in the fucking sea.