I learned the identity of the driver while still in the hospital. A 19-year-old former pupil of my school. The same age as my brother Mark, so they knew of each other. My mother worried there could be an altercation if they met. This was an unlikely scenario. Mark was away at university most of the time and, to my knowledge, had never been in a fight (apart from a time he and his friends were set upon in nearby Beverley… but that’s another story). There were no handbags at dawn.
Several years later at a party, a friend of Mark’s came over to chat. The driver, he said, was sorry for what happened that night. That it still troubled him. He was a nice bloke. I should, apparently, feel sympathy for him. I was incredulous (as were my friends). The driver’s feelings didn’t interest me. ‘Is that so?’ I said. Then walked away. I didn’t feel anger towards the driver, but I didn’t forgive him either. He was a feckless, selfish idiot. I’ve heard his name only one other time – when I was told he’d appeared in court charged with reckless driving. He received a slapped wrist in the form of a few points on his licence.
Although my right leg was no longer in traction, the pin to pull the leg downwards was still there, redundant. It looked like a steel bolt from a crossbow through my shin. After 2 months it was removed, along with the cast on my ankle. I was wheeled into the treatment room, just outside the entrance to the ward. Sue, my favourite nurse, was to perform the procedure.
Beforehand, she joked she wouldn’t use an anaesthetic when she removed the pin. At least I thought it was a joke. She wouldn’t pull out a 5mm diameter pin from my leg without numbing the area first. Would she?
She cut open the cast on my ankle using a Cast Saw. The circular blade was fearsome but it only vibrated, it didn’t spin. It made a loud buzzing sound when Sue switched it on to hold it against my arm, demonstrating it was harmless. In less than 10 minutes the cast was gone. It was extraordinarily satisfying to scratch the itches that had been driving me crazy. The pin through my shin, now fully exposed with the cast removed, was a grisly sight. I dreaded what was coming next.
I was still sure Sue was teasing me about the anaesthetic. Only when she said ‘look away while I do this. I know what you’re like’ did I truly believe she wasn’t joking. ‘I’ll be as quick as I can’ she said.
The thread of the pin was inside my shin bone. The tool Sue used to unscrew it was shaped like a corkscrew. A thin metal rod poked out between her fingers. An Allen Key fitted snugly around the end of the pin. I looked away as she leant in to get a good grip. Through gritted teeth, I groaning quietly as she began turning. This wasn’t nursing. This was carpentry.
The pain was bad but I’d had worse. A deep throbbing inside the bone. My whole leg jerked downward with each turn. Breathlessly, with a smile, she said ‘All done!’ The pin was in her hand. Slightly bent with traces of blood smeared on one end. Unsurprisingly, the holes left behind like stigmata.
She cleaned the area before applying a dressing. I was allowed to keep the bent pin but only after cotton wool was taped over its sharp end. Lest I accidentally stab someone. Over 30 years later I still have the scars on my shin showing the entry and exit points of the pin.
The hospital could be dehumanising but there was also kindness and warmth. Among the characters on the ward was an adorable Irish cleaner in her 50s, with huge thick glasses and a wild curly perm. She chatted to each of us as she cleaned around our beds. Cheerful and caring, she had time for us all. Even our families got to know her. Sometimes it’s the goodness of ordinary people, not the professionals, that make difficult times more bearable.
One day I received a well-intentioned but unexpected reprimand from a nurse. At shift change, the incoming nurses received a briefing from those going home. Patients were discussed. At the time I was very down. Depressed probably. This must have been a topic at the briefing. A nurse I knew well came over to my bed. She drew the curtain. ‘What’s going on with you?’ She said. I looked at her, confused. ‘You need to pull yourself together. There are people that have it much worse than you. Look at you. You’re young. You’re bright. You’re a good looking lad. You need to stop this right now.’
My 16-year-old self was speechless. What response she’d expected? ‘Wow… you’re absolutely right. How did I not see it? I’ll be sure to be happier tomorrow’? I seethed. Did she seriously think a few stern words and absurd flattery would help? I regret not challenging her but I was stunned, and conscious only a curtain separated us from the other patients and nurses. There was zero privacy. I was crushed. I didn’t want sympathy but I did want understanding. The only conversations I had with medical staff were about my injuries, treatment and prognosis. No one at the hospital had spoken to me about the emotional impact of this life-altering event. This conversation was the only time. Ironically the effect was the opposite of that intended. Pull yourself together son. Don’t you know how lucky you are?
Read Part 7: What do you want for your first meal at home?
Traction Pin: http://intranet.tdmu.edu.ua/data/kafedra/internal/i_nurse/classes_stud/bsn%20(4year)%20program/full%20time%20study/Third%20year/Integrate%20Nursing%20Practicum/23.Traction%20Pin%20Care.htm
Cast Saw: https://www.orthotape.com/Cast_Cutter_American_Orthopaedic_Blue.asp