Back home in time for tea

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Cody gave me a huge welcome home. The last he’d heard of me was when I was lying in the paddock, calling for help.

‘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.

macdougall mug
What I wanted, more than anything, was proper tea 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.

 

couch bed
Bed on the couch; I was about to spend a lot of time here.

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.

Image result for crutchesObviously 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.

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I could make tea, I thought, as long as there was water in the kettle.

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

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Tea at Mum’s.

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.

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.

Discounts could be on the cards for New Zealand’s disabled

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The SuperGold Card gets discounts for pensioners.

Disabled people would get a SuperGold Card-type discount card under a New Zealand First Government, the party’s leader says.

Winston Peters secured the SuperGold Card for pensioners as part of New Zealand First’s

winston peters
Winston Peters – says he admires the hard work of disabled people and wants to help.

confidence and supply agreement supporting the 2005 Labour Government. The card gives people on National Superannuation access to subsidies and discounts on things ranging from transport to household goods.

Now he says he wants to extend the service to 100,000 disabled New Zealanders. He told TVNZ’s Q&A programme today that he has long admired the way in which people with disabilities try to live worthwhile lives despite getting little Government support, and cited the example of a man who had no use of his legs but ran New Zealand’s largest gate-making company.

Peters could well be in a position to deliver on his promise; on current polling, New Zealand First could well hold the balance of power after the September 23 general election.

 

 

Wasted days and wasted nights

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‘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

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A hospital bed is not the place I planned on being that day

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.

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The healing powers of tea should not be underestimated – especially in hospital

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.

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The morphine pump – my new best friend

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

*If my belief in the curative powers of tea seems naive, think on this: researchers are investigating whether the humble cup of tea could combat killer infections like anthrax and hospital superbugs.

I would love to hear from you – please send me a message  or leave a comment below with your thoughts, comments or experiences. And if you think it anyone else will find this useful or interesting, please share using the buttons below.

 

Disabilities minister lands in hot water

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Nicky Wagner

NEW ZEALAND Disabilities Minister Nicky Wagner is being compared to Britain’s Theresa May after tweeting that she’d rather be out sailing than in meetings about disabilities.

UK Prime Minister May’s apparent lack of empathy for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno this week has earned her strong criticism that she’s out of touch with the people.

And now New Zealand’s disabilities minister is being accused of a similar lack of empathy, after tweeting on Wednesday: “Busy with Disability meetings in Auckland- rather be out on the harbour!”

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While Wagner’s faux-pas is not on the scale of May’s failure to meet with the survivors of the horrific fire, it does feed the growing perception of a political class so isolated from the everyday problems of many ordinary people that it thinks it’s okay to make comments like that.

The parallel between Wagner and May has not gone unnoticed:

wagner may

People who have seen Wagner’s tweet are shocked.

“I suggest you step down then,” tweeted @amykspeaks this morning. “Our communities deserve someone who wants to be there and make a difference.”

And @MariaSherwood said:Got a solution for your boredom with the disability portfolio, there’s an election in September, stand down, More time on water.”

Someone who knew a person at one of Wagner’s meetings that day was similarly horrified.

“How dare you be so flippant,” @nzrosie@nzrosie said. “I know one of those disabled people you were meeting with, and she had been looking forward to it four two weeks.”

While most people can understand the sentiment (we would all rather be out sailing on the harbour than at work), Wagner’s comment shows a huge disregard not only for her job as a minister of the Crown, but also for the nature of her portfolio.

Most people with disabilities have to deal every day with the fact that they can’t do the things they want to do. Not bunking off of work; to be able to go to work every day  – even to attend meetings when the harbour is sparkling outside the window – is a dream of many disabled people. With her comment, Wagner shows that she doesn’t fundamentally grasp the challenges facing the people she is mandated to help.

It’s a point not lost on @FionaMcKenzie9, who said: “I hear you – I hate it when our daughter’s disability gets in the way of our sailing. And biking. And overseas travel. Ugh.”

 

Life in the pain lane

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Whangarei Base Hospital accident and emergency department, sometime before midnight, Sunday, November 24, 2014.

Life pivots around events that take place in seconds. Split seconds. A chance meeting, a lottery win, an accident. Events that take us and hang us upside down and shake us until the change falls from our pockets and our brains turn dizzy, and our sense of who we are and what we are is so thoroughly turned out and dusted that we can never be the same again.

In New Zealand, a quarter of us are disabled. According to official figures, in 2013 (the year in which I had an accident), more than one million New Zealanders were coping (or not coping) with some form of long-term disability. That’s a lot, when you consider there are barely 4.5 million of us in this country.

As you’d expect, impairment is most common in the elderly (59 per cent of those aged 65 or more). But don’t think that we middle-aged folk get off lightly; 38 per cent of those of us aged between 45 and 64 have some form of long-term impairment (lasting more than six months and affecting our ability to function). And disabilities affect 16 per cent of young adults (15 to 45) and 11 per cent of children.

The numbers are scary. One in every four people you meet is dealing with something. If you go into a school, every 10th child – that’s three out of a classroom of 30 – has to overcome some sort of hurdle (in the young, hearing, learning and psychological issues are the most common form of impairment) before they even start the day’s lessons.

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. Hearing loss, blindness, developmental delays, psychological impairment, memory loss and intellectual impairment are all common disabilities. But among adults, at least, it’s physical impairment, caused by accidents or illnesses, that is the biggest problem.

Less money in the bank

What surprises me is that I’m one of those statistics. If you’ve been fit and healthy most of your life, you don’t expect to suddenly not be. You know you’ll slow down as you get older, your eyesight will fail and your muscles will wither, and you’ll probably need people to help you with some things, but you don’t expect to lose your fitness – your physicalness – in an instant.

The event that changed my life was a horse-riding accident, an occurrence so small in detail that sometimes it’s hard to trace the line that runs directly from there to here.

Admittedly, the accident came at the end of a tough year, and just a few weeks after I’d been made redundant from a job I loved, so I’d already drawn pretty heavily on the emotional, physical and financial capital I had in the bank.

Nevertheless, I expected to get through an accident in much the same way as I got through everything else, by hanging in and working hard. I didn’t imagine that a seemingly inconsequential decision, followed by a split-second occurrence, would spark a chain reaction that would turn the world upside down.

Unplanned and unwelcome

Neither did I realise that I was about to become a person I would despise – dependent, whiney, incapable and weak, who would make dreadfully bad decisions and fail at some critical moments.

Moving from the world of the “able” to the “dis-abled” (interesting that the “dis” form of the word always takes the past tense) was unplanned, unwelcome and unnerving. Part of me sought to divorce itself from the process and watch it objectively, so that I could write about it, because writing about issues, but also experiences, is what people of my ilk (journalists) do. But to my surprise, I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t up to it. The ball of energy I had rolled through life on had been kicked into touch by my beloved horse’s stumbling legs, and I no longer had what it took to do what for me is the simplest thing on Earth – write.

Obviously, this had implications for my working life, and therefore my family’s income. For nearly two years I tried to push myself into working, because the ramifications of not working were too awful. And besides, it’s what people – including insurers – expected me to do. But it wasn’t until I stopped trying and gave myself the time and space I needed to get better that I started to make progress.

New Zealand is blessed to have a publicly funded health system (albeit a creaking one) providing free care for its citizens. We also have a full-cover, no-faults, national accident insurance scheme, called ACC. But the fact that, as a society, we show enlightenment about healthcare and insurance doesn’t mean that we don’t also have an attitude about “bludgers”. That is, in fact, what has finally made me set fingertips to keyboard; a few days ago I saw a bitter little post in a Facebook group about a person who was on “disability” (the poster probably meant getting ACC payments because he was unable to work because of a disability) but that didn’t stop him painting the house or going out.

We’re put here to work

It was heartening to see some people gently rebuke the poster for jumping to conclusions, or for taking the attitude that if you are unable to work, you shouldn’t do anything at all, but the majority of the comments took a hard line. Rehabilitation is not an instant process but a continuum; you aren’t disabled one day and at full strength the next. Our bodies take time to repair and then to build up strength again, and getting active around the house and going out is an essential part of that.

I know this from hard experience, and yet curiously, as I wrote these words I began to feel anxious about what people would think, because the work ethic is such a part of our culture that to be seen to lack it or doubt it is to put yourself outside the culture.

What I needed when I was injured was to be told that everyone is different and that the road to recovery is long and full of pitfalls. I also needed to know what practical issues I would face.

When I left the hospital, I asked for a brochure on what to expect. The staff told me there wasn’t one. This, then, is my attempt at a brochure, a user’s guide to having a broken leg, as it were. As I have time (I am now back at work full-time, so there was a happy ending), I will write posts about what I experienced and what I learned in case it’s of help to anyone else.

Please also feel free to ask questions or share your experiences.