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There have been times when I’ve realized that I know a word in Spanish, without remembering ever having learned it. The word huelga (strike) comes to mind, about which I had this realization standing in a railroad station in northeastern Spain, hoping to catch a train to somewhere. I wasn’t able to, due to the huelga. I believe that instead I hitched a couple of rides, warned each time by the driver of the car how it’s dangerous to hitch and how a German girl had been kidnapped and killed while hitching. It’s such a nice conversation to have among strangers, don’t you think?

There’s another post here about hitching in general and in Latin America, but that will have to wait for another day.

I remember the exact day I learned the words cabestrillo (sling) and esguince (sprain), July 15th, 2004. Just five days after being hit by a truck on my bike on the way home from Saturday morning classes at the Universidad Central, I hopped, skipped, and very gingerly jumped over to the Hospital de Trabajadores (worker’s hospital) to see some people about my stubbornly not-healing shoulder. I had landed from the crash with a terrible splat, directly onto my left forearm, which jammed my shoulder whatsis into the whosis (technical terms). A few days later, I was demonstrating flying to my students with one extended wing and withery short one, like the clownfish Nemo. It’s cute for cartoons, but it was not how I wanted to live my life, if possible.

Since my accident happened en trayecto (en route) to work, or in this case, home from work, it came under the quite generous coverage of worker’s comp here in Chile. This program called ACHS (Asociacíon Chileno de Seguridad, Chilean Safety Association) is a coverage that employers buy for their employess. Here I was treated first to the unguent Deflamat (diclofenaco sódico, a topical anti-inflammatory) and a five-day supply of ketaprofen (HA! I scoff at your short courses of weak NSAIDs).

This later led to a very long relationship with Nelson, the magic physical therapist and his able assistant Macarena (try not to do the dance here, it’s embarassing). We had the TENS machine, and its bigger, badder brother, the plug-in electrostim machine. There were lights and things that pulsed and heat and cold, strengthening exercises, and visits to the shoulder specialist multiple, multiple echo scans, and an MRI and ultimately a steroid injection all in the name of getting my shoulder back to normal. I picked up shoulder and other medical vocablary left and right, filling a little notebook with words learned while people poked at my shoulder and marvelled at the strength of my huesos (strong American bones! they said) and the looseness of my ligaments (soy hiperlaxa, I’m double jointed, or as I like to call it, extrabendy). I can name all the parts of the shoulder in Spanish from the manguita rotador (rotator cuff) right on down.

And the amazing thing here? First of all, of all the therapies and specialists and the dreaded MRI (who knew they were so sweaty and loud?) and the you’ll-feel-a-pinch (OMG, that was a pinch, I thought you were prying my shoulder apart with a crowbar) infiltración (cortisone injection) were all FREE. Gratis. Without payment. I even got the handy sling for free, which mostly served to get me a seat on the bus.

The second thing is that I am covered for life for shoulder problems which are products of this accident. So if you happen to see me riding the old-lady tricycle with a canopy like a surrey with a fringe on top when I am in my golden years, long grey curls trailing behind me, and I seem a bit chueca (lopsided), you might want to suggest that we take a quick trip back down to Chile (surely I won’t be living here by then) to see my old friends and take meander down to the Hopital de Trabajadores to see what kind of magical advances they will have come up with in the 50 intervening years.

Shout out to ACHS. My shoulder isn’t completely fixed, because sometimes you cannot be made whole. But they did a darn good job trying. Okay, now you can do the Macarena. And so can I.