‘Now I was a pile of wreckage in a place I didn’t want to be, and I was going to have to admit what had happened’
Adelia Hallett continues her story about life in the pain lane with a smashed leg (see part 1 and part 2)
Monday, November 25, 2013: It was a long night, despite being more than half over by the time I got to bed. Nurses woke me to check my pulse, ask me about my pain levels (eight, on a scale of one to 10, bearing in mind that I’ve given birth and had gallstones), and to administer drugs. The cotton wool given to me to put in my ears when I came
up from Accident and Emergency helped to block out some of the noise, but was no use against the bright lights and throbbing engines of the emergency helicopter landing on and taking off from the helipad on the roof below the ward windows. At some point, another patient was moved into the bed opposite me. It took a lot of staff, and, from what I could hear, equipment, to lift her on to the bed, and, judging by her cries, she was in even worse pain than I was.
Inevitably, the tea I’d drunk in accident and emergency caught up with me, and my bladder sent me a message to do something about it. Lesson one in life without the use of one of my legs; even the most rudimentary aspects of looking after myself were now a hurdle. It was getting on for dawn, and the nurses were black shadows buzzing through the grey light. I called one over, told her my problem, and she got me a bedpan. I had never used one before, but needs-must, and I gave it a go. I mightn’t have positioned it properly, or my bladder might have been so full that it exceeded the bedpan’s capacity, but urine seeped up the back of the hospital gown I was wearing and soaked the bed.
It’s hard to explain how helpless and humiliated I felt. It was worse than lying in the paddock calling for help. There was, at least, a certain nobility to that; I was a fallen warrior. Now, I was a pile of wreckage on a bed in a place I didn’t want to be, and I was going to have to admit what had happened and ask for help. The nurse who answered my bell was kind. Perhaps she could see how close to tears I was. Perhaps she had seen it before. She got me into a clean gown, changed the sheet, and gave me a cloth to wash my face with. I felt better. The ward had gone quiet, there was a lull in helicopter traffic, and I slept.
Life looked brighter when I woke the next time. It was morning proper, and sun was coming in through the windows. The ward was bustling with activity. Jayne, who had been stranded at the hospital with no way to get home and had been given a bed somewhere, sneaked in with her teddy bear hot water bottle under her arm to see how I was and to tell me she was going home. I rang Sandy to say I was still alive, and at 7.28am fired a text off to close family and friends, letting them know what had happened: “In hospital, horse stood on my leg, might operate today”. I hadn’t realised before how cheering get-well platitudes could be. A gratifying number of texts fired back at me, and my sister and my stepmother (a nurse) rang immediately.
By now breakfast was being served, but I was nil-by-mouth. I took it stoically; I naturally have low blood-sugar levels, and missing morning or afternoon tea, let alone a major meal, is usually a major drama for me. But there was good news to come. Into the morning chaos came the doctors on their rounds. I was prodded and poked and asked about my pain level (down to 7.5), and then the consultant – the big guy – arrived. He told me a lot of things which I didn’t really take in, about my injury and how he planned to treat it, but what I did understand was that he said I could have breakfast, as my operation wouldn’t be performed until late in the afternoon. Yes! The gluey porridge and soggy toast the nurses managed to rustle up for me (when the breakfast orders were done I had still been gloriously injury-free, with no intention of needing a hospital breakfast) were surprisingly palatable, and the tea had the power to right the world’s wrongs. Or at least mine.
Sandy and Tom arrived shortly after breakfast, with a bag of things from home. Sandy was smiling but Tom looked anxious. He patted me a few times, then launched into an explanation about how the radio and headphones he’d brought me worked. I filled them in as best I could on what the doctor had said, and said I thought I might be home on Wednesday.
After they left I drifted. I didn’t feel like reading, and while I said hello and exchanged brief medical information with my roommates, I didn’t feel like talking either. At some point I heard one of the women telling a visitor that they missed the previous occupant of my bed, who had apparently been quite chatty. “I think this one must be in a lot of pain,” she said.
Shortly after three, a nurse came and told me that I was “going down next” to theatre, and started to prep me. Then she left. Fifteen minutes later she was back with the news that I had been bumped off the surgery list for the day. Something more urgent had come up. I am a great supporter of our creaking public health system, but at that moment I cursed it. Inwardly, of course, but with venom. My head understood the concept of treating the most urgent cases first, but the rest of my body didn’t. It was broken and sore, and crying out for attention. On the up side, I could eat again, and it was only a short wait until dinner at 5pm. Then I settled in for what would turn out to be one of the longest nights of my life. Longer than the previous night, with all its drama, and longer even than the night my son was born. Both of those nights had been filled with events. Things were happening, and I was heading towards resolutions.
This night was just long and lonely. I tried to sleep, but it was elusive. I read for a bit, but my brain wouldn’t concentrate on the story. I listened to the radio. But most of the time I just lay there. A couple of my roommates were also having bad nights, and there were repeated flurries of nurses in and out of the room. I felt sorry for all of them – patients and nurses. The patients needed help, and there weren’t enough nurses to give it to them. My brain wasn’t sharp enough to grasp the details of what was happening, but I did pick up the sense of desperation coming from the patients, and harried compassion from the nurses. They called colleagues from other parts of the ward to help them give my room-mates the attention they needed (nursing is a surprisingly physical job, sometimes requiring three or so to do what needs to be done for a patient). That left a shortage in other parts of the ward. Bells rang. Nurses ran back and forth. I tried to lie quietly, knowing that my needs weren’t as urgent, as compelling, as overwhelming.
But overwhelm me they did. Some time in the night I pressed the bell. The activity around the bed opposite me was slowing. A nurse peeled off and came over to me. I told her that my leg was really sore, and to my surprise I found tears running down my face.
She was kind. Motherly, even though she was younger than I was, and (I later found out), didn’t have children. She soothed me. She made the night seem less endless. And most importantly she gave me strong painkillers and told me that I should be using the morphine pump attached to my arm every 10 minutes or so. “You can’t overdose on it,” she said, “it won’t let you. But you need to keep on top of the pain.”
And so another night passed. Once again the morning seemed more cheerful than the night had, and I knew the drill. The doctors appeared again and assured me that I would be operated on that morning. I was changed into a surgical gown, my jewellery was removed (for some reason, the ring I was wearing was taped to my finger), and I was loaded on to a gurney. “Good luck,” my roommates said, and I gave them a thumbs-up.
Down in the theatre suite, the orderly who was pushing me told me that he also worked as an ambulance officer, and had heard my accident called in. People introduced themselves and explained again what they were about to do to me. I told the anaesthetist that I tended to vomit when coming around (he made a note), and I admired the theatre lights, which, from my prone position, looked sculptural and space-age. “We get them at Lighting Direct,” one of the surgeons quipped. And that’s the last thing I remember.
Next post – The Recovery – posted soon
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