Learning to laugh at my funnybone fracture

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

The worst part of fracturing the funnybone is how punny everyone else finds the state of your humerus.

"Does it hurt when you laugh?" "As long as you still have your sense of humour." And the low-key favourite: "Seems serious. Jokes aside, hope all is well."

Laughter is the best medicine and I can't honestly blame my friends and relatives for not taking my injury too seriously. After all, I tripped and fell off a pavement while laughing at a funny conversation on a WhatsApp chat group. No, I was not text-walking but I was giggling while running, which makes the knees go weak.

It's a funny thing but after consciously avoiding physical pain and discomfort for most of my 35 years, this year, the year I got into the best shape of my life, has been the year I sustained the most injury, and all inadvertently. In May, I threw out my back so badly the doctors wrongly feared a slipped disc at first. I sustained this agonising sprain not while lifting Olympic barbells or doing the limbo but while sitting on a stool and tying my shoelaces before Zumba class.

On Oct 29, I sustained my first-ever fracture, smashing a family record - 35 flaw-free years! - along with my funnybone. Again, this happened not while ducking and rolling to avoid "zombies" on a Halloween fun-run, or while attacking sandbags while blindfolded (my gym occasionally follows Jedi training methods) but because of a well-developed sense of humour. Funniest yet, because of a high pain threshold and an X-ray that showed only the front of my elbow and not the pulverised back, it took three days before the hospital summoned me back for further tests, three days in which I wrote two articles, with an arm twice its normal size and, as I found out later, practically dangling from badly torn ligaments.

One has to laugh. The alternative is to cry and that is just not acceptable to me.

To quote Haruki Murakami: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional," a mantra the Japanese writer apparently uses to push his body through the gruelling ordeal of running a marathon. Journalists all have some version of the endurance athlete's mantra. How often we push ourselves beyond what we thought we could endure for the sake of a story, not for awards but because the thrill of the chase and the weight of the information we absolutely have to convey anaesthetises us to the reality of bodies awake too long and fuelled by fumes.

I have missed family celebrations for the sake of breaking news. I have staggered to my laptop and filed articles with migraines or, as already mentioned, a fractured elbow. And I find, now that I do physiotherapy to rehabilitate my arm, that it is easier to push myself for the sake of some distant ideal than for my own self. Easier to run around for 10 hours interviewing people and then stay up all night writing the article, far easier than bullying my healing elbow into granting me an agonisingly necessary centimetre of flexibility, the centimetre that will one day allow me to touch my cheek as well as my nose.

It is painfully slow progress but laughter heals and helps: My father reminding me every day to scratch my nose, an injunction that went from being ridiculous to being obeyed in six weeks. My mother doing funny dances in between throwing a soft cushion at me - seven weeks and now I can catch and throw it back.

Things that I cannot do are being replaced with a list of things I can, even as the doctor asks me to manage my expectations, telling me that most people never manage to bend their elbows enough to touch their shoulders again after this sort of injury. Horrifying thought - what if I'm hanging off the edge of a cliff with one hand and need to scratch my ear with the other? I won't be able to!

And what about playing the piano?

"Depends. Ever taken piano lessons before?"

Very funny. That's a little humerus break for you.

akshitan@sph.com.sg