This year has been rather challenging – homesickness, immigration and looming unemployment. So I was surprised that in many ways coping with a broken ankle has been harder than all these things combined. Writing about my experiences has been extremely cathartic. I can see how far I’ve come: from not being able to walk down a hallway to racing from place to place on my crutches, being able to get in and out of cars and how much more bearable the pain has become. Furthermore, my own fears become more manageable when I write them down.
I was having a No Good, Very Bad Day. The previous evening I had a very serious argument with a friend, I was exhausted after an awesome, yet challenging, training session, Wife was in China and I was having trouble sleeping without her by my side.
So I had grabbed a takeout and two bottles of wine and was heading home. I had planned to drink a few glasses of wine in the bath, eat and curl into bed with season one of Glee. As I crossed the road, I stood on an icy patch.
I gasped, the wind had been knocked out of me. I tried to stand up and found that I couldn’t. A passerby noticed that I was laying in the gutter and helped pull me to my feet. He put my arm around his neck and started helping me hobble home. Completely embarrassed, I insisted that I was fine and could walk home by myself. As he disappeared, each step was accompanied by a small sob and some choice swear words.
When I got home, I simply couldn’t walk any further. I collapsed on the stairs and sobbed. I crawled upstairs and tried to watch Glee and take a short nap. I woke up and my ankle had swollen to the size of a mandarin. I admitted defeat. I needed to go to the hospital.
I phoned my father in law, G, who agreed to take me to urgent care. I crawled downstairs, crying out in pain every time that I knocked my ankle. G arrived. He took one look at my ankle and said, “You definitely need to go to the hospital.” I wrapped my arm around his neck and he helped me hop to his car.
In the car, I was in pain and exhausted. So I cried. I ranted. I apologised for wasting G’s time and gas. I worried that the doctors and nurses were going to be mad that I was wasting their time. I panicked about how I would get to work if my ankle was broken. G reassured me that I was not wasting his time, that the medical staff would not think that I was a hypochondriac and that we would worry about any broken bones later.
We arrived at urgent care and G grabbed a wheelchair and wheeled me to the triage nurse. She tutted sympathetically and said that lots of people were coming to urgent care for ice related accidents. I was given a green bracelet with my name, address and health care number on it and told to go to the waiting room.
We waited. Waited. Waited. G left to eat dinner. Waited. Waited.
My name was called three and a half hours later. I was pushed into a smaller room and left alone for a few minutes. Then a short, bearded man in blue scrubs walked in, looking at a chart.
“You didn’t have to rush to urgent care,” he said.
“You only fell a few hours ago. You could have broken your ankle clean in two and not come in for two days. It wouldn’t have made any difference.” He sighed. “I’m 92 percent sure this isn’t broken.”
Exhausted, in pain and humiliated, I snapped. “I’m Australian. I fall over for or five times every winter. I’ve never been able to not walk after a fall and I’ve never been to the hospital for an injury.”
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Australia,” I said, feeling irritated by his apparent deafness.
“No,” he grinned. “Where in Australia?”
“I’m from Adelaide.”
Even through the pain, a small voice inside my head snickered, “That explains a lot.”
“I’m going to get you an icepack, hon.”
He smashed the icepack against his thigh to seperate it and taped it to my ankle. I wanted to cry from the sweet, sweet relief. “The doctor might send you for x-rays, he might not. Don’t worry if he doesn’t.”
“No worries!” And with that he disappeared.
I waited for the doctor for over an hour and a half. The icepack taped to my ankle grew warm and the pain returned. I saw nurses in the corridor and yearned to ask for help, but I felt guilty about potentially taking their time away from a patient with more serious problems.
After an hour and a half, a young nurse popped her head around the door. “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
“I’m in a lot of pain. Can I have a new icepack?”
“Not a problem!”
She taped the icepack to my ankle. “I’m sorry, I can’t give you any pain killers other than Tylenol without a doctor’s prescription.”
“It’s okay! I just really needed a new icepack!”
At that point, the doctor finally arrived. He felt my ankle and decided to send me for an x-ray. Out in the hallway I heard him mutter to a student doctor, “It’s probably a fracture.”
The friendly yet clearly tired x-ray tech helped me out of the wheelchair and onto the table. She looked at my ankle and exclaimed, “You’re going to be learning how to move in some very interesting ways in the next few weeks.”
She pushed my heel into the table and helped me roll on to my side. “Well, if you can manipulate my leg, I guess it isn’t broken?” I asked hopefully.
“Not necessarily,” she said.
“It’s broken!” The doctor sounded almost cheerful.
“So what happens now?”
“The short bearded nurse from Adelaide will come and talk to you about that.”
The short bearded nurse from Adelaide came in. “Guess I was wrong. I rarely am, beautiful.”
I sighed. “I would have been happy if you were right.”
“You’re going to be non weight bearing. So you need crutches.”
“You’re also going to need a cast. We can give you either a plaster back slab – which is free – or an aircast which you need to pay for.”
“I don’t even care at this point. Just tell me which one is better”
“Well, you can take off an air cast so you can scratch your foot, ice it, elevate it and take a bath.”
The short bearded nurses from Adelaide helped me put on the air cast. “You need to push your heel all the way into the cast.”
“Sorry, it just really fucking hurts.”
“That’s okay. Take your time and tell me when you think it’s all the way in.”
“That’s what she said,” I said without thinking. “Um… I hope you don’t feel harassed by that.”
“No, it’s okay.” He grinned.
“It’s in now.”
“You’re going to be on crutches. You need to tuck your leg underneath itself, swing the crutches forward and then hop.”
I tried to stand up, balanced on one leg and tucked the crutches under my arm pits. Hesitantly, I hopped forward.
“Nope.” He helped me sit down. “Let me show you.”
He picked up the crutches and expertly hobbled down the hallway. “You need to make sure that your right leg is tucked in.”
“You know, the irony is that is probably a lot easier to do when your ankle is not broken.”
I started hobbling down the hall. My ankle was hurting, the leg that I was hopping on was hurting and my arms were aching. Without even thinking I put my right leg down, swore, and collapsed on the floor.
Several nurses came towards me.”Are you okay?”
“Is it okay if I swear?”
“Fuck! That fucking hurts!”
The short bearded nurse from Adelaide approached me. “Ah. See. You can’t do that.” He pulled me up and handed me my crutches. “Go slowly.”
Out in the waiting room, the short bearded nurse from Adelaide handed me a card with an appointment time scrawled on it. “I’ll see you in two weeks, hon.”