‘To have to depend on the goodwill – and awakedness – of others for tea seemed unbearable.’
ADELIA HALLETT’S STORY ABOUT LIFE IN THE PAIN LANE WITH A SMASHED LEG FROM A HORSE-RIDING ACCIDENT (SEE PART 1 , PART 2 , PART 3 and Part 4).
There was only one thing on my mind when I got home from hospital with a broken leg: tea.
And pain, of course, made worse by having to negotiate a hundred metres of gravel driveway and an uneven concrete path, two gates, three steps and a squirming Cocker Spaniel, who thought I must have been still lying in the paddock calling for help as I was when he last saw me, five days ago.
Once inside, I collapsed on the couch and demanded tea. Proper, home-made tea made in my own kitchen and served in my own cup.
Sandy, who had unloaded my bathroom equipment from the boot of the car while Tom carried my hospital bag and the
mountain of pillows I’d been ferried home on, put the kettle on. We drank tea
together, I took some drugs, and then I fell asleep. And that, basically, describes my
life for a while.
I had had an operation before, so was prepared to feel lousy for a bit after getting
home. I understood that that was part of the contract for fixing me up. We were living
in Auckland when I had my gallbladder removed in 2004. I had the operation, spent a
couple of days in hospital, came home, had meals in bed and afternoon naps on the
couch, and by the weekend I was ready to be bundled into the car and taken to the
world’s best fish-and-chip shop at Miranda (south of Auckland, on the Seabird Coast)
for a celebratory lunch; people with gallstones cannot eat fish and chips, and it had
been a while.
So I was prepared to be patient. A patient patient, if you like. As my first day at home
wore on, Sandy and Tom cooked dinner and fed animals and did the usual end-of- the-
day things. We caught up on news. Watched some television. I did a bit more sleeping
and took more pills.
When it came time for bed, I issued instructions for making up a bed on the couch. This was partly out of consideration for Sandy (I knew I would be restless and there was no sense in both of us not sleeping), but mainly out of consideration for me; the thought of my leg getting accidentally knocked in the night made me turn white.
Sandy helped me to the bathroom and back, arranged a lamp and a torch within easy reach, along with the pills I would need to take in the middle of the night and a glass of water, and left me reading my book.
What I remember about that night is that it was hot. It was the 29th of November –
practically full-blown summer. Which in the north of New Zealand, where we live,
means hot sticky nights. Sandy left a window open behind me, and at some point in
the night I used a crutch to lever open another one above me.
The pain got bad and I took pills. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. They were behind my head, on the coffee table beside the couch. Between me and them was the couch arm. Too high, from my prone position, to reach over and pick them up. The options for an able-bodied person would be to prop herself up to reach them, or to hop out of bed and get them. It took me about 10 minutes and a lot of bumps to manoeuvre myself into the position where I could reach them. After that I kept them on the window sill.
The worst thing was going to the toilet alone. Eventually, I had to. Usually if I get up
in the night, I walk to the bathroom without turning on any lights, confident that I can
negotiate our house in the dark.
Obviously that wasn’t going to happen for a while. I turned the lamp on (more squirming to reach the switch) and sat up on the edge of the couch. My crutches were on the floor below me. I pulled them to me with my good leg, took a deep breath, and heaved myself upwards.
It’s harder to get up on to crutches off something soft like a couch than from, say, a chair and table. Couches and easy chairs seem to be lower, which means you have to push yourself further to get upright, and their soft coverings don’t offer much of a firm foundation to push off from.
But I did it, and crutched my way through the lounge and the kitchen, my torch bobbing awkwardly along with me (where DO you put a torch when both hands are fully occupied with crutches?)
So far so good, but at the stairs I faltered. When I say stairs, I mean steps. Two of them, from the kitchen down to the laundry. Fortunately, they were only about two feet wide, with solid walls on either side, but to me, teetering at the top, they could have been the Grand Canyon.
I was sick with fear. All my hospital-steps- confidence was gone. I wished Sandy or Tom would wake up and help me, but drew the line at deliberately waking them. Somehow, I wobbled my way down and into the bathroom, but it was pretty hairy. By the time my pounding heart and I got back to the couch I was sweating and exhausted, and resolving not to drink any more water so I didn’t have to do it again that night.
The upside of wearing myself out was that I fell asleep. Besides, the drugs were kicking in again, pushing the pain back out of the overwhelming zone and into liveable.
It was dawn when I woke again, which at that time of the year, in this part of the world, is about 6am. Lying on my back, watching warmth seep into the grey light, I realised just how dependent I now was.
Often when I wake up early, especially in summer, I get up quietly, make a cup of tea, and enjoy the special early-day magic. At that time, I was part-way through a degree in geography, and would often curl up on the couch with a pile of textbooks for some undistracted reading.
Sometimes though, I would go out on to the deck and sit on the steps with my tea, and, with Cody the dog beside me, let myself wake up with the world.
In theory, both were still options; you don’t use your leg to read, and the deck was just a few feet from where I was lying. But even if I could reach my textbooks (I couldn’t carry them and crutch), my brain was too foggy for that sort of reading, and after the night-time bathroom performance, going outside on my own (change of levels from the house to the deck, wooden slats slippery with dew) wasn’t an option.
So I concentrated on that most basic of morning rituals, a cup of tea. I had proven I could get to the kitchen, albeit in dodgy fashion. The kettle is on the bench by the stove. The sink – and therefore the water supply – is on another bench that isn’t connected to the bench with the kettle, so being able to boil the jug would depend on whether Sandy had left any water in it. The cups are in the cupboard above the kettle, and the tea is in a caddy beside the kettle. So far so good.
Getting milk from the fridge could be a bit of a problem, but I should be able to reach it with one arm, and if not, I could drink it black if I had to.
But then I ran, metaphorically speaking, smack into a brick wall. How was I going to carry my tea back to the couch with both hands fully involved in the task of driving my crutches? Briefly, I contemplated leaning against the bench to drink it, but really I knew that standing upright for that long wasn’t feasible. My leg would swell and throb, and my head would get dizzy –conditions beyond the miraculous healing powers of tea.
And so I waited. And as I did I was filled with despair more overwhelming than
anything I had so far gone through. I had thought that lying in the paddock unable to
get help was bad. Then I thought that needing help for the most basic functions in life,
like going to the toilet and putting on my own knickers, was bad. But this was a new low.
You might have already guessed – especially if you have read my Tea On The Road blog – that tea plays a big part in my life. I come from a long
line of tea drinkers. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins talking and laughing while they drank tea in the farmhouse kitchen. Whenever something happens, we reach for the teapot. Sandy and I will go out for coffee, and then as soon as we get home will make a cup
Tea lubricates our lives, making any obstacles surmountable. To have to depend on the goodwill – and awakedness – of others for tea seemed unbearable. Tears slid down my cheeks and I slid into self-pity. How on Earth would I get through this? I would be in a cast for at least six weeks. The ramifications of not being able to function even on a basic level were, I now realised, overwhelming.
*To find out how I got in this position, see my earlier posts, starting with this one.