REPORTERS have a strange life. We’re observers, rather than participants. Asking questions rather than having to answer them.
This last month, though, I’ve had a severe dose of participation. Real life intruded rather painfully, and suddenly I was the one being rushed to hospital, experiencing A&E, having operations cancelled, being cared for by wonderful nurses, hearing other people’s horrific medical stories and then discovering how frustrating and debilitating it is to have to rely on others to do everything for you, being housebound.
The cause of all of this? Breaking my ankle after a spectacular fall from my youngest son’s Hot Wheels scooter. Having a quick turn on it turned out to be not so hot after all.
I still have no idea how I managed to break it so badly that my foot was left at right angles to my leg and required a plate and seven screws to put it back together. But I’ll never forget the wrenching sound of my right fibula breaking.
Nor will I forget the kindness of the stranger who found me on the ground, howling at the sky, and called 999. Or the ambulance technicians who reacquainted me with my old friends gas and air and helped me resolve my childcare problems by calling the relevant people, or the nurses I met at the Royal Infirmary, every one of whom was sympathetic, professional and always quick to arrive with the oral morphine (it tastes how you’d think the damp patch on the ceiling in the pub toilet would).
Being on the inside of the hospital was an eye-opener. I realised that when you’re in pain and in A&E, perception of time passing is heightened, so a minute feels like half an hour when waiting for a painkiller to come.
For the first time I became properly aware of the bed shortage, rather than just hearing of it second hand. I was put into a cardio ward as a “boarder” rather than orthopaedics as it was just too busy – one of many such patients, I was told. It made me feel out of sight, out of mind, which was further exacerbated by the fact my operation was postponed three times.
The attitude of the nursing staff contrasted hugely with that of the surgeon, who was so offhand he would happily have allowed me to go home while I was still needing morphine, had no crutches, and a cast which had been cut open. He did the important bit brilliantly, but it was a cast technician who really told me how bad it was and what I needed to do to heal quickly.
Of course when you’re in pain it’s hard to think about anything but yourself, but post-op I was given a bed in orthopaedics, and there I realised how lucky I’d been. Three other women were in the ward, all of whom had been through major operations and were left unable to walk, one unable to even touch anything as a spinal nerve had been nicked in error, another in her late-20s having to self-catheterise because of another mistake made in theatre.
They were all facing months of rehabilitation. Two days after my op, and a brief hobble along the corridor with my crutches, and I got to go home.
But of course that now meant relying on my husband, my family, my friends to do everything for me. And while having a new insight into the workings of the ERI is one benefit of my break – as was an enforced dry month – the realisation that people are so generous and happy to help is another.
There’s had to be a rota of friends to pick up my kids from school and nursery, to take them to their weekly sports activities; I had a waterproof cast cover sent to me from a friend in France who’d suffered a similar injury, so I could shower; I’ve eaten my body weight in chocolates (which made up for the lack of wine); there have been donations of chicken pies and much ironing by my mother-in-law.
I’ll be fully recovered in a few months, but without a doubt it has given me a slight insight into those who deal with a disability permanently. To be dependent, to be unable to walk any distance, to hand over the car keys . . . it makes you want to stay indoors and let the world move on without you. It makes you depressed and frustrated and want to rage against your invisibility.
For me all that will pass, but for others it remains a daily issue. For me it’s been a lucky break and leaves me with a greater knowledge of the pressures our NHS suffers and a glimpse into the lives of those living with chronic conditions.
And now the medication has stopped I can raise a glass to those people who make our health service keep running and those who keep fighting to make it better for all of us.