I was part-way through my secondary school exams (O Levels). The culmination of 2 years of study. These exams would determine my future academic and employment prospects. That was all gone. Survival then recovery were my challenges now. Exams were no longer on my radar. Fortunately my school teachers were proactive on my behalf.
For some subjects I’d sat only 1 of 2 exams. Other I’d missed entirely. My teachers notified the examining boards of my situation. Proposing the result for 1 exam be used as my overall grade for that subject. Exceptionally, the examining boards agreed. On that basis I was awarded 4 O Levels. Not a lot but at least something had been salvaged. It was a relief I had Mathematics and English, crucial for my next steps. Whatever the hell they might be.
My friends mostly did well. No disasters. They could graduate to the sixth form to study A Levels as planned. For now they could relax and enjoy the summer.
My dad was proactive on my behalf too. Securing legal aid and the services of a solicitor. My case for compensation should be relatively straightforward – the driver hit me when he was on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t know it then but I’d have to wait 5 years for settlement.
I had lots of visitors. My hospital bed festooned with get well cards. I looked forward to visiting time, although the conversation could sometimes be a little strained. To fill awkward silences I’d say ‘do you want to see my scars?’ The hesitant, fearful reply was usually ‘not really…’. I’d show them anyway. It wasn’t my intention to shock. Although my fresh surgery scars were confronting. I’d become desensitised to surgery, sutures, blood, dressings and medical paraphernalia. Only a few weeks earlier I had no experience of these things.
My pain was mostly under control. I was no longer taking painkillers but I was experiencing phantom pain in my arm. More commonly associated with amputees, this can affect patients with damaged nerves or spinal injuries too. The intense prickling sensation came in waves, seemingly from my lower arm and hand. To try to manage this, I was given a small electrical device with a dial on the front and 2 long wires to attach to my shoulder. Short electrical pulses, like gentle taps on the shoulder, were supposed to block the pain. It felt weird and did nothing to help. I persevered for a week then gave it back.
My left leg, with a hairline fracture below the knee, was encased in a full-length cast for 6 weeks. To remove it the nurse cut along the side with a sharp knife, then lifted the top half, like a coffin lid. The muscle wasting, atrophy In medical jargon, was shocking. Thick dressing inside the cast retained the original shape of my leg. Now there was a 3cm gap all around the new skinny version of my leg. The knee had seized up entirely. I yelped in pain when I tried to bend it. It would take several weeks of perseverance to get full movement back.
2 months earlier, as a 16th birthday gift, my friend Gary had given me a Condom Tree. A small twig in a plant pot with individual condoms attached to its branches. I’d hidden this inside my wardrobe so my dad wouldn’t see it. This became an unexpected problem. We were on the brink of moving house – my dad had a new partner with children of her own so we needed a house with more bedrooms. While I was in hospital the purchase of the new house was confirmed. My dad would need to pack all of my belongings himself… including the condom tree. This made me anxious. Odd given my other, more pressing, issues. My mother asked what was bothering me. I told her – my dad was about to find a twig in my wardrobe adorned with prophylactics. She thought it was hilarious. Impressed Gary had come up with something so creative. ‘Is that all?’ She said. ‘I’ll warn your dad’. Stop worrying.
Confinement to a hospital bed brings its own set of problems. It’s taboo of course but flatulence becomes a serious issue. When the body is immobilised gases can’t pass through it in the usual way. The resulting blockages are incredibly painful. The traditional remedy, peppermint oil, brings only limited relief. A fart is an opportunity not to be missed. Most visitors weren’t exposed to this. My close family – as if they didn’t have enough to cope with – were not so lucky. Occasionally I’d let out a one-man salute during visiting time. Sitting on chairs at eye level to my mattress, it hit them like fog rolling in off the ocean. Once again my family were collateral damage.
The monotonous grind of a long stay in hospital was tough. I desperately wanted to go home. The routine began at 7am every day. Bowls of warm water to wash, breakfast, the drugs trolley, changing bed sheets, fluffing pillows, bed pans, emptying urine bottles, lunch, unconvincing smiles for visitors, word searches, radio, trashy magazines. Coming to terms with my injuries without privacy felt like a cruel laboratory experiment. I needed time alone. When the nurses rang the bell to signify the end of visiting time I’d often be sobbing. Crying for myself but for my parents’ suffering too. The emotional strain was overwhelming.
Read Part 6: This wasn’t nursing. It was carpentry.
Peppermint Oil: https://www.amazon.com/Peppermint-Oil-Essential-Glass-Dropper/dp/B00T11B5Y4