A man with the demeanour (and the tape measure) of an undertaker appeared at my bedside. He was to measure me for a leg brace thankfully, not a coffin. After 3 months I’d finally be getting out of my hospital bed.
My mother was asked to buy shoes with a heel made of hard plastic, at least 2 cm thick. The only suitable shoe was a traditional brogue. The funereal man took the right shoe away to drill a hole through the heel to attach it to the leg brace.
My femur was now strong enough for me to move around but not to bear my body weight. The leg brace would take the weight instead. Two metal poles ran down the sides of my leg, supporting a thick, padded ring at the top that wrapped around my thigh. To walk I had to learn to sit on the ring. To push my weight down through the leg brace, not the leg.
Most broken femur patients need weeks of physio to loosen the seized up knee joint. Progress is monitored by measuring the angle of the bend with a big protractor. In extreme cases, when the joint won’t budge, brute force is used under general anaesthetic. As the patient wakes up the physios manipulate the knee to keep it loose. This, I was told, is excruciating. A strong motivator to work hard at loosening it myself.
I was lucky. I could bend my leg slightly. I was given a leg brace with a lockable hinge at the knee. Instead of static poles, without the hinge. The physios were confident I’d regain movement relatively quickly. Regular bending, unlocking the hinge when I sat down, would help.
Getting out of the hospital bed was an uncomfortable, incremental process. I was stiff and weak. I shuffled around in the bed using only my left arm and left leg. The physios pushed me to go a little further each time. At first I was dizzy and nauseous when I swung my legs over the edge of the bed. Several attempts were aborted. I’d lie back down again to gather myself. Then to try again.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, even the gentle pressure of my feet on the floor caused intense, prickling pain. The mother of all pins and needles. When I couldn’t take anymore I lifted my feet. Then repeated, until the pain was tolerable.
The physios helped pull my leg into the brace, over my pyjamas, and my foot inside the shoe. I looked ridiculous – striped pyjamas, shiny new black brogues and the leg brace. A throwback from the pre-Polio-vaccine Victorian era.
Most people use 2 crutches to walk with a leg brace. Not an option for me. I used a single crutch on the left side, my paralysed right arm in a sling and my right leg stiff in the leg brace. Discharge from the hospital was dependent on passing a test: walk the length of the ward and get up and down a flight of stairs, unassisted. If I managed this future employment wouldn’t be a problem. I could join Cirque du Soleil.
Two physios supported me as I tried to stand. The muscles in my ‘good’ leg, which had also been broken, were weak. Balancing was difficult. The metal ring of the brace dug into the back of my leg painfully. I stood for a few seconds then sat in the armchair next to my bed to rest. After 3 months in a bed, sitting in a chair felt like an achievement.
To walk, the technique was to balance on my left foot, then swing the crutch and my stiff right leg forward. The opposite to get up stairs; left foot first, so I could pull myself up. Descending stairs was hairy. I lowered the crutch and leg brace first, the other leg followed. I discovered later stairs were best navigated sliding down on my ass. Not dignified but less risky.
Motivated by the prospect of going home, I got the hang of walking quite quickly. I was relatively stable, even on stairs.
Moving around now, I’d sometimes get to go the bathroom. It was a relief to no longer need bedpans. Sitting on a toilet for the first time was a shock. I hadn’t realised how skinny I’d become. My boney bum was falling through the seat.
Before the accident I’d lived with my dad. He’d had to sell our house in Bilton while I was in the hospital so he could buy a house with his new partner, in nearby Thorngumbald. The home I’d known for 10 years no longer existed. My belongs were packed away in boxes, including the infamous Condom Tree. I was given a choice: live with my dad, with his partner Chris and her two kids, or live with my mother and her partner Fred, also nearby in Sproatley. It was inevitable I would upset someone. My decision came down to practical considerations. I would need a lot of help during the coming months. Full-time care. My dad’s employer allowed him 2 weeks of unpaid leave. Whereas my mother could have indefinite unpaid leave. I was going to live with my mother and Fred.
‘What do you want for your first meal at home?’ We’d joked about this for weeks (my First Supper rather than my Last Supper). It was now an impending reality. ‘Curry please, without a doubt’. Unappetising, sometimes revolting, hospital food gave me a craving something spicy. My mother was a great cook. We’d grown up with traditional northern English fare mostly but she loved to experiment with foreign foods too. Curry was my favourite.
A prolonged hospital stay creates a yearning for basic sensory experiences. I fantasised about escaping the still, sterile air to feel a cool outdoor breeze on my skin. Of everyday smells, of seeing natural landscapes. Anything other than the hospital ward.
The boredom was constant but I was anxious too. I was trapped in a kind of purgatory. My injuries were life changing but I wouldn’t know what my new life was like until I could get out of the hospital to experience it. Finally, I was going to be able to get on with it.
I said my goodbyes to the other patients. Thanked the nurses and gave a small gift to my favourite nurse, Sue. A hospital porter helped me into a wheelchair then pushed me out of the ward, the crutch balanced on the footplate. My belongings in a plastic bag in my lap, including the traction pin from my shin bone. I left the hospital in the same way I arrived – in an ambulance. This time without the sirens.
Shawshank Redemption: http://90days2transform.theblogpress.com/day-29/
Beef Curry: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/fragrant-beef-curry-with-rice-104202