‘The Broken Road’
I sat in the middle of the road, several meters from the intersection. From my realisation to landing here, I couldn’t remember a single thing.
My first instinct was to get up and get off the road, but I’d lost all sense of my right leg from the ankle down. My foot, my ankle, the bottom of my shin, all felt disconnected – the leg was broken. Still, that wasn’t even my main concern. I had to get off the road. Seated here, I was below eye-level. If another car turned, they wouldn’t see me until it was too late.
I flipped around onto my knees and crawled off the road and onto the nature strip. I had no awareness of my lower right leg as I did so, and it was until later – much, much later – that I thought that it would’ve been flopping around behind me like a fish’s tail.
I sat on the nature strip and gently cupped my hands around the bottom of my leg. I could feel the bones protruding to either side. They hadn’t broken through the skin, but they had wishboned. The pain was modest – some areas of soreness, but nothing major. My broken arm twenty-five years earlier had been agony.
A narrative unravelled in my head: surgery. Plaster. Crutches. Swimming would be out – of all the physical activity I was participating in, that’s the first one that leapt to mind, maybe because a plaster cast seemed so incongruent with water. No more going to the football. In the short term, my entire life would change. I wouldn’t be able to drive. I’d be on crutches.
An old Italian lady approached me and apologised. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ she said in accented English.
It took several seconds to reconcile this was the woman who’d hit me. I’d correlated damage and destruction with some errant teen, some idiot irresponsible with their license, and oblivious to traffic – the sort you always see (and hear) speeding down the street. Not this woman. She was probably somebody’s grandmother.
I told her she had to call an ambulance. She apologised that her English wasn’t good enough. Great. To be struck down by somebody who can’t speak the language. I snapped at her, asking how she couldn’t see me, that the light showed a WALK signal. She apologised again and again. I told her – back to calm now, because somebody had to be composed – we needed an ambulance. Something clicked in her head, and she offered to get help, and flagged down another car. The driver here, a woman of thirty or so, was brilliant – she called an ambulance, called the police, and got all the offender’s details down.
I called my parents. When my dad arrived with my brother, my dad’s first words were to tell me this was why I shouldn’t take walks at night – not that it was dark at the intersection. It was so well lit I could’ve worn a black cloak and still should’ve been seen. Who knew what this woman was doing to miss me? But this was my assurance: This is why you shouldn’t take walks at night.
Things started to happen quickly: a policeman arrived to take my statement. Then the paramedics, who gave me the Penthrox Whistle to suck on as they maneuvered me onto a stretcher, then lifted me into the ambulance. They shot me up with morphine, and cut away my sneaker. The paramedic who rode in the back with me reported my ankle was also dislocated as he splinted my leg.
When we got to Austin Hospital, I was rushed into EMERGENCY, where another team of doctors saw me. They removed the splint to assess, and said they had to pop my ankle back into place. This involved gently lifting my leg and unfurling it, the way you might unfurl a sheet over a bed. Now the pain did come, sharp and insistent. They did this several times before they were satisfied, then re-splinted the leg. Then came the shakes, my entire body trembling like it was cold. One doctor reported I was going into shock. I rang my mum from EMERGENCY. She said the same thing as my dad.
I was okay, though. This didn’t scare me. I’d had surgery before: they’d put me to sleep, do whatever they needed, and when I woke up, I’d be on the road to recovery. It would hurt, but it was short-term pain for long-term benefit. And a broken leg wasn’t so bad. People were breaking them all the time – footballers broke them, then came back to play the game just as they had before. Skiers broke them, then went back to skiing. It was a common injury.
I was wheeled several times in to take x-rays – doctors trying to deliberate where the breaks were, whether there was more than one in each bone, whether there was a break in the foot – and then left in a waiting room. Surgery could only be performed after a certain period of fasting, and they had to wait out the last thing I’d eaten, which was before I’d taken my walk. So now, there was nothing to do but wait, with the occasional searing pain tightening in my foot.
By the time I was brought in for surgery, it was around midnight, which didn’t seem surprising that they’d operate that late. But the surgeon told me later that the broken bone had hooked a nerve, so it was imperative to unhook it as soon as possible or the damage might become irreparable, and that’s why he’d been called in.
I was given anaesthetic, and drifted off thinking that come the morning, the worst of this would be over.
I was wrong.