Up until this point, I have never broken a bone. I managed to get through a pre-teen track phase, cheerleading phase, a teenage angsty skateboarding phase, into becoming a full-blown workaholic under sometimes questionable business practices. Ones that led me to dragging 30-pound shipment boxes up a 12-foot ladder without breaking anything. I’m accident prone, for sure. There have been bruises, concussions, stitches and sprains… but never a broken bone. I can’t say that this happening when I’m near 40-years old is the most ideal time to break one. It would have been way more ideal for this to happen when I was in my vivacious teens or 20’s, where my body would have probably snapped back within a week or two with no problems. Now I’m probably looking at a life-long injury. Lots of people break bones. After this experience, I’ve discovered a lot of people I know have broken their ribs, in particular. Me breaking my ribs isn’t really anything interesting. How I did it might be. I broke my ribs on a can of soup.
Me, 1994. Full of teenaged-angst.
I suppose Canned Campbell’s soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods for me. I mean, of course it isn’t as yummy as a simmering crock-pot full of pot roast or a plate of my aunt’s melt-in-your mouth gnocchi…but it is comforting to me in the respect that I may have eaten more Campbell’s condensed soup cans than anyone else in my age group. Probably not, but I dare say I’ve eaten more than most.
My mom was a working mother, and took no joy in the art of cooking. She had a hot, prepared meal on the table most nights of my childhood. If not, there was drive-through. Always pizza on friday nights for my dad, wich was his favorite. She had no passion for cooking. Most of the meals were gleaned from the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook or from recipes on the backs of pre-packaged foods. I think a lot of us ate that way back then in the 70’s and 80’s. Not to say those meals weren’t tasty for a kid. Some of my favorites included an enchilada casserole from the afore-mentioned cookbook, taco night which consisted of pre-packaged taco shells and ground beef seasoned with a Lawry’s seasoning packet, and steak night complete with Velveeta Shells and Cheese and canned green beans. All of which was of course served with a big, tall glass of milk. I fucking shudder to think about all that milk I drank, but that was what was believed to be good for kids at the time. We also believed a can of soft and mushy green beans were nutritious. That brings us to canned, condensed soup.
My favorite lunch on the weekends when I was a kid was a bowl of soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. I had favorites: Chicken and stars, chicken alphabet, vegetable beef. In the 80’s the licensing of products exploded, so there would also be Star Wars-shaped chicken noodle, Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles, Smurfs… you name it. Those didn’t always taste as good but they were magical. Getting to eat a bowl of soup featuring your favorite characters always somehow made it seem way more exciting. Sometimes, you could cut the label off of those special character-themed cans and behind it would reveal a game such as a maze or a connect-the-dots. Those were the best. A meal and a prize all in one. I ate so much condensed soup in my house that all of our 70’s era Tupperware plastic bowls had a permanent ring burnt in them at the exact level as one can of soup and one can of water would leave after being in the microwave for 2.5 minutes. The grilled cheese would be two pieces of white bread, with kraft singles in the middle toasted in the oven on the broil setting with the door propped slightly open. Nothing fancy, but I still have a very real, and very gross attraction to shitty-ass American cheese slices. The sandwich would always come out perfectly brown, and cut diagonally. I would sit at the coffee table and watch MTV, eat soup and a sandwich, then go back out to play in my backyard. My mom passed away in 2001, which still surprises me about how long ago that was. Those were good memories.
It wasn’t just my mom that would serve this to me. Both my grandmothers would as well. Grandma Heeley would mostly make me the classic chicken noodle or chicken and stars. She also would serve me what is now my ultimate favorite and the hardest to find Campbell’s soup of them all: Old Fashioned Vegetable. Old Fashioned Vegetable, with its strange broth, little button-shaped noodles and diced carrots and peas…it still remains my favorite. It is so hard to find. When I do find it, I buy 10 at a time. Its the best soup I’ve ever had…inexplicably so. As a kid I fucking hated it. I mean, it literally looks like something served in a hospital cafeteria. The broth is watery, slightly green-tinted and remotely beef bouillon-esque. No little kid wants to eat that vs Chicken and Stars. Grandma Heeley always had it, and it reminds me of days spent at her house after feeding the ducks at the park scraps of bread and trips to Kmart where I was given $10 and free-reign in the toy department. Dessert would be cups of lime jello she made in anticipation of my visit with canned peaches in the bottom in her amazing cut-crystal champagne glasses. The afternoons would be filled with playing cards with my grandpa, watching prime time shows he taped on the VCR that were on after he went to bed, eating roasted peanuts in the shell and clipping coupons. Her grilled cheeses were more complex. She always had bagels, and she would toast me one with Velveeta melted on both halves in her toaster oven. The cheese would melt down into the hole of the bagel and get all crispy and brown. It was delicious. I still own that very same toaster oven to this day. Whenever I make something in it I can’t help but think of how many times meals have been made in it, as well as how many treats I’ve eaten from it in my lifetime. It is probably one of my most prized possessions.
There she is. In all her glory.
As an adult, I still keep plenty of cans of soup on hand. Sometimes I buy the fancier kinds…but I always want to revert back to the Campbell’s I know and love. These days it tends to be vegetable, minestrone, chicken alphabet (still), Old-Fashioned Vegetable if I can find it, and Chicken and Rice. I know its garbage-food, but it’s just so comforting. More so than anything else. That brings us to present day. How did my most beloved food break my fucking ribs?
I work a lot. I mentioned before that I consider myself a work-a-holic. I’ve been this way since highschool. Back then I was in school, took AP classes, was a member of 3 choirs, sang in a ska band, was a journalist for a local paper, authored a zine, photographed for a different local paper, as well as volunteered for endangered LGBTQ youths. This behavior of having an over-full plate did not stop into my adult life. I have to keep busy. If I don’t, I fall into a deep depression. I can’t just do nothing. If I’m not filling my time with activities, I feel like its time wasted. As I get older, I realize I can’t keep going like this. I need to slow down and enjoy life. This accident definitely made me see the insanity of my workload. I have 3 bartending jobs, working 6 days a week total. This leaves me very little time to do many things such as grocery shop, laundry, running errands…you know normal person shit. I get very tired of eating the food at all three places that I work at. Nothing against any of the menus, but you can only eat the same few things for so many years before you start to feel insane…and disgusted. Not to mention, unhealthy. Bar food isn’t necessarily there for nourishment. It’s there to soak up the booze so you can get home or continue to drink. Eating the food at my work lead me to gain 20 pounds over the last year. Across the three menus of the 3 establishments I work at we offer nachos, quesadillas, pizza, burgers, and onion rings. Fuck. I now carry a can of soup in my purse at all times. it’s an option that’s always there. No matter what, there’s soup. Light, vegetables, satiating and most important…not work food.
Me, circa 1997. Getting ready to go on-stage with my ska band.
Like I’ve probably hammered home by now, I work a LOT. This means I never see my friends. The odds of their schedule just happening to line up with mine is impossible. I felt like a hermit. I decided to make plans for lunch with my friend Kyle on a Monday no matter what. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. Unfortunately, Monday was met with a blizzard and an ice storm. In fact, this is the coldest winter in Portland history since the 30’s. Even that wouldn’t stop me. Kyle and I live 4 blocks from each other. No excuses. We decided to meet somewhere on our street. He picked the place. I would need to walk 6 blocks. I suited up and headed out.
This snow storm was bad for everyone. The city didn’t know how to handle it. Even though it seems to snow here once a year, every time its like the weather has never been seen before. The city of Portland had to borrow 12 snow plows from seattle to combat the pile up on the roads. Also, the sidewalks. No one salts or shovels their walks here. The salt is frowned upon as its viewed as an environmental hazard by Oregon’s overly- liberal populous. The shoveling lack would be due to sheer laziness or, perhaps ignorance? Either way, the sidewalks and roads became death traps as the Trimet derailed, buses slid into snow banks, dozens of car accidents occurred as well as people being so terrified of road conditions vehicles were abandoned on the side of the highway. I’ve lived in Portland for some time now, so I’ve learned to adapt to best of my ability to the conditions. Slips and falls are common no matter how careful you are. I was being very prudent as I toddled my way to meet Kyle for lunch. I never took my eyes off the ground. I was taking careful baby-steps and doing the recommended “penguin waddle”, and was avoiding the ominous-looking slick areas. I was going at a snail’s pace.
This is a very familiar walk for me. I’ve lived on Alberta street for over 3 years now. I passed Petite Provance (who had a sidewalk line to get in, even in this weather), and began to pass in front of Trade Up Music. This is where it happened. There was a massive patch of glimmering sidewalk stretched out in front of the length of the building. I took a chance and stepped on to it. I immediately started to slip. My feet slid back and forth underneath me and I couldn’t get control of them. I continued to slide and slip of what felt like a very long time. My feet skidding out from under me, every which way like a Looney Tunes character. There was no where for me to go and nothing to hang on to. I knew I was going to fall.
I have very severe Scoliosis. I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old. They told me back then that I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 25 if I didn’t have a series of invasive back surgeries, including a metal rod fused to my spine. They told me once it was done, I wouldn’t be able to curl my back anymore. I would be in a permanent, upright position and would have to continue to have surgeries for the rest of my life. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Especially as a teenage girl? At 16, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to have. I made the decision to go as long as I could without any operations and hope technology would advance on this matter in the future to something more livable for the patient. My parents supported my choice, although reluctantly. My mom was very worried about what my future would look like but didn’t force me to go ahead with the procedures. I believe I made the right choice. I am not in a wheelchair, however I have to be extra careful of what I do if I want to preserve this back and live a normal life. When I started to fall, instinct was to protect my delicate, curved spine. I twisted, and fell on my left side. My purse swung underneath me as I made impact, the entire contents of it forced between my ribs and the concrete. Those contents including one can of Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup. Imagine the force of your body weight slamming a can of soup into your rib cage. I felt it when it went in. A white-hot sharp pain went through my chest and straight to my heart. I was fucked. There was no question in that moment that I had broken something. I yelled out in pain, splayed out on the ice and couldn’t move. Never in my life did I believe I could have a fall this devastating when alcohol was in no way involved.
I’m not sure how long I actually was lying there. It felt like 10 minutes, but I’m sure it wasn’t. No one came to help me up, and people heading to get brunch or fucking Salt & Straw stepped around me as I lay face down groaning. I’m not sure why I was surprised. When I finally did attempt to push myself up, my chest lit up with horrible pain and I fell down again. I managed to roll over on my uninsured side and drag myself with my right arm across the ice until I got to the end of the patch to the actual street and pushed myself up. Once I got upright, the pain wasn’t as bad. I had hopes that it was just bruised badly. Bruises suck, but t hey heal a hell of a lot faster than broken bones. I met up with Kyle to get a stupid burger at goddammed Little Big Burger.
The burgers are whatever, but damn…those truffle fries.
Sitting down was excruciating. Breathing was excruciating . Kyle making me laugh hurt so bad, I wanted to throw up. Halfway through this meal I knew for sure that this was no bruise. I was riding the glorious adrenaline wave your body provides you when you hurt yourself, but it was quickly wearing off. This was serious. Lucky for me, I had to be to work in 3 hours. There was no time to get anyone to cover my shift at that point. What’s worse, I worked the next 4 days across 3 different bars. That’s what I mean about my workload being insane. It’s already a crazy amount of work and a schedule no one in their right mind would want. If I get sick, or in this instance break a fucking bone, getting emergency shifts off effects so many people and schedules it’s near impossible. Not to mention, that ice storm that landed me here in the first place (pun intended). People were struggling to get to work. No public transit, no cabs, no Lyfts or Über, unsafe road conditions. I had to just suck it up and go to work.
I did one full shift and one partial before I could take some medical leave. All of my coworkers were really understanding and made sure I did as little lifting as possible those days I was there. Those shifts were so hard. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I made it, though. The fucked up thing about breaking your ribs is there’s literally nothing they can really do for you. All they can do is give you pain meds and tell you what you shouldn’t do. That’s it. They don’t even want you to wrap it, as it may heal incorrectly with compression. All you can do is not overextend yourself and wait. It will take about 3 months for it to fully heal, and that’s only if I manage to not further injure myself in the meantime.
This fall could have been way worse. I shudder to think what would have happened if I fell on my back. I’m grateful it wasn’t worse…but it still sucks. I’d like to say every day its feeling better, but as of now it still hurts just the same. I wake up several times in the night in horrible, icky pain. Laying down is surprisingly the worst, sitting is a close second. Weirdly enough, standing is the most comfortable. That made returning to work possible even though my movements have to be limited. After my bed-rest I realized I have to give up one of these jobs. No one should work 6 days a week, not have two days off in a row, and I’ve been doing it for nearly a year. I’ve been missing out on life, experiences, people I love and hobbies I used to be passionate about. At the end of the day I chose to miss out on some money and live a little of the life I have instead.
So what do I do with this can of soup? Friends have suggested I eat that fucker and show it who’s boss around here. In reality, that can of soup is who’s boss because that shit didn’t even dent. No, it dented me instead. For now, It sits on a shelf on a makeshift shrine as a constant reminder of how fragile I really am and that I need to take care of myself already.
The actual can. On its very dusty shrine. It is physically stronger than me. Humbling.
Four days after I broke the ribs, I woke up with a head-cold. As if I thought it couldn’t get worse, it then did. Sneezing and coughing with broken ribs is a hell I cannot describe. My biggest fear was breaking them further every time I had to sneeze. I normally don’t take a lot of medications, but in this scenario I drugged myself up on any over the counter thing I could find to stop the symptoms. This also lead me to discover a new, fresh hell: Barfing with broken ribs. Turns out, eating a ton of pills and then taking your shift drink at the end of the night will not go well. I do not recommend. I bought myself health insurance. I’ll figure out how to pay for it somehow, even though I chose to leave a job. I can’t do this shit anymore. I’m too old to be gambling with no insurance.
In writing this blog, I wanted to include a picture of my grandmother’s toaster oven that I’ve been clinging to all these years. It survived 5 moves across 2 states and still worked like a champ. While looking for it, I learned that during my house’s kitchen remodel, it got mistaken for garbage and thrown away. It’s not my roommates fault. This toaster oven looked absolutely terrible. I mean, the thing was around before I was born. The inside was nearly black, the little swinging door was permanently smoked-over dark brown. I don’t blame them at all for mistaking this as garbage. I was working too much and didn’t get a chance to go through everything thoroughly before the purge and it got missed. I became incredibly sad that I let this happen. I felt devastated and began crying. I have so few things left of any of my deceased relatives. Sometimes I feel like my past and my memories of my childhood are slipping away as easy as it was for that toaster oven to get accidentally sent to the dump. Through writing this piece, I found comfort. I don’t need to have the physical toaster oven in my kitchen to remind myself of all the meals my grandma made for me in it. I still remember her, the time we spent together and her essence as a person. As the years pass, the details fade. I still remember her.
R.I.P. Toaster oven. I will truly miss you.