Sometimes days don’t end quite how you expect them to. Last Saturday was one of those days. Things started out innocently enough. I walked to Edeka, where I bought a new kind of chocolate spread to try (in the U.S. it’s basically Nutella, but here the variety is incredible! So many hazelnut-nuss-nougat-schoko-creme varieties to try!). When I returned home I enjoyed a nice breakfast with my housemates – brötchen (bread rolls) Vicky had picked up, with my new chocolate spread and a variety of jams.
After breakfast, I headed out to go for a little jog in some nearby fields. I have an occasional (perhaps more than occasional…) habit of reading while I walk, and although this is safer done on a treadmill or elliptical, I sometimes do so outdoors, too. So as I walked to the fields – I was planning to run once I got there – I was reading on my phone. Evidently, I didn’t see a small protrusion in the sidewalk, and, well, let’s just say I performed what I would call a pretty spectacular fall. (Maybe I am prone to these? If you’re interested ask Leah sometime about my similarly spectacular, though less physically damaging, fall executed back in sophomore year at Luther.) I’m still not entirely sure how it all happened, but what I do know is that at the end of things I was splayed on the concrete, my phone was a good 8 feet down the sidewalk in front of me, both knees and both hands were scraped and bruised, my right hip was throbbing, and, last but certainly not least, as it bore the brunt of the injury, my right elbow was fairly well torn up and bleeding. My first thought after falling, naturally, was not about my injuries, pain, or embarrassment. but rather was concern for whether I’d torn any of my clothing. This is perhaps fairly typical of me in general, but especially right now – I don’t have enough clothes here for any to go out of commission! Happily, no clothing was harmed in this fall. Back to the story, in pain, shaking, and feeling rather like crying, I looked up as a German man called out to me, “Alles gut?” Unable to think in English, let alone German, I managed to mumble a weak, “Ich bin gut,” to his doubtful looks and repeated questions, as I got up and limped down the sidewalk.
Well, I’m not sure that run’s going to happen, I thought. Still, walking seemed like a good idea to me, to prevent my sore limbs from stiffening up, and while that hurt at first, the endorphins kicked in pretty fast and I felt mostly fine. Keeping my elbow away from my shirt (the elbow was still bleeding), I continued to the fields and had a nice walk. After a while, I headed home. There I promptly got blood EVERYWHERE, as I kept bumping into things with my exposed elbow in my small room (including on my housemate’s white cloth chair!). No one else was home, I couldn’t find the bandaids I’d brought, and I had places to be, so after rinsing my elbow in the sink and attending to the worst of the bloodstains, I headed out.
I had a great day with my exposed, still-slightly-bleeding elbow. I met up with two other Bonn research-and-study Fulbrighters, enjoyed a Döner sandwich, walked around the Freizeitpark Rheinaue, tried Bienenstich (bee sting cake), and returned home. There, I asked my housemates if we had any bandages, and my housemate Johanna (a dental student) kindly patched me up – disinfecting the wound, picking out the dirt with disinfected tweezer, and putting on an iodine bandage to be changed later in the day. A bit later Johanna and I headed to a rather large concert happening right in the neighborhood!
When we returned home, it was around 10, and I asked Johanna if she would switch out the iodine bandage. At the suggestion of my housemate Vicky, Johanna asked if she could send a picture of my cut to her mother, “a real doctor and not just a dental student,” to make sure everything was okay. I was a bit hesitant, being fairly convinced I just needed a bandage and not wanting to make a big deal of my injury, but agreed. Johanna sent a picture and called her mother, and her mother promptly said that there was, “no question;” I needed to go to the hospital. That was NOT what I had been expecting. Johanna explained that her mother thought I needed stitches, and was generally really quite confident I needed to go. I thankfully have German health insurance through Fulbright, but had honestly mostly ignored the information about it. I tend to be a healthy person – I have never broken a bone, worn a cast, etc. – and was kind of hoping to just avoid having to deal with the health insurance hassles. Evidently that was not to be.
I ran up to grab my proof of insurance, and then frantically skimmed the insurance FAQ in my mom’s and my Fulbright dropbox folder as Vicky, Johanna, and I walked out to our bikes. We arrived at a hospital just a few minutes away by bike, walked in, and were able to speak with a nurse right away. I am SO GLAD I had my roommates with me, as I would have had no clue where to go, and they quickly took charge, explaining to the nurse what had happened, that I was from the U.S. and was just learning German, that I had private insurance. It was a chaotic time. As they talked to the nurse, I was texting my mom and realized I was supposed to get preauthorization from my insurance for treatment. It was a little late for that, but I went ahead and called the number right there in the hospital, and got the go-ahead.
Within a few minutes, I was taken into a room with two other doctors. Johanna went ahead and explained the situation to them, and the physician peeled off the bandage to take a look. After conversing (in German – I caught bits and pieces here and there) about what was best to do for me, they had me lie down, and the physician thoroughly rinsed my elbow with saline. Johanna and Vicky looked on, telling my I was brave, and explaining what was going on to me. The physician put on stitches, and then told me (in English) that he was going to put on a cast. I honestly thought he was kidding and sort of grinned, and then realized he was serious…
Johanna explained that I had opened the Schleimbeutel (bursa – vocab word of the day!), that they could squirt the saline pretty far into my elbow which wasn’t great, and that they thought I had about a 50% chance of the wound getting infected. (And if that happened I would need surgery and a 3-day stay in the hospital… I was really hoping I was going to be in the luckier 50%!). I would need to get the elbow checked in two days, when I was in Marburg for a Fulbright meeting, to make sure there wasn’t an infection. With that, the nurse very carefully casted my arm, and we headed back home – walking our bikes, this time, instead of riding them. Vicky and Johanna were great the whole time, and when we got home, although it was midnight and Vicky was working the next morning, Johanna made us all tea and we sat and chatted for a bit. I have wonderful roommates!
On Monday I headed to Marburg. I navigated the train stations in style, wearing a blanket, as none of the coats I brought fit over my cast. (When I returned home in this same attire, my housemate Felix told me I looked, “quite hip!”) I managed to get an appointment in Marburg that same day, handling this one alone – in German with the receptionist, and in English with the doctor. There was no infection (yay!), but she said I needed to keep the cast on till Friday (less exciting). Thankfully I found a great dry shampoo that day too – I wasn’t supposed to get the the cast wet, and after one showering attempt I decided dry shampoo and sponge baths might be a better plan. There are some positives, too, of course – my cast provided some great conversation fodder as I met other Fulbrighters at the Marburg meeting!
It’s now Thursday, and I should be able to get the cast off tomorrow! I wrote the following journal/reflection about the incident, and while it contains some duplication of the story above, I thought I would go ahead and share it with you all.
This whole elbow injury situation has been challenging for me. I like to be independent, often take my health for granted, and not being able to use my arm is quite simply limiting! Being in a new and unfamiliar country alone has limited my independence significantly, forcing me to be humble and ask my roommates for help at frequent intervals. I do not particularly like asking for help, and having an injured arm has forced me to do so even more frequently.
When I asked my roommate, Johanna if we had a bandage after I fell, and she kindly offered to patch me up. I wasn’t meaning her to do that – I really just wanted a large bandaid to cover the wound – but she seemed not to mind (though I still felt a bit bad). When she asked if she could send a picture to her mother, a doctor, I was hesitant, not wanting to be more of a burden. When I ended up needing to go to the hospital, that meant I had to ask yet more of my roommates. They walked with me, translated for me, explained things to me, told me I was brave. They walked back with me, offered to make a doctor’s appointment, made me tea. I felt loved and terrible. I felt like quite a burden. My roommates were very kind, though. Translating their initial response of “selbstverständlich,” they said this was a matter of course, natural, what they would do for any roommate.
I don’t know if this is a cultural characteristic, and I don’t know if all Germans would act this way, but I am very grateful they did. In all honesty, I’m not sure many Americans, including myself, would be so kind and helpful and welcoming to a new roommate. I tend to be a busy person, protective of my time, and sometimes too focused on my own needs and tasks and goals to pay much attention to others’, particularly those of others I don’t know well. Having had this experience, however, I think I will be more thoughtful in cases where I see people in need. Whatever that need might be, I think I’m likely to be a little more aware of it, and more willing to sacrifice some of my time and energy to ease it – because I know how grateful I am to my German friends for easing my burdens.
This experience did not immediately make me a less independent person, by any means. The morning after I fell I got up, put on a loose shirt I could manage myself, brushed my hair with my left hand, and went on a walk. I rather unsuccessfully tried to tie a plastic bag around my arm to shower, since the cast wasn’t supposed to get wet. This was very difficult to do on my own, but I was resistant to asking my housemates for yet more help, so I made do. I ate food with my fingers, chose simple things to eat and articles of clothing to wear that I could manage on my own. Still, I think the limitations on my independence have been a valuable experience for me, and I think they have helped bond me a little more closely to my roommates. Having them tell me I was “a brave girl” as the doctor washed the wound was touching, and having them send pictures of me all casted up to our other housemates helped me to feel like a part of our housing community. Simply drinking tea together after a long, stressful evening at the hospital felt like a ritual of old, close-knit friends.
In the following days, when I headed to the follow-up appointment in Marburg completely on my own, I managed. I found the office, asked the receptionist questions in German, communicated successfully with the doctor, refreshing my sense of self-efficacy, and increasing my confidence in my ability to independently navigate my life (injuries included!) in this new country.
Life is unpredictable, and that’s something we can never change. Sometimes we can handle the challenges thrown at us on our own, and when we can’t, it’s okay – even necessary sometimes – to ask for help. I know I will do my best to forge an independent path here in Germany, but when I stumble (literally and figuratively), I am grateful to know I have great friends and housemates to turn to for help. And with any luck, my future stumbles will not involve collisions with concrete!