The woman just beyond the flowery curtain appears to be having some kind of meltdown.
I know that I shouldn’t be eavesdropping but the drapes are thinner than smoke and, to be honest, there’s been nothing else to break the tedium for the last 2 hours.
The conversation goes thus:
Meltdown woman (MW): Nurse, NURSE, can you see that man over there in the suit.
Nurse: Erm, yes? sounding slightly wary.
MW: Are you sure….? Can you tell me if he really is…real?!
Nurse: (reaching for the drug supply) I can assure you Mrs X he’s very real , now, can I get you some more pain relief?
MW: I’m so happy you said that, only I thought I was hallucinating from all the medication. You see, that’s my ex-husband. The last time I saw him was the day he left me…..for another man. He was wearing one of my dresses and had changed his name to Philippa.
The curtains were swiftly pulled tight, signalling the finale of the little drama beside me. I almost felt I should applaud. Such is hospital life.
So why, may you ask, am I taking up space in a hospital bed? As you may have already gathered I’m not exactly at death’s door. In fact I have had the cheesiest grin plastered on my face since I arrived this morning. Nurses, ward staff and surgeons alike have commented on my unusually cheery demeanour. In a room full of grim faced women in dressing gowns and surgical trusses, I stand out somewhat, especially as I’m given to breaking into little bursts of song.
The reason I’m deliriously happy is because I’m finally having surgery to mend my stubborn-refusing-to-heal broken wrist.
A fall from my mountain bike 6 months ago left me with a broken scaphoid bone in one arm and a dislocated shoulder on the other. For months afterwards I fumbled my way through daily life like a complete numpty, one arm in a plaster cast, the other in a sling.
Especially brilliant was showing up like that for the first day at a new job. Luckily they saw the funny side and have been kindly tolerant ever since.
Today however, a nice, and hopefully skilled surgeon, will muster his supply of ironmongery and superglue to make heal what nature won’t. In a few hours a small piece of my bone will be grafted into the gap and the bone screwed back together.
For the curious, the scaphoid is a little boat shaped bone (from the Greek word scaphoides, meaning boat-shaped), one of the 8 carpal bones that make up the wrist. Interestingly, the break is also referred to as a ‘snuff box fracture’. If you make a hitchhikers thumb with your hand a little hollow appears at the base, it was in this handy indent that the gentry and well-to-do would place and inhale their snuff (powdered tobacco). The kind of toilet lid-of-drug-taking a few hundred years ago.
Of the Scaphoid, the two main things I’ve learned are:
- It’s most commonly broken in falls – elderly people and cyclists due to landing on out-stretched palms.
- It’s a bugger to heal, notorious for slow fusion due to a limited blood supply.
The anaesthetist cheerfully confirms point 1 whilst slipping a needle into my arm, apparently he’s ‘put under’ several colleagues recently for cycling fractures, mostly scaphoid, mostly young doctors. I’m in good company it seems.
Getting to this point feels like it’s been an especially long journey. Months in plaster, approaching every x-ray and check-up buoyed by hope, followed by disappointment at the lack of healing when it’s gradually became apparent the only option left is surgery. In the scheme of things, 6 months is not long to wait, but, when you’re an impossibly impatient person, stupidly active person, it can seem like a particular kind of cruelty.
However, as much as I would have liked to have railed against a treatment system that isn’t instantaneous, I can never lose sight of the fact that our National Healthcare System is one of the best in the world. Even under the strain it carries today, my wait was miniscule, my injury minor, if completely inconvenient.
When you’ve spent time living and working in countries where poverty means a total lack of care and a pitiful life expectancy, even I can’t lose sight of how privileged I am to have access to the healthcare I’ve received.
I also strongly believe that all experiences, the small and the not so, provide opportunities for reflection and choice.
Not choice regarding the broken-limb experience, I don’t think I’d ever opt for months of a broken wrist, but a choice of how you view your situation. How you step up to deal with it, learning opportunity or catastrophe, grace or self-pity.
I’ll openly admit to having had moments of both, including some spectacular snot-filled tantrums, railing against the world. Thankfully, not in public!!
Conversely I’ve experienced friendships that wouldn’t have blossomed so quickly under different circumstances. I’ve tried new things, such as disability cycling, which never would have been on my radar before and I’ve experienced the world in a different ways. Now, as a non-car driver, I’ve had to embark on many bus adventures. From those I know many of the drivers and passengers and nearly all the timetables by heart. I’ve also walked far more routes that ever before and probably met many more people, always happy to lend a hand where I have none.
Most of all, I know that I’ll eventually heal back to two handed-ness and six months from now this will be just another old cycling war story.
Back on the ward, my neighbour is being given a soothing cup of tea, the panacea for all pain, including surgery and surprise visits from cross-dressing ex-husbands.
My operation, it transpires, has gone well and as I float with the anaesthetic out to the car park to be chauffeured home by family, the next stage of healing has begun.
There’re still a few more months to go yet, but the feeling of progression is heady and tangible.
Until then the learning curve continues and I will keep adding to my list of 2-handed things to look forward to:
- Being able to tie shoelaces
- Opening jars and bottles
- Two armed-hugging
- Changing my own bed sheets
- Playing the piano
- Carrying two mugs of tea at one time