‘The Broken Road’
I woke, groggy, in Recovery. A nurse told me I had a clicker in my hand for morphine. Then she wheeled my bed to my ward. It would’ve been early very early morning. I drifted in and out of sleep. The leg must’ve hurt, because come the morning they took the morphine clicker away as they said I’d used it too much – not that I remember using it at all. But things were going to be okay. Surely.
Doctors did their morning rounds and came to talk to me. They pulled the sheet away from my leg. I expected to see a plaster cast.
Some sort of scaffolding had been bolted into my leg, directly into the bones and my heel. The doctors explained there was just too much swelling in the leg to operate and insert plates, so the scaffolding – known as an external fixator, or x-fix for short – would hold everything in place until the swelling had gone down. My ankle and foot had blown up and were purple, and my foot was almost dead to all feeling.
This began my new life: nurses checking my vitals regularly; checking the pulse in my foot and testing it for sensation; drowning my foot – elevated on a heap of pillows – and ankle in bags of ice; constant painkillers of Panadol, OxyContin, and Lyrica (and, the one time I tried to decline them, I was strongly advised to take them, because if I let the pain back in at its full level, it would be harder to push back out); and living in a bed, peeing (for the first few days) through a catheter they’d inserted (until the surgeon told them to take it out because, apparently, catheters heighten the risk of infection), using a bowl and pan otherwise, washing myself with a hand-cloth, and having to hoist myself up by a handrail so the nurses could change the sheets under me.
The doctors checked me every morning to monitor the swelling, whilst the surgeon would occasionally come in at night to have a look for himself, and repeatedly tell me, ‘This is a really bad break. A really bad break.’ He explained to me that while the swelling was so bad, he couldn’t operate, because he might not be able to close me back up, which could lead to other problems. I quickly learned to prioritize his opinion above everybody else’s.
The first few days I was miserable. The pain was never horrific, but it was always there, sometimes fluctuating, but a steady beat that was hard to ignore. I couldn’t look at the x-fix – to see the way this thing bolted into my leg right through my skin. I kept it hidden under the sheet. But as I came to accept it, I grew at peace with it, and it’s current role in my life. My mood even perked up. It was just a
~ really bad break ~
broken leg. It would heal. Allie told me I’d be back to normal in no time.
I had my laptop brought in, and got hooked up to the hospital internet, and regularly had visitors. Allie was fantastic, bringing me breakfast every morning before she went to work, since I had (dietary) issues with the hospital menu, and she came back evenings, and occasionally brought me something to eat.
Our ward overlooked the street, and I had the bed by the window, so I would stare out forlornly, wondering what awaited. To have come so far, to seemingly be back on the right course after two years of unrelenting health issues, only to be literally struck down. I couldn’t make sense of it. I wanted to believe that everything had a purpose, but it was hard to find a purpose in this.
I became friends with the other patients as they came in and out, as well as the nurses. I had to tell the story of being hit repeatedly, people marvelling that it was so random yet arbitrary – just crossing the street when I had the WALK signal and right of way.
Gradually, other problems arose. The thigh of my right leg developed a rash thanks to something in the hospital, and for a while I had to apply Calamine lotion to settle it down. The painkillers caused constipation, so after a suppository caused the opposite reaction (going too often), a dose of laxatives were added to the mix of medication I took every three hours. My right leg wasted away until it grew thin. A nurse told me it only took three or four days before an unused muscle wasted away.
After I’d been in a week, the doctors who performed the morning rounds began speculating that the swelling had slowly started to go down, so surgery should be imminent. The surgeon was more wary. On the eighth morning, I had to fast in anticipation that the surgery would go ahead. The surgeon checked me and said the swelling was still too bad. On the tenth morning – a Sunday – I fasted again. The doctors on the morning rounds said the swelling still looked too bad, but the surgeon came in shortly after them and overruled them.
They prepped me for surgery, and relief and excitement flooded through me.
Finally, something was going to be done.