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Thursday, 16 October 2014

A Fractured Existence Part One: A Fall, A Rip and A Car Wash CT

In my last post I promised to write about my recent health travails, so here goes. The thing is, I'm not the clumsy one in our household. That title belongs - still I would argue - to my esteemed, beloved, absent-minded and cack-handed husband.

My husband - and me - both contenders for this to be our avatar

This is the man who once, casually, called me on a strike day during my teaching days "...just to let [me] know that he was fine now" after accidentally closing our kitchen sash window with some force onto the draining rack containing a blade up sparklingly clean "World's Sharpest KnifeTM" onto his lower arm, stabbing himself. This is the man by virtue of whose existence we have two extra large storage crates under our bed filled with replacements for most of our wedding china and glasses. (As a side point, thanks, John Lewis, for stopping the line of dinner ware I selected for our wedding. At least this affords me variety in my next choices when the remaining eleven dinner plates are gone. Rubber plates are looking pretty good right now.)

See?! Sheep. Terrifying. They're plotting their attach, I can tell

Anyway, back to me. I'm not always without my clumsy episodes either; I've broken my wrist whilst falling out of the back of my own car (back seat, old style seat belt, just enough alcohol to make it worse). And I seem to have countless unaccounted-for bruises. I think I've absorbed some clumsiness by marital osmosis so chair edges, pianos (owww) and tables attract my knees, arms and head like small domestic lightning conductors.  Or one of those scary blue buzzy devices that zaps flies. Yuck.

But it was mainly bruises. And I've made it through some challenges unscathed. Climbing Helvellyn (and some Welsh peaks too) in blizzards. Without falling off, being blown away. Without being attacked by cows or sheep. (Okay, that's a lie. I was attacked by both. Separate times. Those darned farm animals. Husband thought it was hilarious both times. Reminded me to wear a bullet-proof vest when on country walks.)

Anyway,shame I wasn't wearing them a couple of weeks ago, when, totally clumsily and accidentally, I fell down two - TWO - stairs in our shared entrance hall.

I fell far right - thankfully not onto the fire extinguishers - otherwise I would probably be dead. 

I don't remember much about this first part because I hit my head on the wall first, then managed to smack my elbow into the ceramic floor and finally fall flat on my middle back. I'm not a religious person, so can only thank goodness and perhaps some of the karma from those evil sheep and cows that Mat (husband) was there too and found me seconds after my fall. One team of paramedics, about fifty x-rays and eight stitches in my head later I was admitted to hospital with the best set of injuries I ever heard for a fall down two stairs: head trauma, check; fractured elbow, check; and potential further damage to be determined.

I wasn't frightened at this point. I was in a daze from all of it - the constant movement from one room to another for x-rays, stitches, arm plaster, and movement from a stretcher to a hospital bed when, at last, after hours of waiting, one finally became available. I managed to sleep a little from the (I imagine) healthy dose of morphine I was administered. For a couple of hours, then, oblivion.

Woken, I entered what to me is a familiar state of being in hospital: that without a care for dignity. After a visit by doctors on morning rounds I learned that - in addition to the above - I also seemed to have two fractures in my back, requiring a CT scan to figure out what was really wrong and how bad it was.

Because of the uncertainty about the state of my back I risked paralysis by any movement, and was asked about every ten minutes (it seemed) to move my toes, my legs, my knees, and (dignity - again - gone) to tell them if I had sensation in my groin. It was clear my groin was front of mind. I think I can safely say that there has never before been such interest in my groin. Well, doctors, whatever gets you through the day.

I was allowed only to lie flat on my back. Moving was strictly limited to turning my head slightly in one direction or another - and doing the leg movement exercises as my party trick for visiting doctors. All fine and dandy. Until I needed the loo.

Humiliation and relief. And somehow the cardboard makes it worse.

"We have to log roll you," the sister said. "That means that we move you without moving your spine, like a pencil."
"A pencil?" Interesting choice. Doesn't sound too bad. And I get help too. Three nurses one side, another nurse on my left side and a sister at my head holding my neck. Clearly some operation for a bed pan to go under me.
"On my count of "Ready, steady, roll" " the sister said, "we will go on 'roll'."
"I'm ready," I think. "This has got to be better than trying to shove the darned thing under me."
Let me dispell that myth now. Log rolling: TOTALLY sucks.

Log rolling - It may mean I'm not paralysed but it really f-ing hurts when your spine is fractured

I don't think I've ever been in such pain. I also don't think that I probably rolled as well as this, what with having my left elbow in a temporary cast, they didn't have too many options. And then the conversation went on.

"You're wearing pants," the nurse on the left said.
"Yes," I said. What's wrong with that? I'm not Vivienne Westwood or one of those Hollywood starlets who can't wait to flash the paps a bit of something extra?
"Tsk," said the nurse. "We'll have to rip those off."
"You can just slide them down," I said helpfully.
"Too late," said the nurse, dangling my formerly quite nice M&S briefs up for my perusal. 
Now, it could just be me, but there seems to be a genuine dislike for wearing pants in hospital. You're not allowed them for surgery and I get that, but is there a criterion on medical application forms for cloth tearing fetishim?

The hospital system. Ripping off clothes, one piece at a time

[Segue - I forgot to say - on admission to hospital they tried the same thing. But this time with a Helmut Lang jacket. And delerious or not, I was having NONE of it. I would rather have amputated my own arm at this point than have my new and expensive (blood-accessorised) jacket taken off. So I managed to move. It's one of those super-human strength moments. When the only thing to be done is to make the save for the good of, errr, humanity.]

Pant-free and able to re-join the community of acceptable patients, I was awarded surgical stockings - gee thanks - able to proceed and things went ahead. (Eventually I had to be catheterised because the whole log-rolling thing was so excruciating that I couldn't actually go. Side note: catheters are not that bad. I think they'd definitely come in useful on big nights out to save you going to the loo, though admittedly I might have some work on the marketing to do there...can't see Lord Sugar backing me on that one.)

All stockings and no knickers. Hospital chic.

By this point I was making good friends with the hospital ceilings. I had no glasses with me and my contact lenses had been removed. Conversations always began with a nurse or doctor saying "Hello" and me doing my favourite Robert DeNiro impression (including a finely honed squint) to figure out whether he or she was, in fact, talking to me.

Going to the car wash, yeah

After being promised an elbow operation and on nil by mouth (which we all know is the worst - dry mouth, dehydration. On top of pain. Yeah, thanks for that.) I finally went for my CT.
Have you ever had a CT scan? It's like being in a carwash, I swear. You get moved in and out, and there are voices or symbols that give instructions. "Hold your breath" (weird picture of cartoon face resembling TinTin appears). "Breathe normally." In and out I go, and the camera swooshes around my body - I try not to look - car washes can make me feel sick. And then the whirring stops and I am slowly pulled out, waxed, polished and shiny. Just kidding, but really - if you ever get a chance to try it, just see if I'm right.

It wasn't all fun and games, though I'm trying to write the funnier side of things here. The morphine wasn't even touching the pain in my back, my bottom was sore from 24 hours in one fixed position - save those excruciating log roll moments - and my breathing was a gasp of pain in, one out, on and on throughout the day. Each breath another burn of pain to my crumpled (yet pencil straight) body.

After the CT results came back things happened fast. After a day of seeing fairly few people, Mat had just left after visiting hours when one of the doctors came to me. "A very nasty fracture on T12 vertebra" the diagnosis. And this meant immediate transferral to another hospital to take further

You can judge the severity of your condition by the speed of the NHS to move and the number of people dealing with you. I think I counted seven people from the ward and two paramedics from St George's, Tooting, who arrived to take me away. That's some trauma. They gave me gas and air and off I went. That's enough for now. Part two to come shortly.

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