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It was Christmas Day, the day after I was rushed to hospital in the small hours, after my pelvis cracking dive from a six-meter retaining wall at a party I didn’t want to be at on my 18th birthday. It was clear I would be in hospital for a while.
I fractured my right pelvis ring in three places and would be in traction in hospital for around six weeks. That is, I would lie on my back in bed, not able to get up, even to go to the bathroom the ENTIRE time. FABULOUS! Oh the dignity of it all.
I still had tubes, wires, and drips attached to all different parts of my body, I was heavily sedated, and couldn’t move. I could open my eyes and talk now, so I could communicate by more than just body convulsions as I went into shock, like the previous day when my mother expressed her displeasure at my irresponsibility.
Santa’s little helpers
When Mum arrived flanked by my brother and her sister, it was clear her hostility had not subsided, and she was intent on revenge of the most sinister kind. She brought a number of Christmas decorations, silly hats, and so on. With the full knowledge I couldn’t move, she dressed me up in the lovely paraphernalia, and enlisted some hospital staff to photograph the humiliation for posterity.
I have never actually seen that picture. She told me at the time she would keep it to show my children for the ultimate revenge. She hid it so well, it will likely now never be found.
At that stage I was still in an intensive care part of my new ward which had six other beds and patients who required more serious monitoring. I was significantly younger than my fellow cell mates because… who breaks their pelvis aside from the occasional drunk person? Older people.
New Year’s horror show
I was still heavily sedated and hazy that week and had a catheter and colostomy bag, but New Year’s Eve stood out as a night of particular horror for me. An older lady, likely in about her 80s, was wheeled in after an operation. At first she was unconscious, but when she came around it was clear she was hallucinating and not with her full faculties. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently it is not uncommon for elderly people who have just had operations.
The poor woman grabbed at her drip and tried to rip it out of her hand. I buzzed for a nurse to come to the rescue. One came in, fixed up the drip, and then left. Predictably, the woman panicked and again tried to take out her drips and rip off her monitors. I buzzed again. The nurse came in, fixed up the drip and other monitors, and then left again! I couldn’t believe it! Shouldn’t someone stay with her?
As the evening progressed, she became more and more agitated, and what I thought was self-harm, or potential self-harm, got worse and worse. She was hallucinating and terrified of something only she could see in front of her face. She ripped off her sheets and threw them at this imaginary adversary, caught them when they came down, then threw them again. She did this over and over and became more agitated. Then she tried to escape over the metal bars on the side of the bed.
I kept calling the nurses, they came and fixed her, then left. I asked one of them to stay because I thought she was a real danger to herself. They said no, they thought she was fine, and left. I guess if you are working New Year’s Eve, you can do what you want?
I couldn’t sleep. I think they must have slowed down my medication as it is the first time I remember being awake for a long period of time. Although I was shattered, I couldn’t sleep thinking this woman was going to hurt herself. It was a horrendous evening.
The next day they moved me out of the intensive care section and into the general ward. There were around 15 beds all in the one large room. They put me next to the ward’s newest entrant, and only other person under the age of 65.
My classy new companion
It was New Year’s Day so OF COURSE this was another drunken accident. She was 27 years old and spent her evening at the Bachelor and Spinster’s Ball at the RNA Showgrounds, a huge indoor / outdoor venue near the City. It was a swanky event, she told me, so she dressed in a long ball gown with high stiletto heels.
At some point security asked her to leave the venue for excessive drunkenness and escorted her out. But this was not enough to keep our heroine away from the action. She decided, in her long ball gown and high stiletto heels, to climb the eight-meter-high fence with the barbed wire around the top, and re-join her companions.
Somehow she made it over the top, she just didn’t make it down the other side. She crushed her foot, broke both of her arms, and one of her legs. We argued about which of us was the most stupid. I thought it was her because she remembered consciously deciding that was a good idea. She thought it was me because I got so drunk, I didn’t even remember my incident. We agreed to disagree. Unfortunately for me, I only had her presence for three days or so before she was allowed home. Then it was just me and the aged community again.
Don’t leave me here without the drugs!
After that first week, the reality, the boredom, and the horror of indignity all set in. That’s right, they dialled back the drugs. During that first week, I was in and out of consciousness, had catheters, drips, and other devices that took care of all of my essential bodily functions, from putting things into my body to extracting them out.
Those days of luxury were over. I was now fully conscious when I had to buzz the wardies to bring me the bedpan because I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. I was now fully conscious each morning when they washed me and changed my sheets at the same time so I didn’t get bed sores. They would roll me to one side, roll up the old sheet to the back of my body, while they half rolled out the new sheet on that side. Then they rolled me back over those two bumps, removed the rest of the old sheet, and lay out the rest of the new one after scrubbing down my back.
One day one of the nurses in her early 20s commented how funny it would be if we ran into each other at a nightclub when I was finally out because she had already seen me naked and washed me down. HILARIOUS! It would be a while before I got to use my now legitimate ID to get into one of those anyway…
I was now also fully conscious of the weird adhesive tape stuck down the full length of each side of my right lower leg. This attached me to the traction weight by way of a rope which went through an eye in a bar above my bed, and was weighted down the other side. This traction kept my pelvis in place to heal properly. One morning I asked the doctor how they would remove it. He told me there was some special dissolving solution so I shouldn’t worry about it. After hearing that good news, I promptly forgot about it.
Every day at around five o’clock I watched them bring a cart around all of the beds to administer whatever medication we needed for our conditions. One issue of not moving around at all, is your blood can clot which is incredibly dangerous. So every day I had an injection into my stomach of this incredibly thick serum. Because the serum was so thick, the needle was very blunt, and had to be really stabbed to get in there. Then, again because it was so thick, an immediate pain would shoot out across my stomach and take a couple of minutes to calm down as the thick serum integrated with my thinner blood. Every day I watched that cart slowly make its way around the beds and knew the pain was coming.
In that second week, as the horror of consciousness came back, it occurred to my mother I had been there for a week and they were yet to wash my hair. Lovely! Mercifully after that, they washed it every three to four days.
“I’m on the toilet…”
The following week I began having issues with my bowels. It turns out being horizontal and completely sedentary not only gives you blood clots, but without gravity as an aid, your bowels have little incentive to move things through. Everyone knew about it. Why is that? Because you call them every time you need to go, and they make lovely little notes on your chart about the state of affairs in there.
“Come on Claire, it has been a couple of days now,” one of the wardies would say as they removed a bed pan sadly lacking anything solid. “Don’t make them bring out the suppositories…”
One day, I decided today was the day. I would give it the ol’ ‘College Try.’ It was coming out whether it wanted to or not. I called the wardies, they brought in the bed pan, pulled the curtain around, and helped me prop myself upright on it while offering words of encouragement. It was nice they were rooting for me.
I sat with my sheet pulled over me, giving it my all, when into my little cubicle walked Brad, my hold-hands boyfriend from when we worked at Hungry Jacks (Burger King for the non-Aussies) when we were 16.
“Oh my god, Claire! I saw your parents at Noosa. They told me what happened. I couldn’t believe it…”
“Ah, Brad?” I interrupted him.
“What?” he paused uneasily.
“I’m on the toilet…”
I nodded with a pained expression. A look of pure horror washed over him.
“Oh…. Ohhh…” he exclaimed as he tried to leave my little curtained cubicle. Initially he was unsuccessful and got caught in the curtain with his arms flailing about.
Well that was it. MISSION ABORT – MISSION ABORT. I felt so sorry for him. By that stage, any form of personal dignity or shame was well and truly beaten out of me. I just thought of that poor embarrassed boy as I pressed the buzzer.
But did the wardies come? No. I waited around five minutes before two of them sauntered in. Do you know how long five minutes is when you have just walked in on your ex who you never hit the home run with, trying to take a dump in a hospital ward? Brad does…
When Brad finally came in, he was so apologetic. He told me when he arrived at the ward, he asked the wardies where he could find me. They pointed him over to my curtained off area and nicely neglected to mention I might have been busy. He was horrified at the audacity. I just saw some bored employees used to dealing with old people having a laugh at my expense.
By far the worst part of being completely incapacitated but totally conscious was the unrelenting boredom. Yes, I had an occupational therapist who came each day to dismantle my bed in weird ways so I could exercise my useless muscles. Yes, my parents visited me every other day; they weren’t going to let my accident mess with their holiday on the Sunshine Coast too much. Yes, my friends visited and my brother came when he wasn’t busy after work and watched TV with me for a bit. But there were HOURS of the day and night to fill.
You think coronavirus lockdown or social isolation is hard work because you can’t leave your house? I couldn’t leave my bed! Berner’s Lee wouldn’t invent the internet until the following year. There was no cable TV and no Netflix. I got sick of the TV, sick of reading books, sick of magazines… I was BORED.
But what could I do? I was stuck. There was nothing to do but accept the boredom, accept the indignities, accept my inevitable physical deterioration, and go through the motions. I was, after all, lucky to be alive. For the most part I took everything in my stride and with good humour. But one evening, I completely lost it at one of the nurses.
It was around week four and I was about to find out I could go home a week and a half earlier than originally estimated. It was after visiting hours, one of the new nurses came around, and we chatted about how I was doing. I pondered the traction tape on my leg had been stuck to my skin for four weeks. They had never changed it. I imagined the hair and skin growth and how gross it must be. I mentioned this to this nurse.
“Oh!” she said. “You’re right. How about we change it, then?”
That seemed like a great idea. Off she went and came back with a little cart with some helpful tools on it.
She leaned over me and tried to rip the tape off one side of my leg.
“Wait! Stop! Wait! Wait! Wait!” I yelled at her. “What are you doing?”
She paused and looked at me completely bewildered.
“I’m taking the tape off,” she said as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
“No, no, no. The doctor told me in my first week here there is some special dissolving liquid that will just… dissolve this right off,” I told her. “This is not the way it is done. I distinctly remember him telling me this. My skin has been fused to this tape for four weeks, you can’t just rip it off.”
“I assure you, this is just normal procedure. I don’t know what you are making a fuss about,” she said and forcibly ripped the first bit of tape off.
“Argh!” I yelled. “Get away from me!”
As expected, the tape took off a lot of skin and hairs and parts of my leg were raw and bleeding.
“Don’t touch me!” I yelled again.
The nurse hurried away as I surveyed the predictable damage. Really? REALLY? This was the final straw for me. The doctor told me this would be dissolved off and this woman was just going to assault me unnecessarily because she didn’t know what she was doing.
She returned a short while later and said, “I’m sorry, but this is the only way we can do it,” before quickly ripping off the other side.
“Argh! You have got to be f*cking kidding me!” I exclaimed.
“I’m sorry but there was no other way,” she said.
She then picked up a cheap razor and proceeded to attack my already raw legs.
“What are you doing?”
“What are you doing?” I asked in exasperation.
“I’m shaving your legs so you don’t experience this kind of discomfort the next time we change the tape,” she said, matter of factly as she continued to butcher my pitiful leg.
“The hairs that ARE left are the LEAST of my concerns. This happened because the tape fused to my skin for four weeks and you didn’t find the dissolving solution,” I said. “Now you think taking off MORE skin before layering the same CLEARLY very adhesive tape on top of my already raw skin is a good idea?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” she said and continued to do exactly that.
I wanted this woman as far away from me as possible and I never wanted to see her again. But I was stuck and had to wait until the assault was complete, and I was back in traction.
Mercifully, the following day the doctor told me I would be released early. I would be leaving after four and a half weeks instead of six! WOOHOO! I was REALLY ready to leave now.
Of course I would not be hop, skipping, or jumping out of there. I needed crutches for likely at least eight weeks. I would not be able to stand unaided and would have a special contraption to sit on in the shower. Although I had been lifting weights in my ‘spare time,’ there was significant muscle rebuilding required.
The University I chose before I knew I would start on crutches, was a notoriously hilly campus, so getting from one place to another for the first time would be fun. This would be a GREAT way to make friends… BUT, I would be OUT!
PRIVACY! Remember that?
On my last night, one of the nurses told me as I was leaving tomorrow, I could get out of bed and have a shower if I wanted to. Oh my God yes I wanted to.
She dissolved the tape for my traction (!), helped me with a walker to the bathroom, and set up a plastic stool for me to sit on in the shower. I pulled the curtain back and was on my own. Privacy! Remember that? Ooooooh it had been so long…
I took my clothes off and sat under that sweet hot water for the first time in over a month. It was so good. And I was alone. No other patients, no wardies, no nurses, no doctors, just me… out of bed and sitting under this sweet, hot water.
Suddenly the curtain whipped open and standing there taking in my naked form was the psycho nurse who ripped my traction tape off.
“Can I help you?” I asked after my initial shock subsided.
“What are you doing in here?” she asked still glaring at my body.
What did it look like I was doing? Playing chess? Flying a helicopter?
“I’m taking a shower and I would like some privacy please,” I said sternly.
Really? REALLY?? That was my first moment of privacy in weeks and this woman was taking even that away from me. I had previously suspected, but I was now sure she was warm for the female form. I guess she mostly only got to perve on older bodies so was taking the opportunity while she had it. But seriously. f*ck her for ruining that for me. At least I was getting out the next day. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Home at last
A few days later I was home at my parent’s place sitting in the pool. It was still the middle of summer and it was one of the few places I could exist freely without some kind of support. Getting out could be a challenge, but being in there was bliss.
Mum and Dad sat by the pool and Mum decided she had me captive and now was the time to strike. After that first day when I woke up to my mother shaking her finger and shouting at me about my irresponsible consumption of alcohol, she had not mentioned it again. Perhaps she was afraid I would go back into shock. Whatever the reason, she felt now was the time to again broach the subject.
I was FURIOUS. Alcohol was a part of my parents lives when I grew up, and like most teenagers, I couldn’t believe they had the GAUL to chastise ME about my drinking.
Then my mother said, “So Claire. So what…? What if we have been the worst parents in the world? You’re 18 years old, and at some point, you have to start taking responsibility for your own actions.”
Taking responsibility for being me
At that moment stars collided and something fell into place for me. My actions were my own, and my own choice entirely, not theirs, not anyone else’s. I also pondered they were my age once, and the decisions which lead them to where they were, were theirs and not my responsibility either.
My body may have shrunk, but my mind had just burst wide open. There was a world of possibilities ahead, and suddenly I had the opportunity to be unapologetically me, whatever that meant. At that moment I released any pressure to conform, and the future looked bright. I was starting Uni on crutches. I was going to do it my way, and I would be just fine.
That a-HA! moment hit after a culmination of four and a half weeks alone with my thoughts, releasing my dignity, accepting the many things I couldn’t change, and picking my battles.
Breaking my pelvis was and still is one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life.
I was never a child who had any part of her future mapped out. I had no idea what was coming, and if you told me I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But I would not be disappointed.
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Until next time!